Defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United will look to run their winning streak to four straight matches when they host Southeastern rival Orlando City SC on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
After waiting five matches for their first league victory under first-year coach Frank de Boer, Atlanta (4-3-2, 14 points) now finds itself back above the playoff line following its recent hot stretch, with at least one match in hand on all but one of its Eastern Conference rivals.
It's no coincidence that surge has come with an improvement from Josef Martinez, who set an MLS record with 31 goals last season.
After scoring once in his first five games of 2019, Martinez now has three goals and two assists in his last four while becoming more familiar with de Boer's possession-oriented style. He helped set up both goals in Atlanta's 2-0 win over visiting Toronto on Wednesday.
"I know he's eager always to be enforcing goals and scoring goals, but I'm very pleased with his performance," de Boer said Wednesday. "The other teams have to look to other players and that Josef can give assists. So, I'm really pleased with his performance."
Orlando (3-4-3, 12 points) has been on a more uneven run of form, with a win, loss and draw over the past three matches. Most recently, Orlando was outclassed and outlasted 2-0 last weekend at home by a Toronto FC side that entered the weekend fourth overall in the Eastern Conference and third in terms of points per game.
Unlike Atlanta, the Lions have had a full week to prepare for their trip one state to the north and are as healthy as they've been all year, with only defender Carlos Ascues a question with a hamstring injury. After a slow start to his first MLS season, former Portugal and Manchester United star Nani has five goals in his past five games.
Orlando has never won at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, settling for a draw in three previous trips.
"I think going into the game against Atlanta, we need to be very focused, because obviously they're a very good team and a big rivalry," said Orlando coach James O'Connor. "We're looking forward to going and excited to play."