Orlando City B (5-6-6, 21 points) came out strong and dominated the match possession-wise, but Pittsburgh (5-7-5, 20 points) did not break, and the young Lions and Riverhounds played to a goalless draw in front of 1,042 fans at Orlando City Stadium. The draw gives OCB a record of 1-0-1 against the Riverhounds this season and it was the first time in the series that the home team didn’t lose.
“I thought we played some really, really good football tonight,” OCB Head Coach Anthony Pulis said. “We moved the ball well through the lines, created numerous chances. Our defense organization was really good, especially when you consider we had one day with that group of players. We’ve had six, seven, eight, I don’t know exactly how many MLS guys join us and I thought they were excellent.”
OCB came out in a much different starting lineup, due to a large amount of first-team players getting some USL action. Leo Pereira, Rafael Ramos, Richie Laryea, and Hadji Barry were all part of Jason Kreis' 18 a week ago, but with the Lions on international break they used this time to get game action.
After gaining some MLS experience, Layea played in his first USL game since June 7 and did not miss a beat. He was one of the best players on the field, finishing with a team high two shots, with the only shot on goal for the young Lions. He was one of the focal points going forward and the Riverhounds knew it, and fouled him seven times — more than double of anyone else.
“Obviously it’s good to get minutes,” Laryea said. “It was good to be out there. I guess if you’re getting fouled, you’re doing the right thing and getting forward.”
Pittsburgh has some players that Orlando City fans should be familiar with. The first is Corey Hertzog. Hertzog was a member of Orlando City in 2014. He played 22 games for the Lions in the last season before the move to MLS.
Romeo Parkes is also a name fans may be familiar with. Parkes was part of Pittsburgh last year when he committed one of the worst fouls ever (see below for a reminder). The Jamaican international was immediately cut by the Riverhounds after that incident and was banned by the USL and FIFA, but was given another contract this past May.
The game was delayed because of lightning strikes during warm-ups, and when the game began 30 minutes later, the rains were still falling. Perhaps, this extra warm-up time helped the young Lions get ready, as they came out with more energy than they have played with in a long time.
The first big moment of the game came for the Lions in the 19th minute. Laryea got the ball at midfield and immediately took it to the left side of the field. He out-muscled one defender, made a move to get by another one, cut in towards goal, and took a shot off a tough angle. Pittsburgh goalkeeper Keasel Broome saved made a diving save to keep the game scoreless.
After being fouled in his own third of the field a few minutes later, Laryea played a quick ball to Lewis Neal. Neal hit a bomb across the field that found Austin Martz on a breakaway. Hounds defender Tobi Adele defended it perfectly though, and the young Lions were unable to capitalize on its second opportunity of the game.
Holding 71% possession a half hour into the match, OCB continued pushing forward and Neal was the next Lion to nearly pull his team ahead. With the ball in the 18, Ramos found Neal all alone. The Englishman’s first-time shot was going wide, but Jamal Jack blocked it first with his foot and then what looked like his hand. The call was a corner, though, so referee Elvis Osmanovic clearly missed the handball.
Edwards was called into action for the first time in the 43rd minute. Parkes had a little bit of space from about 35 yards out and decided to try his luck. While Edwards was forced to make a diving save, he could handle those types of shots all night long.
Although the young Lions dominated the first half, it ended scoreless. The home team led in shots (3-1), corners (3-1), passes (283-123), and possession (70-30), but Pittsburgh kept the game goalless after the first 45 minutes.
The young Lions started the second half with just as much energy as the first and should have went ahead in the 49th minute. Ramos put a perfect cross to the back post to Barry, who headed it back across the grain but instead of going in, it hit the post.
In the 53rd minute, Orlando City fans saw an all-too-familiar sight. Ramos went down clutching his hamstring, and was forced out of the game. Zachary Ellis-Hayden replaced the fullback, and Pulls was down to one sub after bringing in Jordan Schweitzer for Tony Rocha at halftime.
“Disappointed obviously with Rafa’s injury,” said Pulis. “We don’t know how bad that is. We’ll assess it and probably find out more tomorrow morning.”
Neal again tried to hit an end-to-end pass, this time to Barry. However, yet another breakaway opportunity was thwarted — this time by Tobi Adewole, who made a great, last-ditch defensive play. The ensuing corner fell to the head of Timbo, but it went inches wide.
“I thought the last 20 minutes we had three or four of [MLS players] that looked like they were really tired and struggling, just because they haven’t played a lot recently,” said Pulis. “But they managed to get through it, which was important that Laryea, Barry, Pereira, those guys now have 90 minutes under their belt.”
Entering the final 10 minute of the game, OCB earned a free kick near the right corner. It was a poor take and Neal’s free kick went straight into the hands of Broome. A minute later, the young Lions had another free kick in exactly the same place, but the result was the same.
In stoppage time the visitors had a few opportunities to grab the three points. Kevin Kerr had the fans holding their breath as he looked to chip Earl Edwards Jr. from 30 yards out. The Riverhounds followed that up with two crosses and a corner, all of which were close to finding the back of the net. The final kick of the game was a ball over the top looking for Hertzog, but it was too long.
OCB was the better team on the night but the Lions were unable to find the back of the net, and could only manage to grab a point. This is now the seventh home game in a row that the young Lions failed to win.
“The fact that we got the best stadium in USL, I think teams come here and raise their game because I think it’s a cup final for them,” said Pulis. “No disrespect to other stadiums and places you play in USL, this is the best. Our home form needs to improve.”
OCB is back in action again on July 13 as the young Lions take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies at home in the I-4 Derby at 7:30 p.m.
Starting XI: Earl Edwards Jr.; Fernando Timbo, Leo Pereira, Seb Hines, Rafael Ramos (Zachary Ellis-Hayden - 53’); Lewis Neal, Tony Rocha (Jordan Schweitzer - 45’), Paul Clowes, Austin Martz (Danny Deakin - 82’); Richie Laryea, Hadji Barry.
Unused Subs: Jake Fenlason, Conor Donovan, Albert Dikwa, Ben Polk.
Yellow Cards: ORL — Fernando Timbo (78’); PGH — Danny Earls (60’), Michael Green (71’), Taylor Washington (85’).