The Major League Soccer play-off dates have been confirmed and the race to get in them continues on Friday night when the Atlanta United side host Orlando City SC in a huge MLS 2021 clash in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta United begin the evening outside the top seven but they can move level on points with the team in seventh place with a win here. Orlando can cruise into the top seven from here but will want to make sure they finish in the top four so that they host a play-off match.
This has been a season of two halves for Atlanta United in many ways. We can almost write off the first half of it because the squad just didn’t settle under Gabriel Heinze and it swiftly became obvious that he wouldn’t see the campaign through. Credit must go to the hierarchy for making that decision early enough for their season to still be relevant and the players have responded to that. They need a strong finish to the campaign but we shouldn’t rule that out.
Atlanta were on a run of four wins on the spin prior to the defeat to Nashville SC last week. We shouldn’t hold that loss against them though because they were without a number of players who were on international duty. Some of those are still away here but one or two will be available which will be a boost to the ‘Five Stripes’. Usually the Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a fortress and that is something they hope they can get back to under Gonzalo Pineda.
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Orlando City SC
Not only are Orlando City SC one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and MLS as a whole in fact, but they are one of the better teams to watch too which I always think is important in American sports where entertainment is as much a requirement as anything. Orlando like to get players forward and play with a pace and an intensity that makes hard for the opposition to contain them, especially in the humid conditions in Florida.
Orlando are actually the second best team in the Eastern Conference in terms of points picked up on their travels. That is no surprise with the pace and trickery of Nani and Chris Mueller as well as the powerful approach of Daryl Dike. They are also pretty good defensively although they will be without first choice goalkeeper Pedro Gallese who was playing for Peru in Brazil on Thursday evening. That might be significant here.
This should be an entertaining opener to the MLS weekend between two sides who have plenty of flair and quality in their attack but who have enough vulnerabilities defensively to make them exciting to watch. Atlanta United aren’t at full strength for this match because of players returning from international duty but it is their defence which has been most affected by those call ups so I’m expecting an attacking approach from the home side here.
The same can probably be said of Orlando in the attacking approach department because they are missing their reliable goalkeeper and a defensive midfielder so there should be plenty of space in the middle of the park for these two sides to work with. That makes me think we’ll get a Friday night clash with a number of chances in it and with the attackers on show I expect a significant number of them to be converted. I like over 2.75 goals in this one.
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