Orlando City are on an extended win streak, making them the hottest team in MLS. On Sunday, they face rivals Atlanta in their toughest test of the year.
There comes a point in every team’s season where they face a sink or swim scenario. They face a challenge that will either help further boost their confidence, or start an unrecoverable downward spiral. For Orlando City, this Sunday’s game against bitter rivals Atlanta United will go a long way in proving whether or not the Lions are a legitimate threat this year.
Orlando City had a very bright offseason, bringing in players like Sacha Kljestan and Justin Meram to support a roster that already stars in Dom Dwyer and Jonathan Spector. Injuries hurt them early, and the team got off to a shaky start to the season, only picking one point in their opening three matches.
They were able to get some key players back to full health, and started to go on a run. Orlando has gone on to win their last six matches, which is already a franchise record winning streak. They have been scoring goals for fun, with Dwyer and rookie sensation Chris Mueller leading the way going forward. They are flying up the power rankings, and find themselves only three points off first place in the Eastern Conference.
However, there are still some doubts surrounding the team, and with due reason. Credit is obviously due, as they can only beat who have been put out in front of them, but they haven’t faced off against the toughest competition.
Only two of those wins have come on the road, against Philadelphia and Colorado, which are two of the easier away trips in MLS. At home, they began the streak by beating a Red Bulls team who were still in the midst of their CONCACAF Champions League campaign.
They then picked up the victory against the Portland Timbers, who were adjusting to a new coach and struggling to deal with the effects of a long road trip. Their other two wins came against San Jose and Real Salt Lake, who are both out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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Against Atlanta, Orlando City will face their toughest test of the season. The club from Georgia has built off an impressive inaugural season, and have not suffered from the sophomore slump that some thought they would. Atlanta sits in first place in the Eastern Conference standings, and have the joint highest amount of goals scored in the entire league. They did lose to Sporting KC at home on Wednesday, but were down to ten men after a Brad Guzan red card.
After the game on Sunday, it is not going to get any easier for Orlando. They travel up north to face Toronto at BMO field, which is still the toughest fixture in MLS. The reigning champions have not gotten off to the ideal start to the season, but are still recovering from a grueling CONCACAF Champions League campaign that ended in heartbreak.
They are starting to get back on the right track, and still have Sebastian Giovinco, who can win any game on his own. Following that game, Orlando host a Chicago Fire team that have been inconsistent this year, but seem like they might finally be turning a corner. This brutal run of games is capped off with a trip to Yankee Stadium, where Orlando face a NYCFC who have yet to drop points at home this season.
If Orlando wants any chance to keep this run going, they will have to improve defensively. The team was lucky to only have conceded once against RSL, who hit the woodwork twice during the contest. Orlando has given up two goals on several occasions, and even gave up three goals to the Red Bulls at home.
Atlanta is known for their high powered offense, and will be able to pounce on any defensive mistakes made by the Lions. Orlando does well to defend as a unit at times, but they’ve suffered due to too many individual errors, and have a hard time maintaining focus for a full 90 minutes.
If they are able to clean up the defensive side of the field, and keep the offense scoring goals, this Orlando team might just be genuine MLS Cup contenders this season.