In its first game after a two-week break, Orlando City B hosted the Charlotte Independence. OCB scored first, but was unable to capitalize on its opportunities as the young Lions fell to Charlotte, 3-1, in front of 1,098 fans.
Kevin Alston and Rafael Ramos continued their returns from injury, both earning a start for Anthony Pulis. Conor Donovan and Zach Carroll completed the back line in front of Earl Edwards Jr. Pierre Da Silva, Tony Rocha, Lewis Neal, and Danny Deakin lined up left to right in the four-man midfield, with Richie Laryea up top beneath Albert Dikwa.
Orlando City B (3-4-3, 12 points) started the game strong, holding onto the ball well. In possession, the young Lions quickly got down the field, but remained patient in the final third. This allowed OCB to get two chances in the first five minutes.
On the other side, Charlotte (3-2-2, 11 points) was very compact, allowing the young Lions to play with the ball. The game plan for the Independence was to sit back and wait for OCB to make a mistake, and then quickly go on the counter. This nearly worked in the 11th minute, but Enzo Martinez’s cross was too long and Edwards Jr. just had to watch the ball go harmlessly wide.
The first yellow card of the match came in the 14th minute. OCB defended a corner, and Deakin jumped on the ball and immediately went on the counter. Seeing that his team was without numbers back, Donald Smith grabbed and held Deakin’s shirt to stop the midfielder in his tracks.
In the 20th minute, Rocha had the heads-up play of the game to find Pierre Da Silva. After receiving the ball, Da Silva then played the perfect through ball to Albert Dikwa, who easily beat goalkeeper Cody Mizell to put the young Lions up, 1-0.
Four minutes later, Deakin nearly made something out of nothing. From about 25 yards out, Deakin took a left-footed crack that forced Mizell to make a fingertip save. On the ensuing corner kick, Ramos put a ball in that found Da Silva. Da Silva passed it in to Carroll, who couldn't get the shot off but instead won another corner. Ramos again took the corner that was defended by Charlotte, but, on the second ball in, Ramos’ cross just missed the diving head of Donovan.
“For the first 40 minutes it was probably the best we played since opening charge of OCB, to be honest,” Anthony Pulis said. “The football was sharp, we moved it really well, the passing was crisp, we got players in good spaces in between lines, lots of efforts on goal. I thought there was only one team that was going to go on to win it.”
Charlotte found the equalizer in the 40th minute. Alex Martinez dribbled the ball down the left hand side of the box. He put the cross in that fell right to the feet of David Estrada. Estrada flicked the ball past Edwards, who looked as if he might not have seen the ball coming.
Things went from bad to worse very quickly for the young Lions. Jorge Herrera took the ball about 30 yards from goal, made one move and completely faked out Carroll. Getting into the box, OCB recovered well but Herrera found an open Enzo Martinez. Martinez took the shot, but Donovan was there. Unfortunately, Donovan’s clearance attempt went straight into the back of his own net. Martinez was awarded the goal, but it looked an own-goal.
“We started the game very well; I think that probably the first 30-35 minutes was the best soccer we played all year,” Carroll said. “We gave up two goals that is very easy to fix. Its a bummer and it just kinda took the wind out of the sails for us at halftime.”
The half ended with the Independence up, 2-1. OCB held 56% possession, took six shots, and had an impressive 87% passing accuracy, but Charlotte’s only two shots both found the back of the net.
To start the second half, OCB made one personnel change. Zach Ellis-Hayden was brought on for Alston at left back. The Lions’ play much faster and direct in the opening minutes as it seemed Anthony Pulis was clearly not happy with his team’s first half performance.
“[At halftime] we just kinda reiterated what we were doing well for the first 38 minutes, and asked them to go do the same again,” said Pulis. “It was important to come off the blocks firing, but I don’t think we started the second half nearly as well as we did the first half.”
It was not enough though as Herrera’s header found the back of the net in the 51st minute. With that goal, Herrera moved to second on the all-time USL goal-scoring list.
Pulis responded to his team being down 3-1 by adding another forward. Michael Cox came on for Laryea in the 53rd minute as OCB moved into a 4-4-2.
Things looked promising leading up to the 61st minute. The Lions held possession in the final third and Charlotte struggled to regain shape. The ball found Rocha on the top of the box, who gave it up for Da Silva. Rocha’s ball was too hard, though, and Charlotte won a goal kick.
OCB nearly pulled one back as the game was expiring. In the 80th minute, Deakin put a beautiful ball into the box, aiming for the back post. Three Charlotte defenders whiffed on the clearance attempt, but so did Cox. That was Deakin’s last touch of the game, and young David Loera entered, replacing the Orlando City draft pick.
This brought some life back into the Lions, and in the 85th minute Rocha found some space in the box. His cross in went straight into the defender, and Mizell caught the ensuing corner. This was followed up by a Loera volley attempt, three Ramos crosses, and four Charlotte breakaway attempts, as OCB threw men forward in a desperate attempt to salvage some points. It came to no avail however, and the young Lions lost the second of its three scheduled matches to the Independence.
Deakin was also upbeat about his team’s first-half performance, calling it “some of the best football we’ve played all season,” but described the Lions as “flat” for the second 45.
“We couldn’t connect passes, we got into the final third and we weren’t effective. We put crosses in the box, and we weren’t getting on the end of crosses,” he said.
The young Lions are back in action again on June 3 as they travel to Pittsburgh to face the Riverhounds. They will be without midfielder Richie Laryea,
Starting XI: Earl Edwards, Jr.; Kevin Alston (Zach Ellis-Hayden - 45’), Conor Donovan, Zach Carroll, Rafael Ramos; Tony Rocha, Lewis Neal (c), Pierre Da Silva, Richie Laryea (Michael Cox - 53’), Danny Deakin (David Loera - 81’); Albert Dikwa.
Unused Subs: Jake Fenlason, Jordan Schweitzer, Moussa Sane, Austin Martz.
Goals: ORL - Dikwa (20’); CLT - Estrada (40’), E. Martinez (45’), Herrera (51’).
Yellow Cards: ORL - Laryea (53’), Rocha (78’); CLT - Smith (14’), A. Martinez (28’), Ross (42’), Johnson (69’).