Can Orlando City SC stay surging against rival Atlanta United?

Orlando City SC head into their marquee matchup Friday night against Atlanta United while carrying a seven-game unbeaten streak (7 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes).

For Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja, the bout represents a chance to solidify his team's playoff positioning against an Atlanta side that looks different than when they last faced their Southeast rival. Atlanta, now led by head coach Gonzalo Pineda, are looking to get back on track and enter the East's postseason picture, while Orlando are jostling with Nashville SC for the conference's No. 2 seed.

"We're obviously trying to analyze our rival that has changed its head coach, and now they can bring new ideas," Pareja observed, before adding "our preparation has been trying to reinforce our concepts."

Pareja also expressed the Lions are grateful to be making progress at what's approaching full strength. They've had key players on international duty (Sebastian Mendez, Pedro Gallese) and out injured (Mauricio Pereyra, Andres Perea), though squad selection is improving.

"It has been a much better week for our group," he said about Lions' improving overall health. "Having more players available for selection is creating a better atmosphere for our group, no doubt ... I'm pleased to have players back. We're trying to adjust them to the rhythms of our trainings and our competitions, but it's a big help to have everybody available and competing."

That includes Daryl Dike, who made his first start for Orlando in just over two months during last Saturday's 3-2 win over Columbus. He scored the opening goal and added what was ultimately the match-winning assist to Junior Urso.

"It's great to have Daryl back, like any of the boys who haven't been with us lately," Pareja said of the star striker. "I can see that his fitness is getting back to normal, his confidence is coming along."

"I can see his progress," he added. "I can tell the growth of the player and his personality that he has as a soccer player, so I'm very happy to have him. And as his teammates are as well."

While Orlando are nearing their true form, Alexandre Pato is still not yet ready. Though the veteran forward has only featured in one match this season – their scoreless draw with Atlanta on April 17 to open the season – he appears close to adding to the Lions' attack.

Pato's possible availability could help Orlando greatly as the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs come around in November. They just ended a streak of scoring one goal (or getting shutout) in five straight, so any final-third lift would improve their capabilities.

"Unfortunately he has not been able to play for a long time, but I can tell you that he's very close this time," Pareja suggested, noting that he'd be available for selection for what he termed "important games" coming up.

That could mean Orlando's block of five upcoming matches against teams currently in Eastern Conference playoff positions, starting with the Sept. 15 tilt against CF Montréal. Pato, signed in February to a one-year deal as a free agent, has logged just 80 MLS minutes.