Orlando City started the 2021 season with a 0-0 draw at Exploria Stadium against Atlanta United. Orlando Head Coach Oscar Pareja crafted a lineup working around injuries to usual starters such as Robin Jansson, Joao Moutinho, and Uri Rosell, as well as the suspension of Mauricio Pereyra. Atlanta finished with a majority of the possession, but Orlando had the better scoring chances in yet another season-opening draw for the Lions.
Here’s how each Lion rated in the first game of the year, as well as my pick for the team’s Man of the Match.
GK, Pedro Gallese, 6 — The Peruvian goalkeeper only had to make two saves in this one, the toughest coming in the 89th minute, when he had to go to ground to stop a shot from distance Franco Ibarra. It won’t be making a highlight reel anytime soon, but when it mattered, he played his part in Orlando’s clean sheet. Those clean sheets didn’t come often last season, with Orlando’s defense letting at least one goal squeak by in most matches, so it’s nice for Gallese to start the season without conceding.
D, Kyle Smith, 7 (MotM) — Filling in for the injured Moutinho at left back, Smith led the team in passes (45), touches (65), aerials won (3), and clearances (6). He finished with two tackles, an interception, and a blocked shot and passed at an 86.7% rate. Although he wasn’t able to replicate Moutinho’s crossing ability — though he was 1/2 on crosses (both with his weaker left foot) — Smith made critical tackles to snuff out Atlanta’s chances on the left side of the field without Jansson there to back him up. Smith is our Man of the Match for not giving Atlanta time to breathe or find the final pass in a scoreless draw. Left back is Orlando’s position with the least depth and Smith prevented that from being a weakness in this match.
D, Rodrigo Schlegel, 7 — With Jansson nursing a lower leg injury, Schlegel came in and managed a pretty good impression of the Swede. Schlegel was imposing, physical, and stood his ground while anchoring the defense. While many will joke about his heroics in goal during the MLS playoffs last year, this performance showed Schlegel’s prowess as a center back. It was important for him to step up after departures at the position this off-season and Schlegel did just that, finishing with two tackles, two clearances, and a notable 35 passes with a team-leading 94.4% passing rate to help Orlando build out of the back.
D, Antonio Carlos, 6.5 — Defensively sound as always, Carlos came up huge in stoppage time by chasing down Ezequiel Barco and stopping Atlanta on the counter to maintain Orlando’s clean sheet. On the other end of the field, Carlos had a great opportunity to score off of a corner kick in the 49th minute. Unmarked in front of goal, he headed the ball down instead of on target and the opportunity was lost. Despite the missed shot and a few errant passes here and there (on 89.7% passing overall), it was a good outing from Carlos as he prevented the kind of heartbreak Orlando fans were likely terrified of late in the match. Defensively, he contributed two tackles, a clearance, and a blocked shot.
D, Ruan, 6 — The 25-year-old dueled with George Bello throughout the match, using speed and silky footwork to get the better of Bello on occasion. Ruan finished second in touches with 63, often working with Chris Mueller or Nani to stretch Orlando’s attack and crash the box. Like the rest of the back line, Ruan played all 90 minutes and hustled in the game’s final minutes to make sure Orlando wasn’t beaten. He finished with one tackle and three clearances on defense. Despite three dribbles, he wasn’t as sharp going forward, with only one cross attempt, which wasn’t accurate, a shot that was blocked, and just a 69% passing rate.
MF, Sebas Mendez, 6.5 — It was the kind of quiet game that Mendez has often had with Orlando City, plugging up Atlanta’s passing lanes and making life difficult for the opposition. He had a chance to score in the 61st minute, pouncing on a loose ball in the box after dribbling from Alexandre Pato, but wasn’t able to get enough contact to put it away. He finished fourth in touches with 49, mostly due to Pareja running the offense through the wings rather than the center of the field. Mendez pushed forward more as the game went on and finished second on the team with 42 passes (92.9% accuracy), one of them a key pass. He had two tackles, an interception, a clearance, and one shot attempt.
