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Is Orlando City’s Defense Returning to its Early Season Form?

The defense had a great start to the season before a run of substandard play. Have the Lions fixed some problems during the Gold Cup break?

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

Orlando City drew 1-1 against Atlanta this past Saturday. It was the second consecutive game that Orlando City played against Atlanta and also the second straight game where the Lions had only given up one goal. Giving up only a goal in each of the last two games looks to be a step in the right direction for the Lions as the road ahead looks tough.

Looking at games from June 17 and up to the Gold Cup break at the beginning of July, Atlanta played in five games and scored 11 goals. Needless to say, it was a team on fire heading into that break.

In that same time, Orlando City was a team looking forward to the break. It was losing games and getting scored on at a higher rate than normal. Orlando allowed 11 goals, averaging 2.2 goals allowed per game over the course of five matches. With Atlanta scoring at the same 2.2 rate, all signs could’ve and should’ve pointed to Atlanta dominating Orlando City.

But the break was worthwhile and not everything was as bad as it looked on paper. Yes, Orlando lost 1-0 at home to Atlanta on July 21, but that should not deter from the direction the team is headed. In fact, Orlando looked rested, played well, and at the end of the day the team was simply punished for a late mistake. The 1-0 loss at home was due to an absolute stunner of a goal from Atlanta’s Villalba from about 25 yards out. Villalba did much of the same this past weekend against Orlando, this time to rescue a point for his Atlanta side.

So, what can we take away from both games?

The simple fact is that Orlando only gave up one goal in each game to an Atlanta side that was on fire before the Gold Cup break. Before the two games against the Lions, Atlanta was averaging 2.05 goals per game on the season. Atlanta was not able to match this against an unyielding Orlando defense.

For Orlando not to allow a multi-goal game in either match-up against Atlanta is positive, but it doesn’t mean that everything is great yet. The defense was under attack a lot and for the back line to only give up a goal in each of the last two games is surprisingly something to be excited about.

Our own Kevin Mercer explained it perfectly: “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.”

Orlando has a defense that bends a lot but doesn’t often break, and when it does, the opposing offense still has to get past Joe Bendik.

Atlanta is the best offense that Orlando City plays in the remaining schedule. Now, with two games against Atlanta already played, we see that the Lions’ defense looks to be in good form. The key is that it cannot do it all alone and will certainly need help from the offense. This makes the acquisition of Dom Dwyer all the more relevant down this final stretch of the season.

If the offense can take some pressure off of the Orlando defense then we could be looking at a few key shutouts down the line. With the Montreal Impact up next and D.C. United down the road, we could possibly see shutouts against either of these lower scoring offenses.

The goal is the playoffs and in order to reach that goal the defense needs to be as solid and as tuned as it has been these past two weekends. I look forward to seeing what it can do to finish out this season.