Atlanta United opened their 2021 MLS season with a scoreless draw away to Orlando City on Saturday afternoon. In a wide open, back and forth affair that saw both teams create several chances, neither could put the finishing touches on a goal. In the end, it was a well-earned point against a tough opponent for Gabriel Heinze in his first-ever match in MLS. Here are a couple of thoughts on what was probably a fair result for both sides:
Slowly But Surely
Coming off of a mediocre performance in the second leg against Alajuelense, the Five Stripes were in need of a spark in the attack. Heinze deployed an attack-minded lineup from the start with Ezequiel Barco paired with Emerson Hyndman in the middle in front of Santiago Sosa. While Barco didn’t create a ton going forward, his work rate and ability to press was noticeable.
The ideas are starting to come together for Atlanta’s fledgling attack under Heinze. In this match they demonstrated some nice patterns of play and created some good looks on goal. Most notably, in the first half, Brooks Lennon had a clear chance after some lovely interchanging with Jake Mulraney on the right flank. Unfortunately his shot ended up being blocked.
According to Opta, Atlanta United had a respectable Expected Goals total of 1.45. While it still feels like there’s a lot of learning and growing to do under Heinze’s tutelage, things seem to be trending in the proper direction. Orlando is a very good team and Atlanta stood toe-to-toe with them away from home and didn’t disappoint. It’s important that we remain patient and hopefully the chances and goals will soon start flowing.
It’s still incredibly early, but Atlanta United may have found themselves their next midfield lynchpin. Darlington Nagbe’s departure left a debilitating hole in the lineup, there is no denying it. After a few matches I’m ready to confidently say Santiago Sosa has filled that hole better than anyone could’ve possibly hoped. To compare him stylistically to Nagbe would be asinine as they are very different, but the type of impact and calming influence he has while on the field is very similar.
Against Orlando he showcased most of his skillset with a wide-ranging display of successful passes, a bulldog-like mentality to win the ball back, and a tireless work rate to boot. The Argentine is proving why he was the most expensive signing for Atlanta this offseason. As long as he stays healthy he could put his name up alongside the best defensive midfielders in MLS by season’s end.
We’re now less than a week until Atlanta United supporters return to the Benz to cheer on their team. The home opener against Chicago Fire on Saturday night should be a huge moment in the season for not only the club but for the fans. Even though only 50% capacity will be allowed, the place should be rocking. Hopefully with the familiar sounds of your voices filling MBS it will give Heinze’s squad the boost they need to find their goal-scoring touch. A resounding performance and result is just what everyone needs to get the season headed where we all hope it can go.