Coming into the game without a win in the last 12 MLS matches and no goals in the last five, Orlando City (7-21-4, 25 points) came out slowly again and it looked like another blowout was in hands. However, after going down two goals, the Lions made adjustments, Seattle defended in numbers and Orlando got back into the game off a Dom Dwyer goal. One goal was all the Lions could muster though and the Seattle Sounders (16-11-5, 53 points) won 2-1 and clinched a playoff spot in front of an announced crowd of 22,344 at Orlando City Stadium.
“I think obviously the first half started really poorly and we gave away two really poor goals,” Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor said. “The second half, I felt we came at them a little bit, had a little bit more energy. I thought we started to cause them a few more problems, have maybe more pressure in their half and obviously got the goal.
“I think when we got the goal we are then hopeful that we are going to go on and get something from the game. I think we needed to get more numbers into the box. It’s indicative of the way the season has gone for us with the type of goals we’ve giving away so early on and made it really difficult for us to get back into the game.”
After serving his suspension, Dwyer returned to the starting XI and got back on the score sheet. Dwyer now has 13 goals on the year. Adam Grinwis got his second start in as many games and Cristian Higuita started in an attacking position at right midfield.
Fans might have missed the first goal of the match as Seattle started quickly and in just the third minute the Lions let one in. Kelvin Leerdam had time outside the box, looked up, and saw Victor Rodriguez wide open and making a run into the box. Rodriguez flicked the ball over Grinwis, who was caught in no man’s land, and put Seattle up 1-0. It was poor defending all around for Orlando. Seattle had too much time and space in the midfield and easily got the ball out wide. Mueller didn't close down Leerdam and neither Lamine Sané nor Shane O’Neill picked up the goal scorer.
Ten minutes later, it was Handwalla Bwana’s turn to find the back of net. His shot would have been a routine save from Grinwis but Shane O’Neill deflected it, and the Sounders doubled their lead. Once again it was poor one-on-one defending that created this goal. Kljestan never challenged Rodriguez, Bwana walked his way around Scott Sutter, and O’Neill should have blocked it in front of Grinwis.
“It’s never easy [going 2-0 down] but I think we really battled in the second half,” said Dwyer. “We have a tendency recently to slow towards the end of games and I think we were going for it at the end of the game today and that’s a real positive to take from it.”
There were some bright spots for the Lions in the first half, albeit not many. For a span of about three minutes starting in the 37th minute, Orlando City was in the final third and looked dangerous. It started with Kljestan playing a sneaky through ball to Dwyer and the Lions earned a corner. It was unsuccessful but the ball fell to Sutter deep outside the area and his rocket of a shot forced Stefan Frei into a save.
While the on-field production showed Orlando City getting blown out, the first half stats were eerily similar. Both teams had seven shots, Seattle had two more shots on target (3-1), the Lions made just six more passes (270-264), and possession was a 51-49 split in favor of Orlando.
“We came out a little bit better and a little bit sharper [in the second half], and if we could play the entire game like that we’d have a chance,” said Dwyer. “We started out a bit slow, we were punished early, and that’s how the game goes sometimes. We almost got ourselves back into the game and if there was another 10 minutes I think we would have.”
The second half continued where the first left off and the Lions had no energy and were second best. O’Connor switched things up a little and changed from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-3, with Dom up top and Kljestan and Higuita playing underneath him.
“I think regardless of formation basic principals of defending are to deny space and to be compact,” O’Connor said. “So whether you’re playing with a back three or back four you need to be compact vertically and horizontally. It’s basic stuff.”
Then, out of nowhere, against the run-of-play, Orlando City ended its goalless drought at 507 minutes when Dwyer found the back of the net in the 57th minute. The Lions were moving the ball fairly well and Chris Mueller got it out wide to Scott Sutter. Sutter put a cross in and found Dwyer at the back post and the striker passed it into the back of the net.
“I think [Dwyer’s goal] definitely gave us a lift that we were looking for,” Sutter said. “To get that much-needed 2-1 to get a bit of momentum. I think the second half was a good all around effort. We were knocking on the door for quite awhile. Just a shame really. I thought we deserved a draw and I think we put a lot into it and just a shame that the slow start punished us.”
After the goal, neither team had any good chances at goal but Orlando looked more threatening. Still, the game was played almost entirely in the middle third of the field. Seattle seemed content in holding onto its one goal lead, and Orlando City did not have enough quality to breakdown the Sounders’ defense.
In the last 10 minutes of the match Orlando City finally starting to get into the final third but Seattle played with all 11 men behind the ball. Kljestan had multiple shots that failed to hit the target. Josúe Colmán took a crack in the 88th minute from outside the box that went inches wide. Johnson tried an over-the-head kick that was badly mistimed. With six minutes of stoppage time it looked like Orlando might have a chance to tie it up but could not find a second goal.
The Lions actually led in shots, thanks to the late surge, (15-9) but only managed to get three on target. The Orlando defense held Seattle to just two shots in the second half, neither of which were on target. Orlando City had the advantage in most statistical categories — possession (54%-46%), passes (543-470), and corners (6-3) — but could find the tying goal.
“I think it’s just pride now,” Dwyer said about the last few games. “Obviously the season is done for us; there’s no chance at getting in the playoffs. We’ve understood that for awhile. It’s really just showing that pride and you know that will to win. We have guys that want to win and now we just have to go out there and do it.”
The Lions play in their last home game of 2018 on Sunday against the Columbus Crew.