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Orlando City’s loss to Atlanta United proves there are things to work on

Orlando City’s (6-3-1, 19 points) six-match win streak was snapped at the hands of Atlanta United (8-2-1, 25 points). Here are three takeaways from the match: 

We’re about to learn a lot about Orlando City

Here we go.

This is where the Lions will prove whether they’re playoff contenders or if the six-match win streak was some kind of fluke.

Last season, after a hot start, Orlando City lost to one of the best clubs in the Eastern Conference in May (Toronto FC) and never recovered. The Lions started 2017 6-1-0 and finished 4-14-9, including that May loss to TFC.

How the Lions respond the Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Atlanta United will be critical, because that match was just the start of a difficult stretch for the club.

Orlando City takes on Toronto FC on Friday at BMO Field, then plays the Chicago Fire at home, then travels to New York, Vancouver and Montreal. Points over this stretch will be critical and the club is getting close to the summer months, where things have gone wrong in the past.

Orlando City coach Jason Kreis and the club’s players provided grounded reactions to Sunday’s loss.

“We’ll watch the film and learn from it,” said winger Justin Meram. “It’s one game. We won six, we lost one. Let’s get back to winning another six in a row and we won’t even be talking about this game soon.”

Of course, there are areas where the Lions can improve (see below). The first half against Atlanta United was awful, but the second half showed how well Orlando City can play.

“The biggest part of tonight is just the emotions that are involved in the game,” Kreis said. “We had some things with the players, reactions to the referees, reactions to their players. I think it’s important that we continue to improve on those aspects and we continue to remind ourselves of who we are. And also remind ourselves that we’re capable of playing better than that, but also that we need to improve.”

Things will get worse if the Lions keep conceding first

Orlando City has proven it can win without scoring first. Comebacks are fun and exciting. They’re also emotionally draining, physically taxing and completely unsustainable.

Eight times this season the Lions have given up the first goal. Five times, they’ve come back to win or tie the match. Last season, the Lions conceded first 16 times and lost 14 of those matches. They managed to come back and salvage a point just twice. 

Atlanta United scored first and Orlando City went frantic, which opened things up for goal No. 2. Good teams take advantage of clubs that try to desperately search for an equalizer after an early goal, and the Five Stripes are a good team.

“We allowed the first goal on a really difficult decision and I think that’s at the moment where all of the players started to be really hectic, much too direct, giving the ball away way too often, and then they’re catching us in transition,” Kreis said.

More good teams are coming for Orlando City.

“We give up the first goal and sometimes the second goal and we’re clawing back,” Meram said. “You can’t do that 30 times in a season. We need to figure out how to start off better.”

There are things to improve on

The obvious takeaway here is Orlando City has flaws to improve on. One loss doesn’t erase a six-match win streak, but it does prove the Lions have some work to do.

Yoshi Yotún will miss Orlando City’s match against Toronto FC due to yellow card accumulation. He and Cristian Higuita – and there’s no better way to say this – played poorly against Atlanta United. It was a rough outing for them, especially because they were so solid in the middle third leading up to the match.

The passing in the final third in the first half wasn’t there. The Lions clearly let the emotions of the game get to them as five players in purple were booked for dissent or unsporting conduct.

There’s a silver lining here: Orlando City’s second half was much better. Meram got his first goal and the Lions looked more dangerous in the attack, even if the passing in the final third was still not particularly sharp. Holding midfielder Uri Rosell looks ready to take on a more prominent role after playing well the entire second half.

Attacking midfielder Josue Colmán also looks like he’s finding his form, which will make Orlando City’s attack that much more deadly.

Orlando City FC forward Justin Meram (9) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Atlanta United FC during the second half at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

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