Orlando City gifted New York City FC a pair of easy goals off turnovers in the second half and the Lions fell to 0-2-1 on the young season after a sloppy St. Patrick’s Day matinee at Yankee Stadium. Ismael Tajouri found the breakthrough in the 62nd minute after Yoshimar Yotun’s difficult back pass led to Joe Bendik’s turnover in the box. Sacha Kljestan’s defensive third miscue set the stage for Maxi Moralez to double the score in the 74th.
It was a typical game at Yankee Stadium, with the ball pinging off shins all over the place, nobody having time on the ball, no real build-up play from either side, and, in the end, a couple of mistakes making the difference.
Orlando (0-2-1, 1 point) falls to 5-3-2 in the all-time series after a game that was evenly played for an hour turned on two horror plays in a 12-minute span and New York City FC (3-0-0, 9 points), playing without David Villa, took full advantage.
Jason Kreis made a few changes to the lineup, inserting RJ Allen at right back for Scott Sutter, alongside Jonathan Spector, Amro Tarek, and Mohamed El-Munir. Cristian Higuita got his first start, playing the base of the diamond beneath Will Johnson and Yotun, with Kljestan debuting as a Lion at the top of the midfield. Chris Mueller and Justin Meram started up top. Josué Colmán made the 18 for the first time and eventually made his MLS debut.
The first half was largely devoid of scoring chances, with the action pinballing back and forth between the two penalty areas. New York City was the sharper team in the final third but couldn’t really generate many opportunities despite their passing and possession advantage.
The Lions got the first good look just five minutes in but Mueller’s shot from just above the penalty spot was deflected over the bar and out for a corner. Moralez nearly got in behind off a Jesus Medina pass but he was offside at the 10-minute mark.
Spector had a scary minute in the 16th, clashing heads with Maxime Chanot in the air on a corner kick. After a few minutes to collect himself and get checked out, Specs returned to the match.
Meram got the game’s first shot on goal in the 32nd minute, firing from the left side just above the penalty area. However, his attempt was too close to goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who made a comfortable save. Allen’s cross nearly found its way inside the back post a minute later but Johnson was wise to the danger and caught it.
In the 34th, the hosts nearly broke through. Rodney Wallace’s shot went off the right post and the Lions were able to clear the danger on the rebound.
The Lions nearly sprung Kljestan in the 39th minute but Alexander Ring made a nice play to backtrack and get in between City’s attacking midfielder and the ball to prevent a scoring chance. Orlando got a stoppage-time corner in the final chance of the half but the cross fell just inches behind Johnson’s foot and he couldn’t sweep it back far enough to get a shot, and the teams went to the break deadlocked at 0-0.
Each team attempted three shots in the opening period but only one was on target — Meram’s saved effort. The Lions had only a paltry 37% of the possession but they seemed comfortable laying back and waiting to spring the counter. The trouble with that was a lack of sharpness in the final third, with Meram in particular missing on passes around the area. Orlando City connected on just 65% of its passes in the first 45 minutes and just 53% in the final third.
Spector could not continue and subbed out at the half, giving Lamine Sané his MLS debut.
Seven minutes after the restart, Meram came within inches of snapping the scoreless tie and scoring his first Orlando City goal, but his shot fizzed inches wide of the goal in the 52nd minute. A minute later, Moralez did the same thing at the other end for New York City.
Meram got to the end line in the 57th minute and cut a pass back into the box but it was behind Kljestan as the Lions continued their lack of clinical play in the final third. Three minutes later, Meram tried to send in Allen but overcooked his pass and it went harmlessly out for a goal kick.
Five minutes later, the hosts got on the board. Higuita’s nonchalant pass in the midfield was easily cut out and started the play toward Bendik’s goal, Yotun sniffed out the danger and seemed to have everything calmed down but he stayed on the ball far too long and eventually was pressured into a back pass to Bendik. The pass had a bit of air under it and bounced in front of Joe, who appeared to try a one-touch pass rather than try to smash it down the field. Instead, it was an awful turnover to Tajouri, who took a touch to his right and buried his shot to make it 1-0.
Apparently unfazed by what just happened, the Lions barely got away with another bad back pass moments later. The slow roller back to Bendik was dangerously close to being picked off as Joe sat back and waited for it rather than attacking it. It reached him about a half a second before it could become an embarrassingly easy second goal.
In the 74th, the Lions weren’t as lucky. Trying to break out of his own end, Kljestan sent a soft pass that never reached its target and instead was picked off by Saad Abdul-Salaam, who crossed in for Jesus Medina, who flicked it on for Moralez’s easy finish. Orlando was also essentially finished at that point, trailing by two with 16 minutes to play.
Richie Laryea and Colmán came on to try to pull Orlando back into the game and both had some nice individual moments, but neither could stem the tide. Colmán made a terrific play to slice through two defenders in the box in the 79th minute but there was no one at the back post to attack his cross and it drifted harmlessly out of the area. Tarek and El-Munir tried their luck from long range in the last 10 minutes and both got their shots on goal but didn’t trouble Johnson.
Will Johnson hit the crossbar late and Mueller’s stabbing effort was deflected wide for a corner in the 92nd minute on Orlando’s final opportunities to salvage something from the game.
Orlando out-shot NYCFC, 11-10 (3-2 on target) and improved the final possession and passing numbers a bit (41% and 70%, respectively), but the two turnovers in the Lions’ own end proved fatal.
The Lions have a week off before returning home to play the New York Red Bulls on March 31 at 1 p.m.