This year there was no six-game win streak for Orlando to break by losing to Atlanta, rapidly going downhill thereafter. This year the usually vocal and incomprehensibly optimistic Orlando fan base was mysteriously quiet. This year, everything was different. Orlando City was already two spots below the playoff line, and silence was apparently golden. Maybe they thought this was really finally going to be their day.
But then they chose Will Johnson to give a shoutout on Fox for Mothers Day and karma followed pretty much immediately. They came out fairly aggressive, and Dom
Dwyer Dwiver took a shot within the first minute that went predictably high and wide from close range. That likely reminded them that an ailing Nani would have been a better scoring option than a fully healthy Dwiver and they promptly allowed Atlanta to run roughshod over them for the next 60 minutes or so. Then the good guys remembered they have a West Coast plane to catch and started working on their packing, after which Orlando began to look like a competitive soccer team.
It’s not as if they didn’t have chances. They just didn’t do anything with them. It’s that either a) they were shocked to have them at all, or b) Brad Guzan was laughing in their faces. Indeed, some of those chances were courtesy of that worthy, whose sense of fair play was on clear display on Sunday. In any event, it ended up the same old same old, and the 5-0-2 Stripes emerged victorious yet again in MLS’ southern rivalry that is not actually a rivalry and only 50% of the time in the South.
The chances they had were also fairly good ones. Their 10 shots resulted in an xG of 1.65, considerably better than Atlanta’s 1.09 on 13 shots. Of course, Atlanta came close to doubling up on that xG, if not for Tito Villalba’s left big toe being in a clear and obvious offside position. Even the on-frame attempts were fruitless, thanks to the correct goalie in the game standing on his head (for once). That, and telegraphing their shots. On one occasion, Dwiver was so predictable that Guzan was diving for the ball before he even touched it.
It’s also not clear why James O’Connor thought a somewhat experimental 3-4-3 (with a depleted lineup to boot) was a good idea. Especially against probably the only team in MLS who have worked with that lineup this year (and ultimately rejected it). Atlanta must have felt like they were handed a present with a big giant bow on it. Orlando allowed Atlanta to do something they have not been too successful at so far this season:
They ran it up the gut. Hard. And often. Atlanta largely played a pressing game, and their possession, as can be seen, was heavily in the attacking half. That is even clearer in the average player positions:
Only 3 Orlando players averaged in the Atlanta half, matched up neatly against Atlanta’s central defensive triad of LGP, Robinson and Remedi. It’s tough to win games when you are playing off the back foot, and also when you are limited to 38.1% possession (and until the last 20 minutes just 25.7%).
Atlanta was clearly tired, and their own production from 61.9% possession was down from the past few games. Still, they had 5 shots on target to Orlando’s 4, and forced 18 clearances to Orlando forcing 8.
And so Atlanta has 15 points from their last 18, which they have done twice before and bettered twice before (with 16 points both times). They now head to Vancouver for the second leg of the Brek Shea nostalgia tour and a game that given the East Coast kickoff time should probably be sponsored by 5-Hour Energy.
On to the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is Brad Guzan for his heroic performance between the pipes. Special Mentions go to goalscorers Pity Martinez and Julian Gressel. Oh, wait…
GK: Brad Guzan – 9. OK, so he had a couple of blunders. But they do not detract from an epic 4-save afternoon. He has given up 2 goals in the last 6 games, and is up to set an MLS record with a clean sheet in Vancouver.
LB: Michael Parkhurst – 6.5. The yellow card was a tad soft, but he still gets dinged for it. He also looked a bit tired, and being rested for the midweek game is no surprise. 1 tackle, 1 interception and 3 clearances.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 7. Another solid and caution-free game. That’s 4 straight and 1 more will get his total knocked down to 2. No spectacular stops, just a solid game. 3 tackles, 1 interception and 2 clearances.
CB: Miles Robinson – 7. Another complete game, and the only Atlanta field player not to miss any minutes this season. 4 tackles, 1 interceptions, 1 clearances and 1 block, as well as 1 off-target shot.
RB: Franco Escobar – 7. Strong defensively and a threat going forward. 1 tackle, 1 interception, 1 clearance and 2 blocks.
LM: Darlington Nagbe – 8. Darlington, like Parky, has earned his Wednesday off. Not sure where the will-he-ever-score-for-Atlanta pools stands, but he remains a key part of the midfield. A relatively low (by his standards) 78 passes, but with a whopping 97.4% accuracy.
CM: Pity Martinez – 8. Finally! And a golazo into the bargain, just like the River Plate YouTube highlight reels we have all watched through. Rested after 76 minutes, and we’ll need him to do it again soon. Very soon.
RM: Eric Remedi – 7. Not overly taxed this game on the defensive side. Led all players in passing with 82 for 92.7% accuracy.
LAM: Tito Villalba – 8. Assisted on Pity’s goal, and should have had a second. Made the Orlando defense look slow. Which admittedly isn’t hard. Left in the 84th minute.
RAM: Julian Gressel – 8. Cheated out of a goal, and otherwise surprisingly had no shots. Still, he is some ways Atlanta's most dangerous player. Subbed out 1 minute into stoppage time.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 7. Another goalless game, with 4 shots and only 1 on target. But he is always a threat and is a much better distributor of the ball this year, making himtherefore a double threat.
SUB: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Cam on for Pity,a and really didn’t have much to do in 14 official minutes.
SUB: Brek Shea – 7. Also didn’t have much to do, and didn’t make any mistakes. Will likely get the start against Vancouver. Even if he is too tall for turf.
SUB: Justin Meram – 7. A brief cameo and applauded loudly as he came on, and that because...
COACH: Frank de Boer – 8. Gets bonus points for buying into the whole we-laugh-at-Orlando ethos. Subbing in both Shea and Meram was some serious shade.
COMPRESSED SCHEDULES: – 5. Pfft. No big deal. Atlanta United invented compressed schedules 2 years ago.