MF, Junior Urso, 6.5 — Like many times last season, Urso often found himself in great positions on offense but failed to find the back of the net. The Bear led the team in shots, with three, but either sent the ball into the stands or couldn’t make clean contact on his attempt. He deserves some recognition for his effort on both sides of the ball in the Florida heat. A force in the air and often tracking back on defense, Urso ended the match with a team-high three tackles, a team-high two interceptions, and a key pass on 81.5% passing.
MF, Chris Mueller, 6 — The Money Badger created Orlando’s best chance of the afternoon, setting Pato up in front of goal in the 72nd minute. He seemed to take over as Orlando’s playmaker once Nani was subbed off, working on the left side of the pitch to get things going offensively. Mueller also drew a foul late in the first half to give Orlando good positioning for a free kick. Taking the free kick himself, Mueller served a good cross, but Urso just couldn’t get his header on target. Although his skill level has improved, he tended to dribble into trouble at times and was stymied by Atlanta’s defense. Cash passed at just a 75.8% rate, but had three key passes and was 2/2 in crossing accuracy. He made two tackles, attempted one shot, and drew three fouls.
MF, Nani, 6.5 — The captain was the one pulling the strings on offense, finding players in space and delivering good crosses on corner kicks. With Pereyra serving his suspension, the team looked most dangerous when Nani had the ball at his feet. He finished with three key passes and one shot (on target), taking a chance from distance when Atlanta gave him space to set up the strike. He passed at a 79.4% rate and was accurate on two of his three crosses. Defensively, he chipped in three tackles, three clearances, and an interception. All in all, it was a decent game from Nani, albeit without a goal or assist, and perhaps a few turnovers too many, and he exited in the 70th minute for fresher legs.
F, Tesho Akindele, 5 — A bad first touch by Akindele ruined an early opportunity on the counter and the Canadian wasn’t able to make much of an impact against a stout Atlanta defense. Akindele used his large frame to win two aerial duels and hold up play on offense, but was subbed off after an uneventful first half with no shots and nine passes. His passing rate of 66.7% wasn’t great, he had no key passes, and he contributed no defensive stats.
F, Alexandre Pato, 6 — It was Pato’s first taste of MLS action on a team filled with returning players and there were predictably moments of disconnect between himself and the rest of the team. His best chances came in the second half once he became the team’s lone forward up top after Akindele’s substitution. He dribbled around Brad Guzan in the box only to run into Mendez and not be able to put the ball away, and he had a shot on goal that was deflected and then saved by Guzan later in the match. His day ended in the 78th minute after an awkward landing that left him on the field reaching for his leg and forced him out of the contest, so that will be something to keep an eye on moving forward. His 41.7% passing rate will improve with more time with his new teammates but he showed his footwork with a team-high four dribbles. He also got his only shot attempt on frame.
MF, Andres Perea (45’), 6.5 — Orlando’s shape changed once Perea came on after the first half and the introduction of the U.S. youth international also changed the entire offensive flow for the Lions. Within 30 seconds of taking the field, he delivered a strike but it was right at Guzan. Perea certainly looked hungry in this one, building play in central midfield and ruffling Guzan’s feathers by jumping at a floating Ruan cross in the box. He got his one shot attempt on target, and had a key pass (78.6% accuracy on 14 attempts).
F, Benji Michel, (70’) 5 — Michel didn’t do much as a substitute in this one. Any energy he brought to the offense was erased once Pato was taken off the field due to injury. Until Matheus Aias came on in stoppage time, Michel pushed up into the striker position. The flow of the game shifted and Michel finished with just six touches and two passes, although he completed both. He had one clearance on the defensive end.
MF, Silvester van der Water (80’), N/A — Coming on for Pato to make his Orlando debut, van der Water showed similar miscommunication with teammates. It may take some time for him to learn the habits of the other Lions, but the Dutchman did show quality bits of skill to beat defenders. He finished with one shot (off target), a dribble, and a tackle, completing three of his four passes. He wasn’t on long enough to warrant a grade, but it will be interesting to see him more as he settles in.
F, Matheus Aias (91’), N/A — New season, same late cameo for Aias. He came on for Mueller and didn’t even touch the ball in his brief appearance.
That’s how I saw the individual performances in Orlando City’s first game of 2021. Let us know what you thought in the comments below and make sure to vote for who you think was the Man of the Match.
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