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Orlando City’s younger players get minutes in 2-1 loss to Atlanta United

Orlando City midfielder Josue Colman (right) drives the ball as Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron (left) gives chase during the first half at Orlando City Stadium. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City (7-16-2, 23 points) lost 2-1 to Atlanta United in a match the Five Stripes dominated in the second half. The loss left Orlando City sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table. Here are three takeaways from the match:

O’Connor continues to give players opportunities

Against Atlanta United, O’Connor gave players opportunities more out of necessity than anything else. Typical starters Sacha Kljestan, Yoshi Yotun and Cristian Higuita were either injured or suspended, so O’Connor had to look elsewhere.

Midfielder Pierre Da Silva, 20, got his first MLS minutes of the season. Josué Colmán, 20, got the start. Jose Villarreal, 24, came on as a sub in the 86th minute.

None of those players had much of an overall impact on the match. Colmán had trouble getting the ball out of his feet before he was dispossessed. Villarreal didn’t play long enough to have any noticeable impact.

Da Silva who came on in the in the 61st minute, is a player some fans on social media have been clamoring for all season. He wasn’t given much of a chance to change the match. In the second half, the Five Stripes were well in control and outside of earning a corner in the 78th minute – which led to Orlando City’s best chance to equalize in the second half – he didn’t do much.

“I think he’s a young guy who’s trying to make his way in a difficult team performance,” O’Connor said about Da Silva’s performance. “It’s hard for a young player when you come on in a situation like that to really go on and really impact the game. He needed some other guys to be really helping him as well. It’s unfair to make judgements on a young player when we have that level of performance in the second half.”

The same could be said for any sub that came on in the second half.

O’Connor said players like Colmán, Villarreal and Da Silva getting some minutes came down to who was available for an Orlando City side missing several key players. It wasn’t necessarily about looking toward the future.

“It gives them an opportunity to go and play but also when you look at players suspended, players injured, this is what happens,” he said.

“You’ve got a squad, so players get opportunities when other players aren’t available. It gives a chance to look at Pierre [Da Silva], it gives a chance to look at Jose [Villarreal]. [Colmán] obviously got a start again. When you look at things, there are players that we want to look at as well. You look at the players we’re missing, it gave us an opportunity to give them that opportunity tonight.”

Ascues appears ready for MLS

Despite joining Orlando City during a bye week and not having much time to acclimate himself to 1) Orlando City and 2) living in the United States, Carlos Ascues was solid against Atlanta United.

He made his debut against the best club in MLS and didn’t shy away from the challenge. He was deployed as a defensive midfielder and his passing accuracy was a team-high 93.3 percent, he had two tackles and found winger Chris Mueller during the sequence that led to Orlando City’s only goal of the match.

“I feel very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the starting team today,” Ascues said through a translator after the match. “I think that I had a good debut, but I’m not happy that we weren’t able to get the result.”

“I’m sad because, aside from my debut, we wanted to win. Our objective was to win. My objective was to win. I’m sad also because we’re in a tough situation. We needed to win tonight and we weren’t able to do it. But now we’re looking forward to next game, to recover, and look forward.”

O’Connor was pleased by Ascues’ debut. Ascues was subbed off in the 67th minute for Stéfano Pinho.

“To be fair to him, he battled away,” O’Connor said of Ascues.

“I thought he started to tire. It’s going to take time for him to get used to the speed. The idea, really, was to try to get him in a little slower than that, but obviously with Sacha not making it, we were forced really to throw him in. All things considered, he can be pleased. He gave a very encouraging performance, for sure.”

Defensive issues are legion

For Orlando City, it’s not just about the defenders. 

It’s not just poor goalkeeping. 

Its not about who is playing left back. 

It’s a combination of everything.

Even with captain and centerback Jonathan Spector running the show, Atlanta United’s match-winning goal was a showcase of Orlando City’s defensive issues.

Julian Gressel got around PC and sent the ball in to Martinez, who worked his way into the penalty area with five outfield players and a goalkeeper trying to stop him. 

Spector got to Martinez late and Martinez went around the centerback while Bendik went to ground. Martinez chipped the ball in for the goal. 

Right back Scott Sutter said the sequence wasn’t good enough. Why was Spector trying to recover in the first place? Because he was trying to chase down Miguel Almiron, who was running free into the penalty area. Almiron’s run freed up Martinez because it yanked Spector away from where Gressel would end up playing the ball. Almiron beat Uri Rosell and centerback Shane O’Neill was watching the ball before Gressel passed to Martinez. 

In the end, no one was in position to make a tackle that could have stopped the sequence.

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