Looking to remain unbeaten in their regional rivalry, Atlanta United faces Orlando City in the lone matinee Saturday contest in the MLS.
The Five Stripes (3-3-0), who will be without injured top scorer Josef Martinez for the season, made a successful return to action after a group play flameout in MLS Is Back, defeating Nashville SC 2-0 last Sunday. Atlanta was scheduled to play Inter Miami on Wednesday night, but players from both teams opted to sit out the match in support of the players’ movement that unfolded across multiple leagues backing Black Lives Matter and protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc.
“It was a decision we felt we needed to make that was bigger than the two locker rooms,” defender Jeff Larentowicz told media on a video conference call Thursday. “It was an acknowledgment of emotions on high. Before we’re athletes, we’re humans.”
In addition to being without Martinez, Atlanta United interim coach Stephen Glass – who replaced Frank de Boer after the team lost all three matches at MLS Is Back – will be without two defenders. Fernando Meza is out at least the next two weeks with a knee injury suffered in the win over Nashville while Franco Escobar was suspended by the league’s disciplinary committee for violent conduct in Sunday’s match.
Midfielders Ezequiel Barco and Emerson Hyndman will be match-time decisions as they deal with lower-body injuries.
Pity Martinez, who accounted for both goals in Sunday’s win, has factored on three of Atlanta’s four goals since Josef Martinez got hurt.
Orlando City (3-2-2) avoided back-to-back regular-season losses for the first time this year by beating Nashville SC 3-1 on Wednesday. It wound up being the only MLS game played Wednesday, which did result in some blowback and criticism on social media.
“I understand maybe some people who think we should have not played,” first-year coach Oscar Pareja said on Thursday. “I think we would have done it. I think we would have just not played the game if we had all the information and good timing. We didn’t know the whole thing.”
Daryl Dike, the No. 5 overall pick in the SuperDraft, followed up his first MLS goal in the loss to Inter Miami with a brace versus the league’s other expansion franchise, scoring the go-ahead goal in the 52nd minute and adding an insurance tally 20 minutes later. Dike also became the first player in club history with goals in his first two professional starts.
That type of momentum will be needed for the Lions, who are 0-2-7 all-time against the Five Stripes since entering the league in 2017. Orlando City failed to score in any of its three matches versus Atlanta United last year, with Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez scoring match-winners in 1-0 outcomes during the regular season.
Atlanta United has won six straight between the teams since a 3-3 draw in September 2017.