Atlanta United midfielder Marcelino Moreno #10 kicks the ball during the first half of the match against Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday October 28, 2020. This is part of the first phase of the continuation of MLS’ 25th season. (Photo by Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

Atlanta United opened its 2021 MLS Regular Season with a 0-0 draw against Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium on Saturday. Brad Guzan made three saves to keep his 43rd clean sheet for the club and the team ran it’s shutout streak to three consecutive matches to start its competitive season.

An evenly played first half ended with a pair of opportunities for each club. After a pair of free kicks led to aerial opportunities for Orlando that ultimately missed the net, one of Atlanta’s better chances came in the 43rd minute. After receiving a pass near the wing, Jake Mulraney cut inside and unleashed a left-footed shot from the top of the box that forced a save from Orlando’s Pedro Gallese.

The game opened up in the second half with each team having opportunities early. Orlando’s best chance came in the 72nd minute when Chris Mueller found Alexandre Pato inside the penalty area. Last-ditch defending from Anton Walkes may have saved a goal, but his deflection still required a save from Guzan that the veteran was ultimately able to make. 

Atlanta’s best chance came from homegrown Machop Chol in the 85th minute. The former Wake Forest star was in on goal and just missed redirecting a cross from Brooks Lennon. Chol, along with Santiago Sosa, Lisandro Lopez, and Franco Ibarra, made their MLS debuts today.

Brooks Lennon has been off to an impressive start this season, sending quality service inside the box in Costa Rica and today in Orlando. “I feel very confident. Gabriel (Heinze) has given me enough information as well as motivation to have me earn that spot,” said Lennon after the match. “It’s going to be me putting in these types of performances.”

While Orlando City turned out to be more of a formidable opponent than last year, Brad Guzan acknowledged Atlanta’s growth from 2020. “Listen, last year that wasn’t the Atlanta United that we know,” explained Guzan. “We’re a completely different team with completely different ideas. And so we know the amount of hard work that we’ve put in during the preseason, games, training sessions, Champions League games. We understand what we’re putting in and when you work hard, you get rewards.”

Next up for Atlanta (0-0-1, 1 point) is the club’s home opener of the 2021 MLS Regular Season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Saturday, April 24 against Chicago Fire SC (8:00 p.m. ET, Bally Sports South, Sports Radio 92-9 The Game). Atlanta will take on Philadelphia Union in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Tuesday, April 27.

-Jon J.

Photo: Courtesy of ATLUTD

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