Atlanta United traveled Saturday for the first meeting on the season with Orlando City SC. The match between the southeast clubs favored the home team for most of the match, then a late finish from Tyler Wolff leveled it 1-1 and the 5-Stripes stole a point on the road.
The equalizer, another goal on a set piece for Atlanta United, arrived in the 86th minute. On a corner kick, Thiago Almada delivered a curling ball that bounced through the box, then Matheus Rossetto ripped a low driven shot on goal. The shot was blocked by Orlando City goalkeeper Pedro Gallese but landed nearby at the opposite corner of the 6-yard box. Tyler Wolff, who had entered the match minutes before as a second-half substitute, collected the loose ball against the run of play and delivered a well-placed shot to even the match 1-1.
"I think he can bring intensity, relentless movement," head coach Gonzalo Pineda said of Wolff. "He has some edge to come back and defend, put some tackles, then with his quality, he can impact the final third. He's someone that I believe is goal dangerous. He also has versatility to play in multiple positions which is very valuable.”
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who suffered a torn MCL on April 8 in the match at New York City FC, returned to the starting lineup for Atlanta United. Guzan was expected to miss 10-12 weeks with the injury but returned to playing a full 90 minutes in a mere seven weeks. The 38-year-old wore the captain's armband Saturday.
And Guzan was called into action in a big moment in the 16th minute. Atlanta's Santiago Sosa was whistled for a foul, which awarded Orlando City a direct free kick outside the 18-yard box. Midfielder Mauricio Pereyra floated a high, soft ball toward the back post. The header from Antônio Carlos bounced off the turf from close range, then was collected by Guzan for his first save of the night.
“I’m feeling great," Guzan said after the match. "Knee is good, Achilles is good. I have to give a big shoutout to our medical team. They do a fantastic job with us."
The first half belonged to the home team and was one of heavy pressure. The front attacking players of Orlando City were relentless, which often called Atlanta United’s attacking players, especially starting striker Giorgos Giakoumakis, to drop back and defend. When Atlanta United’s backline made a clearance, Orlando City would often recover the ball quickly to restart their attack. Orlando caused problems for Atlanta United's attack most of the night. The 5-Stripes did not record a shot on goal until about 85 minutes into the match.
Orlando's pressure was rewarded and the home team opened the scoring in the 30th minute. Iván Angulo beat his defender 1v1 on the left flank to set up the play. Players pinged the ball around in a tight area inside the box then went far post where Kyle Smith was wide open to gather the rebound and finish.
"I felt the lack of urgency tonight came out of the frustration of us giving up the ball often early on," Pineda said. "There were situations where we make one pass in transition and then the second pass we lose the ball. Then you have to chase the ball for a couple minutes and then when you regain it, you lose it immediately. There is a reason sometimes for that frustration or lack of urgency. It shouldn’t happen, but we know football is like that. We have to do better in that part of the game."
Guzan came up with another big save in the 51st minute. After fullback Andrew Gutman gambled and was caught too far up the pitch, Orlando's Wilder Cartagena delivered a ball over the top into open space for Facundo Torres. He crossed into the box and the result was a tap from close range, but Atlanta's big, bald wall made the stop to keep the Lions from going two goals ahead. The goalkeeper made a huge diving save later on a left-footed shot that was well struck from Orlando's Martín Ojeda. Guzan ended up with four saves on the night.
Atlanta United's leading scorer, Giakoumakis, also returned to the starting lineup for the first time since April 23 against Chicago Fire. Entering Saturday's contest, the Greek striker had scored in each of his first five MLS starts, a streak that's second-best behind only Taylor Twellman (6). However, the striker was taken off in the 67th minute without a goal, ending his scoring streak at five straight starts.
Giakoumakis's replacement had a quality chance to equalize the match in the 79th minute. Almada threaded a beautiful through ball to striker Miguel Berry making a run toward the right side. The second-half sub had a good angle and struck it low with his right foot. Berry's shot rolled past a diving goalkeeper but just wide of goal.
Sensing the urgency to find an equalizer, second-half substitutions of Machop Chol, Jay Fortune, Berry and Wolff provided a spark for the 5-Stripes. After Atlanta United went most of the match without a shot on goal, the group on the field created three shots on goal and required three saves in the final 15 minutes of play. Chol had a chance for a shot on goal in the final moments in second-half stoppage time. However, the winger's shot sailed high.
"We had some decent chances to score another goal," Guzan said. "In these games, especially on the road, a point on the road can mean the difference in the standings come the end of the year. It wasn’t great, and we know that, but we will take this point on the road and turn around quickly for Wednesday’s match.”
Up next - Atlanta returns home for a midweek match
Next up for the 5-Stripes is another matchup with an Eastern Conference opponent. On Wednesday, May 31, Atlanta United hosts New England Revolution at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The start time for the match was moved up earlier than originally announced. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.
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