Orlando City B (3-1-0, 9 points) was thoroughly outplayed in its first-ever game against Atlanta United 2 (1-2-1, 4 points) in Kennesaw, GA. Erik Lopez opened the scoring and Nick Firmino scored a brace, giving the hosts a 3-0 lead early in the second half. Cristofer Acuna got one back for OCB late, but it wasn’t enough as the Young Lions fell 3-1 for their first points dropped of the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season.
OCB Head Coach Martin Perelman made two changes from the team that beat Inter Miami II 2-0 last weekend, both on the back line. Franco Perez wasn’t in the team for tonight’s game, replaced by Tahir Reid-Brown. Abdi Salim was initially listed as starting alongside Thomas Williams, but was replaced by Nabi Kibunguchy shortly before kickoff. As a result, the defensive unit in front of Javier Otero was Alex Freeman, Kibunguchy, Williams, and Reid-Brown. Imanol Almaguer, Cristian Medina, Jhon Solis, and Juninho made up the midfield with Favian Loyola and Jack Lynn up top.
In their first three games, OCB got off to a strong start, scoring inside the first five minutes and eventually taking a 2-0 lead. In two of those games, the Young Lions continued on the front foot, providing relief for their defense. While Atlanta had yet to win this season, the hosts were the better team from the opening kickoff.
Neither team was able to build much in the first five minutes, but Atlanta took the first attempt in the seventh minute when Jonathan Villal found Kofi Twumasi outside of the box. Despite the long distance, Twumasi took a shot, but Otero did well to get down and block it away.
The hosts almost had another opportunity in the 10th minute when Tyler Young sent a cross towards the back post. Otero jumped up and got a hand to it before it could reach an Atlanta player.
In the 12th minute, Luke Brennan found Lopez in the box. The pair that caused trouble on multiple occasions for OCB connected, but the cross was a little too high for Lopez to get over it. Falling backwards, his header bounced off the crossbar, keeping the game scoreless.
The first chance for OCB came in the 14th minute, when Lynn found Loyola making a run into the Atlanta box. Unfortunately, Loyola’s first touch was a bit strong, causing him to reach out for the ball. The action caused him to learn back in his attempt at goal, sending the ball high and wide of the target.
The Young Lions’ defense was shaky throughout the early parts of the game and that came back to haunt them in the 23rd minute. Brennan dribbled into the box and was ultimately challenged by Reid-Brown. The two got tangled up, resulting in Brennan going down, but the ball went directly to Lopez. After a brief hesitation, Williams slid in to challenge Lopez, but his tackle was too late and the forward went down. Referee Anya Voigt took a minute to think about her decision, but ended up pointing to the spot.
After drawing the penalty, Lopez stepped up to take it himself. As Otero dove to his right, Lopez sent the ball down the middle. Otero was able to keep a leg back and got a piece of the ball, but not enough as it went in to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
OCB had scored inside the first five minutes of each of its first three games and hadn’t trailed. In addition to failing to score an early goal, the penalty saw the Young Lions fall behind for the first time this season.
As OCB went to midfield to kick off, Otero remained down in his box. He was attended to by the OCB medical staff, and was eventually helped off the field. It was a tough break for a goalkeeper who has been key to the Young Lions’ successes these past two seasons. Backup Dominic Pereira replaced the starting goalkeeper for OCB’s first change of the game.
In the 32nd minute, a quick one-two between Solis and Juninho enabled the latter to attempt a cross. The ball was blocked out by Twumasi, giving OCB its first corner of the game. After Loyola’s short corner was knocked out of play, he attempted a longer corner. These crosses were the first time OCB had a sustained threat, but nothing came from it.
During the first corner, Villal went down and required attention. Rather than going down a man for three minutes, Atlanta made a substitution, bringing on Firmino. That change had a significant impact on the game..
While Loyola’s first few corners didn’t find anyone in white, he found the head of Williams in the 37th minute. However, an Atlanta defender did well to challenge the first-team center back and Williams’ header was well off target.
