Beyond the Scoreline: Orlando City at Atlanta United FC

Before diving a little deeper into Orlando City’s 1-1 draw at Atlanta United this weekend, it’s probably worth noting, if anything, that this was Orlando’s second game in five days following a road trip in a physically demanding environment at Colorado, and additionally, Orlando only has one all-time win at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Okay, with all of that out of the way, let’s recap: Orlando City was not good.

Looking solely at the scoreline and nothing else, grabbing a point on the road is a notable achievement and Orlando City is likely to be happy with closing out their two-game road swing with a pair of points against two opponents that controlled each match rather handily.

Below the surface (or beyond the scoreline, as the title of this column suggests) the findings are much uglier. All told, this one is pretty hard to break down because there isn’t much to look for, tactically speaking.

Despite taking the lead on an early free kick goal from Mauricio Pereyra, the Lions were hardly much of a match for Atlanta throughout the afternoon. United commanded the possession battle (62-38), outshot Orlando (18-3), and held a lopsided xG advantage of 2.2 to 0.2 (not that the xG matters in the end because only the real goals count).

All of this is from an Atlanta team that hasn’t won back-to-back games since last September.

Outside of Pereyra’s goal, Orlando’s only real chance of the game came in the dying moments of the match when Alexander Pato blasted a long-range strike off the post in a sequence of events that can only be described as pure chaos.

Pato’s shot, by the way, was the only one put forward by Orlando in the entire second half and the only since the… 9th minute.

All of this is a long way of saying that things are still only continuing to slide south for Orlando City this season. Facundo Torres wasn’t much of a helpful factor yesterday, Ercan Kara amassed just 15 touches all game, and Jake Mulraney, Orlando’s starting left midfielder, contributed all of seven passes in 55 minutes on the field.

Now, credit to Atlanta because they played suffocating defense in the midfield to shut down almost everything for guys like Pereyra and Torres before they could do much with the ball. Orlando City was forced out wide if they wanted to move forward, which at the moment isn’t a strong area of the field for them.

Pereyra touched the ball just 37 times, attempting only 22 passes — and that right there is a surefire way to shut down all hope of Orlando finding any goal-scoring chances. That tight pressure of the midfield, though, is still a surprising challenge to be defeated by for an Orlando team that does have plenty of talented midfielders capable of combatting those problems. The thing is, they showed no sign of being able to do so on Sunday.

So where do things stand? It’s tough and I don’t envy the position that Oscar Pareja is in having to address these issues.

On one hand, the Lions are still 5th in the East, four points above safety, and have only lost once in the last five games (three of which were away from home, all draws), so the results aren’t necessarily worth panicking over. The big but, however, is the stats that surround all of these recent performances.

The Lions have scored two goals or more in just five games this season, and of the last 11 games, they’ve only done it three times. This is putting all of the pressure to perform on the defense and goalkeeping, which just can not be counted on for 90 minutes a game every time out to find victories. Orlando defended well enough and got another strong performance from Pedro Gallese against Atlanta, but it’s not nearly enough to overlook the fact that scoring just one goal a game more often than not is not putting this club in the best position to win.

This is a roster with enough talent, albeit some holes that do need addressing, but despite everything we know Orlando is capable of achieving, none of that is coming together and the shortfalls are only growing larger, more noticeable with each passing week. At this rate, it’s hard to feel secure just making the playoffs if things don’t turn around in a significant way any time soon.

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