Orlando City SC aims for seventh straight win

Thanks to a franchise-record winning streak, it has been nearly two months since Orlando City SC last lost. Extending that run may be a little easier — even against the Eastern Conference leaders.

The Lions look for their seventh consecutive victory on Sunday evening when they meet Atlanta United FC, who will be without starting goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Since being blanked by New York City FC on March 17, Orlando (6-2-1) hasn’t posted a loss or a draw. Four wins were one-goal decisions and one was a shutout.

Last Sunday, the Lions scored all of their goals in the second half to top Real Salt Lake 3-1. It marked the fourth time during the streak in which Orlando rallied to win.

“It starts with leadership,” Lions coach Jason Kreis said. “We have the experience to draw from. They’ve been in many, many difficult situations, in difficult places to play, in front of a lot of people and in big matches.”

The surge has pushed Orlando, which has a match in hand, within three points of first-place Atlanta (7-2-1). Lions goalkeeper Joe Bendik expects more than a regular-season match.

“It’s going to be a good game next week,” he said after the win over Real. “A lot of preparation is gonna go into it this week and we’re gonna try and do the same thing, out-compete them and out-work them.

“Last year, we played them three times. It’s gonna be an awesome opportunity for us.”

Orlando registered two draws in last season’s series, and lost 1-0 at home on July 21 behind a late goal from Hector Villalba and five saves from Guzan in his Atlanta debut after nine years in the English Premier League.

The suburban Chicago native is 7-1-1 with three shutouts and yielded only 10 goals this year. However, in a scoreless game Wednesday against Sporting Kansas City, Guzan drew a red card in the 34th minute of an eventual 2-0 loss to the West leaders.

With Guzan out, United may again turn to Paul Christensen — the 70th overall pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft who was pressed into service against KC with Alec Kann and Mitch Hildebrandt sidelined with knee injuries.

“It’s like any other week of practice, it’s getting ready to play games,” Christensen told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If I need to be ready to play the game, play the game. If it’s on the bench, on the bench.”

Whoever starts in goal for United will face a Lions team averaging 2.1 goals per game. Forward Dom Dwyer scored all six of his goals, and midfielder Sacha Kljestan has two goals and four assists during the winning streak.

But United (2.3 goals per game) has the offensive firepower to go up against Orlando. Forward Josef Martinez — who scored three times in his only appearance against the Lions last season — leads MLS with seven goals, one more than teammate and midfielder Miguel Almiron.

“(Atlanta has) 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 said. “It will be our most severe test to date, no doubt about it.”

Atlanta hasn’t lost consecutive matches since last June 3 and 10 to Vancouver and Chicago, respectively.