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Three things we learned from Orlando City’s 2-0 Open Cup loss to Atlanta United

Finishing struggles continued to plague the Lions as they fell in the semifinals, the furthest the club ever reached in the U.S. Open Cup.

Orlando City's Benji Michel (19) stumbles in front of Atlanta United's Florentin Pogba (left) during the Lions' loss Tuesday night at Exploria Stadium. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

After advancing further in the U.S. Open Cup than ever before, Orlando City fell 2-0 in the semifinals to Atlanta United Tuesday night. Here are three things we learned from the loss:

1. Finishing woes return

After the final whistle, midfielder Sacha Kljestan summed the game up simply — the team didn’t put enough shots on frame.

The team only recorded two total shots on goal on the night, one in each half. A third shot from João Moutinho whistled just wide of frame at the end of the second half, but besides those three shots, the team failed to place pressure on goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Although Orlando City spent significant time creating movement in and around the Atlanta box, the keeper remained fairly comfortable for the full 90 minutes.

For Orlando City, a lack of pressure on frame has been a recurring point of weakness in recent matches. That was evident during Tuesday’s match, which featured several flashy chances created by the Orlando City offense that fizzled as players hesitated or muffed their shots. Six of the team’s shots were blocked, as players rifled off the ball directly into defenders after pausing for a moment too long.

The Lions created the perfect scoring opportunity in the 19th minute when Nani beat the backline and collected a ball deep in Atlanta territory, flipping a cross back into the box to the feet of a wide open Dom Dwyer. But Dwyer skied the ball directly over the crossbar from point-blank range, setting the tone for the rest of the match for Orlando City. 

2. Grinwis finishes stalwart Open Cup run

Although Brian Rowe has held the starting goalkeeper job throughout the regular season, Adam Grinwis has held it down for Orlando City between the posts throughout the team’s Open Cup run. Throughout the four games of the tournament, the keeper made 17 saves for the Lions.

In the seminal moment of the team’s Open Cup journey, Grinwis knocked away two saves in penalty kicks against New York City FC to help Orlando City advance the team to the semifinals. He was cheered by the roaring crowd that had rushed from one side of the stadium to the other in the moment now dubbed the “Running of the Wall.”

Against Atlanta United, Grinwis recorded five saves, including a tricky deflected shot in the 38th minute that forced the keeper to dive off balance from the original direction of the shot. Although the Lions allowed two goals in the loss, Grinwis kept the margin close deep into the game.

3. Orlando City turns full attention to final postseason push

After the loss, coach James O’Connor admitted his team felt “gutted.” But he only allowed the Lions one day — an off day on Wednesday free from training — to sit with that feeling. With a road match against Toronto FC coming up only four days after the Open Cup loss, O’Connor looked to quickly rally his team to return its focus to MLS play.

“I’m not prepared to sit here and think that’s the end of the season,” O’Connor said. “I think you need to be stronger. I’m certainly not prepared to accept that that’s the end of the season.”

Although the loss on Tuesday was a hard blow for the team to take, it won’t affect MLS standings. Orlando City has hovered just outside of postseason contention for almost two months now. The Lions still sit four points below the cutoff line, chasing New England and Toronto for a spot in the postseason.

This weekend’s match on the road against Toronto will give the Lions an opportunity to edge closer to its first playoff berth. 

“We cannot let this game linger for weeks,” Kljestan said. “The next game is huge. Sometimes a little silver lining when you get knocked out of the [Open] Cup is that you’re playing midweek and then a few days later you bounce back. We can’t let this derail us. We have to be stronger.”

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