Analysis. Orlando unite to conquer Atlanta.
'Pick me out a winner, Bobby.' In a game between Atlanta United and Orlando City that winner, for once, was the boys in purple. No, you're not drunk. You're not hallucinating. Orlando City won in Atlanta. The final score was Atlanta United 1-3 Orlando City. There's nothing wrong with your computer monitor or smartphone. I promise you. And they didn't just sneak a lucky win, this was a comprehensive and well-deserved victory. Indicative of a palatable and refreshing shift in mentality under Oscar Pareja. This was an incredibly impressive away performance from the boys in purple. They were well organised; they held their shape well and they were clinical on the counter attack. It was almost, almost the perfect away performance.
Orlando looked calm and composed, confident even. It's difficult to think of a time where I've been prouder of this team. And I've been able to say that plenty this season. That's not me overstating things, or maybe it is? Who cares, though? Let's be honest, Saturday's game will live long in the memory. The injury to João Moutinho and the, frankly, embarrassing saga over the first goal were the only real downsides to an otherwise fantastic day for Orlando City. Oh, and the fact Atlanta scored. But let's not dwell on that one.
Do you want to know the best thing about the whole win, though? Atlanta never looked like getting into the game. It was comfortable for pretty much the entire 90 minutes. The narrative has changed for this whole rivalry series. It was fast becoming akin to the Twilight series. Boring, repetitive and something your girlfriend could make you watch, just to torture you. No more, the tables are turning and it feels absolutely fantastic.
Atlanta's possession style wields no penetration
I'd written in my preview for this game that Atlanta like to try and monopolise possession, and that most of that possession would be in front of the back 4. It's very easy to defend against this style of play, particularly if the opposition lack the confidence or ability to break you down. Oftentimes, the home side got themselves into dangerous areas and would have to go backwards or sideways. This was due, at least in part, to how well Orlando maintained their shape. Figure 1 gives you an excellent example, from early in the second half. The team are set up perfectly in their 4-2-3-1 formation. Rosell, Urso and Perea chased well and cut off Atlanta's passing lanes to excellent effect.
The inclusion of Kyle Smith probably went some way towards helping nullify the space for the likes of Pity Martinez as well. The full-back is a sturdy replacement for Ruan, but is nowhere near as adventurous in his forward runs as the Brazilian. In layman's terms he literally doesn't leave as much space in behind him as Ruan does, because he doesn't go forward as much. This in turn frees up the likes of Rosell to stay central and pack the midfield, as Rosell/Mendez will often cover for the Brazilian when he goes on his marauding runs forward. This is no criticism of Ruan by the way, it's just another classic example of how adaptable this team is now.
All of this amounted to Atlanta generally never really looking like scoring from open play, aside from the goal they did score of course. Which is something of an oxymoron, but you take my point. Generally speaking, the threat was reduced to chances from set pieces and efforts from distance. Luckily for Orlando City, El Pulpo was in imposing form.
Figure 1 Orlando's shape was in symmetry throughout the game. It was a defensive masterclass from this team.
Atlanta's style actually played into Orlando's hands. Whilst Orlando were excellent at holding their shape, Atlanta also lacked any real incisiveness and penetration. If you study figure 2 you'll see that most of Atlanta's passes were played in the defensive and middle thirds. On the occasions where Atlanta did get into Orlando's defensive third, the ball more often than not went out wide. As I mentioned earlier, this is due, partly, to Orlando's shape. But there is also another layer to this. Atlanta are not the force they once were. It was clear to anyone watching Saturday's game that Martinez et al are bereft of confidence. There doesn't seem to be any real plan with Atlanta United these days. And it's beginning to show. And I bloody love it.
Figure 2 shows Atlanta's passing network. You'll notice that their passing rarely penetrated the Orlando penalty area. They struggle to break down well organised teams.
Orlando City's game management
Another intriguing facet of this win was Orlando City's game management. Orlando teams of the past have often been accused of not being able to manage games effectively. And rightly so. Adaptability is key for any good side. Whilst I hold true to the notion of playing your own way, and making the opposition worry about you, you still have to acknowledge the strengths of your opponent. This is something Oscar Pareja's team do well.
If you analyse Orlando's passing network from this game, you'll see how well they kept their shape compact. Note the positioning of Dike, Perea and Mueller. All three were dropping deep to receive the ball. This is because they didn't want to make themselves too expansive, and thus give Atlanta space to get the ball forward. They saw a threat, and analysed a way to nullify it effectively. All whilst staying true to their fast-paced ideals, particularly on the counter.
It's also worth noting that most of this happened without Nani and Mauricio Pereyra on the field. That is something that certainly bodes well for the future.
Figure 3 depicts Orlando's compact passing network.
Clinical finishing and goals all around the team
Doug Roberson tweeted that Orlando's statistic of 3 shots on target (figure 4) and no saves for Guzan was 'odd'. No, Doug. Not odd. Clinical. Whilst we don't have an out and out, double digits, centre forward at this time (though Daryl Dike is clearly showing promise), we do have goals around the team. Saturday was a prime example of that. We had goals from a central midfielder, a right winger and a left winger. We are now the top scorers in the east with 15 goals. That's nothing to be sniffed at, particularly at this stage of what promises to be an increasingly bizarre season.
The thing I enjoyed most about the goals we scored on Saturday, however, was the decision making involved in each goal. The second and third goals, in particular, encapsulate what I mean perfectly. If you look at the second, Michel could just as easily pull the trigger. Instead he has the wherewithal to spot Mueller in a better position, who then coolly applies the finish. Exactly the same thing with the third. Urso presses Martinez at just the right time, wins the ball and could easily take a shot at goal. Instead he lays the ball off for Nani, who rounds off the scoring. It was a joy to behold.
Figure 4 Orlando were clinical when their opportunities came up.
The Bear was in predatory form on Saturday afternoon. The Brazilian had a goal and an assist, and was generally a nuisance to Atlanta all afternoon. You'll see from the heat map in figure 5 that Urso was all over the pitch. He also had an 81.3% pass completion rate from 32 passes. On the face of it, that doesn't seem so impressive of a stat, but when you consider at least half of those passes came inside Atlanta's half, they become immeasurably more respectable. He was aggressive in his style of play, always looking to get Orlando on the front foot. Capped it all with a well-deserved goal, his first for the club, after it was eventually given. What a farce that was by the way. Urso lost his place in the team to Sebas Mendez, in unfortunate circumstances. He may just have won it back.
Figure 5 shows Junior Urso's heat map. The Brazilian covered a lot of ground.
Gallese -7- Made several top class saves, all at key times.
Smith -7- Very solid defensive performance.
Carlos -7- Slotted back in nicely and never really put a foot wrong.
Jansson -7- Very solid at the back for Orlando.
Moutinho -7- Provided good width, and was generally very good both defensively and offensively.
Rosell -7- Another very assured performance. Kept the ball well.
Perea -7- Brought positive energy to the midfield, looks a shrewd bit of business.
Michel -7- Provided good energy all game. Great assist for Mueller.
Urso -8- Star player for me. Great finish with the header.
Mueller -8- Very positive, took his goal well.
Dike -7- Looks at home in attack.
Nani -7- Capped the game with a goal. Talisman.
Mendez -7- Vital in helping Orlando to seal the win.
Ruan -7- Not a bad player to bring on at RB is he?
Miller -6- Bit exposed for the goal, but did OK otherwise.
All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com and mlssoccer.com