Orlando City pressured the Atlanta United defense, but the Lions still suffered a 1-0 loss to the rival Five Stripes Friday night. Here are three things we learned from the loss:
Finishing continues to haunt Lions
There’s no way to talk about this game without addressing the thorn in the side of Orlando City — finishing.
Throughout the season, Orlando City’s stalwart backline has helped the Lions survive while the team struggled to score. But as the season has worn on, the Lions have begun to create a higher volume of quality scoring chances, only to squander them with delayed or off-target shots.
Sometimes, the statistics sheet can be deceiving. A team might take upwards of 20 shots or create more than 10 chances, but those opportunities might come from long-bomb shots from outside the box or other low-percentage situations.
Against Atlanta United, however, the statistics clearly reflected the Lions’ missed opportunities. The team not only created numerous scoring chances, it also delivered a wide variety of them, placing the ball at the feet of quality goal-scorers Nani, Dom Dwyer, Mauricio Pereyra and Tesho Akindele in every kind of situation, only to see a fruitless finish.
Orlando City coach James O’Connor said the Lions have become “the architects of our own downfall.”
“I think there will be a lot of people that leave the stadium tonight that will be wondering how we didn’t get anything out of the game,” O’Connor said after the loss Friday. “It’s desperately disappointing because when you look at the effort from the guys, they’ve given absolutely everything. There was a desperation from us tonight to go and win the game. We just got right up to the ledge and couldn’t step over it.”
As Orlando City approaches the end of the season and desperately fights for one of the final spots into the playoffs, clinical finishing will be key. The Lions won’t be able to create more than 10 scoring chances against many of the teams left on their schedule this season, especially against the upcoming high-caliber opponents San Jose and LAFC.
Pereyra plays more minutes
The Lions have been waiting for new designated player Mauricio Pereyra to work his way into game fitness after joining the club during his previous team’s offseason.
Pereyra’s first game at Minnesota showed glimpses of his promised electricity, and against Atlanta Friday, he brought a renewed spark to the offense. The midfielder’s first step on the ball was aggressive, and he played with a physicality that eclipsed his 5-foot-5 frame. Without the size to dominate on-ball, Pereyra showed his ability to time tackles and takeaways, catching opponents off guard and often sending them to the ground in the process.
The performance was promising, but it reflected room to grow for both Pereyra and his teammates. He fed a wealth of through balls into open space, only to see teammates run the opposite way or fall back on their heels, still unfamiliar with each other’s movement and communication habits. Pereyra said the miscommunication will be smoothed out once the Lions play together more in game situations.
Pereyra still remains slightly under his full match form as well, which was evident at the start of the second half. After terrorizing the Atlanta backline for the first 45 minutes, Pereyra’s fatigue began to show as his tackles softened and his speed slowed. He was finally relieved in the 61st minute by Sacha Klejstan, but it was an increase in minutes — Pereyra played 45 minutes in Minnesota, then earned a full hour against Atlanta.
With the team facing another critical road match next week, Pereyra said he is continuing to put in extra work in and out of training to help the Lions.
“I hope the next game I should be ready, I don’t know yet,” Pereyra said. “I worked really hard the last three weeks, I played 45 [minutes] against Minnesota and now 60 [minutes], so hopefully for the next game I should be ready.”
Carlos Ascues finds offensive footing
With the Lions pushing up the field to threaten Atlanta, midfielder Carlos Ascues stepped up into a slightly unfamiliar role on Friday night as one of the team’s primary attackers. Ascues took four shots, placing two on frame and creating some of the best chances of the night for the Lions.
Although he notched one goal earlier in the season, Ascues fits more of a defensive midfielder slot, and he had taken only four shots before Friday night. His movement in the attacking third was new, but it opened new gaps for Orlando City and Nani and Pereyra both quickly fit into it, feeding him the ball in dangerous spaces in and around the box.
44' | Carlos is finding the pockets tonight 👀
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) August 24, 2019
The only weakness with Ascues’ transition into this role was his lack of comfort finishing. Although he often pulled the trigger at the right time — avoiding the hesitation that sometimes plagues players who don’t shoot often — Ascues didn’t have the experience, especially in his first touch, to fire shots with the power and precision needed to net a goal.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) August 24, 2019
The result was a somewhat frustrating performance, during which Ascues created flashy chances only to send the ball directly to the goalkeeper’s hands. However, it showed his versatility throughout the midfield, giving Orlando City coaches a sense of how he could be used throughout the remainder of the season.