When all is said and done, the story of Orlando City‘s 2019 campaign will largely focus on what they did and didn’t do in front of the goal.
In their own end, they’ve been very good at keeping balls out of the net, turning around their league-worst defense into one of the more respectable defensive groups in MLS. But in front of the opposing teams’ nets, they’ve faced many of the same challenges they’ve put onto teams, but with their own twist.
The story of Saturday night’s 1-0 loss to Atlanta United reads no different than what we’ve come to see from Orlando City this season, and that’s a team that struggles to capitalize and burry its chances in front of the net.
The argument could be made that the Lions were better than Atlanta United in many aspects of the game, including offensively where they racked up 22 shots and created 17 scoring chances. In an alternate universe, Orlando probably walked away 4-1 winners.
In this universe, however, Orlando City lost (again) to Atlanta United.
“I think when you look at the game overall, I think we’ve had enough chances to win, in two or three games,” head coach James O’Connor said after the match. “I think unfortunately for us tonight, we’ve played very well, we’ve had exceptional chance creation, we just weren’t able to take our chances which is pretty hard to swallow. Very painful evening for us.”
The Lions’ biggest challenge heading into the match was shutting down Josef Martinez, arguably the most prolific scorer in league history and a man who not only loves playing against Orlando but extended scoring record streak to 12 straight games on Friday.
They had done as well as a team could do through the first hour of the match, but as history shows, Martinez only needs an inch of space in any given moment to turn a pass into a lead, striking the upper right corner from the edge of the penalty area for the lone goal of the night in the 60th minute.
“I thought we did a great job, to be honest,” O’Connor said of his team’s defense against the reigning MLS MVP. “When you look at their threats, I thought we managed, especially the first half I thought we were very, very good. I think the biggest disappointment going in at halftime was that we weren’t leading. I think again that was something that we were desperate to try to do was to start the game well, to get that first goal.”
“I think on their goal, quick transition, and then Josef gets half a yard inside the box and it’s a goal,” he added. “His record speaks for itself and I think when you have a player like that, you’re capable to have one quick transition because you know a player like that is going to get a chance and you hope he misses.
O’Connor continued: “For us, it was unfortunate where we’ve had the lion share of the game, but unfortunately, we’ve been outdone by a really strong finish and then not taking the volume of chances that we’ve had, we haven’t been able to capitalize on any of them.”
If anything, the game showed two different perspectives of this Orlando City team: just how close they are to competing in the Eastern Conference, yet simultaneously how far they are from doing so.
While Orlando City doesn’t have the flashiest attack in MLS — they’re by no means close to replicating with LAFC and Atlanta United can do — they’ve shown time and time again they’re capable of creating enough chances to win games. Where they fall is their finishing and lack of ability to put shots on target and into the net.
“We’ve been the architects of our own downfall because when you have that many chances you have to capitalize,” O’Connor said. “You have to take those chances. Especially against a team like that because they get a couple of chances and bang, it’s in the back of the net. Unfortunately for us tonight we had some lovely passages of play, I thought we had some excellent passages. I thought we had some great chance creation, but we just, unfortunately, couldn’t get that goal and we’ve been punished for it.”
But while the finishing is still an issue, it can be spun in a positive light that better things are coming down the road. O’Connor says that his side just needs to keep working hard and the goals will eventually come.
“The biggest thing that we have to do is to keep creating those chances, keep believing that we’re capable of taking those chances, and I think we can all see that if we do start taking those chances we’ll start to give teams a good whack,” he said. “We need to make sure we have a stronger mentality and then when we do get those chances we’re way more clinical than we have been tonight.”
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