Analysis: Atlanta United (a). Much changed XI secures valuable road point.
Well, well, well. How the turntables have turned, as Michael Scott once infamously said. This may have been another frustrating draw with the plastics, but there are certainly a lot of positives to take from this game. Yes, Atlanta themselves had chances to win the game; but it was Orlando City who had the Lions share. Pun intended. This is a game, that in the the not so distant past, we'd have probably lost. Wholesale changes? Road trip to Atlanta? OMFG. That would have been our collective reaction 12 months ago. Not so, now. The likes of Joey DeZart and Robinho came in to hugely positive effect. And Brian Rowe? He will have, temporarily, silenced his naysayers. A clean sheet, in Atlanta, on your first start of the season. Not too shabby.
Orlando's squad strength and team spirit continue to shine through
One thing to continues to astound me about this team, is the amazing spirit and togetherness they seem to possess. With 4 changes made to the line-up, including a full MLS debut for Joey DeZart and 2 players with 1 start between them, heading into this game... Well, let's just say you could, perhaps, be forgiven for being a tad pessimistic about Orlando City's chances. But that doesn't seem to matter to this squad. They have an inherent, and decidedly profound, collective belief in their ability to win games of soccer. A team sans Pedro Gallese, Sebas Mendez, Uri Rosell, Antonio Carlos, Ruan, Joao Moutinho, Luis Nani, Dom Dwyer and Chris Mueller went out to Atlanta, and had a go from the off. Of the 9 players I listed, all are potential starters. Most teams would crumble away from home, minus 9 starters.
Granted, Atlanta aren't currently the frightening prospect they were 2 years ago. However, it's still a difficult place to go and play. It's still a rivalry game. So for an Orlando team, that's stretched to the bones right now with injuries and international call-ups, to go to Atlanta, play their game and still come away with a credible point is something to be pleased about. And that's me underselling it a little. OK, a lot. You take my point. This squad's self-belief is a joy to behold. They never settled for the point, they went into that game with the mindset of winning the game. It's a mindset that's kept them in touch with the rest of the Supporters Shield's chasing pack, ahead of a crunch game with Columbus this weekend. I, for one, am excited to see what this team does come Sunday evening.
It may not have been the most free flowing and fluid of games from Oscar Pareja's Lions; but there were plenty of positives to take from a game that they probably should've won. And you can bet they'll be frustrated that they didn't.
A tale of two goalkeepers
The statistics say it all about this encounter. It's probably not a game that will live too long in the memory. One thing that will stick out like a rancor's tooth in a Tatooine desert (#ObligatoryStarWarsReference) is undoubtedly the performance of the two goalkeepers. Brad Guzan was undoubtedly the busier of the two, with 6 saves to Rowe's 3. Why? I hear you ask. Simply put, Orlando created more than Atlanta. Orlando took 15 shots, with 14 of those coming from open play. Atlanta, meanwhile, took 9 attempts, with only 5 coming from open play (figure 1). A lack of creativity is a real problem for the 5 shites. You know what, it's going to keep happening. I'm going to keep saying it. I'm not even sorry at this point. Anyway, as I was saying Atlanta are struggling to create chances in open play, and it's a real shame isn't it? Not really. Sarcasm. It's the lowest form of whit, but boy do I love it.
Both goalkeepers were in great form on Wednesday evening. Whilst Guzan was the busier of the two experienced stoppers, Rowe's performance was arguably the most impressive. Given that he has been out of the side so long, to come back in, away at Atlanta having not played since October 2019, and keep a clean sheet is remarkably impressive. Hats off to you Brian, you most definitely haven't been a very naughty boy. I applaud any American that understands that particular pop culture reference. I may even buy you a drink when the travel bans eventually get lifted. Maybe.
Figure 1 shows the shot statistics for both sides. Orlando certainly had the better of things.
Solid debut for Joey DeZart
I outlined in our analysis of the Red Bulls game, that DeZart may get more minutes as we near the end of this crazy regular season. Absentees in the midfield necessitated his inclusion much earlier than anticipated. On the whole, I think he did very well. In figure 2, you'll see how he compared with his colleagues in midfield. DeZart completed 83.9% of his 62 passes, with 2 of his 5 long balls being accurate. Those stats stand up very favourably against Urso, who completed 93.8% of 32 passes (albeit in a more advanced role) and Perea's 91.3% of 23 passes. Perea himself is relatively inexperienced, but in terms of the 2020 season he has featured more than DeZart. DeZart was also somewhat unfortunate to not find the net, with a curling effort deep into time added on. Impressive full debut for the youngster, in difficult circumstances.
Figure 2 shows how Joey DeZart compared, statistically, to his midfield colleagues.
The experienced former LA Galaxy goalkeeper didn't have a massive amount to do. But what he did do, and the circumstances in which he did it, were remarkable. This was Rowe's first start of the season, his first appearance full stop since the end of 2019. He made 3 saves and 1 punch during the 90 minutes. His reaction stop on 71 minutes, to deny Anton Walkes was absolutely crucial. If that goes in, at that stage of the game, Orlando have a mountain to climb. We've spoken a lot about Pedro Gallese's ability to win points for this team, but Rowe's contribution in this game cannot be overlooked. The sprawling catch he made on 79 minutes, only further exemplified his value to this squad. His experience is going to be vital in the absence of El Pulpo.
Rowe -7- The fact he had the captain's armband, showed what Oscar Pareja thinks of him. Crucial saves, at crucial times. Without him this report looks very different.
Smith -7- Another solid performance from Smith, at this rate Ruan might have a task on his hands to get back in.
Schlegel -7- Seems to have taken our advice and calmed down somewhat. I'm totally taking credit. All jokes aside, he was solid.
Jansson -7- Bit of gamesmanship to wind up Escobar at the end. As Jose Mourinho says, sometimes you have to be a b*stard.
Miller -7- Looks to be growing in confidence, which is great to see.
Robinho -6- Bit hit and miss, but very unlucky not to score on 2 occasions.
Urso -7- Couldn't quite wrap his foot around that 85th minute chance. If he does, we win the game. Solid performance otherwise.
Perea -7- Full of running, didn't do a whole lot wrong.
DeZart -7- Solid MLS debut, looks to have plenty of potential.
Dike -7-Very unlucky not to open the scoring early on. Led the line well.
Michel -5- Not his night, turned the ball over a fair amount and wasn't able to impact the game.
DeJohn -6- Did well in an unfamiliar RWB slot.
Mueller -6- Never had much of a chance to get into the game.
Nani -6- Unlucky not to open the scoring, but denied by the bar.
Carlos -6- Came in late, probably too late to make an impact.
*All statistics courtesy of mlssoccer.com and whoscored.com.