Orlando City failed to find the net as both Brad Guzan and the woodwork combined to stop everything the Lions threw at them. Still, the team’s record unbeaten streak grew to 10 matches (6-0-4) after a 0-0 draw against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Lions (8-2-6, 30 points) have now gone three straight without a loss to the Five Stripes (5-8-3, 18 points), but after largely outplaying their hosts, they’ll consider this two points dropped on the road. Despite a lot of regulars being out of the lineup, Orlando was the better side for the majority of the match.
“I think the players had another great game,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We had many options to score and not only that but I think we really dominated the game all the time. It’s much better when you translate that into three points but there is no frustration.”
“I thought it was a great team effort tonight,” said goalkeeper Brian Rowe, who made his first start of the season and ended up with a shutout on three saves. “I know you look around the field and we’ve had a number of guys that stepped up that haven’t gotten a lot of minutes this year.”
Pareja was without Pedro Gallese (international duty) for the first time in 2020, so Rowe got the start in goal behind a back line of Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Kyle Smith. Joey DeZart got his first start for Orlando City in central midfield, along with Junior Urso, with Andres Perea and Robinho in the attacking midfield, and Benji Michel and Daryl Dike leading the attack. Fullback Michael Halliday was recalled from OCB and made the bench.
The Lions started the match without most of the team’s starters. In addition to Gallese and Sebas Mendez (international duty) being out, Joao Moutinho’s lingering groin problem and the undisclosed injuries to Mauricio Pereyra, Ruan, Tesho Akindele, and Uri Rosell combined to leave Orlando seven starters shy, with regular center back Antonio Carlos on the bench along with wingers Nani and Chris Mueller.
Some early pressing by Orlando gave Atlanta problems before both teams settled into the game. Atlanta sent an early warning sign with a good cross in from the left for Adam Jahn, who had slipped free of Jansson, but the cross was just a little too high for him in the ninth minute.
The Lions nearly opened the scoring in the 11th minute but Guzan made two huge saves to keep it scoreless. Smith sent in a good-looking cross from the right and Dike powered a header on target. Guzan fought that off and Robinho waited for the rebound to come down and swept it toward the net, but the Atlanta goalkeeper made a diving stop.
Atlanta then had some extended possession but wasn’t doing much with it. The Lions continuously turned them backward toward their own end, and most of the time the ball was around midfield. The hosts finally won a corner and Jon Gallagher sent in a good cross for Miles Robinson to head on target. Rowe made a huge save in the 18th minute, punching it away.
Perea bombed down the left side a minute later, but his shot was deflected out for a corner. Neither team got particularly close for the next 10 minutes or so, until the Lions again nearly opened the scoring. Robinho cut left to right with options in the box and chose to fire a shot that skipped just in front of the goal and crashed off the left post. The rebound came out to the right side and Smith ran onto it before firing a shot that Guzan saved in the 30th minute.
Franco Escobar picked up the first of what should have been two quick yellow cards in the 36th minute when he clobbered Robinho from behind. Two minutes later, he made a terrible challenge on Urso that had the Brazilian on the turf for a couple of minutes in pain. Escobar should have been sent off with a second yellow, but referee Rubiel Vasquez gave the Atlanta fullback a huge break and didn’t book him again. Urso was able to continue after receiving treatment.
Neither team got a good look the rest of the half and the two sides were scoreless at the break. Orlando had more first-half shots (7-5), shots on target (4-2), and corners (4-3), as well as more accurate passing (89%-86%). Atlanta held a slight possession advantage (51.7%-48.3%).
Disaster nearly struck early in the second half as Jansson tried to pass back to Rowe. The ball moved more quickly than expected and Rowe could only slide for it and watch as it skipped just wide of goal in the 55th minute.
“The turf is tricky,” Rowe said. “The way they wet it. The ball doesn’t really check up at all. It almost accelerates once it’s moving in a direction. So, he was trying to play me kind of into space on my right foot and it kind of took off a little faster than I think I was anticipating and what he thought as well. So, I kind of scrambled for a second but then once it was going by me, trying to reach for it, I saw that I was at least covering the goal, so I knew it was going wide.”
The Lions conceded a little more possession in the second half but still managed more scoring chances. Just two minutes after the near mishap in front of Orlando’s goal, Urso fired a shot that skipped off a defender and went wide. Atlanta looked to counter off the ensuing corner but Jansson made a great play in the open field to break it up.
Alex De John subbed on for Kyle Smith shortly after that and one of his first involvements was a nifty pass into the area for Michel in the 64th minute, but Benji couldn’t make good contact to bring it in and the chance evaporated. Michel then had another opportunity to get in two minutes later, as the Lions broke in transition 4-v-3, but his first touch on the pass again let him down.
Benji’s last involvement was to concede a free kick near his own penalty area before being subbed off for Nani in the 70th minute. Jansson made a good play on the ensuing cross to get across his man and nod it behind for a corner. Rowe needed to make his second big save of the night on that corner when Orlando failed to clear it all the way out and it fell for Anton Walkes, who shot from point-blank range. The Lions’ goalkeeper made a good reaction save to keep the Five Stripes off the board.
Atlanta held the ball for quite a while during that stretch with Orlando City content to play the ball to safety rather than try to pass out of the back as the team usually does. The Lions sustained some pressure as a result, but the defense and midfielders did well to keep Atlanta on the perimeter.
Nani nearly found a breakthrough in the 78th minute. The captain fired a shot at the top of the area that deflected off a defender and over Guzan but it hit the crossbar and stayed out.
Perea smashed a shot just off target from outside the area seconds later as the Lions continued to look for a winner.
Nani set up Urso in the 86th minute and the Bear hit his shot first time, but he left it too close to the middle and Guzan was able to make a vital diving save to keep the game at 0-0 late.
The last chance fell to DeZart in the 91st minute as the rookie found himself in space and sent a curling shot toward the back corner but Guzan again was able to get over and keep it out.
That was it for the match and Orlando City had to settle for a single point, falling two points further behind Toronto but gaining a point on Columbus, while Philadelphia jumped over the Lions into third.
The Lions out-shot Atlanta, 15-9 (6-3 on target), earned more corners (7-5), and were more accurate in passing (87%-85%), while the Five Stripes held more of the ball (52.3%-47.7%).
Even though Pareja wasn’t frustrated, he said his players expected more from the match.
“Today the players left the field thinking that they left two points on the field,” he said. “They were not so happy with the tie. And I said, ‘Well, sometimes you know, you take the point and leave.’ They are convinced about what they are. And no one gave anything to them. Nobody. Nothing. They have earned it through the effort, the discipline, the desire to do the right things. They know that to be the best team and to win trophies, you have to keep getting better.”
“It was a solid performance by the team,” DeZart said. “At the end of the day we’re disappointed because each and every game we want to go out and win it, home or away.”
Orlando City will next face the stingy defense of the Columbus Crew at Exploria Stadium on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.