The fourth official held up six minutes of injury time, enough for Atlanta to double its lead. In the second minute of first-half added time, Firmino took advantage of an OCB turnover near midfield. The substitute carried the ball all the way into the Atlanta box and took a left-footed shot as he fell backwards. The shot probably would’ve been handled by Pereira or gone wide, but it deflected off Almaguer and then Kibunguchy, sending it to the opposite corner. Pereira was defending the near post and the ball rolled in the far side to give Atlanta a 2-0 lead at halftime.
Atlanta dominated the first half with more possession (51.9%-48.1%), shots (6-2), shots on goal (4-0), crosses (8-5), duels won (25-21), and passing accuracy (85.2%-79.9%). The only statistics led by OCB in the first half were corners (3-0) and tackles won (8-6).
Trailing 2-0 after 45 minutes, Perelman made an attacking change at halftime, with Moises Tablante replacing Solis. Just 10 minutes into the second period, Perelman made two more changes, with Ian Garrett and Alejandro Granados coming on for Reid-Brown and Medina. Unfortunately, those substitutions didn’t change the trajectory of the game.
The first chance of the second half came when Firmino took advantage of a turnover in the back. In the 53rd minute, the attacker took a strong shot from the outside of the box. It was on target, but Pereira did well to get down to make the stop.
A constant threat while on the field, Firmino netted his second goal in the 56th minute. It started when a poor throw-in from Garrett to Juninho went directly to Lopez. The first-half goal scorer dribbled into the box but three OCB defenders converged. Lopez lost the ball, but it went right back to Firmino at the top of the box. Firmino fired from the top of the 18, putting it past Periera and into the corner, giving Atlanta a commanding 3-0 lead.
OCB got its first shot of the second half in the 60th minute when Tablante fired from distance. The shot was on target, but was no trouble for Atlanta goalkeeper Vicente Reyes, who easily collected it.
The Young Lions had another opportunity in the 66th minute when Juninho played the ball forward for Tablante, who quickly sent it to Loyola in front of the goal. The forward’s first touch was on target but he didn’t get much on it and Reyes made another easy stop.
In the 72nd minute, Lynn crossed the ball into the Atlanta box, where Garrett was charging in. Reyes beat the substitute to the ball, but had trouble collecting it. However, he got enough contact to send it towards the top of the box, enabling his defenders to clear.
In the 74th minute, Firmino had a chance to complete his hat trick from about 20 yards out when no OCB defenders stepped up to challenge him. He accepted the challenge to shoot from distance and didn’t miss by much as the ball sailed just over the crossbar.
Perelman made his final change in the 77th minute, bringing Acuna on for Lynn. It only took four minutes for Acuna to make an impact when his short corner nearly resulted in an OCB goal. Juninho accepted the pass and sent the ball towards the back post. Williams headed it down in front of goal where Kibunguchy knocked it in. However, the flag was up for offside on the initial cross.
Just before injury time, another short corner gave the Young Lions a chance to avoid the shutout. This time it was to Tablante, who dribbled into the Atlanta box. He got by Karim Tmimi, who came on as a second-half substitute, and was taken down. This time there was no hesitation by Voigt and OCB had a late penalty.
Acuna stepped up to take the spot kick and sent Reyes the wrong way. As Reyes dove to his right, Acuna calmly slid the ball into the bottom left corner to cut the OCB deficit to 3-1.
Despite the game already being out of reach, Acuna celebrated with passion and OCB took the ball back to the center circle. However, it was Atlanta that created the last good chance of the game. In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Lopez played a dangerous ball into the box. Tmimi was charging in and collided with Pereira at the top of the six. Fortunately, the ball skipped past both of them, allowing OCB to clear.
In the end, OCB had more possession (51.3%-48.7%), corners (5-1), crosses (13-12), and tackles won (16-13). But Atlanta had more shots (9-8), shots on goal (6-3), and, most importantly, outscored the Young Lions.
OCB got off to its best start in team history by claiming nine points from the first three games. This looked like a different team tonight with Atlanta dominating play from the start. Even when the Young Lions did get chances, they were from long distance or they didn’t get much on their shots.
This game provided the young team with adversity the players hadn’t seen yet this season, falling behind. They didn’t respond well to the challenge, continuing to concede possession and chances. Moving forward, Perelman will be looking for his team to have more energy and attack when trailing.
The Young Lions will look to rebound from this difficult loss when they host New York CIty FC II at Osceola County Stadium next Sunday night.