Orlando City saw its seven-match unbeaten run end in Atlanta in a forgettable match that the Lions must quickly put behind them with Montreal coming up on Wednesday. The 3-0 final score seems flattering to Orlando in the end, and if not for a couple of late saves from Adam Grinwis, this could have been just as ugly as the 5-0 loss at New York City FC earlier in the season.
Let’s get to the takeaways. Because we must.
For a match against Atlanta, the Lions were surprisingly docile. Orlando never seemed to possess the same level of intensity as the Five Stripes. Atlanta came into the match with the proper attitude and fire in their bellies but Orlando City never matched that fire and certainly didn’t respond when punched in the mouth. The warning signs came early with a shot off of Adam Grinwis’ post and a few others that were close, but off frame. Win or lose, all fans want to see their teams play hard, especially against the teams they hate most. Orlando City fans did not see that in this game and it seemed to defy logic.
When Junior Urso took a silly and needless yellow card against Columbus, it was a bad omen for Oscar Pareja’s Lions. Without Urso, and with Sebas Mendez both away with Ecuador and also still recovering from injury, Orlando was thin at central midfield. That is not to say there weren’t plenty of players available. Andres Perea returned to the starting lineup alongside recent starter Joey DeZart, while Uri Rosell and Raul Aguilera were on the bench. The number of central midfielders wasn’t the issue.
The problem was that the Lions lack a destroyer without Mendez and Urso is the only one who can approximate that bite in the middle of the pitch that all good teams need. Without either Mendez or Urso to worry about, the Five Stripes...didn’t. They just passed and ran right through the middle of the field all evening. When Rosell checked into the match in the 68th minute, he immediately started making Atlanta uncomfortable in that part of the field, and it was noticeable, with a couple of hard fouls that made the hosts think twice. Rosell forced Atlanta players to turn back toward their own end or drop passes back to the defense, which is something DeZart and Perea struggled to do.
Pareja wouldn’t single out any player or position group in his postgame presser but admitted the middle of the field was far too wide open for the hosts.
The Crew game may have been a momentary blip. The Lions have been shut out in two of the last three matches and have scored one goal or fewer in seven of the last eight competitive games in all competitions (MLS plus Leagues Cup). Orlando was rarely threatening at Atlanta, with just a couple of shots on target and both of them straight at goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Daryl Dike, Mauricio Pereyra, Tesho Akindele, and Chris Mueller had zero shot attempts combined. There are some fundamental flaws in the attack right now, which leads me to my next takeaway.
Orlando has been too deliberate and has become far too predictable in playing negative passes over the summer months and it’s hurt the offense. Few Lions are showing any type of aggression in the attack and so it was against Atlanta. No one is beating anybody 1-v-1 and the team isn’t combining quickly enough (or accurately enough) on one-touch passing combinations once the ball reaches the final third. Players making runs, particularly Joao Moutinho, are too often ignored by the midfielders and not rewarded for expending the energy. This is dumb in Joao’s case because he’s a capable crosser.
Ruan was a passenger all evening at Atlanta, using his speed to get to the end line exactly once, and promptly crossing into the outside netting when he did. He’s not good enough defensively to be out there if he’s not going to create chaos on the attacking end. If he doesn’t return to being the dynamic player willing to make lung-busting runs up the wing to pull the defense’s attention away from other attacking players, Pareja should just put the more reliable, but less dynamic, Smith back in the lineup. That said, Orlando midfielders routinely ignored him when he was in acres of space on the right, which goes back to the “too deliberate” thing. The Lions played short, station-to-station passes and cycled back at the first sign of pressure when a whipped ball out to Ruan on the right may have unbalanced the defense.
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This was a game screaming for an injection of Chris Mueller’s usual energy and drive. But Mueller didn’t start, and when he came on in the second half as a substitute, nothing changed. Perhaps Orlando City should just let him go to Hibernian now, because it’s been 12 matches since he’s contributed a goal or an assist, and he doesn’t look happy or appear to be his usual energetic self. Mueller has looked frustrated at times in every match during this offensive drought and while that could just be a product of not contributing on offense, it could also be that he’s ready to get started at Hibs and it’s affecting his play. He’s still putting in the effort, but his form isn’t good enough right now for him to start and Silvester van der Water has been the more dangerous player in Mueller’s usual spot for a couple of months now.
That’s the way I saw things in a game I’d like to scrub out of my brain. What stood out to you? Shout at me in the comments.