A 2-1 loss to your rival never feels good. Orlando City has yet to beat Atlanta United since the club entered MLS, but the 2-1 loss did shed light on how Orlando City can improve and where it needs to do so.
Orlando City Must Make Scoring Opportunities Count
Orlando City had plenty of scoring chances against Atlanta United but its only goal came off of a shot from Will Johnson that ended up falling right to Justin Meram for his first goal in an Orlando City uniform. Orlando City had 11 shots with six on target but only forced backup goalkeeper Alec Kann to make one tough save the entire match, which led to the Meram goal while the other saves were simple. If Orlando City can force opposing defenses and goalkeepers to consistently be on their toes, something the Lions did on the six-game winning streak, then goals will come but against Atlanta United, that did not happen.
Orlando City Must Be More Successful on Set Pieces
Orlando City has struggled with set pieces all season, but it was evident against Atlanta United. Orlando City led the corner count, 9-1, yet the Lions could not manage to score on any of those chances. Orlando City also had numerous set piece opportunities that resulted in failed attacking chances, something that has to improve if the Lions hope to beat the top clubs in the Eastern Conference.
Orlando City Must Be More Disciplined
In a rivalry game, the game is going to be physical. But Orlando City must keep its composure and not get silly yellow cards. Cristian Higuita picked up a penalty in the box that led to Josef Martinez scoring the first goal of the match. It was soft, perhaps, but it was preventable. Yoshimar Yotún picked up a yellow card in a scrum with Hector Villalba, who also received a yellow card for retaliation. Will Johnson picked up a yellow card late in the game for dissent, as he believed he was fouled as complaints rained down on the referee. To be fair, the referee was very inconsistent, but Orlando City can not let silly calls or mistakes lead to yellow cards and maybe reds. If the team can wrangle in its discipline issues, especially the yellow cards, I believe Orlando City will be better than it already is.
Orlando City Cannot Always Rely on Joe Bendik
Joe Bendik is a solid goalkeeper, but he can only do so much. Bendik has only generated one shutout throughout 10 games, so obviously there is room for improvement for him as an individual. But the defense as a unit needs to do a better job not putting Bendik in sticky situations. He couldn’t have done much with the Martinez penalty kick, but the defense let Ezequiel Barco take an unmarked attempt in the box, resulting in a shot Bendik had no chance of saving. Bendik has done amazing things throughout the season, but Orlando City cannot rely on him to do it on every shot he faces, especially against high-powered offenses like Atlanta United.
Orlando City should have no reason to be in panic mode as it currently sits fourth in the Eastern Conference with 19 points, albeit with a tough stretch of games ahead. If Orlando City can improve on the above points of interest along this tough stretch of games, I believe it can weather the storm and learn how to compete with the best the Eastern Conference has to offer in New York City FC, Atlanta United, New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew SC. If Orlando improves, the Lions can be a force in the Eastern Conference and maybe generate more win streaks in the near future.