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Analyzing Orlando City’s Red Card Explosion

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What made the Lions see six reds in the last seven matches and lead MLS in players sent off?

MLS: Orlando City SC at D.C. United Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

Being outnumbered is one of the toughest situations a team can face in soccer. If you disagree, just ask Orlando City SC about it. Five times this season the Lions were at a numerical disadvantage, and in three of them they were two men down. It’s not a surprise that in these matches the team amassed only four points.

The recent weeks have been particularly rough for Orlando in this matter as the team was shown six red cards over the last seven matches. The Lions now have eight red cards on the season, leading the league in that category.

The last two came last Sunday in the 3-0 road loss to the Portland Timbers, when defenders Jonathan Spector and PC were both sent off. Head Coach Jason Kreis contested both red cards, but acknowledged that something needed to be fixed.

“I wouldn’t shy away from saying that it shows again a little bit of lack of discipline on our part,” Kreis said in his post-game interview. “That’s three games where we were shown two red cards and something is not right.”

So, what’s going on with Orlando City?

For starters, it’s important to note that the Lions are not a violent team. Averaging 12.8 fouls per game according WhoScored.com, Orlando ranks eighth in the league in that category. The statement is confirmed by the number of yellow cards received by Orlando City players in 2017: 54, good enough for only 12th in MLS.

Also according to WhoScored.com, 43 of Orlando’s 62 cards this season were issued by fouls. The answer to our question probably lays in the rest of these cards — the Lions were shown 19 cards for things such as complaining to referees, shoving rivals, and even for fooling around with them.

That was definitely the case of Kaká’s red card against the New York Red Bulls. The Brazilian put his hands in the face of former Lion Aurelien Collin, who he’s friends with, and was shown a straight red that left him incredulous.

But Kaká’s situation is an exception. From the other seven red cards shown to Orlando’s players this season, five were the result of fouls committed by the Lions. One of them was debatable — Rafael Ramos’ red against the Chicago Fire back in May, which was overturned — while the other four happened in plays close to the midfield line and at least three of them could easily be avoided: Jose Aja’s red against the New England Revolution is perhaps the only exception, since Kei Kamara would probably have a clear path to the box if he was not fouled by Uruguayan.

In these cases, it was a matter of making bad decisions and paying for them. In some occasions, players shouldn’t have fouled as the opponents were facing their own field (Spector against the Timbers and Antonio Nocerino in the Chicago game) while in others there was just too much intensity in their fouls (Servando Carrasco against D.C. United and Nocerino again).

The other two reds happened because Orlando’s players lost their tempers and let the rivals get into their minds as Seb Hines pushed Lloyd Sam against D.C. United and PC threw an elbow to Diego Chara’s face last weekend. It’s fair to say that they were not necessarily malicious, but they were definitely naive to believe they would get away with their acts.

The bad season the team had, failing to make the playoffs for three straight seasons, might have created a huge level of frustration among the players that is resulting in less serenity and good sense when making decisions. As Kreis noted, “something is not right” with Orlando City.