After six weeks of flying high, Orlando City came crashing back down to earth.
The Lions made a game of it after a dismal first half, but couldn’t overcome a two-goal deficit. Orlando City fell 2-1 to Atlanta United in Orlando City Stadium on Sunday in front of an announced crowd of 24,232.
It was an unceremonious end to the longest MLS win streak in club history. The match concluded with fans throwing cups onto the pitch during the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time and again after the final whistle.
They also threw items at Atlanta United players after the Five Stripes’ first goal of the match.
“We can’t do that,” Orlando City coach Jason Kreis said of the debris after the match, prior to the club releasing a statement.
The crowd’s interruption of the final minutes of the match was the final sign of emotions running high on a rainy night in downtown Orlando. Orlando City players’ tempers flared at times and the outbursts weren’t reserved for Atlanta United players or the officials – though both goalkeeper Joe Bendik and right back Will Johnson were booked for dissent.
Attacking midfielder Sacha Kljestan and left back Mohamed El-Munir got into it after a failed attack late in the match. Kreis said the two players apologized to each other and it was water under the bridge after the match was over.
Midfielder Yoshi Yotún also got his fifth yellow card of the season and will miss the club’s match against Toronto FC on Friday.
“The players, we started to lose control emotionally a little bit, as well,” Kreis said. “The coaches were losing control a little bit, as well.”
The first half was all the Five Stripes needed to end the Lions winning form.
Following weeks of solid play, defensive midfielder Cristian Higuita was uncharacteristically off. Atlanta United scored its first goal of the match after Higuita brought down Greg Garza inside the penalty area in the ninth minute. Higuita’s hands appeared to hit Garza in the face and the ref immediately whistled for a penalty.
Kreis was clear after the match that he didn’t agree with the penalty call.
“I saw Cristian, he did raise his hands and I don’t know whether there was physical contact or not,” Kreis said. “Let’s hope that there was some contact. The player went down extremely softly. For me, that penalty kick should never be called in a game like this.”
Josef Martinez converted it in the 10th minute and Orlando City found itself down early for the eighth time this season.
“We’re close,” Orlando City winger Justin Meram said after the match. “On the defensive side, we can’t give up this first goal. Being an attacking player, it’s tough because you start to force things. You’re trying to make the home run play – myself included. I need to understand these moments and play a little more simple and find my moments to attack.
“We talk about the same thing over and over. We give up the first goal and sometimes the second goal and we’re clawing back. You can’t do that 30 times in a season. We need to figure out how to start off better, especially with this unbelievable crowd.”
Ezequiel Barco slotted home United’s second goal of the match in the 31st minute. It came down to another off play from Higuita, who first couldn’t stop a pass from Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almirón to Barco, then didn’t track back while Barco went down the pitch with the ball.
Barco found Greg Garza, who returned the ball to Barco, who finished the play.
The Lions countered in the second half. Meram finally scored his first goal with Orlando City, slotting home a rebound in the 58th minute. The Lions did a better job retaining possession in the second half, but they could not complete another rally and suffered their second home loss of the season.
“Obviously I want to score and help the team, but I want to win,” Meram said. “That’s the main focus of this group. Maybe I should have scored two tonight and helped out. I had another chance, as well.”
Orlando City SC forward Stefano Pinho (29) is tackled by Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz (18) during the second half of the game at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports