Orlando City captured all three points against New York City FC in a game that seemed nervy, especially at the end when Lions goalkeeper Tally Hall went down with an apparent knee injury. But in reality, only the score made it seem like a tightly contested match.
The close score made it seem closer than it was.
The Lions allowed only two shots on target out of 10 total shots by the visitors, most of which came from outside the box or severe angles. Khiry Shelton scuffed a good opportunity late, but aside from that, Frank Lampard, David Villa, Mix Diskerud and Thomas McNamara rarely threatened. Their lone goal came from a scramble off a set piece.
New York City FC did finish with a surprising 53.2% of the possession, but as the chart below shows (courtesy of mlssoccer.com), much of that came in the final quarter of the game, with Orlando sitting on its lead and content to counter attack. The bulk of possession went to Orlando, and much of NYCFC's time with the ball was spent either in its own defensive half or in unthreatening positions in the deep offensive corners.
The Lions, in reality, were very comfortable throughout the game, completely dominating the makeshift NYCFC back line and defensive midfield with their wide play down the outside channels. The NYC lineup was announced as a 3-5-2, but it morphed into a more normal-looking 4-2-3-1 most of the time, with Javier Calle playing left back, Jefferson Mena and Kwame Watson-Siriboe in the middle, and Chris Wingert at right back. Without Andrea Pirlo available, Diskerud dropped into the defensive midfield alongside Andrew Jacobson.
Those six players struggled mightily with Orlando's speed on the outside -- specifically the pace of Carlos Rivas down the left channel and fullback Corey Ashe on the right. Those two players kept New York City FC's defense on its heels most of the match, with left back Luke Boden and right wing Adrian Winter also contributing to City's wide possession.
From those spaces, Orlando wasn't merely content to lob crosses into the box, although the first goal for the Lions was from a perfect cross from Ashe to Cyle Larin. Instead, the Lions looked to work the ball into better scoring position, with Rivas feeding Larin well-placed balls across the top of the six-yard box and Ashe and Winter looking for runners in the penalty area. Winter played a perfect pass in the 38th minute that set up Lewis Neal with a sitter, but the veteran midfielder pulled his shot just wide of the post.
In fact, Larin's sharpness was off at the start of the game as well, which kept New York City in the game. The Lions squandered a number of chances despite outstanding wing play leading to numerous scoring opportunities. Larin missed badly in the eighth and tenth minutes, and either couldn't get onto a pass or didn't make the run the passer expected three times in the first half -- in the 22nd, 25th and 34th minutes.
Had the Lions buried a few of those chances, the rout would have been on. But instead, a fortunate deflection allowed Watson-Siriboe to score on the stroke of halftime and put Orlando City behind the eight ball with 45 minutes to play. The Lions were equal to the task, but they made it tougher on themselves.
In the second half, City continued to own the wide channels and eventually were able to score the equalizer. They added a second on a weird play when Calle was down injured, keeping Larin onside on a break with Winter.
After the second goal, the Lions were content to organize their defense and try to strike back on the counter. They did that, but the referee and assistant referee both missed what could have been Larin's hat trick when Jefferson Mena sat on the ball just over the goal line and Saunders came over to sweep it out before anyone saw.
Even in their defensive posture, Orlando City made use of the wide channels. Corey Ashe made a long run with the ball to waste time and keep the ball down the stretch, and substitute Bryan Rochez twice took the ball into the right corner to help kill the game.
Most of the squad played very well against New York City FC, but the play of Rivas, Boden, Winter and Ashe helped the Lions dominate the game.