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The AfterMath: Orlando City 0-0 Atlanta United

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An exercise in futility is a good result?

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Coming out of Exploria Stadium this early in the season with a 0-0 draw was a good result.

There. I said it. What was once unthinkable is now to be said out loud. The thing is, Orlando City have in the past year or so finally figured out how to build a soccer team (first order of business: ship out Joe Bendik). They are, at this point, a respectable and competitive club.

So, opening the MLS season in Central Florida and extending the clean sheet streak to 270 minutes was a creditable performance. Failing to score was perhaps not so great, but that’s probably my fault for considering Pedro Gallese for my fantasy team and then changing my mind. I unjinxed him. Then again, I also had Carlos Vela as my captain, so maybe I jinxed myself.

Statistically, this was a very even contest, the only serious difference being possession, which was 60-40 in Atlanta’s favor. Both teams got 3 of 11 shots on target, and xG (per MLS, not Opta) ended at 1.2 for Atlanta and 0.8 for Orlando, but only diverged after 80 minutes had already passed.

The heatmaps for this one are passing strange:

The glaring point to take away from this is the utter absence of meaningful penetration into the final third by either team. But the clear difference is that Orlando was otherwise literally all over the map. The Five Stripes in contrast were apparently stuck in their own penalty area, but if so, why on earth was Orlando not pressing that?

An interesting question. It’s not as if the 4-4-2 is incapable of allowing a high press. Far from it, in fact. Orlando simply chose not to. This also explains the big possession advantage for Atlanta. They had the ball in their final third and were able to screw around with it while the Cowardly Lions just watched. Consider the Atlanta passing network:

The thicker the bar, the more passes a player made to and received from the player on the other end, as well as average positions. As if you didn’t know, Brad Guzan is #1, Miles Robinson is #4 and Anton Walkes is #12. The keeper and his 2 centerbacks were pretty much bogarting the ball. Even Santiago Sosa (#5) was hardly involved in their private little game of keepaway.

Note also the shape of this chart. Atlanta were playing initially out of a 4-3-3. It looks frankly like a 5-1-4. Very flat up front, and with Ezequiel Barco (#8) slightly advanced of Lisandro Lopez. Barco was playing right wing, by the way. He…er…drifted a bit.

Brooks Lennon was the DSS Man of the Match. Here’s part of the reason why:

This compares him with George Bello. You can see it to some extent in the passing network, but it’s much clearer here. He was far more mobile and much more involved in the attack. His passing accuracy was an impressive 93.6% and included 40% on 10 crosses. Bello was also accurate at 92.3%, but on fewer passes, and no attempted crosses. Which is something of a surprise, Bello being, as I have noted before, a much stronger attacker than defender. This is also not a knock on Bello; that he had no crosses is at least in part because he was attacking a better fullback (Ruan vs. Kyle Smith). Neither of them was much involved in the defense, but why bother when there’s no offense going on?

The game also saw the MLS debut of Machop Chol, the 22-year-old Wake Forest product. Statistically he wasn’t overly impressive. In 24 official minutes he took 1 shot (off target) and made just 3 passes while committing 1 foul. But what is impressive is his speed. Not sure what his stride length is, but he’s clearly wearing seven league boots. The guy is fast. He also looked very comfortable. It’s not going to take him long to become a meaningful part of this team.

All told, a satisfactory performance. but the attack needs to get in gear. It hasn’t cost Atlanta anything yet (except made it a tad harder to get an Open Cup slot), but that can’t last. Goals were hard to come by last year; a repeat of that cannot happen.