It's important to always recycle your plastics, kids. Atlanta is always a tough place to go and play, particularly as their pitch is as plastic as their supporter base.
In fairness to Atlanta United, they weren't the most plastic thing in MLS this weekend. Which makes for a change. That particular honour goes to Fort Lauderdale and their Miami skyline Messi reveal clip. I do hope somebody has explained that to him...
Anyway, this was always going to be a tough game. As much as I hate saying it, this is an Atlanta squad that's loaded with quality. And we have an horrendous record in the Falcons' arena. So the win is even more impressive as a result.
Orlando were good value for their win. They looked menacing on the counter attack, solid in defence and brave in transition.
Kyle Smith moving into midfield
Whilst the erstwhile Louisville City man probably didn't have his best game, he still played an important role. Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena were absolutely crucial to the win and that was highlighted by Oscar Pareja in the post match (see footage at the end of this piece). Both Cesar and Wilder were able to push on, break lines and get Orlando on the front foot. Kyle Smith, tucking into midfield (Figure 1), in that Trent Alexander-Arnold role, allows them both the freedom to do that. It also helps create overloads involving Smith, where he would occupy the inside right channel and attack the half space ahead of him, with either Cesar or Wilder dropping in (Figure 2). This often led to Smith either popping the ball off to Facu Torres or Mauricio Pereyra and them trying to create from there.
Whilst Smith didn't have his best game in terms of possession, him tucking in allowed Orlando to get greater numbers forward and dominate the ball a bit more in Atlanta's half of the field.
Figure 1 is Smith's heatmap, whole 90.
Figure 2 is an example of Smith helping to creat an overload on the right.
The performance of Mauricio Pereyra
This was Pereyra's 8th multi-assist game for Orlando City, which is a club record by some distance; only Kaká is anywhere close with 4. Pereyra linked the midfield and the attack brilliantly. His movement all around the pitch allowed him to link the play so well and get the chains moving buly dropping into the inside left and right half spaces, playing little one-twos with the likes of Torres and Ivan Angulo to get them into dangerous areas (figures 3 & 4).
And then there are his two assists. It's a great ball in for the equaliser, he puts it into a good area with pace, which makes it easy for Antonio Carlos just to guide it back across the face of Brad Guzan. His second assist is even better, as he carries the ball past a couple of Atlanta challenges and threads a smart through ball that Duncan McGuire dispatches with aplomb.
Figure 3 is Orlando's pass positioning matrix, whole 90.
Figure 4 shows Orlando's passing network.
After the game, I spoke to Pareja about how good it must feel to have a goalkeeper like Gallese who can win games with vital saves at key times, and he told me: "Today, Pedro didn't have that much activity, but, in that moment, where we needed him most he was there."
In total, Gallese only made 2 saves in the entire game... The one he made late on (figure 5) was possibly one of his most important of the season.
Figure 5 is a clip of Gallese's last gasp save.
Pereyra was the maestro in this game; as well as his 2 assists he played 4 passes into the final third, had 40 touches, 2 accurate crosses and 2 accurate long balls. He created 3 big chances and had one of his standout games in the process.
Gallese -7- Came up clutch at the end.
Smith -6- Did an important job, but gave the ball away at times.
Jansson -8- Very solid.
Antonio Carlos -8- Took his goal well.
Rafael Santos -7- Dependable performance.
Cartagena -7- Maintained possession well.
Araujo -7- Got forward to support the attack.
Torres -7- Did very well isolating his full-back and cutting in.
Pereyra -9- Top drawer performance.
Angulo -8- Looked very confident.
McGuire -8- Game winner.
Þórhallsson -7- Very solid when he came on.
Felipe -6- Came in very late.
Enrique -6- Got himself about well.
Schlegel -6- Helped to see the game out.
Ojeda -6- Couldn't get into the game.
Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja
"I saw today a lot of character on the field, with a team that had a tough experience over the past weekend and today, coming to Atlanta, we needed this one game. It was important for our confidence, it was important for the standings. We needed a team that had character the whole time, and the players had that today. We had very good health, in terms of movement, controlling the game, controlling the ball. And in the second half, obviously in the last 15 minutes we defended more than we wanted, but we had a team that was throwing bodies [in the way]. We’ve had this experience at home where we deserved to win and to beat them [the opponent], and we ended up just conceding a goal in the last minute. It was all those things that have to be changing. But it can be changed when you win and when your confidence is raising. But all the credit for the players, they held their own tonight and I'm very proud of them.”
Top player image and cover image courtesy of Orlando City SC.
Game still MLS/Apple TV.
Media availability and b-roll footage courtesy of Orlando City SC.