Well, that was fun! Orlando City SC continued its winning ways, and notched the club’s first-ever win over Atlanta United in the process. Check out my takeaways from an entertaining first victory up in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Pareja’s Changes Prove Effective
Oscar Pareja rotated his team on Saturday, giving rests to several starters who have played a large amount of minutes. Nani, Ruan, Sebas Mendez, and Mauricio Pereyra all got rests, with Pereyra not even being named to the bench. Benji Michel, Junior Urso, Andres Perea and Kyle Smith started in their places and, despite no shortage of misgivings after the starting XI was released, the team played a largely effective and composed game. Urso in particular had an excellent showing, and spent much of his time being the primary source of energy in the midfield while also notching a goal and an assist. The other three changes also had solid games, even if they weren’t quite as eye catching as Urso’s showing.
Flexible Tactics for Orlando
Orlando’s game plan up to this point in the year has been to control possession, build patiently, and dictate the pace of the game. Things couldn’t have been more different up in Georgia though. From the moment the whistle blew to start the game Atlanta had most of the ball, with the Lions doing a lot of defending in their own half but pressing when they sensed an opportunity to put pressure on their opponents. Suffice it to say, the tactical flexibility paid dividends. While Orlando did have several spells of possession, OCSC only had 38% possession at the end of the game, which was the least amount of the ball the team has had this year by a country mile. It didn’t matter though, with the ability to use Daryl Dike as a target man — who could hold up the ball and help the team relieve pressure — being a big help in Orlando being able to successfully play a different style.
Clinical Finishing Makes the Difference
In the end though, the major difference maker on the night was the Lions’ clinical finishing. Orlando took 10 shots on the night, and put three of them on target. All three of those shots found the back of the net, and while Brad Guzan was taken out of the play on two of those goals, the point still stands. One of OCSC’s biggest problems in recent years has been a distinct lack of killer instinct in the final third. While Andres Perea did miss an absolutely golden opportunity just before halftime, Orlando was otherwise ruthless in front of goal. It might be harsh to say that Atlanta wasn’t clinical in its finishing considering Pedro Gallese made a couple excellent saves on the night and robbed Brooks Lennon blind with his stop in the eighth minute, but it was the difference between the teams regardless.
Set Piece Reversal for Lions
Speaking of El Pulpo’s stonewalling of Lennon, something that was a nice change in the game was Orlando having the upper hand in set pieces. Too often this year have the Lions been made to pay from free kicks and corner kicks. Nashville SC’s lone goal came from a free kick, and both Portland Timbers goals were from set pieces in the MLS is Back Tournament final. When Lennon found himself mostly free on a corner kick in the eighth minute, I found myself worrying that set pieces would haunt Orlando yet again. Instead, it was OCSC that was dominant in that area. Not only did Urso score the team’s first goal from a corner kick, but Perea and Antonio Carlos both had excellent chances to score from corner kicks. When it came to defending dead ball situations, the Lions looked mostly solid aside from that early free header, something that was made all the more relieving by just how much of a problem that area has been in recent weeks.
Yet Another Quick Response
On the other hand, a trend that OCSC fans were surely happy to see continue was the Lions’ ability to find quick responses when they were needed most. It took a mere five minutes after Gallese’s stellar save on Lennon for Urso to open the scoring at the other end. The close shave seemed to wake the team up and galvanize the Lions. Even though it wasn’t a quick response to going down a goal, as has been the case countless times this year, it was still nice to see. It was even nicer to see it happen again when the Lions finally did concede. After Lennon did manage to find the back of the net in the 83rd minute, it only took three minutes for Orlando City to score a third goal and put the final nail in the coffin. The team has excelled all year at scoring goals quickly after conceding, and even when the team never fell behind, it was still encouraging to see and points to the character of this squad.
That’s the way I saw this one. As always, feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments below.