New on Sports Illustrated: Atlanta United-Orlando City Preview

September 05, 2020 at 05:36AM

In some ways, it is a pity Atlanta United never consistently saw the best of playmaker Gonzalo Martinez after his high-profile signing.

Moving forward after selling the midfielder and still without their top scorer, the Five Stripes try to make do starting Saturday at Orlando City.

Martinez – nicknamed "Pity" -- was a record $14 million signing by Atlanta United (3-4-1) prior to the start of the 2019 season with a rising profile after leading Argentine side River Plate to the Copa Libertadores title and was named the best player in South America in 2018. He was signed as a replacement for Miguel Almiron, who left late in the 2018 season for English Premier League side Newcastle United.

Martinez, though, never truly found a sweet spot with the team and has scored just seven goals in 39 matches. The success Atlanta United enjoyed under Tata Martino did not continue under Frank De Boer, who was fired after the Five Stripes underwhelmed at the MLS Is Back tournament last month.

Martinez, who also clashed with De Boer at points, appears on his way out after General Manager Darren Eales confirmed earlier this week there is a deal in principle to move the midfielder to Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr. With a reported transfer fee of $18 million, the business side appears to work for Atlanta United, but it does leave a gaping offensive hole for a team with only seven goals in eight matches.

Atlanta United moved to 1-1-1 under interim coach Stephen Glass following Wednesday night's scoreless draw with Inter Miami. The Five Stripes had a majority of possession, but Martinez's absence was notable with a lack of cutting edge in the final third. They took just five shots and put only one of them on target, with Glass noting his club looked for the perfect shot instead of taking the best one.

"We were the ones pushing the envelope, in terms of going forward and keeping the ball in their half in the first half. We were the aggressor, if you'd like, in that aspect as well," Glass said. "The speed of the ball in the final third and the control and the risk-taking element, we were taking risks we probably didn't have to take in the final third when we could have shifted it maybe another pass before cutting them open."

Orlando City (4-2-3) is looking to extend its unbeaten streak to four matches after a 1-1 draw with Nashville SC on Wednesday night. Benji Michel staked the Lions to a lead on 17 minutes, but they conceded just after the restart and were denied a third consecutive victory.

First-year coach Oscar Pareja is looking to sweep the home-and-home set as part of the Phase One schedule, having rolled past Atlanta United 3-1 last Saturday. Christopher Mueller scored his team-leading sixth goal in that victory, while Junior Urso scored one goal and set up Nani's late strike that sealed the win.

"Atlanta has very good players, especially the ones who are part of their attack. It is a team who offensively is very aggressive and they have been in the last few years with a model of the game that is very clear," Pareja told Orlando City's official website. "We controlled it very well in Atlanta. It was a great game defensively for us and I would like to keep doing that. It was amazing and we were very happy, but this is a different story that needs to be written. We will be ready."

Last Saturday's victory was Orlando City's first in 10 matches (1-2-7) against Atlanta United across all competition since the Five Stripes entered MLS in 2017.

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