Atlanta United vs. Orlando City: 4 things to watch

August 29, 2020 Atlanta - Atlanta United forward Erick Torres (left) and Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson battle for the ball with Orlando City defender Antonio Carlos (left) and Orlando City defender Joao Moutinho during the second half in a MLS soccer match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, August 29, 2020. Orlando City won 3-1 over the Atlanta United. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
August 29, 2020 Atlanta - Atlanta United forward Erick Torres (left) and Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson battle for the ball with Orlando City defender Antonio Carlos (left) and Orlando City defender Joao Moutinho during the second half in a MLS soccer match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, August 29, 2020. Orlando City won 3-1 over the Atlanta United. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

If losing to Orlando City last week at home was bad, imagine the reaction should Atlanta United lose to the Lions for the second time in eight days at Exploria Stadium on Saturday.

The Five Stripes, for the first time since joining MLS in 2017, are struggling. They’ve been shut out four times in the past six games and have scored one goal this season against a team that isn’t Nashville or Cincinnati.

That goal came in last week’s 3-1 loss to Orlando at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was the first time in 10 meetings that Orlando City defeated Atlanta United.

Conversely, Orlando (4-2-3), which has yet to make the playoffs since joining the league in 2015, is flying under manager Oscar Pareja. It has scored more goals (16) than any team in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta United has scored only seven.

Here are four things to watch Saturday:

Set pieces. Atlanta United has been particularly vulnerable defending set pieces this season. Nashville’s goal in the season opener came from a set piece. Orlando’s first goal last week came from a corner kick. The Lions should have scored two more on set pieces. Miami blew a chance to score what would have proved to be the winning goal against Atlanta United on a set piece.

Interim manager Stephen Glass said the mistakes simply were the result of poor man marking. It was a focus before the Miami game.

“We get another chance to show that we’ve learned from our mistakes against Orlando,” Glass said. “If they get set pieces, hopefully they don’t get too many.”

Scoring goals. Atlanta United has taken the third-fewest shots (72) and put the fourth-fewest on target (28) of the league’s 26 teams. Part of the reason it has trouble scoring it has the fifth-fewest touches in the final one-third of the field of any team in the league.

Sum it up, and the team is having trouble getting into shooting positions.

Against Orlando, Atlanta United created only six chances and took only four shots, putting two on goal.

“At times, a little bit too slow,” midfielder Emerson Hyndman said. “Too easy to defend sometimes. They wanted to counter us as many times as they could.

“We are going to apply some things to make it more difficult for them and exploit some gaps they have and hopefully score some goals as well.”

Glass said the team has been working on sequences in the opponent’s final third. The glut of games had made properly training them difficult. Glass said either the team can run them live a few times in a session or do walk-throughs at half-speed more times.

He said the team is putting “pictures” of what can be done into the players’ minds.

“We have a lot of talented players on the attacking side,” fullback George Bello said. “It’s just a matter of time to get into a groove.”

On the road. This will be the first of three consecutive road games, a stretch that includes playing at Miami on Sept. 9 and at Nashville on Sept. 12.

Because Orlando is selling a few thousand tickets, it will be the first time that Atlanta United will play in front of fans since hosting more than 70,000 against Cincinnati at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on March 7, just a few days before COVID changed professional sports.

Glass said he’s looking forward to people being in the stands because that’s what players dream about when they are kids. He also hopes that playing away from home will give his players a sense of freedom to express themselves.

He’s said that having people in the stands may further motivate his team to play well to try to silence the crowd.

“Our guys have that about them,” Glass said. :They want to change that and want to change the result from last week.”

Playing without Pity. Though the sale of Pity Martinez to Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr isn’t complete, Glass said he won’t be a part of Saturday’s plans.

Hyndman and Bello said Martinez will be missed, but the sale gives other players an opportunity.

Glass said not having Martinez, on top of not having Josef Martinez, hasn’t made things easier.

But he said getting Ezequiel Barco back has helped. After sitting out the win against Nashville because of a lower body injury, Barco came off the bench last week against Orlando to play 30 minutes and then started and played 63 minutes against Miami.

Glass said he wasn’t aware until after the Miami game that Barco appeared to be angry about being subbed with his team chasing a goal.

“We don’t want guys that want to come off the pitch,” Glass said. “Shows his hunger to be on the pitch for 90 minutes. He understands and spoke to the staff in the locker room afterward. We understand it. We are all in together and want to win.”

Atlanta United coming games

Saturday at Orlando, 8 p.m. (Fox)

Sept. 9 at Miami, 8 p.m. (Fox Sports South)

Sept. 12 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m. (Fox Sports South)

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