Well, that was fun! Orlando City got back to winning ways against Atlanta United in front of a lively Exploria Stadium, which means that the Lions went undefeated against the team from Georgia this year. What follows are my thoughts from the win.
It was a pretty uneven start to the game for Orlando, and there was plenty of reason to be worried that the team would go another game without a win. Atlanta had a lot of the ball in the early going, and was finding a lot of space in the Lions’ midfield. The visitors had several good looks at goal but thankfully were unable to convert any of them. A quick counter in the ninth minute almost led to a chance at goal for Nani, but other than that Orlando was quiet for the opening 20 minutes and Atlanta was probably the better of the two teams. Luckily for the good guys, things wouldn’t stay that way.
Much Improved Second Half
The second half saw OCSC really take control of proceedings. It’s usually easier to play with a lead, and that’s exactly what happened during the second 45 minutes. Goals aside, the Lions looked immensely comfortable for the last half of the game. While they didn’t dominate the possession statistics — Oscar Pareja said after the game that conceding possession and looking for transition opportunities was part of the plan — the men in purple kept their opponents from looking truly threatening during open play after halftime. The Five Stripes took three shots in total during the second half, with the two from open play both being taken outside of the box and missing. Orlando, meanwhile, did a much better job of controlling the game and pressing at the right times, and in general looked far more dangerous than in the opening period.
Tesho Plays a Different Role
Tesho Akindele was asked to play a slightly different role than normal in this one. Typically the Canadian is deployed as the striker in a 4-3-3 formation, but last night he was partnered with Daryl Dike at the top of a 4-4-2. He was tasked with dropping into midfield and picking up the ball, and then either driving forward into space or picking passes to bring his teammates into the game offensively. For the most part, I think it’s something that he did well. Obviously he isn’t a straight replacement for the role that Mauricio Pereyra plays for the team, but Tesho was sneakily effective when dropping deep. His flicked header near midfield set Dike in behind on a run that the Canadian eventually finished off with a goal, and he also did a great job of pulling the second defender away for Dike’s goal. In all likelihood, he’s given Oscar Pareja another option to think about until Pererya’s return.
Dike the Danger Man
Hoo boy. Where to begin with Daryl Dike in this game? The big man bossed this one for large stretches, plain and simple. His touch and turn for his goal were excellent, especially given that Ruan’s pass had no small amount of zip on it. His clean footwork and fantastic run later in the half would have resulted in Orlando’s second goal had he not been called for a foul just before crossing the ball. Then, the way he dipped his shoulder and breezed by Laurence Wyke to square for Tesho’s goal? [/Chef’s kiss] Aside from the obvious though, there was a lung-busting sprint back after a first half corner to help slow down an Atlanta counter-attack; not to mention his tireless work in pressing, holding the ball up, and his very underrated dribbling ability. He gives Orlando a completely different dimension, and it was on full display last night.
Strong Building Block
While it was certainly disappointing to fail yet again to keep a clean sheet, the manner in which the Lions were able to put the game away should bring some reassurance to all parties involved as the season draws to a close. It’s true that Atlanta is a shadow of what it has been in years past, but you can only beat the team put in front of you — something that the Lions hadn’t done in their last four games. Hopefully the emphatic nature of the win in front of a limited but rowdy Exploria Stadium will help build momentum for a strong finish to the regular season. It wasn’t a perfect win, but it was very important to get back to winning ways, and provide something to feed on.
Bonus Takeaway: Cash Makes a Deposit
I would feel incredibly guilty if I didn’t mention the Money Badger’s free kick in this game. An absolute bomb from the fan favorite left Brad Guzan with zero chance and gave Orlando the all-important second goal. The fact that the MVP ballot has a whopping 46 players on it but no room for Chris Mueller is highway robbery. He has nine goals, with none coming from penalty kicks, and six assists to go along with them. Put some respect on his name, and put him in a USMNT January camp at the very least. That is all.
Did I miss anything? Be sure to have your say down in the comments.