A mistake by Rafael Ramos, followed by an absolute meltdown, cost Orlando City any chance of a victory on the road in Columbus Saturday night.
In the 32nd minute, Ramos' ill-advised pass inside the box was intercepted by Ethan Finlay, who quickly crossed it back to Federico Higuaín for the easy goal. Not content to have put the Lions down 1-0, Ramos charged down the field and made a blatantly high, blatantly late, studs-up tackle on Columbus Crew SC fullback Waylon Francis.
The referee initially pulled a yellow card from his pocket, but for the second match in a row, the Crew swarmed the ref en masse to try and influence the call. It's unclear whether it was their protests, or the input from an assistant referee, but Ricardo Salazar put the yellow back in his pocket and pulled out the red. In the end, there wasn't all that much contact, and Francis appeared fine. The intent was clearly there for Ramos though, and a red card was the only option.
As athletes want to do these days, Ramos took to Twitter and Instagram to apologize for his actions just after the match.
"I'm really sorry for what happened early today in the game," said the 20-year-old Portuguese fullback. "It was a really bad behaviour and I know that some of you must be hating me right now and I deserve it! I want to apologize my teammates, they just didn't deserve that for the hard work they did today and I'm feeling guilty for the bad result!"
It was particularly disappointing for Orlando fans, because Ramos had been an unexpectedly pleasant surprise through the first six matches. The youngster made the MLS Best XI in week two, and in general had become an integral part of the squad.
The signs may have been there though, as Ramos had a similar outburst aimed at the assistant referee in the first match against New York. Rafa's apology tour didn't stop there though.
"Also I want to apologize to every member in this club, they didn't deserve this behavior from me," Ramos continued. "And I want to apologize too to every fan around this world of Orlando city that always have been supporting me since the first moment! I promise all of you that it wont happen again and I will learn a big lesson from this!"
He's saying the right things, but it's fair to say that he single-handedly cost his team a chance at points last night. He'll miss Orlando's next match against Toronto as well, which is a serious blow for the Lions. Either Seb Hines or Tyler Turner will start in his place at right back.
For his part, Coach Heath was certainly not pleased with this turn of events, in what was shaping up to be a good match. Still, you get the sense that he may have toned down his criticism of the fiery youngster just a bit.
"Rafa's had a lot of really good publicity in the last week, but then tonight he has cost us dearly. Just because you don't get a decision doesn't mean you can go and recklessly tackle somebody. He has got a lesson to be learned here and we will have a look at it on Monday and sit down with him and have a chat about it. We have spoken to him in the past, but today it has been costly for his teammates."
It's easy to chalk this up to youth and call it a learning experience, but that's little solace for City fans. The Lions may well be fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the year if their current form continues, so every possible point matters.
Orlando City has a long week before facing Michael Bradley and Toronto FC at home next Sunday, and Heath was already looking toward training this week after the match.
"Obviously we have a long week before the next game," Heath said. "But we have time now to get everyone together and make sure we keep the confidence in the group. These are still early days and these things happen. It is how you deal with it and what you do next that counts."