A key save by Brad Guzan was enough to help Atlanta United earn a 0-0 draw with Orlando in the opening game of the MLS season Saturday afternoon at Exploria Stadium in Orlando.
Atlanta United (0-0-1) put only three shots on goal, but the defense posted its third consecutive shutout across all competitions in manager Gabriel Heinze’s first league game with the team. Atlanta United dominated possession with 59 percent of the ball. It took 11 shots to Orlando’s 10. The Five Stripes created eight chances to Orlando’s nine. Heinze said the team was missing that final pass to break through Orlando’s low block on defense.
“A good result is to win,” Heinze said. “Afterward, we need to see which path we need to take to win. I think we took the right one.”
The draw was secured because of a save made by Guzan in the 73rd minute when he got a left hand out to stop a shot by Alexandre Pato. Guzan then jumped on the rebound. Pato made a late run into the penalty box, where he was found by Chris Mueller. Anton Walkes came in late and got a piece of the shot.
“To come away with a clean sheet against a good team is a positive for us,” said Guzan, who earned his 37th shutout with the club in regular-season games and the 61st in his MLS career.
Heinze’s starting 11 consisted of Lisandro Lopez at striker with Ezequiel Barco as the attacking midfielder and flanked by Marcelino Moreno and Jake Mulraney on the wings. The center of the formation included Emerson Hyndman and Santiago Sosa, with Brooks Lennon and George Bello as the fullbacks, Miles Robinson and Walkes as the centerbacks and Guzan in goal.
Alan Franco was included in the game-day roster for the first time because Matheus Rossetto, who occupied an International slot on the roster that the team needed to move Franco into, was sent on a short-term loan to Atlanta United 2. Changes from the lineup Heinze selected in Tuesday’s win against Alajuelense were Lopez in for Josef Martinez, Guzan in from Rocco Rios Novo, and Mulraney in for Franco Ibarra.
Atlanta United’s performance in the first half was very similar to many of its performances last season: It controlled possession, but put only one of its six shots on goal and created only four chances. Orlando found a few holes in Atlanta United’s formation, but couldn’t take advantage. The Lions created five chances and also put one shot on goal.
Heinze said he thought that the team controlled the game in the first half.
Orlando created the best scoring opportunity in the game to that point in the 62nd minute when Pato got behind Atlanta United’s defense after a clever back-heel pass from Sebastian Mendez. But Pato couldn’t put the ball into a position to shoot. It eventually was shot wide by Mendez, who was yards away from goal but being pressured by Bello.
Machop Chol was brought on for his debut in the 66th minute in place of Mulraney. Chol, signed as a Homegrown before the season, typically played on the left during the preseason, but took up Mulraney’s spot on the right Saturday.
Heinze subbed in Martinez and Ibarra for Lopez and Moreno in the 75th minute in an attempt to find the winning goal. Martinez’s best chance came when missed with a headed shot in the 83rd minute.
Atlanta United’s next game will be its first at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season when it hosts Chicago on April 24.
“Both teams had chances to score,” Lennon said. “I’m really proud of the boys. Thought we fought from minute 1 to the end to come home to Atlanta with a point. We need to continue this work rate.”
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