An 87th minute Luis Nani winner ensured Atlanta United lost against Orlando at Exploria Stadium Friday night. The late winner cancelled out a pair of wonder strikes from Josef Martinez and Marcelino Moreno and a classy performance from Alec Kann. Atlanta United has now gone 11 games without a win and sits in 10th in the Eastern Conference with two wins.
Orlando City has been dealing with injury issues and absences of their own, but the Lions are flying high in the MLS standings. They’re second in the Eastern Conference, so maybe the result shouldn't be all that surprising, though that doesn’t make the way it played out any easier to swallow.
“This is a results based business and we haven’t been getting the results the club expects,” said goalkeeper Alec Kann. “We’re out of excuses. It’s on the players to get this right and we [have to] look at ourselves in the mirror and make it happen on Wednesday.”
Ever since Josef tore his ACL in the Nashville game back in 2020, Atlanta United and Major League Soccer have been waiting for a “Josef is back moment.” I think it’s fair to say that Josef is probably back, and he’s even added some new dimensions to his game. In the opening minute, the Venezuelan started the move that led up to his impressive first time finish from outside the Orlando penalty area.
Then it was mostly Orlando City on the front foot. If it weren't for Alec Kann’s heroics throughout the first half, the game would’ve been over before the halftime whistle. He made six saves in the first half, the most ever made by an Atlanta United goal keeper during the first half of a match.
One man can only do so much, and eventually the dam took its first hit of the night. Brooks Lennon lost his mark on a corner kick late in the second half, and Kyle Smith scored Orlando’s equalizer just minutes before halftime.
Kyle Smith with the header!— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 31, 2021
All tied up in Orlando just before the half. pic.twitter.com/Q6MHIGUTu5
Interim head coach Rob Valentino subbed off left back Mikey Ambrose at halftime after a poor performance on Atlanta’s left side. Ronald Hernandez moved to left back, Brooks Lennon dropped to right back, and Machop Chol came in up top.
In the 66th minute, Marcelino Moreno scored a worldie that invoked memories of previous iterations of this matchup to put Atlanta 2-1 up over Orlando.
12 minutes later, Orlando equalized yet again. Van Der Water (!) finished off a well worked Orlando City move to make it 2-2.
Then in the 86th minute, the real pain began. Santiago Sosa was caught flat footed and Nani put the game away in front of the ecstatic home fans.
NANI FOR THE WIN!— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 31, 2021
What a finish in Orlando. pic.twitter.com/ieqvfOmYVs
There’s a pattern with all three of Orlando’s goal here. They all derived from passes sent through through the air, and that’s been a consistent problem for Atlanta this season.
“I think we haven’t been able to defend set pieces and aerial balls into our box well enough,”Ronaldo Hernandez said. “We need to be more concentrated in that area.”
On the other side of the field, Atlanta didn’t really have much going forward. After two performances that saw Atlanta United seemingly break free from its shackles and finally start creating more scoring chances, the Five Stripes were limited to only six shots and accumulated 0.7 xG compared to Orlando’s 15 shots and 2.7 xG.
Atlanta’s two goals were goals we all like to see, but in terms of consistent chance creating and threatening opportunities, those weren’t really a thing for Atlanta. Goals like those don’t come around that often (especially for this Atlanta team).
Atlanta United travels to Stade Saputo to play the Montreal MLS franchise next Wednesday.