The 10th time was the charm. Orlando City finally beat Atlanta United on their tenth try across all competitions, and they did it at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Five Stripes again looked a little out of sorts in the midfield, and defensive mistakes led to easy chances that Orlando finished off clinically.
Despite only having 39% of possession on the day, Orlando tallied 2.29 in expected goals to Atlanta’s 0.49. Worst of all, Orlando did it largely without their two best players, Nani and Mauricio Pereyra, which the Ultimate #ATLUTD Troll was quick to point out:
It was smart of Pareja to rest his two best players (Nani & Pereyra) against a smaller, much weaker side.— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) August 29, 2020
In fairness, Atlanta was a little depleted, with Barco and Damm starting on the bench as they are eased back into the lineup, and Emerson Hyndman wasn’t in the 18. Even so, it was a mediocre performance overall for the Five Stripes.
Easy Goals for Orlando
The teams had about the same number of shots, but Orlando City only needed 4 shots on goal to score 3 goals. Turns out that shot quality is important:
Mercedes-Benz Staff & Atlanta United Supporters Groups
I love how the Benz crew and our Supporter Groups have done their best to remind us what we’re missing during the pandemic. My personal favorite was the new “Good Trouble” banner from Footie Mob to pay homage to Rep. John Lewis and the BLM movement.
And this tribute to Chadwick Boseman was pure class:
Pity and Atlanta’s Wide Players
The bright spots for Atlanta United were the play of Pity Martinez, who coming off a brace against Nashville created two chances with a shot on goal against Orlando.
Otherwise, the most dangerous players on the night for Atlanta were on the wings. Brooks Lennon nearly scored off a corner early on, and his headed goal in the 83rd minute briefly (VERY briefly) brought Atlanta back into the match. Brooks was happy, but he rightly put the goal in its proper context.
“It means a lot, my first goal for Atlanta United,” he said after the match. “It’s tough to score with no fans but it meant a lot to me personally, but in terms of the overall result, it’s just not good enough.”
Lennon also accurately described the solid play of newcomer Jurgen Damm, who had the assist (off a cross!) in his first appearance with the team. (BTW, I will make #ItsAboutDammTime trend someday if it’s the last thing I do.)
“It was a great assist tonight to my header,” Lennon said. “[Damm] had a couple good chops on the guy and he was dangerous at times tonight, which was nice to see. He came on with loads of energy and that’s what we need.”
Atlanta’s Speed of Play
To borrow a phrase from a cliche southern football coach, Atlanta United looked slower than molasses in January. Players were taking 3 touches when they should take 2, and the ball wasn’t pinging around the field like it should. The slow play meant Orlando kept their defensive shape and ceded much of the possession to Atlanta without facing much of a threat.
“I think looking back now, if there is one thing that I could change it is definitely the speed that we were playing at,” said Anton Walkes. “I think it affected our whole team and it is something we should have done better.”
“I don’t think we moved the ball quick enough,” added Lennon. “We had too many cheap giveaways in the first half that led to goals.”
The “Cross and Pray” Tactic
I said earlier that the wing play was good from Atlanta, and it was. But the final product just wasn’t there because Orlando’s defense was always well-positioned in the box. In fact, they had 24 clearances on the day. Crosses are most dangerous when defenders are running toward their own goal, not when they’re sitting there waiting to head them away.
Here’s Atlanta’s crossing futility in graphic form:
It was another disappointing performance from Jahn. Bello nearly provided him with an assist late in the first half, but Jahn couldn’t quite reach it. In 348 total minutes played for Atlanta United, Jahn has only had 1 shot on goal. It’s Cubo time.
Atlanta Set Piece Defending
How on earth did Eric Remedi lose his man Junior Urso so badly on the first goal? I have no idea, but it’s never, ever good to give up an easy goal off a corner:
Glass wasn’t happy with the way things looked in midfield, and hade a change at halftime with two subs, bringing in Jeff Larentowicz for Mo Adams and Jake Mulraney for Manuel Castro. But in the end, Atlanta’s midfield just wasn’t good enough against an aggressive Orlando team.
“We didn’t cope with the way [Orlando City] pressed us and the way they were using the ball,” said Glass. “When they were winning the ball back we were out of shape and there was more space for their players to play. Generally, the whole shape was a little too easy to play through. We didn’t get a grip of the game.”
You know who was able to grab ahold of the midfield and never let go? Darlington Nagbe. Unfortunately, the hole left by his departure has become more evident. We’ll see if the front office has ideas for patching things up a bit as the season goes on.