Atlanta United loses second consecutive match

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley heads the ball during the match against Orlando City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. (Photo by Kyle Hess/Atlanta United)

Credit: Kyle Hess/Atlanta United

Credit: Kyle Hess/Atlanta United

Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley heads the ball during the match against Orlando City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. (Photo by Kyle Hess/Atlanta United)

Just as its season was seemingly headed in a positive direction, Atlanta United lost its second consecutive match, falling 2-1 to Orlando on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Thiago Almada had a chance to tie the game with a 30-yard free kick in the final seconds but Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese dove to his left to palm away the attempt.

Playing its third game in eight days, Atlanta United (9-7-8) gave up a goal on a set-piece and another on a very quick counterattack in front of an announced attendance of 43,576. The Five Stripes took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Caleb Wiley, only to give up two to fall to 7-2-3 at home.

“Little details were for me the difference,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said.

Before losing to New England on Wednesday, the team had just one loss in its previous 10 matches. It now has lost three of its past five and saw rival Orlando pass it by two points in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta United fell from sixth to seventh. It trails fourth-place Nashville by three points.

Atlanta United will turn its attention to the inaugural Leagues Cup, a tournament featuring all of the teams from MLS and LIGA MX. Atlanta United’s first game will be against Miami, likely featuring Lionel Messi, on July 25. Atlanta United’s next MLS match won’t be until Aug. 20 at Seattle.

Pineda selected 10 of the 11 players who started Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at New England. The only change was Machop Chol for Tyler Wolff, who had started two consecutive matches, as one of the attacking midfielders. Almada was the other attacking midfielder with Miguel Berry as striker, Brooks Lennon and Wiley as the wingbacks, Amar Sejdic and Santiago Sosa the central midfielders, JuanJo Purata, Luis Abram and Ronald Hernandez the centerbacks, and Brad Guzan as the goalkeeper.

After withstanding Orlando’s pressure through the first 10 minutes, Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Wiley in the 22nd minute. Berry reached a loose ball 22 yards from Orlando’s goal. He chipped a pass to Chol down the right wing. His trickling shot was kicked off the goal line by an Orlando player but the clearance went to Wiley, who shot from a few yards away. It was his fourth goal this season.

Orlando tied the game three minutes later when Antonio Carlos outjumped Sosa to slam a free-kick header past Guzan from 12 yards. The free kick was taken by Mauricio Pereyra from the left flank and hit across the field toward the back post.

“That took away the momentum right after scoring the goal,” Pineda said.

Chol, who was having a good game, was forced out with an injury after his right foot appeared to get stepped on. He was replaced by Derrick Etienne in the 31st minute. He said his foot got stuck in the turf, resulting in an ankle injury.

Losing Chop hurt Atlanta United because he was an important part of Pineda’s plan. He said that Orlando was overloading Atlanta United’s left side to try to contain Almada. The plan was to get the ball to Chol because he would attack. He was arguably the team’s most effective player before his injury.

Orlando finished the first half with seven shots, three on goal. Atlanta United finished with five and two.

Pineda subbed on Ozzie Alonso and Matheus Rossetto for Sejdic and Sosa in the 58th minute.

Orlando took a 2-1 lead in the 60th minute on a goal by Duncan McGuire, who was played behind Atlanta United’s line by Pereyra, who shrugged off an attempted tackled by Rossetto as he dribbled down the field. McGuire was kept onside because Lennon had to track a run down Orlando’s left made by Ivan Angulo as the Lions began to attack down the field.

Pineda said the goal was the result of there being more than 20 yards between the midfield and the back line. Abram stepped up to pressure Pereyra, which opened a gap. Purata tried to chase down McGuire but couldn’t get there in time.

“Mistake number one, there was too much space in between the lines,” Pineda said.

Pineda used his last two subs to bring on Giorgos Giakoumakis, who missed the previous two matches because of a hamstring injury, and Edwin Mosquera in the 70th minute for Berry and Hernandez, which resulted in a change of formation to a back four.

Atlanta United dominated possession after Orlando’s goals but couldn’t create a quality-enough chance to find the tying goal.

Atlanta United finished with 17 shots to Orlando’s 10. Each team put four on goal.

“I think we put enough pressure on them, we put them back,” Pineda said. “We had a couple half-chances to score goals but we were not able. They did a good job of defending that.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1

April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0

April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1

April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1

April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1

May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1

May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1

May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0

May 20 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 3

May 27 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

May 31 Atlanta United 3, New England 3

June 7 Atlanta United 0, LAFC 0

June 10 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 1

June 21 Atlanta United 2, New York City 2

June 24 New York Red Bulls 4, Atlanta United 0

July 2 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 0

July 8 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

July 12 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

July 15 Orlando City SC 2, Atlanta United 1

July 25 at Miami in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

July 29 vs. Cruz Azul in Leagues Cup, 8 p.m.

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA