Every game is a must-win game at this point for Orlando City, with time running out to grab a playoff spot, and with the Columbus Crew (6-11-11, 29 points) in town the Lions couldn’t afford to drop points against the last-place team in the Eastern Conference. Except they did. All three of them.
Orlando City (7-9-13, 34 points) suffered one of its worst home defeats since joining MLS, falling to the Crew, 4-1, in front of 30,218 at Camping World Stadium.
"I think one word would sum it up: very disappointed. Very, very disappointed," Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. "I was hoping for a very different effort and result tonight, and we didn't get it."
Orlando out-shot Columbus, 20-8, but it wasn't nearly enough to overcome blatant breakdowns on defense throughout the night.
Things took a turn south down the Florida Turnpike for Orlando City early, just six minutes into the match. The Lions’ back line let down Joe Bendik several times throughout the night in major ways. The first was when Ola Kamara ran through the center backs to set up Ethan Finlay, who had also cut in alone, to score the empty-net goal.
Columbus doubled its lead in 22nd minute off an own-goal by Seb Hines on a corner kick, which was awarded from a sliding clearance by Tommy Redding to prevent another break on Bendik. The whole play was brought upon by more shady defending, letting two Columbus players slip in at each end of the goal. Redding was able to save the initial attempt, but couldn’t do anything about the own-goal to follow, as the ball skipped off Hines' head and into Bendik's net.
The Crew were able to bring a 3-0 lead into halftime when Nicolai Naess hit Finlay with a perfectly placed through-ball up the middle of the field. Finlay stayed onside and beat the Orlando City defense by at least 10 yards, then set up the incoming Kamara across Bendik for the easy score.
"I don't think it had as much to do with the back four as it did with how we positioned ourselves," Kreis said. "There was a lot more urgency to get the ball back quickly and put them under a lot of pressure, and I don't think we allowed them to play out of their half. At the end of the first half I thought we were 80 percent pressing, and 80 percent pressing is the absolute worst place you want to be. If you're gonna press 80 percent you probably just want to sit back and stay compact. But because we kind of made an effort to press it meant we were stretched out and made a lot of holes for guys like (Justin) Meram and (Dilly) Duka."
Despite the three-goal deficit, the Lions continued to press and fight on offense throughout the second half. The team struggled to build enough dangerous opportunities to pull back into the contest, however.
Cyle Larin’s bending goal around Steve Clark from the top of the penalty area in the 79th minute came across as too little too late for the Lions, who were able to make it a two-goal game because Kamara finally smashed their hopes with a breakaway goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
With the loss, Orlando City remains even on points with DC United and two points behind the New England Revolution for the final playoff spot in the East with five games remaining on the schedule. The Lions will travel up to DC next week to square off with United at RFK Stadium on Saturday night.