Orlando City hadn’t won a match since the 3-1 victory at the very beginning of October against the New York Red Bulls. In fact, the club only scored three goals in the next four matches, earning a record of 0-1-3. There were plenty of factors surrounding that run of form, and there were questions about how the Lions would react to that loss at Inter Miami CF coming into the match against Atlanta United FC. Orlando City answered those questions emphatically with a 4-1 win at Exploria Stadium. This was an important win that came at just the right time.
There were as many as seven starters injured over the last month. Starting players like João Moutinho, Mauricio Pereyra, and Uri Rosell were among those out. Despite missing those pieces, Orlando City clinched the playoffs, and extended a club record 12-game unbeaten streak. That ended with the loss to Miami, but I would argue that loss was just what the club needed. Though coaches and players will never admit that maintaining such a streak affects how they play, it can’t help but do so in little, even subconscious ways. With the loss to Miami, that pressure was lifted.
Of course, just because the pressure of a streak was off, it didn’t mean there weren’t other issues. Very importantly, Orlando City was still missing a few players, though the club was getting healthier by the day. For the first 25 minutes or so of the match against Atlanta, Orlando City seemed to still be in bed and not fully awake. Then Daryl Dike got his second goal in two matches, and the entire club simply woke up.
Chris Mueller followed up with a free kick goal in first-half stoppage time. Dike added an assist on Tesho Akindele’s goal, and Sebas Mendez’s free kick bounced off of Mathias Aiás and just past Brad Guzan for goal number four. This is the second time that Orlando City has scored four goals in a match this season, with the last against Chicago in September at home. Occasionally, when a team hasn’t been scoring goals, the dam will break and they will get a bunch. Heading into the last few matches of the season, having the Lions confident in front of goal is incredibly important.
As I mentioned on The Mane Land PawedCast this week, this match represented a chance for Orlando City to start a new streak heading into the playoffs. If the Lions get Pereyra, Rosell, and eventually Moutinho back before the playoffs, a deep run is not out of the question. This decisive victory is exactly the response that Orlando City needed to get back on track, and regain confidence in the team’s ability to put matches away.
The final reason that this win means so much has nothing to do with the playoffs. In 2020, Orlando City finishes with a 2-0-2 record against Atlanta United. Early on, I was resistant to the idea that this is a rivalry. Rivalries need things to happen on and off the pitch to hold any water. Rivalries also require both clubs to have some wins. Now, after a few years, that is the case, and going undefeated against a rival in a season is a big deal. Getting the first home win against a rival is a big deal. Coming on the heels of losing to the in-state rival makes it a big deal. These types of wins are important no matter where Orlando sits in the standings.
Enjoy a win like this, but remember that come Sunday, the Lions go again. This club isn’t done yet, and this match might be the thing that lifts the team higher than ever before.