Atlanta United travels to Orlando City on Friday night for Heineken Rivalry Week. Here are five key players to watch ahead of the tantalizing affair.
Atlanta United and Orlando City face off for the third time this year to close out their rivalry series for the 2018 season. Atlanta is 3-0-2 all time against Orlando, including two wins in two games this season. Two of Atlanta’s wins are on the road, including this year’s first meeting in Orlando, a 2-1 victory by the Five Stripes. That game featured goals from Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco.
Orlando City is in the midst of yet another failed season that saw a coaching change back in June, just before these teams’ second meeting of the season. This will be Orlando manager James O’Connor’s first game as manager against Atlanta. He was announced as the new manager just one day before the match against Atlanta and was not ready to coach at the time. That game ended 4-0 with Atlanta as winners yet again.
Now that O’Connor is in the swing of things with his new side, it will be interesting to see how the Lions fare against an Atlanta team hungry to keep winning. Here are five players to watch for as this rivalry is renewed.
5. Josef Martinez
All eyes will be on Josef Martinez Friday night in Orlando. He currently has 27 goals this season, tied for most ever in a single season in MLS. Now that he’s scored at least one goal in eight straight games, the expectation is that he’ll score another this weekend. Martinez has two goals in two appearances against Orlando this season, as well as a hat trick in his lone appearance against the Lions last season.
Martinez is putting together the best season of his career, and one of the best seasons to ever grace the still somewhat young MLS. His goals per game pace this season is 1.08 goals a game, meaning the Venezuelan Viper is on pace to score an astonishing 36 goals this season. Factor in his MLS career goals per game pace, which is 1.02 goals, and there’s a good chance Martinez will score over 30 goals by the time the regular season ends.
There will be outside factors that most likely slow Martinez down in his record setting pace. With only nine games left in the season, Atlanta will need to begin preparation for the playoffs, which includes squad rotation and rest for some of the team’s most active players. Martinez, who has started and played in every single game this season, falls directly into that category.
Friday night’s Orlando game will be the perfect opportunity for Martinez to break the scoring record and help launch Atlanta into a successful spell from home.