Atlanta United is on another level from Orlando City
Yes, it was only a 2-1 win, but Atlanta United showed its mettle and determination in a hostile environment against a dangerous opponent. Orlando City came into Sunday’s match boasting the league’s best form record, having run off six straight wind heading into the match. Atlanta, on the other hand, was coming off it’s first loss since Week One only 4 days earlier after it was forced to play with 10 men for an hour. It was a tough task, but they stood tall — dominating for one half and protecting the lead they built in the other. It was a thoroughly professional performance, and Orlando City SC manager Jason Kreis recognized Atlanta’s excellence after the match.
“Atlanta right now has shown through the way that they finished last year and the way they’ve started off this year, that they’re the top,” Kreis told reporters postgame. “That’s the apex. They give us a measuring stick to see what we’re striving for.”
Darlington Nagbe is rounding out his game
One of the huge talking points coming into the 2018 season for Atlanta United was how the team would replace the erstwhile Carlos Carmona, a player who brought steel and bite to midfield. Enter a very different kind of player in Darlington Nagbe — a player much more adept at the attacking half of the game who could help the team progress the ball and keep possession. But under Tata Martino, Nagbe has added some physicality to his game that he seemed to lack not only in Portland, but even to start the season in Atlanta. Now, he is becoming more and more willing and capable to challenge the opponent physically in an attempt to win the ball, and in turn, help Atlanta impose itself by controlling the most part of the pitch — central midfield. Here’s a small example.
The most improved area of Nagbe's game this season is without a doubt these physical duels pic.twitter.com/hq2L5qVB2U— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) May 13, 2018
Even though this particular action does nothing but win a throw in for Atlanta United, the accumulation of these types of plays can make a huge difference over the course of a game and a season.
Orlando played into Atlanta’s hands
They say styles make fights, and there’s no doubt that the style of these two teams were always going to make for an entertaining match Sunday evening. But Orlando’s style — specifically, the weakness at the back and the strength of the attack — meant the Lions had no chance to win the game except to try to outscore Atlanta. And that, of course, is the kind of game Atlanta thrives in the most. When teams attack Atlanta and throw numbers forward, they might score. But when they don’t they often pay the price. Atlanta was able to absorb pressure and hurt Orlando time and time again.
Love these grass-cutters from Nagbe. pic.twitter.com/3FuzoQxc87— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) May 13, 2018
One of the common themes of the game, as expressed in the gif above, is the lack of a midfield battle for either team. It was a high-tempo, up-and-down affair, and with Atlanta’s speed and potency in its attacking players, that’s always going to be the type of game that suits them.
Miles Robinson is a bona fide contributor
Miles Robinson made only his second career start in MLS — both this season — and had his second sterling performance for the Five Stripes. The second overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Robinson came to the club with quite a bit of fanfare, but didn’t make an impression on the first team in his rookie season. In fact, he didn’t make a single appearance in the league, and some even criticized the club and the manager for having not developed the ex-Syracuse center back fast enough. Atlanta United goalkeeeper Alec Kann alluded after the match that Robinson will play many more important matches as the season and his career progresses:
“Miles [Robinson] is a special player, he’s got a really bright future, you can see it on display. His passing is getting better every game. Defensively he’s always been great, but the little parts of the game, the intangibles, are getting there. Sky’s the limit for him.”
Orlando fans speak with their actions. It’s a rivalry.
Orlando fans love to say that the matchup with Atlanta United is not a rivalry. No way. How could it be? The team has only existed for less than two seasons! Yet, it’s quite telling just how passionately the fans not only supported their own Sunday evening, but taunted and threw vulgar insults (and debris) at its opponent. Are Orlando fans acting like this against Real Salt Lake? No. They don’t even act this triggered against NYCFC — a team many Orlando fans claim to be rivals with since the two clubs came into MLS in the same season. Orlando fans can talk all they want about how Atlanta is “plastic,” “has no history,” etc. This is quite obviously a projection of their own insecurities — specifically the fact that they’ve yet to beat this team that they clearly despise.
Tata and many of the Atlanta players, particularly the foreign ones, say it’s not a rivalry. Of course it isn’t to them, they come from countries that have been playing soccer as long as America has been playing baseball. Tata mentioned to reporters after the game that it’s hard to see any particular matchup in MLS as a rivalry because the league itself is too young! But rivalries in America are never going to look like a rivalry between River Plate/Boca Juniors, Celtic/Rangers, etc. It’s going to look like an American rivalry, where the Orlando crowd chants “F*** Atlanta!” and throws things on the field in defense of their player who dove to try to win a penalty. There’s some beauty in that.