Orlando City was in a tough spot on Saturday night. The Lions were looking to put an end to a seven-game league losing streak, but they were challenged to do it against the top club in the MLS table, Atlanta United (11-3-4, 37 points), on the road in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Those aren’t exactly the ingredients for a turnaround performance, but stranger things have happened.
Well, they didn’t happen on Saturday. Orlando (6-10-1, 19 points) left Atlanta with its eighth straight MLS loss, this time a 4-0 loss led by a brace from Miguel Almiron.
Bobby Murphy stuck with the 3-4-3, opting to play defensively and look for counter-attack opportunities.
Atlanta United didn’t let City hang around and build confidence at all, getting the party started right out of the gate in the third minute thanks to the right foot of Josef Martinez. Orlando’s plan to absorb pressure quickly backfired as Julian Gressel played a pretty, curling ball in from the right flank that found its way past Amro Tarek and Lamine Sane before connecting with the on-running Martinez, who slotted it home into the bottom corner as he slid to ground. Joe Bendik had virtually no chance to stop it, and Atlanta went ahead very early.
The mission for the Lions very quickly became to withstand the onslaught, as United looked threatening after the early goal and appeared ready to bust the match wide open a number of times. After a careless Orlando turnover in minute five, Atlanta hit on the counter and missed a chance to make it 2-0 when a streaking Martinez played a low cross from the left that rolled all the way across the face of goal without finding a red and black foot. Once again, in minute 12, United created a dangerous situation that the Lions were fortunate to get out of when Almiron played a ball across the face of goal that deflected behind the goal off Jonathan Spector’s leg.
Things continued in the same vein for a while, with Orlando City playing on the back foot and Atlanta looking by far the more dangerous side. There were moments in the first half where the Lions appeared listless, reeling from their seven-game skid and deflated even more by Atlanta’s early goal. Things improved a bit toward the end of the half, however, and the Lions were actually a bit unlucky to go into the break a goal down.
In minute 38, Chris Mueller won a corner after corralling the ball off a set piece, spinning away from a defender, and sending the ball towards goal before it was deflected out behind for a corner. On the resulting corner, Mueller got a head on the ball that fell in the six-yard box for Spector, whose shot was deflected by Guzan and bounced around for Tarek to charge onto. The center back couldn’t put it home, however, as former Lion Mikey Ambrose got to it first and cleared it off the line. On the ensuing corner, Guzan charged out to punch the in-swinging cross but misjudged its path as he was beaten in the air by Tarek, whose header sailed just wide of the right post, and Atlanta escaped the sequence unscathed.
Will Johnson got a chance at a header at the death of the half after Hector Villalba turned it over and Tarek took advantage and sent a ball in from the left side. Johnson’s header looped over the bar, however, and the half ended 1-0 to Atlanta.
The Lions may have steadied the ship (relatively) in the first half, but a team like Atlanta, which is the highest-scoring club in MLS, can flip a game on its head quickly. A few minutes into the second half, that’s exactly what happened.
After Mueller and Tarek managed to get to the end line in the box for Orlando on back-to-back sequences, the latter managed to win a corner. The set piece went awry when Johnson whiffed on a pass and United was out on the break, and a few seconds later Almiron made it 2-0 after slotting past Bendik. Martinez had received the ball near midfield, charged forward, and dished the assist.
Just two minutes later, Ezequiel Barco made it 3-0 after putting back a rebound after Almiron curled one onto the crossbar, and the rout that felt close early in the game was officially on.
Almiron put a bow on the win for Atlanta in the 78th minute when he beat a stumbling Spector and got himself into another 1-v-1 situation with Bendik, which he converted with a five-hole finish between Bendik’s legs from an acute angle.
Almiron was denied a hat trick by a Mohamed El-Munir block on a breakaway in the 85th minute and the AR’s flag was up anyway.
The Lions just couldn’t get on the scoreboard, missing a couple chances toward the end of the first half and blowing their most clear-cut chance of the night in minute 61 as well. After Uri Rosell fired a shot from distance that a diving Guzan parried back in front of goal, Johnson was unable to simply slot home into the resulting open net, instead scuffing it wide of the goal. So it went for Orlando on the evening, continuing the long run of futility that has now seen the Lions outscored 23-5 on aggregate since a loss to Atlanta started the losing streak in May. The shutout this week was the third on the spin for Orlando, which ties the club’s record.
Saturday’s match was the last that Orlando will play under Interim Head Coach Bobby Murphy, as new hire James O’Connor will take the reins and look to get things back on track following the dismissal of former Head Coach Jason Kreis. Murphy went 0-2 in MLS play and saw his team out-scored 6-0, but he did manage to get the team into the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals with a penalty shootout win.
Orlando City’s last league win came way back on May 6 against Real Salt Lake.
Things could yet get worse before they get better for the Lions, who travel to Los Angeles next Saturday to face a tough LAFC side.