There is debate among fans whether Atlanta vs. Orlando City is a rivalry or not. But the players from both clubs made it pretty clear they consider it a rivalry. Kaka ran harder than he has in any game for Orlando City since he was signed to the club, and players from both teams were pushing, shoving, grabbing, holding (thankfully not biting as there were no Salvadoran natives on the pitch) and otherwise being very chippy throughout the match. And the difference came in the 86th minute with what can only be described as a beautiful goal by Hector Villalba from about 25 yards out that arced over Joe Bendik and just under the crossbar for the score.
- High Energy - The match featured the most energetic play by the entire Orlando City team that I have seen in some time. Everyone was active and running from the opening whistle, and the effort did give Orlando City a lead in shots for the match 14 - 8. Unfortunately, the accuracy of shots was no more than usual, meaning that the majority were nowhere near on frame. But more about that later.
- Cristian Higuita - Higuita is usually one of the more high energy players in the match and that remained true for this game, as he physically imposed himself between opponents and the ball and made a number of good tackles on the night. But in this season I have noticed his passing and vision are improved. In the first and second half both, Higuita managed to get himself in position to deliver some great crossing passes toward teammates, but in some cases the Atlanta defenders were quicker to reach the ball and in others the Orlando City teammate failed to recognize the chance as quickly as Higuita had and missed the opportunity.
- Carlos Rivas - Carlos is probably as close to being a complete young player as Orlando City has on the roster. He is able to pass well; he is able to maneuver well with the ball on his feet to create opportunities for himself; and he is showing signs of getting slightly more patient in his shot selection as the months pass. He nearly took Brad Guzan's arms off a couple of times with extremely powerful shots that were low and on target, but the USMNT keeper showed his strength by smothering and capturing shots that a less skilled keeper may have been unable to keep out of the goal.
- Defense - The defense for Orlando City did not disappoint me. I had predicted that Atlanta would score a single goal because the Orlando City would be motivated for this match. With the number and quality of scorers that Atlanta has, I found it unlikely that the home team would record the clean sheet. And in all those regards, the defense met expectations. They held Atlanta to only 8 shots for the match with only 6 of those on target, so I consider that a pretty good effort.
- Officiating - Referee Jose Carlos Rivero and his crew had a good match. Rivero made it clear early on he was going to be reluctant to go to the pocket to show a card, but in every case his decision was justified. The early yellow to Kaka was deserved because the captain made a rather optimistic and very late challenge near the sideline that missed the ball and took the legs out from under the opponent. Perhaps his biggest test came near the hour mark when Will Johnson raised his leg very high to try to clear a ball near the top of the Orlando City 18-yard box, and Atlanta's Yamil Asad chose to slam his forehead into Johnson's cleat at the same moment. Even though by Johnson's position he had no way to see that Asad was coming for the same ball, he deserved the yellow card because a boot to the face can cause serious injury--intentional or not. But because the contact was incidental and unintentional, it would have been an error to show straight red.
- Lack of Speed - Cristian Higuita and Carlos Rivas are two of the fastest players on the Orlando City team, and it's clear that Manager Gerardo Martino has focused on getting speedy players for his Atlanta United team. Like good safeties and cornerbacks in American football, the Atlanta United players displayed superior closing speed on the ball when Orlando City had possession, forcing a lot of turnovers and rushing a lot of shots on the goal.
- Losing the Stat Battle - Long time readers will know that the headline stats are not the ones that are most important, as the stats that show the hustle in the match are usually the ones that dictate the outcome. And that held true in this match. Of the key stats for Duels Won, Tackles Won, and Clearances, Atlanta won two out of three in those categories. Atlanta led in Tackles Won (11 to 4) and Clearances (24 to 12). They also led in passes (409 to 319), passing percentage (81% to 75%), and possession (55% to 45%). The only significant stats that Orlando City won were Corner Kicks (6 to 2) and Crosses (20 to 10). But as with many stats in the game, it's less important how many you have and far more significant what you can do with the chances you get.
- Rivas' Rushed Shots - Our buddy Jeff had the quote of the night after Carlos Rivas sent yet another shot 15 rows up into the Supporters section behind the Atlanta goal in the second half. "It's like he's playing Nintendo and can't remember if he's supposed to hit the A button or the B button!" I mentioned above that Rivas seems to slowly be learning a bit more patience in his shot selection as more of his shots really test the keepers these days, but he is still prone to taking far too many wild shots that go high or wide.
- Jose Aja - I've about decided that Jose is simply a bit clumsy. He nearly gave up another goal on the season in the first half by attempting a pass back to goalkeeper Joe Bendik that was easily intercepted by an Atlanta attacker and set up another shot. Fortunately the rest of the Orlando City defense was on alert during that play and the shot came to nothing. Aja did nearly score on a header in the second half, but on the aggregate he has been more a liability than an asset this season. If he can't be taught to be a bit more crisp and sharp on the ball, then he needs to be off the roster in favor of someone who provides more consistent contributions.
What were your thoughts on the match--did any Orlando City players seem to have a particularly good match? Who was the biggest disappointment to you from the Orlando City roster? What changes would you make to the Starting XI ahead of the rematch next week in Atlanta?