ATLANTA — Scoring goals remains an issue – to say the least – for Orlando City.
Chance creation isn’t the problem. The Lions had their opportunities against Atlanta United on Sunday in front of an announced crowd of 68,152 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But chances mean nothing if they’re not put into the back of the net.
In the first match of what promises to be a grueling week for Orlando City, the Lions couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities they created. The Lions, who were playing without star designated player Nani, were shut out for the second match in a row, falling 1-0 to rival Atlanta United.
“I mean, great credit to the guys for showing that level of fight, that level of heart to keep going and keep going and keep going,” Orlando City coach James O’Connor said. “I really feel like there was a relentless effort to try and get something out of the game. To show that courage and that bravery and the volume of really good chances to take is fantastic. But you have to take them. Ultimately, we’ve lost the game 1-nil to our local rivals, which makes it really painful. Really painful.”
The Lions (3-5-3, 12 points) created seven chances against the Five Stripes (5-3-2, 17 points). Orlando City had 10 shots, four of which were on target.
“When you create that amount of chances, you have to take the chances,” O’Connor said. “I think it really hurts because the score could and should be different, but it’s not because we didn’t take them.”
Orlando City has scored just three goals in its past five matches.
“I think we had three or four, I would say, really good chances that you would expect us to score maybe 80 percent of the time, 90 percent of the time,” Lions forward Tesho Akindele said. “We didn’t take advantage of that and that was the difference.”
Atlanta United opened the scoring in the 14th minute thanks to Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez. United centerback Leandro González Pirez played long ball for Martínez and Orlando City centerback Alex De John came into the middle of the pitch to try to head it away. He misjudged it and the ball was instead headed by Martínez to Héctor Villalba.
Atlanta took advantage of Orlando City’s disorganization with De John so high up the pitch. Villalba played the ball to Martínez, and Martínez fired a left-footed blast by Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe to open his MLS scoring account.
The best first-half opportunity for the Lions came in the 33rd minute. After a solid passing sequence in the middle of the pitch, De John played a ball to right back Ruan, who send in a cross for striker Dom Dwyer at the back post. Dwyer got his foot on it, but he sent his shot back across the goal and into the path of goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who stopped the attempt.
Dwyer, who has now gone six consecutive matches without a goal, also had a miss early in the first half. He was replaced in the 66th minute by second-year forward Chris Mueller and was visibly frustrated on the bench.
“We always tell [Dwyer], ‘Next one. Next one.’ But it’s one of those things that has to come from within you,” Akindele said. “And for every time he might miss a chance that people say he should score, he’s scored out of nowhere to save the team. So, I think people should keep that in mind whenever they’re thinking about what’s going on with him.”
Midfielder Will Johnson also put a shot on target in the first half and it was saved by Guzan.
“We can look at it one of two ways,” Johnson said. “We can understand that that’s a pretty good performance and we can build on that and keep progressing forward, or we can do what we’ve done first four years of the club and we can feel sorry for ourselves and fold and turn this couple of back-to-back losses into a lost season. Or we can use it in a positive way and know that next time we get in these positions, our guys are going to come through in a real way and help us get back into this season.”
Martínez’s goal proved to be the only one Atlanta United needed, but the Five Stripes had opportunities to double their advantage.
Josef Martínez took a touch around Rowe and fired on an empty net, but rookie centerback Kamal Miller came sliding in to deny him in the 25th minute. González Pirez had a free header on the ensuing corner and Rowe came up with the save to keep the score 1-0.
The Five Stripes had a goal wiped away in the second half. Julian Gressel put a shot in between Rowe’s legs, but referee Rubiel Vazquez determined Villalba, who provided the assist, was offside in the buildup to the goal.
Orlando City flies across the country Monday ahead of a Wednesday match against the Seattle Sounders.