At the end of the day, Orlando left it all on the line but walked away with nothing to show for it, as Atlanta United did what the billboard said it would do, conquering the Lions with a 1-0 result on Friday night at Orlando City Stadium.
Hector Villalba scored the game winning goal in the 86th minute, an absolute rocket from distance that gave Joe Bendik little chance to save, and the Lions weren’t able to overcome and find a positive result.
Here are my five takeaways from the match:
Walking Away Empty-Handed
It’s easy to say that Orlando City deserved a lot more than it got out of this match. The Lions were arguably the better side throughout the contest. They executed 14 shots, but could only put five on target, a problem they’ve seen much throughout the season. You could tell at one point in the second half that things just weren’t falling their way in front of the net and that finding the score sheet was going to be a challenge. And it ended up being the case. If not all three, Orlando certainly deserved a point out of this one.
Man of the Match for either side has to be Brad Guzan. Making his Atlanta United debut, Guzan made five saves, including a couple of massive saves on Jonathan Spector set-piece headers, as well as full-body stop on a Carlos Rivas blast late in the first half. And all of this can be attributed to Bruce Arena, who released Guzan from the United States’ Gold Cup roster earlier this week. So thank you, Bruce, you are basically the reason why Orlando City was shut out on Friday night.
Kaká Returning to Form
The results weren’t there, but it was a solid night for the captain. Kaká was easily the best player on the field for Orlando City through the first 45 minutes, and created a game-high four chances on the night — three in the first half. His passing stats don’t tell the whole story, for most of his unsuccessful attempts at least had some good ideas to them. Kaká also had a pair of strong runs early in the first half that set up some good opportunities.
Defense Stays Solid For Almost 90 Minutes
Credit should go to the defense in this one as well. The back line played solid for the full 90 minutes, and too much blame can’t be placed on what was an amazing strike by Hector Villalba. Jonathan Spector made a case to be Orlando’s Man of the Match, and Scott Sutter showed up ready to play tonight as well. He covered a ton of ground, and hit Jose Aja with a great cross in the 25th minute that earned Orlando a corner. After their struggles with keeping opponents off the board over the last two months, the Lions did a fine job tonight against a really good offensive team, holding the visitors to just eight shots.
So, Do We Have A Rivalry?
The buildup to this game surely was among the most entertaining that we’ve had this season — or maybe even of any season so far in MLS — and for the most part, the game kinda delivered. There were some chippy moments sprinkled in there, and the fans brought the passion, but at the end of the day neither team was still ready to call this a rivalry match. Kaká said afterwords that Orlando’s rival is still New York City FC, then maybe Atlanta. Well, we’re not done yet, as these two sides will meet up again in one week’s time — this time in Atlanta at Bobby Dodd Stadium (Saturday, July 29, 5 p.m. ET).