Orlando City B

Orlando City B vs. Atlanta United 2: Final Score 3-2 as Young Lions Take All Three Points On the Road

OCB opened its 2024 MLS NEXT Pro season with a 3-2 win over Atlanta United 2.



Image courtesy of Orlando City B

Orlando City B (1-0-0, 3 points) opened the 2024 MLS NEXT Pro season with a 3-2 win over rival Atlanta United 2 (0-1-0, 0 points) at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, GA. Javier Armas and Jhon Solis traded first-half penalties before Yutaro Tsukada gave the Young Lions a halftime lead. Colin Guske and Erik Centeno both scored in the second half, but OCB held on for the opening day victory.

While OCB had some new faces in its starting lineup, most were returners from the 2023 season. Newly-signed goalkeeper Carlos Mercado started in goal behind a back line of Manuel Cocca, Thomas Williams, Nabi Kibunguchy, and Alex Freeman. Academy product Guske made his professional debut next to Imanol Almaguer behind an attacking line of Tsukada, Solis, and Wildredo Rivera. Favian Loyola was the lone man up top.

Atlanta dominated most of the game, both in possession and chances. However, the hosts struggled with their finishing, sending most of their shots off target or directly to Mercado. Meanwhile, the Young Lions were lifted by two exceptional goals and a penalty conversion by Solis.

The first chance of the game came in the ninth minute when Derrick Etienne, Jr. carried the ball across the top of the box and aimed a shot towards the top corner. The attempt was curling towards the target, but missed wide.

Two minutes later, the hosts took the lead. Luke Brennan dribbled into the box with Almaguer behind him. The Young Lions’ captain initially pulled up, but took down the attacker and referee Alex Beehler immediately pointed to the spot. Armas stepped up to take the kick and sent Mercado the wrong way, giving Atlanta an early 1-0 lead.

OCB nearly had a chance in the 14th minute when the Young Lions won a free kick near the Atlanta box. Atlanta had trouble clearing the set piece, but nobody in white could get their foot on the ball. Eventually, the hosts cleared the danger.

The first shot for OCB came in the 17th minute when a short set piece resulted in Almaguer sending a cross into the box. It looked like Kibunguchy would get his head on the ball, but it sailed over him and to Rivera. The Orlando City academy product attempted to redirect the ball on goal, sending it into the side of the net.

The Young Lions found their equalizer in the 25th minute and it was also from the spot. Solis played a nice give-and-go with Freeman, getting behind the Atlanta defense to the right of the goal. Morales tripped Solis with a slide tackle attempt and Beehler pointed to the spot again. Solis’ penalty was a hard shot right down the middle while Atlanta goalkeeper John Berner dove to his right.

Five minutes later, OCB got its first lead of the 2024 MLS NEXT Pro season. A foul just outside of the Atlanta box set up a free kick, taken by Orlando City 2024 MLS SuperDraft pick Tsakada. The rookie’s attempt was over the wall and into the top corner, beyond the outstretched arms of Berner, giving the Young Lions a 2-1 lead.

Atlanta should’ve had an equalizer of their own in the 34th minute when Etienne sent a free kick into the OCB box and Nick Firmino got behind the back line. The ball landed right on his head just outside of the six-yard box, but his header was right into the arms of a relieved Mercado.

The hosts had another opportunity in the 40th minute when a pass across the box was taken on the first touch by Noble Okello. It was a hard and low shot from outside of the box, but directly at Mercado.

The final chance of the half came in the 44th minute with a dangerous cross into the OCB box. It would’ve been another free attempt on goal for Firmino, but sailed just over his head.

At halftime, Atlanta had more shots (7-4) and shots on target (3-2), and better passing accuracy (88.5%-76.4%) than OCB. However, Tsuakda’s strike in the 30th minute and some attempts into the arms of Mercado allowed the Young Lions to take a 2-1 lead into the break.

