In every situation, there are going to be three major ways you can view it: optimistically, pessimistically, or from a realistic or pragmatic standpoint. In sports, it’s very easy to slide back and forth between the first two depending on the mitigating factors of the game like the emotions, the importance of the match, or the referee.
Overall, I’m very pragmatic by nature with a lean towards optimism. That doesn't mean I don’t see how someone could tear apart this match in a way that makes this tough 2-1 loss look like a drubbing. I do believe this match will serve as a key learning point and there were a lot of positive and negative takeaways to be had.
Let’s start out with a very positive viewpoint because being negative right from the get-go is just a bummer. There is a lot to like from this match. Much of it would come from the left side of the defense as I thought the combination of Amro Tarek and Mohamed El-Munir played fantastically well. All night, they were there with game-saving tackles and offensive drive you want to see out of those guys.
The second half was a dominating performance in which Atlanta had very few opportunities in the attack. Atlanta actually only had one quality chance, which City was lucky to not concede.
We saw exactly what Uri Rosell can mean to the team when he replaced Cristian Higuita at the beginning of the second half and I expect Uri will be getting some starts soon enough to prepare him for the World Cup absence of Yoshí Yotún — probably against Toronto since Yotún picked up his fifth booking against Atlanta.
You look at a match that could have easily been 2-2 if City was awarded a penalty kick on what appeared to be a handling in the first half and you come away with a point against a very strong Atlanta team at the top of the league.
So now is where I’m going to rail into the side a bit. Overall, the Lions came out flat and nervous at the same time. They looked out of sync as passes were off the mark, runs weren't made at times, and the fight — specifically in the midfield — did not seem to be there on defensive transition.
Higuita and Yotún arguably had their worst matches on the season and chose to do it at the same time. Neither looked very locked in on either side of the game and Atlanta consistently exposed them and their spacing from the back line repeatedly over the first half — which in turn exposed Lamine Sane’s lack of pace against a monster in Josef Martinez.
This match could have been 4-0 or 5-1 very easily had Atlanta taken advantage of early chances from balls whipped all over the box. They found the space in between the defensive midfield and back line and exposed it, causing the back line to pinch. This gave all the room in the world to the wingers, who barely missed trailing runners because the team wasn't fighting to get back or overcompensated their runs.
The other point is that Atlanta was very content on a short week after just having played Wednesday to sit back with a 2-0 lead with its backup goalkeeper as Brad Guzan served a suspension. The Five Stripes weren't looking to press City, rather conserving energy for what would be a second half mostly in their defensive half. If Atlanta was fresh and wanted to go for it, we could have seen City being thrashed like it was in the first half at times.
Orlando got a harsh dose of reality, learning it can’t continue to start matches off down a goal or two and always find your way back. City has to learn it needs to be focused from the start. This was a tough loss that could have been even worse.
As always, this standpoint is always the mix of the previous two sprinkled with some differing points to what was already made known.
There is no doubt in my mind that unfortunately the referee made a meal of this match. He appeared to be way over his head in managing the match and just didn't have his best outing. This caused a very lopsided 5-1 yellow card count against City and the emotions continued to run high the whole match. The missed penalty kick that should have been given to City would have changed the nature of the match entirely. Instead, that and another slew of rough calls — called and not called — led to a tumultuous game.
But a referee doesn't play and City was simply not at its best yesterday. This isn't a bad thing per se. You can look at that statement, and while upset, understand that there’s definitely room to make positive arguments from its play and how it’ll adapt moving forward.
The attack was often quick and had some nice combination play, but lacked the finishing touch. Additionally, the Lions seemed to be looking for the perfect ball instead of testing the backup goalkeeper, which was a mistake. City’s only goal was created because the goalkeeper didn't do enough to punch away a shot. If City would have been quicker on the trigger, it could have been a different match.
I thought the defense did well overall against a star-studded attack and no one is ever going to completely shut Atlanta down. Sane’s pace was exposed, but when Spector comes back I believe that’s a mute issue as Tarek is quickly proving to be a great find as the second center back.
There are different ways you can look at the match and synthesize how City will look moving forward. Do I think the Lions are that far below Atlanta and there are some serious issues that will be exposed later in the season? No. Do I think that the Lions have a way to go in matching Atlanta in play? Absolutely.
Arguably, this will be a positive match to take a lot from and I will be keen on the adjustments made over the next few matches. Some pieces of Orlando were exposed yesterday, others shined, but all will learn from this match. The season is long. A loss to the best team in MLS 2-1 is nothing to worry about. City had its chances. It’s just up to you on how you want to perceive this result.