Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Orlando City played a pretty decent overall game but wasn’t ruthless enough in the final third. The Lions fashioned more good scoring chances than their hosts, but fell 1-0 to Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. It was the fourth consecutive victory by clean sheet for Atlanta (5-3-2, 17 points) and the second straight game Orlando (3-5-3, 12 points) failed to score a goal.
Pity Martinez provided all the scoring with his early goal, as the Lions dropped to 1-2-2 on the road in 2019 and 0-5-2 in the all-time series against Atlanta (0-2-2 away from home). City has lost consecutive games for the first time this season and is winless in three games (0-2-1).
With Nani not making the trip due to a calf injury, James O’Connor was forced to make out the lineup without his star man. O’Connor also dropped Lamine Sané and Uri Rosell — two consistent starters in recent games — as well as Sacha Kljestan from the 18. Alex De John returned from injury to start in the middle of a three-man back line on either side of rookie Kamal Miller and Robin Jansson, while Cristian Higuita started in his 99th competitive appearance for Orlando in the middle of the five-man midfield. Dillon Powers made a rare appearance on the substitutes’ bench.
Higuita fashioned the first good chance of the match in the opening minute, stealing the ball from Eric Remedi and feeding Dwyer, who tried an inside-out shot that sliced wide. Dwyer was nearly gifted an opportunity by United goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who misplayed a back pass, but the Orlando forward couldn’t find a partner to link up with through the defense.
A few promising spells of possession then fell apart for Orlando as Ruan struggled to avoid falling on Atlanta’s artificial turf.
Atlanta did what it always did, scoring off an Orlando mistake in the middle of the pitch on a goal by a player who had otherwise been a disappointment. Like Ezequiel Barco’s two goals against Orlando last season in an otherwise weak season, Martinez opened his MLS account in the 14th minute against the Lions. De John tried to win an aerial ball in the middle of the park but misjudged it and it sailed over his head, giving Atlanta an odd-man rush. Martinez beat Brian Rowe with an unstoppable shot and the hosts had the lead and a very solid defensive start fell apart on one play.
The goal inspired the hosts, who took full control of the match, nearly doubling the lead on two occasions. Josef Martinez ran inside of Miller and took a good through ball to get in alone on Rowe. After rounding the goalkeeper, Martinez shot but Miller did well to stay with the play and cleared the ball off the line.
On the ensuing corner, nobody marked Miles Robinson and Rowe made a great reaction save to deny the goal.
Orlando withstood those opportunities and came back into the match with some possession but couldn’t do much with it. Ruan’s cross in the 33rd minute found Dwyer in front of goal. Dwyer lunged to get onto it but didn’t strike it true and he left it where Guzan could get down and make the sprawling save.
The best chance the rest of the way came near the end of the half. Will Johnson got onto a pass from De John at the top of the area and fired a shot only to see Guzan make a diving stop on the line. Atlanta took its 1-0 lead into the break.
United led in shots (7-3), shots on target (4-2), possession (63.5%-36.5%), and passing accuracy (89%-82%).
Atlanta appeared to just about put the game to bed early in the second half when Julian Gressel took a pass from Hector Villalba and beat Rowe between his legs from high in the penalty area. The play was ruled as a goal on the field but referee Rubiel Vazquez went to the monitor and after a short video review it was determined that Villalba was offside on the buildup. Orlando may have gotten away with one as the play was extremely close and had that happened with the teams reversed it would no doubt not have gone down well with City fans.
Atlanta was all over Orlando in the early part of the second half, isolating Villalba against De John to great effect. O’Connor eventually subbed off De John for Kyle Smith and it helped mitigate the issue. Chris Mueller came on for Dwyer a few minutes later and the game started to tilt Orlando’s way.
Mueller fired a free kick right at Guzan in the 66th minute, then sent Joao Moutinho along with a deft flick. Moutinho went down under contact from Franco Escobar and Vazquez gave it a good, long look, but he swallowed his whistle on the play. There wasn’t a good replay available to look at as FOX cut it off before the contact.
In the late going, Orlando should have found an equalizer but didn’t. Higuita fired well over the bar in acres of space just above the box in the 77th minute. Akindele fired right at Guzan in the 80th minute off a nice feed from third substitute Josué Colmán. Ruan missed the net from point-blank range off a Moutinho pass in the 85th minute.
After former Lions Brek Shea and Justin Meram subbed on for Atlanta, the game ended with the hosts still holding the 1-0 advantage. Final stats evened out a bit as Atlanta held the advantage in shots (13-10), shots on target (5-4), possession (62%-38%), and passing accuracy (86%-81%). It was simply the Lions’ inability to finish their opportunities that had them walking off the field on the wrong side of the scoreboard against Atlanta yet again.
The road trip continues Wednesday night at 10:30 p.m. ET at Seattle as the Lions visit the Sounders — another team they’ve never beaten.