Where do I even start? I guess we’ll start with the most important part, as Orlando City (8-10-6, 30 points) fell 3-1 on the road against the New York Red Bulls (12-9-2, 38 points). That’s ultimately what matters most.
As for the rest of it...man, I don’t know.
The Lions came out hungry and pressing and looked like a completely different team than the one that took the pitch last weekend at Montreal. But, like they did in that game, they scored first, only to see the other team come back to win.
Carlos Rivas opened the scoring, but an own-goal, a transition strike by Bradley Wright-Phillips, and a golazo by Sean Davis upended what was a much better performance from a team that wasn’t passive, wasn’t disinterested, and wasn’t apathetic. This team wanted to win and, more importantly, played like it. It didn’t, but not from lack of effort or generating the chances necessary to do so, as we’ve seen in the past.
But the final scrum in stoppage time saw Kaká playfully give former Lion (and the captain’s good friend) Aurelien Collin a couple of playful face washes to break the tension from a chippy match. Match referee Jorge Gonzalez ignored the smiles on both players’ faces upon video review and sent the captain off. He’ll miss a vital game next week against Columbus unless the MLS Disciplinary Committee correctly overturns the red card.
Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis wasted no time getting Designated Player signing Yoshimar Yotun into the lineup, slotting him into the left side of the diamond in his 4-4-2 lineup (despite the club’s graphic below — Kaká was mainly the 10, though the two swapped at times) and removing Cristian Higuita. Kreis raised some eyebrows by playing his two youngest center backs together in Leo Pereira and Tommy Redding with Jonathan Spector (knee) unavailable — likely due to Pereira being a natural left-sided defender while both Redding and Aja are righties. Rivas slotted in for the injured Dom Dwyer (nose surgery). Newbie Dillon Powers was on the bench.
The Lions came out pressing and playing with high energy, closing down the Red Bulls all over the pitch and generally making the hosts uncomfortable. Yotun showed the quality of his service early with a great ball over the top in the second minute to spring Rivas down the left. The Colombian fizzed a cross into the box for Cyle Larin but it was a bit behind. The Canadian went down after contact but no call was made.
Kaká sent Larin in at the six-minute mark but he showed too much of the ball on his right rather than firing with his left and Kemar Lawrence knocked it out for a corner. The Lions subsequently took the first of two frustratingly ineffective short corners.
The first New York opportunity materialized at the 10-minute mark when Michael Murillo headed a set piece cross off target and over the bar. Five minutes later, Alex Muyl headed a Tyler Adams cross well wide.
Two minutes later, Rivas was in all alone on Luis Robles with acres of space after being released by Larin but he tried a chip shot and missed just a bit over the bar. Rivas made up for the gaffe a minute later after the ensuing goal kick. Will Johnson dispossessed New York’s defense and Larin picked up the ball and dished to Kaká in the middle. The captain sent Rivas in down the left and the Colombian smashed it this time to beat Robles and put the Lions on top at 18’.
Orlando City nearly made it 2-0 six minutes later, when Larin took a cross in the box, spun, and fired on frame to force a diving two-handed save from Robles.
Two minutes after that save, Larin was inches from getting onto Kaká’s free kick in space in the box, missing another opportunity to double the lead. That came back to haunt Orlando a few minutes later.
New York tied the game at the 30-minute mark when an Adams cross into the box was deflected past Joe Bendik by Pereira, who was trying to deny the pass.
The remainder of the first half consisted mostly of both teams building up but not able to quite craft a scoring chance. Redding did well in the 38th minute to make a vital clearance in the box as Wright-Phillips was going in on goal. Redding poked it away from behind and had to get his challenge just right to avoid conceding a penalty.
New York held 60% of the first-half possession with Orlando owning a 3-2 advantage in shots (2-0 on target). With some new players in the side, the Lions’ passing was just 70% in the opening period. Yotun, however, completed 10 of his first 13 passes as a Lion in the half.
The Red Bulls started the second half by turning up the heat with their pressing and jumped on the Lions out of the break. Bendik was forced into two big saves early in the second half, first on Muyl who got a fortunate deflection on a ball into traffic that fell perfectly for him. The second came on the ensuing corner kick when Murillo got a free header.
Minutes later, Will Johnson sent a corner kick that pinged dangerously around in the box but no Lion could get onto it. Then Redding nearly put Rivas in on goal in the 53rd minute, but the Colombian had it taken away before he could clear himself to shoot.
Muyl missed a couple decent opportunities in the 56th and 59th minutes, as Orlando struggled to deal with the New York press. A minute after Muyl’s second miss, it paid off.
Another turnover on the left led to a quick transition and a cross found a sliding Wright-Phillips who beat Bendik and collided with the Orlando keeper, stopping the game while Joe’s bloodied cheek was patched up.
Just like that, the hosts had the lead. It nearly became 3-1 at the 65-minute mark as Wright-Phillips made a sensational effort to bicycle kick a cross toward goal, but it hit off the woodwork.
The Lions didn’t sit back, though, to their credit. Orlando City poured forward looking for the equalizer. Felipe, who had been warned earlier in the game for persistent infringement, fouled Rivas to break up an Orlando attack and was shown a yellow card. Gonzalez showed incredible restraint when he didn’t send off Felipe for mocking him with fake applause.
Redding headed a free kick delivery well over the bar in the 70th as the attack resumed. Seconds later, Antonio Nocerino sliced a shot just inches wide of the left post. Then, in the 74th, Kaká nearly had an Olimpico on a corner kick but Muyl cleared it off the line.
A minute after that, Yotun nearly opened his Orlando City account. Rivas got in behind down the right side and his cross deflected out to the top of the box. Yoshi smashed it off the underside of the crossbar and it stayed out.
Just a few minutes later, Davis put the game away with 10 minutes to play on another Goal of the Week candidate.
That goal happened with Giles Barnes and Cristian Higuita waiting on the touch line to check in, but ultimately, the subs came too late. Nocerino was visibly tired from his pressing efforts and getting forward in the game. He turned outside and lost Davis on the last goal — as did Redding — and there was no help inside on that play.
Richie Layrea came on a few minutes later and produced the Lions’ final shot on goal, but he didn’t catch all of his shot and Robles got down to make the save.
New York tried to manage the game through possession the rest of the way and in stoppage time, the weirdness happened. Yotun ran into Redding and went down and Tyler Adams taunted the Peruvian with mock applause while he was down. Higuita took exception and gave Adams a light shove and the teams came together.
While yapping ensued, mostly fueled by Sacha Kljestan, Kaká spotted his good friend — I’m being serious here, they are really good friends — Collin, the former Lion in the middle of the fray. With the Brazilian’s trademark grin, he mischievously reached out and rubbed the Frenchman’s face. Collin took exception until he turned around and saw Kaká’s grin, then he too started to laugh. Kaká gave him a second face wash for good measure.
Gonzalez spent several minutes talking to the assistant referee, then went to video review. When he came back, he rightfully booked Higuita and Davis, who came into the scrum, missed Adams somehow, and sent the incredulous captain off.
Seconds later, the final whistle mercifully blew on a performance that deserved more and flattered the home team a bit.
Orlando City returns home to face the Columbus Crew in a crucial Eastern Conference battle next Saturday at 7:30 p.m.