If the plan was to throw away three points, well it was honestly a great night for Orlando City.
With Kaká injured in Orlando, Cyle Larin and Darwin Ceren on the bench, and Harrison Heath starting in the attacking midfield role, Orlando City never stood a chance at taking points away from Red Bull Arena, where the Lions fell for the second time this season with a 2-0 loss against the New York Red Bulls (8-9-3, 27 points).
The goal-less effort is the third consecutive shutout performance for Orlando City (4-5-9, 21 points), which didn’t put a shot on target until the 61st minute, when Ceren launched a long-range effort on Luis Robles. Prior to the FC Dallas match, the Lions hadn't been blanked in the first 15 games of the season.
Coming off their scoreless draw against the Houston Dynamo on Friday, the Lions came out with a ton of energy and bite to their play, with an early goal to help set the tone apparently in the game plan. But after the first 10 minutes, Orlando City returned to earth and showed us the performance we were all expecting when the lineup was announced.
Orlando City’s first half MVP, Joe Bendik, was arguably the only reason the score stayed so close for as long as it did. Bendik made several big saves throughout the night, including one close-range on Chris Duvall just six minutes in. He had other highlight efforts in the 55th (diving stop on a Bradley Wright-Phillips free kick) and 68th (1-v-1 stop on Gonzalo Vernon that also saw him take a cleat above his left eye, opening a gash).
The Lions caught a huge break in the 32nd minute after Seb Hines was called for a handball inside the penalty area when it looked like his right arm got in the way of a shot. However, replay showed the ball actually hit Hines in the face, not his arm, and the assistant referee had caught the play and convinced referee Sorin Stocia to reverse his initial call.
The call only saved Orlando for so long, however, as Connor Lade put his team ahead about five minutes later, in the 37th, on a rocketed shot into the top left left off a corner kick. Bendik never had a chance, and just like that the Lions were trailing 1-0.
Four minutes after Bendik’s save on BWP’s free kick, New York doubled its lead on a free kick goal in a similar spot outside of the box from Felipe. His fourth goal of the year was launched through the wall and around Bendik, essentially putting the game out of reach.
The Lions struggled to keep possession throughout the night, piling up just 44 percent. And when they did have it, there was no fluid movement up the field, no solid targeting of Carlos Rivas up top, and no good opportunities in front of goal, as the team put up seven shots goal and just three on target — all in the second half.
Orlando City will go straight to Vancouver, where the Lions will be without Brek Shea, who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season and will miss the match due to accumulation.
And the team may even be without Heath, who left the game after halftime due to a knee injury suffered just before the end of the first half. He was seen on the broadcast on the field after the game wearing a knee brace and walking around on crutches, so it’s easy to assume he’ll be on his own his way back to Orlando for rest and potentially further evaluations on that right knee.
It's a huge blow if this is a long-term injury for Heath, who was selected to the 2016 Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game for the second straight year, but missed last year's contest due to a knee injury.
The Lions will try again to score a goal in the Bobby Murphy era on Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET when they take on the Whitecaps in Vancouver.