Possession: 72.5%. Shots: 25. Passing accuracy: 84.8% Total passes: 487 — that’s 384 more than Vancouver. The worst passer on the team, statistically — Yoshimar Yotun — still managed 75.4% accuracy. The team fired 40 (!) open-play crosses. And yet, the Lions lost.
But in the end, the Vancouver Whitecaps leave with all the points because again the Lions could not find much quality to go with all of that quantity. Orlando City mustered only four shots on target out of the 25 attempts. Giles Barnes hit the crossbar late in the game. Both goals against were gifts — an own-goal by Tommy Redding within the game’s first 10 minutes, and a second-half giveaway that sprung a Vancouver counter, which ended in the eventual winning goal by Brek Shea, because of course it would be Shea.
Cyle Larin’s 10th goal of the season gave the Lions a lifeline but it turned out to be nothing more than consolation in the end.
All of the effort, possession, and scoring chances mean little if the team can’t convert. And on this night, like so many others we’ve seen recently, the end product didn’t match the effort. Orlando City has put together some good performances recently but the Lions sure aren’t getting rewarded for it.
That’s the kind of thing that eventually saps optimism, amplifies a lack of confidence, and leaves fans screaming for a change, when literally any change will do in order to create a feeling that lessens the helplessness of watching a team with one of the best starts in MLS history slowly bleed to death over the course of several months.
A somber Jason Kreis struggled to put into words after the game what it’s like to watch good performances result in so few goals and even fewer good results.
“The effort the guys are putting forward in the last five or six games now is second to none. The belief they have and the willingness to work until the bitter end is fantastic and I can’t be any more thankful for that,” Kreis said. “But for whatever reason, it seems like it’s bad luck after bad luck after bad luck. And to go through a game tonight where we gave them both goals and we weren’t able to finish one of the plethora of chances we had — it’s difficult. A really, really mentally and emotionally difficult time for us.”
“You look at the start of these games and there’s one team really putting the pressure on and in both of them one small error and we’re punished for it,” goalkeeper Joe Bendik said. “That’s the game in the grand scheme but at some point it’s got to go our way a little bit.”
Kreis sent out an interesting lineup, apart from the usual Bendik at the back and the same back four who have played since Jonathan Spector went out with a knee injury a few games ago. Cristian Higuita, Yoshimar Yotun, Giles Barnes, and Kaká provided a more offensive-minded midfield than we’re used to seeing, while Carlos Rivas joined Dom Dwyer in the starting strike partnership and Cyle Larin sat on the substitutes’ bench.
Orlando City gave up only one scoring opportunity in the first half and of course it was enough, as the Whitecaps got on the board when Redding flicked Nicolas Mezquida’s free kick with his head back into his own net just nine minutes after the start. The Whitecaps didn’t even need a shot on goal to take the lead. It was the second time in three games that the central defense partnership conceded an own-goal — as Leo Pereira did at New York — and the second time in three games the Lions conceded a first-half goal without allowing a shot on target.
Dwyer nearly got on the score sheet in the 16th minute, when a cross came in that the keeper got a piece of just before Dom’s arrival. The deflection was just enough to put off the striker’s timing.
Orlando’s best opportunity of the opening period came in the 21st minute. From the left corner, Kaká sent a cross to the top of the box that Dwyer allowed to run through to Yotun. The Peruvian one-timed his shot but sizzled it just over the crossbar. Three minutes later, Yotun took a free kick from near the sideline about 10 yards inside of the midfield line. The Peruvian’s kick was headed on by Barnes and landed just over the bar on top of the net, although Stefan Marinovic appeared to have it well covered.
In the 31st minute, Scott Sutter sent a cross in that deflected off Vancouver fullback Jordan Harvey and nearly deflected in just under the bar but Marinovic was there to tip it over the bar. Two minutes later, off an ensuing corner, the ball pinballed around the Vancouver box after a Rivas shot attempt but no one could get it on frame, although it appeared Higuita was fouled in the process of heading it on goal.
The Lions dominated possession in the opening half (72.6%) and out-shot Vancouver, 15-1, but Orlando only mustered one effort that actually hit the target, and Marinovic stopped that.
