Orlando City is still unbeaten at home (1-0-4) but is now winless in five matches after a hard-fought 1-1 draw against New York Red Bulls (3-6-1, 10 points) in front of 31,264 fans at Camping World Stadium. Kevin Molino's second-half goal rescued a point for the hosts, who played much better than in a 3-2 loss against the same opponents on the road two weeks ago.
The Lions (2-2-5, 11 points) may have been fortunate to earn the point, finishing the game on 10 men after Cristian Higuita was sent off late in the second half.
Head Coach Adrian Heath had more or less his entire roster to choose from and started the same back five (back line plus Joe Bendik), with a central midfield of Antonio Nocerino, Higuita and Darwin Ceren, with Kaká and Molino attacking behind Cyle Larin up top.
The Lions finished with a slight possession advantage (50.5%-49.5%), out-shot New York 12-5 (4-2 in shots on target) and earned seven corners without conceding one. The Red Bulls were good on 50/50 balls though, with a 69-44 advantage in duels won. It was a good performance, but the goalkeeping of Luis Robles and some missed chances by Orlando played a factor in yet another draw for the Lions.
"I thought we deserved more this evening. I'm disappointed for the players," Heath said after the match. "I thought the effort they put in tonight could have warranted three points. But you never, ever underestimate a point against a really good team. I'm delighted with the boys this evening."
As usual, the Red Bulls opened with high pressure that bothered Orlando's back seven. New York punished the Lions for making slow, lazy passes, turning them over and building attacks. Still, Orlando got the game's first good opportunity when Cyle Larin got behind the defense. He tried to chip Luis Robles but instead the ball sailed over the bar.
Bradley Wright-Phillips opened the scoring just 19 minutes in when Sacha Kljestan threaded a pass into the box and Seb Hines lost track of the Red Bulls striker. Joe Bendik tried to come off his line to challenge the shot but he could not get out in time and BWP slotted home.
Things got chippy in the first, with Aurelien Collin earning a yellow for a foul on Kevin Molino. Orlando apparently felt Ted Unkel wasn't calling the game evenly as both Rafael Ramos and Kaká picked up first-half bookings for dissent.
After the goal, the Red Bulls sagged back a bit more and Orlando saw more of the ball, possessing the ball 52.7% in the first half. Despite more possession, the Lions' attack broke down time and again due to an errant pass, a misread movement, or a timely Red Bulls interception.
Robles preserved New York's lead in the 39th minute when Kaká found space and ripped a shot on target. Robles made a diving stop but left a juicy rebound for Larin, who fired low enough for the New York keeper to parry away. Larin should have done better with the shot but it was a great save by Robles.
Orlando looked to have a golden opportunity to tie the game in the dying seconds of the first half when Collin fouled Hines in the box. Ted Unkel pointed to the spot but the assistant referee ruled Hines just offside and yet another close decision this season went to the side not wearing purple, giving New York the 1-0 lead at the break.
The Lions picked up where they left off after the break, getting balls into the box but New York's maligned back line dealt with them well. Ronald Zubar in particular cut out a couple of dangerous crosses. New York got an opportunity when Mike Grella was fouled just outside the box but nothing came of the free kick.
Kaká nearly put the Lions on the board with a near post effort that got side netting in the 56th. Six minutes later, Larin headed over the bar as Orlando City kept the pressure on.
That pressure finally paid off in the 67th minute when Larin got on the end of a Darwin Ceren long ball, cut into the box with a heavy touch, and the ball bounced between defenders, behind Kaká, right to Kevin Molino, who buried it past a helpless Robles to tie the game.
A few yellow cards later, Kljestan nearly broke that tie in the 72nd minute with a volley opportunity he hit over the bar. Five minutes later, New York should have taken the lead but a Felipe shot was deflected out off of Gonzalo Veron for a goal kick with Ramos defending desperately.
New York settled in and waited patiently after that, content to get a road point but a scramble just outside the box turned disastrous for Orlando City when Cristian Higuita was sent off for a two-footed challenge on Kljestan. The New York midfielder has now earned two yellow cards and a red card on the Colombian.
Orlando City got a final opportunity with the ball ping-ponging around in the box but no one in purple could get on the end of it and the final whistle blew on a 1-1 draw.
The Lions are back in action in nine days with a trip to play Sporting Kansas City.
I leave you with a limerick in honor of tonight's referee, Ted Unkel (who actually made the right call on Higuita but made a mess of a lot of other things on this night):
There once was a man named Ted Unkel
Did his job like a pile of junkel
He handed out reds
And filled fans with dread
And refereed like he was drunkel