Orlando City scored first but allowed a late tying goal for the second straight home match in a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United in front of an announced crowd of 20,127 at Exploria Stadium. Kyle Smith gave the lead to Orlando City (5-4-5, 20 points) in the first half, but a late recycled set piece allowed Tyler Wolff to tie the match in the final minutes, although the equalizer for Atlanta (6-4-5, 23 points) did not come quite as late as New york City FC’s did last week.
The late goal conceded prevented Orlando from catching the Five Stripes in the standings. Orlando is now 3-8-7 in the all-time series against Atlanta in league play and 2-5-3 at home.
“I have to say that we played well today,” a visibly frustrated Oscar Pareja said after the match. “And I want to congratulate that group of players that pushed that match and that energy. That’s the team that we want to see. The other part is the frustration on giving up another goal at the end and not walking (away) with three points at the end. But we want to see that team more often and we want to see that energy more often. We want to see that Orlando City.”
Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena played central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Ercan Kara up top.
The first 20 minutes were like a heavyweight prize fight with the teams sparring but not landing anything. The Lions were controlling the midfield by having Smith move up the field as Ruan used to do, only instead of staying wide, he often tucked inside and left space for Torres to be the wide man on the right. It helped Orlando keep the ball and overload the midfield throughout the first half.
In the early going, Orlando swung a few crosses through the area but nothing came of them.
The first Atlanta foray into Orlando’s end concluded with Smith knocking the ball out for a corner at the 20-minute mark. Four minutes later, Torres cut inside and fizzed a shot just over Brad Guzan’s crossbar.
Carlos conceded a free kick on the next Atlanta attack in the 27th minute and was booked, even though earlier Angulo was pulled back with no attempt to play the ball as he was breaking in behind and no card was given. Juan Jose Purata headed wide on the free kick. A minute later, Atlanta got a fortunate bounce off a deflection and broke in transition. Jansson cut out the final ball with a well-timed clearance.
The Lions broke through in the 30th minute. A great hustle play by Angulo got him down the left and at the edge of the box he cut the ball back to Pereyra at the top of the area. The captain sent the ball in for Kara, who slid it to Torres. El Cuervo’s stab at the ball was blocked out to the right side, where Smith swooped in and finished to make it 1-0 with his first goal of the season.
“Ivan did really well to shed his defender on the left side,” Smith said of the lead-up to his goal. “He went down the line, I believe he got a cross off. The ball was bouncing around. It bounced out perfectly for me and I just tried to keep the ball low and it went through his legs, I believe.”
“Kyle is a very smart soccer player,” Pareja said. “In the movements that we tried today, we tried to overload them in the middle with someone who is not hesitating to ask for that ball. That way we could open Facu too.”
Purata headed off frame again on a 35th-minute set piece for Atlanta. The Lions then won a few corners but nothing came of them except a blocked Wilder Cartagena shot at the top of the box.
The Lions wanted a penalty in the 40th minute as Torres played a ball in behind for Araujo. The Uruguayan raced toward the ball and would have been behind the defense on the right side but Andrew Gutman, who was marking Torres, suddenly decided to take two steps backward and block Araujo’s path, leading to a big collision in the box. Allen Chapman saw no foul there.
Kara had a chance on a long throw-in but Guzan made a good point-blank save to keep the lead at one goal in the 45th minute.
Carlos cleared a late Atlanta corner and that was it for the half.
Orlando City held slightly more possession in the opening period (51.7%-48.3%), was the more accurate passing team (86.4%-85.2%), and had more shots (6-3) and shots on target (3-0). Both teams won three corners.
The second half settled into a bit more of a choppy affair. Both teams took turns possessing but not fashioning much danger until a chance by Orlando in the 51st minute. Smith took a layoff from Torres on the right and blasted a shot that was blocked in front. The ball deflected to Pereyra, who flicked it toward goal but it was right at Guzan.
Most of the rest of the half was played between the boxes and some hopeful attacks mostly broke down without any danger. Torres was nearly played in behind by Kara in the 63rd minute but the pass was slightly behind him and ended up getting knocked away.
The Lions got an injection of life from Martin Ojeda coming into the game and he smashed a shot on goal in the 78th. That shot was headed just inside the left post but Guzan robbed him with a diving save, the way he usually does against Orlando.
The Lions were nearly in two minutes later but Ojeda’s cross was deflected by a defender and trickled just wide for a corner. Araujo’s blast from distance in the 84th was just inches over the bar.
Atlanta then struck for the equalizer off a set piece in the 86th minute. A corner kick was cleared out of the area but fired back in on goal from distance by Matheus Rossetto. Gallese made a diving save on it, but the rebound ended up with Wolff, who roofed the ball in off Smith, giving Gallese no chance to save it and making it 1-1.
“We cleared the ball and then their player got a touch and a shot off,” Smith said. “Pedro made a save and it went right to their player, and then he shot it and deflected it off me into the goal.”
Atlanta had the better of the play in the final minutes and injury time. Machop Chol had an open look from the top of the area but missed the net badly and nothing came of a late Atlanta corner. That was it and the visitors had again stolen late points in Exploria Stadium.
Despite the draw feeling like a loss because of when the last goal was scored, the Lions played well against their nemeses from the Peach State, shutting down high-scoring forwards Thiago Almada and Georgios Giakoumakis. The two combined for just one shot attempt and it wasn’t on target.
“I think the team as a whole did a lot of great work today,” Cartagena said. “I think we were stretched a bit. They tried to stretch us out, and we were able to really collect ourselves and play as a unit and defend well. We ran a lot, we pressed a lot, we were able to recover a lot of balls forward into the field, and I think we did great, and like I said, we’ve got great sensations by the way that we played the game today.”
Orlando City held slightly more possession (50.3%-49.7%), and had more corners (8-6), shots (14-11) and shots on target (6-3). Guzan’s four saves were the difference, and particularly two of them — the one on Kara on the long throw and the denial of Ojeda’s blast.
“To our fans, that support deserved much more, and we wanted to walk off not with frustration but with joy,” Pareja said. “But I’m proud of this group, seriously. I think they played well.”
“We need to take the positives away. We played well tonight,” Smith said. “We need to just keep being consistent in our performances so we can get results home and away from home.”
The Lions travel to the New York metropolitan area next to take on the New York Red Bulls next Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.