The first half was largely an exercise in frustration as Rivas continually failed to do much of anything with conviction. His shots were further off target than usual, including one about five rows into the upper deck. His passes were rarely properly weighted for their recipients. And he wasn’t even able to use his speed to much effect. By halftime, Kreis had seen enough and Larin came on for the Colombian.
Kreis said after the match that his thought with starting Rivas was he wanted to use the Colombian’s willingness to drop into the midfield and to the sidelines to feed Dwyer as he ran into the box but what occurred during the game was that there weren’t enough bodies getting into the area to provide other options.
The second half was pretty much an exact replica of the first. Orlando controlled the ball for nearly the same amount of time (72.5% rather than 72.6%). Again, Orlando had the ball, the shots, the chances, but could only hit the target three times. And again, a gaffe by an Orlando defender led to a Vancouver goal. This time Leo Pereira ignited a break that ended up with Shea in alone on Joe Bendik and the former Lion chipped the Orlando keeper to give the guests a two-goal lead in the 53rd minute.
Shea’s goal came three minutes after Dwyer smashed a shot just wide of goal.
Larin pulled one back for the Lions at the 62-minute mark, seemingly reigniting the game. Yotun got down the left flank after taking a pass from Higuita and scorched in an inch-perfect cross for the Canadian to nod home to make it 2-1. It was Yotun’s first MLS assist on a night when the Peruvian played extremely well, creating six chances and getting on the ball often — he led all players with 99 touches.
Vancouver nearly made it 3-1 a couple of times. Second-half sub Alphonso Davies got a fortunate deflection on a counter off Higuita and it fell for him to be alone on Bendik but he shot high in the 69th minute. The Whitecaps somehow completely bungled a 3-on-1 counter attack in the 73rd without even getting a shot out of it. And Higuita made a vital desperation lunge to block a shot attempt in the box on another dangerous counter.
But the Lions had more opportunities than Vancouver. Off a 78th-minute corner kick, Sutter ended up shooting from above the box. The ball fell in front of Larin with Marinovic on the ground. Larin took a touch and could not get his foot to it to knock it into the gaping net. The ball skipped off Barnes’ attempt to knock it in and eventually came to Dillon Powers — making his Orlando City debut as a second-half sub — who fired a shot that deflected off a defender and out of play.
Dwyer nearly got his head to a cross from point-blank range in the 85th but got a punch to the side of the head from Marinovic just as the ball arrived. A minute later, Barnes drove a blast off the crossbar. Larin nodded a corner cross wide of goal in the 89th.
Referee Hilario Grajeda signaled a minimum of four stoppage minutes and with the Lions coming close time after time, it seemed like that might be enough time. But in the end, as usual, even that didn’t go Orlando’s way. Despite repeated time wasting efforts in injury time by Vancouver that drew warnings from the referee, Grajeda still blew the full time whistle a good 10 seconds before the four minutes were up.
To paraphrase a recurring bit from the old 1970s musical comedy show Hee Haw, if it weren’t for bad luck, the Lions would have no luck at all.
“A little bit of a loss for words, honestly, because I just have never felt like I’ve been in such an unlucky situation,” Kreis said. “We just can’t seem to get anything to go our way. I feel like if we get something to go our way right now we can get a lot of good results because we’re performing well and playing well. But the struggle continues.”
Bendik was visibly dejected after the game, lamenting the team paying for every small mistake while not being able to capitalize on its own opportunities.
“Disappointed. It’s a lot of effort, a lot of heart, and to just get punished for these tiny mistakes...last week Cyle runs with a guy on a free kick and heads it away, it hits the side of a guy’s head and goes in the net,” he said. “This week Tommy makes a challenge, wins the ball but can’t get enough on it and I can’t make the save. Really disappointed.”
The season is still mathematically alive, but with Columbus, Atlanta, and even Philadelphia earning points tonight, coupled with the way every break seems to be going this summer, it’s probably best for your sanity to just enjoy the games while we’ve got them and look forward to a good off-season at this point.
The Lions are at New England next Saturday to make up the postponed game from back in March. Hey, we’ll be here to cover it.