WASHINGTON, D.C. — If Orlando City still has any hope of making the playoffs, it has run out of room for error.
In the club’s first and last trip to our nation’s capital this season, a 10-man Orlando City dropped all three crucial points in a 4-1 loss to D.C. United in front of 25,842 at RFK Stadium to fall now three points behind United with four games left to play.
Antonio Nocerino’s red card in the 66th minute all but dashed the Lions' hopes of making any real comeback bid as Orlando suffered its third consecutive loss, and has now been outscored 12-4 since a 4-1 win over the Montreal Impact three weeks ago.
"Really, really disappointed right now, of course," Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. "The problem seems pretty obvious — we’ve given up 12 goals in three games, so we continue to work. We’ve been working defensively since I got here. I thought we were moving in a very positive direction and then things went drastically wrong in the last three matches."
Kreis was left wondering after the match what he can do to turn things around for his club. Training sessions have been positive and productive, but it’s not translating to games, the gaffer said.
"The first goal was an indication of what’s wrong, and the second goal, I think, was similar — I think it’s just about covering and shifting for each other," Kreis said of the team’s defensive problems. "I think we didn’t do a good enough job of that. There’s too many gaps between our back four."
Neither side showed as overly strong in the opening minutes. Orlando City came out with a couple of close chances. Nocerino, who was making his first appearance against D.C., which also sought after his services last winter, got an early shot off straight into the hands Bill Hamid.
If there was an award for the best mid-season pickup of the year, Patrick Mullins would surely seem to be the leader of the pack right now. The former New York City FC forward had five goals in his first 10 appearances with United coming into the match, and bagged two more against Orlando City.
Pleas of offside surrounded his first goal in the 34th minute, as Mullins tapped in a Taylor Kemp cross at the far post. While initial replays looked like Orlando City might have had a legit case, a closer look showed Kevin Molino, who had dived in an attempt to block Kemp’s cross, kept Mullins onside by the smallest of margins.
Mullins’ sixth goal of the season had D.C. going into halftime with a 1-0 lead, which was quickly reinforced early in the second half.
Lloyd Sam doubled his side’s lead in the 51st minute, connecting his head to a Kemp cross from the left side and beating Bendik to the far post. And hardly two minutes later, Mullins grabbed his second goal of the game by slipping a weak shot from a tough angle through the legs of David Mateos and past Bendik to make it a 3-0 game.
"I think that every match I’ve been here, the second half we’ve started very, very poorly," Kreis said. "I don’t know what it is. We’ve talked about it. We talk about it at halftime. We remind them, but it seems like every second half they come out and need to be woken up."
Orlando City was able to pull one back in the 72nd minute, shortly after Nocerino was sent off, on a free kick just outside of the penalty area. Julio Baptista, who had come in about 10 minutes earlier for Kaká, knocked the free kick off the crossbar and into the net.
Julian Buscher added a goal in the 90th minute for D.C. to cap off the evening.
The Lions won’t have much time to reflect on yet another disappointing outing. The club will fly straight to Toronto, where the Lions will meet Toronto FC, which officially clinched a playoff spot this evening, at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
When asked whether or not he thinks his team can will itself into the playoffs, Kreis said it’s up to the players to have the physical and mental characteristics to lift the team on through this rough slump.
"I don’t have the answers to that. I think the players have the answers to that," he said. "We’ll continue to work. We’ll continue to improve and do everything we can to give it our best shot."
As far as the playoff picture is concerned, the team still has a shot. The Lions now trail D.C. United by three points with four games left to play, and the New England Revolution by two points. The Revs play at Columbus on Sunday so that lead could grow, although Orlando would then have a game in hand.