Despite firing 20 shots toward the net and controlling most of the match, Orlando City put only three attempts on frame and lost 1-0 to rival Atlanta United at Exploria Stadium. Thiago Almada scored the game’s only goal.
With the loss, the Lions (12-12-6, 42 points) fell back below .500 at home (7-8-0) and to exactly .500 overall, and Orlando handed the Five Stripes (10-12-9, 39 points) just their second road win of the season despite doubling the visitors’ shots and having the better of the possession and passing throughout the match.
City’s sharpness was the difference and it was costly, as the Lions could have mathematically ensured that three more teams — Toronto, Chicago, and Atlanta — would finish below them with a win. D.C. United is already assured of finishing below Orlando in the standings.
“Difficult defeat obviously at this moment of the season when we need to add those points, especially (against) a direct rival, we come out with this result,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “But, I’ve got to say that the boys put all the effort there. Their energy, their character was there. Simply, we didn’t do what we have to do in the last third and if you’re not sharp in those moments, it’s difficult. The other team may have one or two chances and that’s what they’re waiting for. Hopefully we can return to that sharpness on that piece of the field because we were not sharp today.”
Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. With Cesar Araujo suffering from a non-COVID-related illness, Wilder Cartagena got the start in central midfield with Junior Urso, behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Ercan Kara up top.
The game was delayed nearly an hour due to inclement weather and the passing was a bit sloppy at times for both teams throughout the rainy first half. Orlando had more of a hold of the game in the early going. Torres fired a shot that Andrew Gutman blocked in the seventh minute and Angulo fizzed a shot from the right just inches wide of the left post a minute later.
Former Lion Dom Dwyer got a free header in the 12th minute when a cross deflected off of Moutinho and cleared the defense but the striker hit his shot wide.
Urso sent a header at Raul Gudino in the 21st minute for an easy save from a nice cross by Kara.
The Lions came close again five minutes later when Pereyra fed Torres a pass down the left side of the box. Torres sent the ball across for Kara but a sliding Alan Franco got a piece of it and Gudino was alert, making a sprawling effort and keeping it from reaching its intended target. Angulo tried to finesse the loose ball through the traffic but couldn’t get it through.
Orlando gave up a counter chance in the 37th minute that was nearly costly. Luiz Araujo rounded Gallese and sent a shot toward goal but Smith cleared it off the line.
Unreal goal line clearance from Kyle Smith! pic.twitter.com/r2kc6RKv52— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 14, 2022
Atlanta was growing in confidence late in the half and Thiago Almada’s shot was easy for Gallese in the 40th.
The best chance of the half for either side fell for Gutman in the first minute of first-half stoppage time. The fullback continued his run after passing off and got in behind the defense to find a return pass waiting for him. Gallese made himself big and sacrificed a sensitive part of his body to make the vital save.
Orlando had a free kick in a dangerous position late in stoppage time but Pereyra sent his entry ball over everyone’s head and that ended the half.
The Lions finished the opening half with more possession (56.5%-43.5%), shots (6-5), and passing accuracy (87.8%-82.9%), while Atlanta got more shots on target (3-1) and won more corners (3-0).
Orlando’s lack of precision was a major problem in the second half as the team simply could not find the net with any shot from anywhere. The first of the team’s chances came on a header in the 51st minute by Kara from a cross by Smith, but his effort was just wide to the left.
Six minutes later Carlos had a free header on a set piece from long range but his was wide to the right.
Pererya fired just off target twice in two minutes, hitting a shot about a yard wide to the right in the 65th minute and firing just over the bar in the 67th.
Atlanta nearly scored in the 72nd minute off a corner when Santiago Sosa got a free header but Gallese made a great diving save to keep it scoreless, but only for the moment.
The Lions got caught being too complacent on the ensuing play with Atlanta playing right down through the middle. Orlando seemed to have sufficient numbers back, but Almada made a good individual effort through some complacent defending. He simply skipped past second-half sub Benji Michel and split him and spectator Andres Perea with a pass to Gutman, then ran passed both without being tracked by either. The Atlanta fullback laid it back off for Almada who put a move on Carlos in space and then sent Gallese the wrong way before slotting home.
“(Almada) came in dribbling. I thought we should have stopped that play there,” Pareja said. “He came up through us and made us feel vulnerable and made us feel weak. We didn’t defend well that particular player and it hurts us.”
Orlando had a chance to pull that goal back quickly when Perea found himself in lots of space outside the area in the 74th minute but he sent his shot off the Heineken sign at the bottom of the upper deck. Two minutes later, substitute Jake Mulraney sent in a cross for fellow sub Tesho Akindele, who flicked it on target but Gudino made a diving stop to push it out for a corner. The ensuing set piece was knocked out to Mulraney outside the box but his shot was over the bar.
Two minutes later, Mulraney had Michel and Schlegel crashing the net but the winger sent his cross straight to the goalkeeper. Just seconds after that, it was Michel’s turn to miss the target.
Akindele got his head to a ball over the top in the 89th minute, but with his back to goal he could only flick it toward goal and hope, but that shot too went wide. The Lions finally got their third and final shot on goal on the final play of the game when a corner kick cross was headed straight at Gudino by Perea.
Orlando finished with more possession (55.6%-44.4%), shots (20-10), and passing accuracy (84.1%-79.9%) but Atlanta got more shots on target (5-3) and each team finished with four corners.
“It was a tough result,” Smith said. “I thought we controlled the game for most of the game. I don’t think they had many chances until the goal. And then at the end of the game we were trying to put balls in the box and they were doing well crowding the box and clearing the ball.”
The Lions have another quick turnaround with Toronto FC visiting Exploria Stadium on Saturday night.