Atlanta United-Orlando City Preview
Orlando City are still looking to improve after a surprisingly successful 2020 MLS campaign brought a first playoff run.
The Lions, who start the new season against Atlanta United on Saturday, had endured a miserable stay in the league prior to last year.
But amid the chaos of a campaign disrupted by coronavirus, Orlando reached the final of the MLS is Back Tournament and then advanced to the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the postseason.
Coach Oscar Pareja is still pushing his players to progress even further, though.
"Despite that it was a surprise for many, thinking that we could fight for trophies or fight for the first places, our approach hasn't changed," he said. "I think it's the commitment and the responsibility that a coach has to have with his players and the club that we represent. You won't hear from me any other objective than win. That's the final one, the ultimate goal, for any team that I play with or defend or am involved with. It is just to ask the players to give the max and to be able to provide to our supporters the final objective, which is winning."
Atlanta have become used to winning, but missed the playoffs entirely in 2020 and have a new coach in Gabriel Heinze.
Early results have been positive, with the Five Stripes still in the CONCACAF Champions League, but Heinze is similarly eying improvement.
"What we need is to play minutes and more minutes," he said. "We need to improve every aspect. There are always things to improve. But we cannot improve without playing. When we play, we will have mistakes, and by these mistakes, we will keep improving."
Orlando City – Alexandre Pato
Once a Brazil superstar, Pato's career has long since been on the wane. He is under pressure to deliver in place of Daryl Dike in Orlando, though, as the striker is now excelling for Barnsley in the Championship.Dike was the Lions' breakout star last season, scoring eight times, while he registered three goal involvements in four games against Atlanta.
Atlanta United – Josef Martinez
Injury restricted Martinez to just a single appearance last season, but the league's outstanding forward is fit again and ready to reignite Atlanta. He has 82 goals in 93 MLS games and has scored with 26.9 per cent of his shots in the competition.
- Orlando City went unbeaten in four matches against Atlanta United last season (W2 D2), after going winless in the first eight MLS matches between the sides (D2 L6). Orlando scored seven goals in their two wins over the Five Stripes but have managed just seven total goals over the other 10 meetings.
- Orlando made the first playoff appearance in franchise history last season after collecting 41 points in 23 matches (1.78 points per match). The Lions earned more points in a season just once before (44 in 34 matches in 2015) but did so on a much lower points per match average (1.29).
- Atlanta missed the playoffs for the first time in the team's four-year MLS history in 2020, collecting just 0.96 points per match. Despite playing 11 fewer games than in any other season, Atlanta lost a club-record 13 times last year.
- Chris Mueller (10 goals, six assists) nearly averaged a direct goal contribution every 90 minutes (0.98 per 90) in the 2020 season, the best rate in a single season in Orlando's club history (minimum 500 minutes), well outpacing the previous mark of 0.86 direct goal contributions per 90 by Julio Baptista in 2016.
- Atlanta will welcome back striker Martinez, who tore his ACL on the opening day of the 2020 campaign. Martinez scored 27 goals in the 2019 regular season after netting a then-record 31 in 2018. Atlanta scored just 23 times as a team in their 23 matches last season.
Updated April 16, 2021