By Chris Smith.
Atlanta United and Orlando City drew 0-0 on Wednesday night in a closely fought battle at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Both sides had chances to win the match but were thwarted by some superb goalkeeping from Brian Rowe and, especially, Brad Guzan.
The result means Atlanta have lost just once in their last four games as Stephen Glass returns some semblance of consistency to the Five Stripes. For Oscar Pareja’s Orlando, they remain right in the thick of the Supporters’ Shield race.
So, what did we learn from the match?
1. Goalkeepers (And The Posts) Save The Day
We’re not going to sit here and try and sell this match as a thriller. It was 0-0 and, for the most part, quite attritional. That said, the scoreline actually would have been much higher were it not for the efforts of the two goalkeepers.
Firstly, a nod to the solid performance from Orlando back-up Brian Rowe, playing for the first time in place of Pedro Gallese who is off on international duty. Rowe was on hand to deny the likes of Miles Robinson, Anton Walkes and Adam Jahn, while he generally commanded his box very well.
Should he have been penalised just before half-time for bringing down Jahn in the box? It was a close one and probably not worthy of VAR involvement, but it almost became a dirty mark on a very solid performance. You have to ride your luck sometimes, though.
Then there was Guzan at the other end. In all honesty, there is no way the Five Stripes make it out of this game alive without the efforts of the USMNT veteran, who denied the likes of Daryl Dike, Junior Urso and Robinho with some genuinely top-class, match-saving interventions. Agility belying his advanced years, Guzan was the bane of Orlando on Wednesday and sure, he was helped out by the frame of his goal on more than one occasion but like Rowe, he had earned that luck well in advance.
2. Miles Robinson Back To His Best?
2019 was a breakthrough year for Miles Robinson, who was by far and away Atlanta United’s best defender and performed so well that he picked up his first senior USMNT caps. As has been the case with most of this team, however, 2020 has been a slog, with Robinson putting in some rather shakey performances and lacking that solidity which made him stand out last year.
But Wednesday night was a much-improved effort from the 23-year-old, who looked back to his counter-attack-ending, one-on-one-crushing best.
This has been pure 2019 Miles Robinson tonight. An absolute monster at the back for Atlanta United! #ATLUTD #UniteAndConquer
— Chris Smith (@CJSmith91) October 8, 2020
With George Bello and Franco Escobar pushing forward to provide the Five Stripes with more width in the final third, Atlanta — just as they did so many times last year — relied upon Robinson’s pace and ability to judge individual counter-attacking situations and bail them out. Time and again, the Arlington-born defender did just that, snuffing out Orlando breaks to keep the Lions at bay.
Robinson managed two tackles, two blocks and five clearances on the night, as well as winning four aerial duels and committing three fouls as last-resort efforts to halt Orlando progress. But it was the fact that not a single Orlando player managed to dribble past him which is most impressive, considering the number of individual duels he found himself in. An absolutely monstrous performance.
A tip of the cap must also be given to Jeff Larentowicz who was superb on both sides of the ball, breaking lines with his sharp passing and helping the Five Stripes — and Robinson — cope with some considerable Orlando pressure.
But in terms of outfield players, it was Robinson who was the star for Atlanta United on Wednesday.
3. Orlando Continue Record Run
Even just taking in the 3-1 win for Orlando last time these two sides met at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the fact that Atlanta United have just been unable to string a run of results together made Pareja’s side huge favourites on Wednesday.
Then, of course, there was Orlando’s 10-game unbeaten run — both a club record and a league-high right now.
While this probably wasn’t the result the Lions wanted, especially given they rattled the woodwork twice and were thwarted on multiple occasions by Guzan, they can now make that 11 games unbeaten. An absolutely incredible achievement for a side which has been nothing short of a disaster during their time in MLS.
A huge tip of the cap must go to Pareja for the incredible work he’s put in so far in 2020 to drag this club from the floor — their MLS is Back performance which saw them make the final was no fluke.
Drink it in Orlando fans, you’re disappointed to draw against Atlanta United, are one of the best teams in MLS right now and are all set for a first-ever playoff tilt.