ORLANDO – Orlando City SC played to a 0-0 draw against Atlanta United FC in front of a crowd of 11, 503 fans at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, FL. It was the home opener for Orlando for their 2021 MLS season. It is Orlando’s fourth opener draw, and sixth out of the last seven openers that ended in the same result. Orlando remains ubeated vs Atlanta in it’s last five games against them.
The winner of the match actually seemed to be the Florida heat, as both teams seemed to struggle as the game wore on against the conditions. It was definitely evident that this was the beginning of the season as the pace slowed down with the passage of time. Both squads really need some time to get their legs under them.
There were a few firsts during this game, including the debut of Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato, who payed a good amount of the game at the point. Pato went down late in the second half, clutching his knee in pain. He managed to gingerly Wal off of the field with the help of team medical staff.
Saturday was also the MLS debut of Sylvester Van Der Water in as a substitution as well as Josef Martinez return to the filed after a long recovery from a torn ACL injury.
Orlando was missing a some key components from it’s arsenal of players mot notably Mauricio Pareyra who, when in play, acts as the trafficc director of the offense, setting up the front line with scoring opportunities. In Saturday’s match, that component was sorely missing.
So for Saturday’s match, goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was fronted by Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Sebas Mendez and Junior Urso played central midfield, with Nani, Chris Mueller, Tesho Akindele, and Alexandre Pato as attacking options.
The match felt like the beginning of a season, with both sides looking to find themselves. Orlando showed a lot of ball skill when facing challenges and took quite a few balls from their opponents in duels, but of course there were miscues due to timing, with will obviously develop as the season moves on.
There were fouls on both ends that Referee Jair Marrufo let go, which perhaps prevented some chances as well, as the veteran referee was not in the mood to blow the whistle early in this one. It was kind of bizarre as he only called 17 fouls in the total game, and there were zero cards issued.
Notable moments of the rivalry, was the face to face jawing between Nani and Ezequiel Barco as well as Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan falling and walking towards Orlando Pareya as he challenged a ball that Guzan was collecting.
Orlando had a tremendous chance in the 72nd minute when a cross from Mueller on the left found Pato in the middle. The Brazilian shot with his first touch and his attempt came off a defender and then hit the outstretched arm of Guzan, who scrambled on top of the rebound as it was rolling toward the goal line. It was a dramatic save.
Orlando City next travels to Kansas City to face Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park on April 23rd,