Atlanta United dropped by Orlando

MLS team’s winless streak is at 11 games

Two fantastic strikes, one by Josef Martinez and one by Marcelino Moreno, weren’t enough for Atlanta United, which was beaten 3-2 at Orlando on Friday.

The goals, one in the first half and one in the second, were twice equalized by the Lions, with Orlando’s third and winning one coming on a header by Nani in the 87th minute. All of Orlando’s goals came on headers by players who got past their defenders as as Atlanta United’s winless streak reached 11 games. It was the first time this season the team lost consecutive league games.

The result was helped by an MLS-team-of-the-week performance by goalkeeper Alec Kann, who single-handedly kept the Five Stripes in the game in a very shaky first half. He finished with six saves.

“When you are in a difficult spot, when you don’t have that edge, you will get beat,” Kann said. “That’s what happened.

“We may not play a beautiful brand of soccer but we need to find a way to do that (win).”

The loss will likely see Atlanta United (2-6-8) drop farther behind the teams in the playoff race once the rest of the schedule plays out this weekend.

“It’s a learning experience for myself in terms of how we managed the game,” interim manager Rob Valentino said. “We knew we would get open. We would have transitions. I don’t feel like I have it in me to sit back and don’t go get a win. I have a lot of disappointment right now. Takeaways are difficult to find right now.”

Valentino’s starting 11 included a small gamble and a big one. The small one was putting Brooks Lennon in at right wing, instead of right fullback where he typically plays, in front of Ronald Hernandez. The theory was to take advantage of his crossing to Martinez in the way that former Atlanta United player Julian Gressel used to. Valentino said he made that decision because Hernandez has defended well in the past two games. He thought Lennon could work in spaces between Orlando’s lines.

The bigger gamble was pairing Erik Lopez and Mikey Ambrose, making his first start, on the left side of the formation as a winger and fullback, respectively. Valentino said he made that decision to bring balance to the team. He thought Ambrose could drop deeper and defend one vs. one if Orlando’s Ruan caused trouble and that Lopez could cause trouble in transition going forward.

The rest of lineup was composed of Martinez, attacking midfielder Moreno, midfielders Matheus Rossetto and Santiago Sosa, fullback Ronald Hernandez, with Anton Walkes and Alan Franco as the centerbacks.

Valentino’s small gamble worked.

Streaking down the right, Lennon hit a cross back across the top of the penalty to box to Martinez, whose hammered shot bounced off the post and into the goal to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead just 47 seconds into the game. It was Martinez’s eighth goal in eight games against the Lions. It also was the fastest goal for the team in its league history and tied the record for the fastest goal scored in Atlanta United’s history. The other was scored by Martinez against Herediano in the Champions League on Feb. 28, 2020.

The big gamble did not.

Orlando’s Benji Michel tested Kann in the 21st minute with a low, stinging shot from 13 yards. Kann got a right hand down to stop the shot, smother the rebound and preserve Atlanta United’s lead.

Kann stopped Michel twice in the 39th minute after he ran past Hernandez, Walkes and Franco to be the first to a cross just yards in front of Kann.

Orlando got a deserved equalizer in the 43rd minute when fullback Kyle Smith got away from Lennon and headed a corner kick into the lower left corner.

Kann kept the game tied with a diving save just before halftime on yet another shot from close range, this time by Chris Mueller. The play started, as had many for Orlando, down the left side of Atlanta United’s formation. Kann finished the first half with six saves, the most in the first 45 minutes of an MLS game in franchise history.

Valentino subbed in Machop Chol for Ambrose to start the second half. In an attempt to solidify the left side of the formation, Hernandez moved from right back to left back and Lennon dropped from right wing to right fullback. Lopez moved from left wing to right wing.

Lennon left with what appeared to be a groin injury in the 60th minute. He was replaced by George Campbell.

Against the momentum of the game, Moreno fired a 25-yard shot into the upper right corner to give Atlanta United a 2-1 lead. It was his fourth goal this season.

Orlando tied the game at 2 in the 79th minute on a header by Silvester Van der Water, who got away from Hernandez.

The winning goal came when Nani got away Sosa just yards from goal to put in a diving header.

“I think we haven’t been able to defend set pieces and aerial balls into our box well enough,” Hernandez said. “We need to be more concentrated in that area. That starts with me.”

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Orlando 3, Atlanta United 2

Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN

Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE