Atlanta United and Orlando City played to a spirited and controversial 1-1 draw on Sunday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. After some questionable shenanigans led to the visitors taking a first half lead, the Five Stripes put together their most impressive 45 minutes in quite some time to secure a point and were very unlucky to not grab a win. Here are a few thoughts on an encouraging draw against the Lions.
- Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way since I know 95% of the comments will be pertaining to the officiating. As you hopefully know by now, I absolutely hate the post-match narrative of complaining or blaming referees for results. However, there are some instances when it cannot be avoided. It really feels like this is one of those times. Orlando’s goal was puzzling to say the least. Firstly, the phantom foul call by match official Victor Rivas to award a free kick in a prime scoring area was pretty awful. Yes, contact was made, but it’s clear the attacking player was falling to the ground well before any collision could’ve been made. Now we get to the more muddy part of the debate. You have to think both the referee and Rocco Rios Novo share some responsibility for what happened on the free kick goal flying into an unattended side of the net for basically a free goal. There was clearly some communication between the two about allowing Rios Novo time to lineup his wall. However, the whistle can be heard clearly and loudly. No matter what is happening at the time, every player on the field must be ready to play when they hear the whistle. Sort of the inverse to the old cliche “play to the whistle”. Rios Novo had several seconds to stop what he was doing after hearing the whistle and get in position. So, fault may lie with the ref for going against a potential agreement with the goalkeeper, the onus is also still on Rios Novo to react to the whistle. It’s an unfortunate series of events that ultimately affected the outcome of the match. It also didn’t help that Rivas was extremely inconsistent all night on what he considered a foul on both ends of the field.
- It was quite encouraging to see the spirit levels of the team throughout the match in this one. Despite the rotten start, heads never dropped and they continued to press on. While the first half left some to be desired in the attacking department, the second half was just a completely different level we haven’t seen from this team in some time. From the opening whistle of the second half, Atlanta played with a noticeable intensity and urgency. It almost felt like a scene from a movie when the coach gives a big inspiring halftime speech and motivates the whole team. That intensity didn’t let up, which was the remarkable thing. Despite only grabbing one goal, they could’ve easily scored several more with a little luck or better touches and won the match. Disregarding the result, this was the type of energy and relentlessness shown in the second half is what Atlanta United fans grew to love in the early years of the club. And it’s exactly what has been missing for such a long time when why Atlanta United doesn’t feel like Atlanta United anymore. If they can rediscover that type of vigor on a more consistent basis then they are truly on to something good.
- We must give a special shoutout to Juanjo Purata for scoring his first goal and being a steady influence on the back line. It’s still way too early to dub him a defensive savior or star, but it’s clear that he’s very competent in both possession and defending. Just having that sense of stability back there, even if it’s not spectacular or mind-blowing, is a huge boost to the whole team. So far, it’s looking like a stroke of genius to bring him in on loan. We can only hope it continues to pay dividends.