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Atlanta United vs. Orlando City: Five Takeaways

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What did we learn from the Lions’ first trip to Georgia?

MLS: Orlando City SC at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in two weeks Atlanta United FC striker Hector Villalba solved a stingy Orlando City defense to break Lion hearts.

Orlando City started with high energy, saw the hosts take control of the match, scored before halftime, and then defended the middle of the pitch well until allowing too much space for a pair of passes that ended up putting Villalba behind the back line for the equalizer. But what did we learn from the 1-1 draw at Atlanta? Let’s get to the takeaways.

Dwyer Starts

It didn’t take long for the newly (re)minted Orlando City star to find his way into Jason Kreis’ plans. With only two days of practice, we got a chance to see Dom in (some) purple again. A solid debut without being spectacular, coming inches away from opening his OCSC MLS account twice. There’s still a lot of work to do as Dwyer incorporates himself into the squad, but a player of his quality and his familiarity with Orlando should help him settle sooner than later.

Orlando Needs a Statement Win to Reset the Season

Sure, a point on the road in MLS is always a good thing. You can’t fault the commitment, as the team hustled and fought, but a win for Orlando was always going to feel lucky. The Lions still look like a work in progress, and right now that progress is slowly tumbling down the standings. While the goal was pretty and the effort was there, this team never looked like they’d be bringing home all three points. As strange as it is to say, despite a heartbreaking goal after the 92nd minute, the Lions are the lucky ones to be coming home with one point.

Kaká Shows

With a brilliant Goal of the Week-type strike, Kaká reminded Orlando and MLS that despite all the talk of Dom Dwyer this week, he’s still here and eager to help his team compete. The goal also brought Kaká into a tie for fifth with Dwyer on Orlando’s all-time goal scoring charts (USL and MLS combined). Kaká had an overall solid game, making a few dangerous runs and crosses. This good game built on a positive outing last week as well. He still had a couple of giveaways in midfield that should be above his ability and put the Orlando defense under a lot of pressure.

Defense Bends a Lot and Breaks…Once

Kudos to Orlando’s back line and Joe Bendik once again. They were under pressure for a majority of the game and handled most of it. Atlanta dominated possession 64% to 36%, had a 78% passing rate, and a 78% successful passing rate in the attacking third. Those are the kinds of numbers that lead to blowouts usually. The inability for the attacking midfielders and strikers to hold the ball and develop an attack for more than a minute or two puts incredible pressure for impossibly long periods. That money spent on Dwyer feels all the more worth it as Orlando still needs to figure out its offense.

Atlanta is Still Learning…and That’s Scary

I still believe in the MLS learning curve for both new players and expansion teams. It is a tough league that can create havoc on a passionate supporter’s heart rate. Atlanta United FC seems to be learning at the rate of a Facebook AI robot. Someone needs to unplug them, ASAP. Kidding aside, everyone expected Atlanta to have a lot of quality in the side, but the team’s rush to the head of the class when it comes to the first season learning curve has been remarkable. They don’t possess a lot of veteran leadership, their coach and a majority of their players are new to the league, and they are exceptionally young. That mix continues to confound the any veteran observer of MLS. If you are an Atlanta United FC fan, perhaps it’s better that no one has told them they aren’t supposed to be this good yet.

Be frightened of this team when they add a season of experience to their quality and energy.

We will set it up and do it all again with Atlanta again Sept.16 — an affair that will promise to be feisty and interesting. Orlando will hope to have figured out its now Dom Dwyer-led offense by then and give Atlanta a game.