Orlando City SC vs. Atlanta United
2017 MLS regular season
Orlando City Stadium - Orlando, Fla.
Friday, July 21 - 7 pm ET
WATCH: ESPN, TSN 1/3/4/5, ESPN Deportes
With a six-and-a-half hour drive between them, Atlanta United and Orlando City SC aren't as geographically close as some MLS derby rivals. And yes, the clubs' inaugural meeting comes in the shadow of the Gold Cup.
All that aside, with two of the league's most energized fan bases, some-star studded rosters close to full strength, and even some billboard smack talk, Friday night could be the first chapter in a fixture that becomes soccer's equivalent of the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party -- with cooler stadium digs.
Orlando City SC
The Lions have had no U.S. Open Cup commitments or international friendlies against European clubs to distract them from stewing over a 3-1 home loss to Toronto FC (and what Jason Kreis perceived as poor officiating) during a 16-day Gold Cup break.
Between that, the whole billboard thing, and the departure of forward Cyle Larin to join the Canada national team at the Gold Cup quarterfinals, an otherwise mostly healthy Orlando may have a chip on their shoulder. Perhaps that will provide an edge against their flashy local-ish rivals who, if the season ended today, would host them in a Knockout Round playoff game.
- Suspended: None
- Suspended next caution: Jose Aja
- Int’l Duty: FW Cyle Larin (Canada)
- Injury Report: OUT: MF Rafael Ramos (hamstring 7/10, out 4 weeks). QUESTIONABLE: Carlos Rivas (ankle)
Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Joe Bendik -- Donny Toia, Jonathan Spector, Jose Aja, Scott Sutter -- Antonio Nocerino, Servando Carrasco -- Kaka, Will Johnson, Giles Barnes -- Carlos Rivas
Notes: Kaká has made five consecutive league starts for the first time since 2016, though it hasn't translated into the same red-hot form of Lions' early season when the Brazilian superstar was mostly out injured. Of course, a return to that form is probably unrealistic, given just how rare a four-match winning streak is in such a parity-driven league.
The most glamorous expansion side since the Seattle Sounders of 2009, Atlanta responded from that setback with their first-ever three-game winning streak. And with Josef Martinez hitting a brace in a 4-2 win over Columbus on Independence Day (while putting in his first 90-minute shift since March), perhaps it's possible the Five Stripes' best offensive days are ahead of them.
- Suspended: None
- Suspended next caution: none
- Int’l Duty: FW Romario Williams (Jamaica)
- Injury Report: OUT: FW Jacob Peterson (lower leg), FW Kenwyne Jones (knee), GK Alec Kann (left quad)
Projected Starting XI (3-4-3, left to right): Kyle Reynish -- Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Jeff Larentowicz, Michael Parkhurst -- Greg Garza, Miguel Almiron, Carlos Carmona, Anton Walkes -- Yamil Asad, Josef Martinez, Hector "Tito" Villalba
Notes: In an injury-shortened season, Martinez (9 goals) is scoring a blistering 1.36 goals per 90 minutes, though it will may nearly impossible to keep up as more MLS defenses get a chance to study the Venezuelan striker's strength. It's still impressive though. For sake of context, Nemanja Nikolic (16 goals) is averaging 0.87 goals per 90 minutes, and he's on pace to challenge the MLS goal scoring record.
This is the first all-time meeting between the sides in league play. They will meet twice more in Atlanta on July 29 and Sept. 16.
Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero
Assistant Referees: Jeffrey Greeson, Brian Poeschel
Fourth Official: Baboucarr Jallow