It didn’t take long for the Young Lions to build on their halftime lead, scoring their third goal of the game in the 49th minute. Freeman made a long run into the Atlanta box, evading multiple defenders, before losing possession. The clearance only went as far as Guske, who took a long-distance shot. It was a rocket that went inside the far post to give OCB a commanding 3-1 lead.

Atlanta’s 2021 MLS SuperDraft pick, Aiden McFadden, tried to pull the hosts back into the game with some ambitious attempts. In the 55th minute, he drew a free kick and the set piece was blocked out by Mercado for a corner kick. The second set piece ended with McFadden trying a bicycle attempt, but he couldn’t connect.

Three minutes later, Kibunguchy’s clearance landed at the feet of McFadden about 35 yards from goal. The midfielder attempted a very long-distance shot, but sent the attempt well over the target.

In the 63rd minute, an Atlanta ball into the OCB box was blocked out of play by Kibunguchy. The ensuing corner kick found the head of Morales, but he sent the attempt wide of the target.

Second-half substitute Centeno had a chance in the 66th minute when Armas’ cross sailed over everyone else in the box. Centeno attempted a shot from a tight angle, sending the chance over the crossbar.

Atlanta had a decent opportunity in the 77th minute when Cocca fouled Alan Carleton 25 yards out. Daniel Russo sent a curling free kick into the box, but nobody in black could get on the end of it. Instead, it harmlessly bounced wide of the far post and out of play for a goal kick.

While Atlanta had been making substitutions throughout the second half, OCB waited until the 78th minute to make any changes. Zakaria Taifi, Tahir Reid-Brown, and Majed Abdullah made their 2024 MLS NEXT Pro debuts, replacing Loyola, Tsukada, and Cocca. They were defensive moves as the Young Lions looked to see out the game.

The hosts continued their offensive attacks in the 79th minute when Centeno sent a dangerous ball across the face of goal. There were two Atlanta players entering the six-yard box, sticking their feet out to get a final touch on the ball. However, it somehow missed both and OCB avoided conceding a second time.

In the 80th minute, it was Centeno on the end of a cross. A wonderful ball into the six landed on the foot of the 21-year-old, but the volley was over the crossbar for a goal kick.

OCB Head Coach Manuel Goldberg made his fourth change in the 86th minute, bringing on 16-year-old academy player Justin Ellis for Rivera.

In the 87th minute, Russo took a shot from the left of goal, aiming for the far post. However, the ball was blocked out of play for Atlanta’s 10th corner kick. The ensuing set piece didn’t find a teammate and was cleared away.

After dominating possession and chances for over 30 minutes, Atlanta finally broke through during stoppage time. A minute past the 90-minute mark, Centeno sent a cross towards OCB’s back post. Morales got on the end of the pass, heading it past Mercado to cut the deficit in half.

Two minutes after the goal, Goldberg made his final change of the game and it was another defensive substitution as Thomas Bowe came on for Solis.

The final attempt of the game came five minutes into stoppage time as Atlanta looked for a late equalizer. However, the cross was caught by Mercado. OCB cleared the ball downfield, keeping it in the Atlanta half until the final whistle blew, claiming all three points with a 3-2 win.

The hosts dominated the game statistically, with more shots (20-5), shots on target (6-3), corner kicks (10-0), and passing accuracy (88.6%-72%). However, too many of their shots were off target or straight at Mercado, enabling the first-time OCB goalkeeper to make easy stops.

This is the third consecutive year that OCB has begun its season with three points. The Young Lions beat Chicago Fire FC II 2-0 to open the 2022 campaign, Philadelphia Union II 3-1 last year, and topped Atlanta United this afternoon. It’s a strong start to a season in which the Young Lions hope to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year and the third time in their history.

The team will stay on the road and have a short week, traveling to face Huntsville City FC Friday night. Then OCB will return to Central Florida for its home opener on April 2 against another rival, Inter Miami CF II.


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