ATLANTA — It was Orlando City interim coach Bobby Murphy’s final match at the helm, and the Lions couldn’t deliver.
In front of an announced crowd of 71,932 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the second most attended MLS match in history, Atlanta United throttled Orlando City 4-0.
And even a veteran player like midfielder Sacha Kljestan was left almost speechless after the match.
“I don’t know,” he said after the Lions’ MLS losing streak was extended to eight games. “Right now, it’s hard for me to find the words to explain what’s going on here. I don’t have many answers.”
For the 15th time in 17 MLS matches, Orlando City conceded the first goal.
In the third minute of the match Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel played the ball forward for Josef Martinez. While still in the air, the ball curled and got behind Orlando City centerback Amro Tarek, who made a futile effort to back-heel it out of the penalty area.
Instead, the ball deflected off Tarek, then off centerback Lamine Sané and into the path of Martinez, who put the ball into the back of the net and left Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik livid.
It was Martinez’s 15th MLS goal of the season.
Orlando City hasn’t scored the first goal in a match since the club’s 3-2 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on April 21.
It looked like Orlando City would be in for a long first 45 minutes after that first goal. The Five Stripes generated more chances after that first goal, but eventually, the Lions found their footing.
“It’s the same old story for us, you know?” Murphy said. “Goals change games. Two minutes in, we give one up and weather the storm and get back in the game and had a few chances there at the end of the first half and the start of the second half.”
Orlando City’s best chance of the first half came off a set piece. Kljestan sent in a free kick and centerback Jonathan Spector got an opportunity from point-blank range, but the ball was cleared off the line by Atlanta United’s Mikey Ambrose, who played for Orlando City in 2016 before he was traded to the Five Stripes.
The Lions were down 1-0 at the half, but took six shots (two on frame) and looked poised for a second-half charge.
Instead, things got ugly in the second half.
Atlanta United scored two goals in two minutes. The first came on the counterattack after the Five Strips cleared a corner from Orlando City.
Hector Villalba intercepted a Will Johnson pass intended for Spector and passed to Martinez, who then played a through ball for Miguel Almirón. Bendik managed to get a hand on Almirón’s shot, but it wasn’t enough to stop the ball from going over the line in the 55th minute.
“Then we give one up on the break and then you’re opened up against them and that’s where they want you,” Murphy said. “We’ve just got to find a way to stem this tide here.”
Ezequiel Barco got in on the goal-fest in the 57th minute, scoring off a rebound after an Almirón shot from distance went off the crossbar.
Almirón put the exclamation point on the match in the 78th minute. He worked his way down the left side, got by Spector and put a shot through Bendik’s legs and into the back of the net from a tough angle.
“Goals change games, don’t they?” Murphy said. “1-0, you’re still in the game. You can stick to your plan. We were getting chances on set pieces, the odd chance here or there.
“I just looked – I haven’t seen the full game stats – but at halftime we had as many shots as they did. Some good opportunities and some good looks and then you get caught on the break one time and there you go. Then you have to open it up, and you start chasing the game and that’s where they can kill you.”
Orlando City had its chances in the second half. In the 61st minute, Johnson had a golden opportunity to get the Lions on the scoresheet but sent a shot wide even though Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan was still trying to recover after saving a shot from distance from Uri Rosell.
New head coach James O’Connor is set to join the club this week, ahead of its July 7 match against LAFC at Banc of California Stadium.
“You need the break, you know?” Murphy said. “And you have to create the break. They put in an honest effort tonight. I will always back my players if they put in an honest effort. That’s what they did. You make mistakes and you get punished for them.”