Orlando City head coach Jason Kreis didn’t hold back when describing Sunday’s match against Atlanta United.
“It will be our most severe test to date,” he said. “No doubt about it.”
The Lions will host Atlanta on Mother’s Day (6pm, FS1), looking to build on their Club-record six-game winning streak. They’ll do so against a Five Stripes side coming off short rest following their midweek home loss to Sporting KC that saw goalkeeper Brad Guzan get sent off in the 34th minute.
Still, the Lions aren’t kidding themselves about Atlanta’s attack.
The Five Stripes boast the league’s top goalscorer in Josef Martinez, MLS record-transfer man Ezequiel Barco, and, of course, Miguel Almirón, who Sacha Kljestan called “probably the best player in the league this season.”
“We talk about proactive defending and that’s just when we have the ball, knowing where they are already,” Kljestan said, “because when the ball turns over those three get out very quick into transition and obviously that is their forte.”
Atlanta showed that in the three meetings last year. United came away with five points in those three games despite leading for only four minutes compared to four different spells totalling 103 minutes with the lead for City. Kreis said that “leaves a little bit of a sour taste in our mouth.”
“But with so many other things, this is a new team and a new year and a new mentality,” he continued, “so I don’t think it weighs too much on any of our minds.”
Mental strength is a big reason why City is the hottest team in MLS. The Lions have overcome five separate deficits during their six-game winning streak and their four wins after conceding the first goal are far and away the most in the league.
“I feel like I say the same thing every week that we don’t want to give up the first goal, but then we do and then our mentality is just that we get stronger as the game goes on and we keep pushing it,” Kljestan said. “We are hungry. We are humble. Everything has been going the way we want it to go and we’ll try to keep it going this weekend.”
Kljestan, Dom Dwyer and Cristian Higuita all pointed to the team’s camaraderie and togetherness as a catalyst for their early success, leaving the pundits to debate the merit of the longest winning streak in the league this season.
“Again, I don’t care,” Kreis repeated, “I really could care less what anybody outside our locker room thinks about us.”
“We’re playing a very tough team this weekend in Atlanta and we have respect for them,” said Dwyer, who had two goals and an assist in last year’s 3-3 draw. “But at the same time we’re concentrating on ourselves, working hard and looking forward to the game. It should be fun.”