Atlanta United begins a stretch without one of its key cogs Saturday when the Five Stripes host struggling Orlando City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
United is riding a five-game unbeaten streak and sits atop the Supporters Shield standings, but it will be without playmaking midfielder Darlington Nagbe for several months.
Nagbe, who was acquired in the offseason, suffered an abductor injury in a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers last week. He is expected to miss two to three months.
“He’s been very important for us this season,” Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday. “He does a lot of things that probably go unnoticed, especially with some of the bigger names on the team getting the headlines.
“He doesn’t have a ton of stats, but he does a lot of work with Jeff (Larentowicz) in the middle. He’s just such a good two-way player, really connects the team defensively to offensively. Possession-wise, he’s so important for us because he doesn’t lose the ball. He’s just so clean in and out of pressure. He just makes our life a lot easier in the back.”
Orlando City SC has dropped seven straight games, a stretch that includes a coaching change. The Lions parted ways with coach Jason Kreis. Assistant Bobby Murphy took over on an interim basis.
“I think it’s just going to take a complete performance,” Murphy said when asked how the team can end its skid. “I think so often we’ve been so close. It’s going to take everybody playing to their best and playing for the group, getting a break here or there, and it can all turn around.”
Saturday’s match will be the second meeting this season between Atlanta and Orlando City. The Five Stripes won 2-1 on May 13 at Orlando City behind goals from Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco.
Orlando City has never defeated Atlanta, going 0-2-0 in four meetings.
“It is what it is. I see it as a huge challenge and a great opportunity to go up there in front of a hostile crowd,” Murphy told reporters on Tuesday. “Hopefully, the players will take it as a great opportunity and play with a bit of freedom, knowing nothing is really expected of them to go in there and get a result. … sometimes you can surprise people when that happens.”