There it is, another loss in Mercedes-Benz Stadium as our beloved Lions fell 1-0 to the Five Stripes. Would that be their mascot? I don’t even know, maybe it’s a gorilla. A gorilla showed up a lot this match. Anyway, here are my five takeaways from the first in a long stretch of four games in 13 days.
The Lions Lack Grit
When I saw Cristian Higuita in the lineup, my initial thought was, “OK. James O’Connor is looking to play a little rougher this week.” We knew Atlanta would be a tough match, especially since Atlanta seemed to have found its mojo again, and the Lions maybe need the shakeup by adding Higuita to the mix, who we know isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. I mean, he looked to have a serious shoulder or elbow injury and refused to stay out.
Unfortunately, the Lions didn’t play with the scrap I was hoping to see. This team needs to work on professional fouls and learning to recognize if a possible yellow is worth the tackle. What’s incredibly frustrating is that the Lions didn’t play terribly. If they’d been a little more aggressive and could have stayed on their feet, we may have seen a completely different outcome.
Finishing is Still an Issue
I am so excited to see the team clicking more and more each week as it continues to create so many more chances than it did last season. The problem lies in finishing. Often, it’s because the team’s shots are so far off target that it doesn’t make a difference. Yesterday it seemed like the shots lacked power to break through Brad Guzman. I’m sure the coaching staff is working on this ad nauseum with the players, but we’re not seeing the fruits of their labor. Could Nani have helped in finishing? Maybe, but even he has seemed a bit off as of late.
Back Line Still isn’t Steady
Orlando Head Coach James O’Connor has been nothing but fluid with his starting XI. Perhaps this surprising lineup was meant to conserve players as the match was heavily predicted not to go in Orlando’s favor. Alex De John made his first appearance since going out with a hamstring injury in the 64th minute against the New York Red Bulls. I’ll be honest, I was excited to see him back, until I saw him let Hector Villalba do pretty much anything he wanted. Kyle Smith came on for De John and we saw a little bit of improvement, but the defense still needs work.
Got Defensive Midfielders?
We saw Joao Moutinho, Will Johnson, Higuita, Sebas Mendez, and Ruan in the midfield. Granted, we saw Ruan and Moutinho fall back and play on the back line several times, it felt to be a bit much and didn’t really make the difference Orlando needed. The defensive midfield seems to be well covered and the Lions really need some attacking midfielders to help convert some of these chances. I’m usually not on the Johnson train guys, but I can’t stop watching him this season. He’s been aggressive, fast, and he had one of the few shots on target this match.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the Worst
We’re spoiled as Mane Landers because our stadium is so well-kept thanks to the hard work of Matt Bruderek and his crew. That beautiful pitch is always so perfectly maintained to ensure the highest of quality for all players to step on to it.
Pick any 10 seconds from this match and you’ll likely see an Orlando City player lose their footing on the horrible turf. Again and again, players went down just as things were getting exciting. We saw it right away in the opening minute as Ruan was the first to fall victim, and then did again not too much later. It’s no question that the environment hindered play.
As a guest in the stadium, the experience is awful. You’re lucky if you can see two of the four corners. The football stadium that is kind enough to let Atlanta United decorate for the weekend sprawls outward rather than upward, unlike most soccer-specific stadiums. Not only that, it feels so commercial. Everything is bought and paid for by sponsors and it’s suffocating. The club can’t bother to play anything back on its giant board, because anytime there’s a break in play they throw a commercial up.
Leaving the stadium is a whole thing too. You can’t exit the nearest location, or even fromwhere you entered. Stadium staff blocks pathways and forces you down the seemingly endless maze of ramps until everyone is forced to funnel through a handful of doors.
It appears as though dark and rainy days are upon us, friends, both figuratively and literally. I fear if the Lions don’t get a win on the books soon, team morale is going to fall to pieces. The team has great players and is creating great chances, the results just don’t match as it continues to make silly mistakes and concede goals. Here’s hoping for some sort of magic as the Lions move through a tough stretch of matches.