Heading into Saturday’s season-opener against Atlanta United, Orlando City already knew it was going to face the task of competing without several key starters.
With Daryl Dike on loan in England, Mauricio Pereyra serving his first of a two-game suspension, centerback Robin Jansson and midfielder Uri Rosell out with a lower-body injury, head coach Oscar Pareja had to rely mostly on the depth of his team to start the 2021 regular season with a result.
In a match that saw very few highlights and only few chances on goal, attached with below-par finishing, it was enough to see Orlando City and Atlanta United play to a 0-0 draw on Saturday afternoon in front of announced limited-capacity crowd of 11,503 at Exploria Stadium.
“It was a game very well-played from both teams,” Pareja said in Spanish after the game. “Both teams demonstrated that they wanted to dominate the ball, they wanted it and we wanted it, so it was very back and forth especially in the middle where we saw players from both sides very creative.”
Perhaps the key piece to get things going in the second half was Andres Perea entering the match at halftime for Tesho Akindele.
With that, it allowed new striker Alexandre Pato to slip up top as the No. 9, allowing Perea to navigate through the middle with the hopes of opening up and finding more space to increase Orlando’s scoring chances, according to Pareja.
“We were more balanced on the offensive third in the second half with Perea’s presence, we stretched Pato to the No. 9 position where he could give us some possibilities and we managed to get some on target but there was no doubt we could have secured the three points with that option,” said Pareja.
And those scoring chances could’ve of changed the dynamic of the game. After Perea’s attempt was easily picked up by Brad Guzan, Alexandre Pato almost broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute some give-and-go play between him and Sebas Mendez inside the final third failed to culminate into a goal.
Then there was this other chance from Pato in the 72nd minute when Mueller connected with the Brazilian before having his shot attempt on target deflected by Anton Walkes and eventually saved by Guzan.
Pato was eventually subbed out shortly before the 80th minute for Silvester van der Water after a late tackle from Atlanta’s Franco Ibarra appeared to injure Pato’s knee.
Pareja was asked about Pato’s status, but the Orlando coach said the team is still waiting to hear from the medical team on the severity of the injury.
For van der Water, however, Saturday was his official season debut after signing with the Lions earlier this offseason.
Orlando was without key starter Mauricio Pereyra, who is serving a two-game suspension, after a red card challenge he committed during last year’s season finale in the playoffs against the New England Revolution.
Centerback Robin Jansson, midfielder Uri Rosell, and defender João Moutinho were listed as questionable with lower body injuries heading into Saturday’s game against Atlanta.
The Lions go on the road to take on Sporting Kansas City on Friday, April 23 at Children’s Mercy Park. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. and will broadcast nationally on FS1.
Here’s how the Lions lined up
Orlando City XI: Pedro Gallese; Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, Ruan; Sebastian Mendez, Junior Urso; Nani, c, (Benji Michel, 71′), Chris Mueller (Matheus Aias, 90+1), Tesho Akindele (Andres Perea, 46′), Alexandre Pato (Silvester van der Water, 80′).
Substitutes: Brandon Austin, Michael Halliday, Joey DeZart, Rio Hope-Gund, David Loera.
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