But for Lions coach Jason Kreis, the matchup not only presents challenges, but its a true measurement on where his team stands after a busy offseason that saw a roster overhaul.
“A lot of problems. A lot of very, very good attacking-minded players, creative-type players that can do it on the dribble, can do it in combination,” Kreis told reporters on Wednesday, describing the challenge Atlanta pose. “[Josef] Martinez, with the way he pops the ball over the penalty box, a lot of difficulties. [This] will be our most severe test to date, no doubt about it.”
The Lions (6-2-1) look to add to their six-match winning streak while the Five Stripes, who sit atop the Eastern Conference standings, enter Sunday’s matchup eight-games unbeaten.
Atlanta (7-1-1) had one win and two draws in three meetings with Orlando a year ago, which left an unpleasant feeling amongst Kreis’ squad.
“I would say after three matches with them last year, every match I felt was a really good soccer match, really tight affairs,” said Kreis. “I think in particular we probably feel a little bit hard done with the result because I feel like we were in positions to draw the first game and win the second two games at their place – we were in winning positions in those games and didn’t take care of the business at the end. I think that leaves a little bit of a sour taste in our mouth.”
Dom Dwyer, who has six goals in six games for the Lions, said the team is still finding themselves despite a club record winning streak, but Sunday’s game is another opportunity to prove themselves across the league.
“I would say the last six games were a test as well,” said Dwyer. “I wouldn’t look past them, we’re just going week to week right now and it’s a good opportunity against a good team and we’re excited about it.”
With a tough stretch of games coming up, Sacha Kljestan said Orlando aren’t looking at the standings and emphasized the players can’t get too complacent for what could be playoff-implicating games.
“It’s important to get points at any point in the season, it’s especially fun and good to get them early in the season to give you that little cushion as you get through the tougher part of the schedule, which is coming up for us,” Kljestan said. “A big two months coming up, but we haven’t won anything yet, so we have to stay humble and focused.”
While Orlando look to lock in their first-ever win against Atlanta, a victory against the top seed in the Eastern Conference could also make a statement across the league.
“Yeah sure, but not only that, it’s a rivalry game,” said Kljestan. “It means a lot to the fans and playing at home, you always want to win especially against your rivals. Everything always feels better when you beat your rivals and send them on a long road trip back home – although it’s not very long, it can feel long for them.”