Happy Friday everyone. It’s the eve of an Orlando City match once again, and it’s time to look ahead to this week’s opponent. After last week’s victory over Inter Miami on the road, the Lions will host another rival at home as Atlanta United makes the trip to Exploria Stadium.
A visit from the Five Stripes means I took the time to speak with David McFarland, one of the contributors at Dirty South Soccer. As usual, he was very helpful in getting us caught up on Orlando’s rivals to the north, and we appreciate it.
Who were some notable outgoing transfers for Atlanta during the off-season, and how have those players been replaced?
David McFarland: Atlanta had quite a busy off-season in Garth Lagerway’s first transfer window at the club. Center back Alan Franco and midfielder Marcelino Moreno, both of whom never lived up to their high price tag, were moved out, but the big one was the contract termination of Josef Martinez. It’s a long story, but at the end of the day, it was time to move on from the Venezuelan. He was replaced and upgraded on by Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis from Celtic, who has been an absolute goal-scoring machine so far and could easily win the Golden Boot. He’s been the only successful arrival, however, as back-up striker Miguel Berry, presumed starting winger Derrick Etienne Jr., and backup center back Luis Abram have all heavily underwhelmed. Lagerway is only just getting started though, and Luiz Araujo and possibly Thiago Almada will both be out the door in the coming month.
Like Orlando, Atlanta’s form seems to have been a bit inconsistent this year. What’s been the reason for that?
DM: Atlanta is far too reliant on its stars. With Almada and Giakoumakis, the Five Stripes can beat just about anyone. Without either of them, it can lose to just about anyone as well. Manager Gonzalo Pineda is not adept enough to have a workable Plan B, and the ineptitude of Atlanta’s depth (Berry and Etienne in particular) doesn’t help either. The pending departure of Almada to Europe will only set Atlanta back further, but Giakoumakis seems set to stay around for the long haul and can be a building block for years to come.
While Caleb Wiley isn’t with the team due to being on international duty, his emergence has been fun to keep an eye on. What does he add to the team when he’s there?
DM: He’s been a bright spot for Atlanta this season, notching three goals and two assists at just 18 years of age. Though generally thought of as a fullback, Wiley’s played as a left winger for Atlanta and provides a constant threat down the flank. He’s quite good on the ball and physical enough to beat just about anyone. His defense has been a bit lacking, but that will come with experience.
Are there any players who will be unavailable due to injury, suspension, etc.? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
DM: The absence list is unfortunately long yet again. Brad Guzan, Amar Sejdic, and Santiago Sosa (questionable) are all injured, while Franco Ibarra is suspended and Wiley is away with the U.S. U-20 side.
I think the starting lineup will be a 4-2-3-1 with:
Quinten Westberg; Andrew Gutman, Jose Juan Purata, Miles Robinson, Ronald Hernandez; Ajani Fortune, Matheus Rossetto; Derrick Etienne, Thiago Almada, Brooks Lennon; Giorgos Giakoumakis.
As for score, I’ll go with a 1-1 draw with goals from Duncan Maguire and Giakoumakis.
Thanks again to David for his help in familiarizing us with Atlanta ahead of tomorrow’s match. Vamos Orlando!