Coach James O’Connor’s homecoming could not have ended any better, maybe with the exception of a shutout. Chris Schuler scored his first goal as a Lion and Dom Dwyer doubled the lead as Orlando City (7-11-1, 22 points) snapped a nine-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over Toronto FC (4-11-4, 16 points) — just the club’s second win against the Reds.
“Obviously delighted that we were able to win. It’s really important that we got a win,” O’Connor said after the match. “First and foremost I’m really pleased for the players, the supporters and for the ownership group to be able to get that win. There were some lovely passages of play, but there’s lots of things that I think we can be sharper on, we want to be sharper on. But it’s going to take a little bit of time. ”
Staring down a schedule of five games in 15 days, including Wednesday’s USOC match against the Philadelphia Union, O’Connor came out with a few surprises in the Starting XI.
Earl Edwards Jr. got his first MLS start of the year and second overall, with Tony Rocha starting at left midfield. Notable to most was Justin Meram missing from the 18. Shane O’Neill suited up for the first time as a substitute. Of interest from the visitors, Jozy Altidore made the trip and started the match as an available sub.
Having Yoshi Yotún back in purple was huge from the very start of the match. He seemed to be playing with a bit of extra intensity, almost as thought his stint in Russia triggered a little something extra. Chris Schuler also played with a different look, starting with a beautiful cutting run to intercept Sebastian Giovinco before he could make a break alone on goal.
Things got a little shaky in the sixth minute, as Schuler went shoulder to shoulder with Justin Morrow approaching the box, with Morrow going down and drawing the foul. Schuler was booked but, thankfully, nothing came of the free kick, and the ball was cleared. The next few minutes were a bit uneasy, as the Lions continued to try to find their feet, but things changed rather quickly.
In the ninth minute, Tony Rocha hit a solid shot towards goal, but it was blocked by a Toronto defender. That created a bit of chaos in the box, but the Lions could not capitalize. For the next several minutes, one thing that continued to stand out was the hustle of Chris Mueller and Yoshi. The Lions were plagued by misplaced passes, not bad passes per se, but passes to where the players were, not where they were going or should be. Mueller and Yotún crossed the pitch endlessly in recovery mode, working to win the ball back, fill passing lanes, and generally disrupt the Toronto midfield. The effort was obviously getting to some Toronto players, as Gio received a stern lecture from the referee after a late tackle, one of those frustration tackles, in the 15th minute on Yoshi.
The Lions continued to look dangerous. Yoshi tried to catch Alex Bono off guard when he sent a shot from just inside the Toronto half on goal that Bono flubbed, earning the Lions a corner. Unfortunately, the chance was a bit wasted as no one was on the far post when the corner was taken.
Edwards looked comfortable, coming off his line in the 24th minute to pounce on a cross into the box that could have been dangerous. Edwards also continued something that we saw from him during his play with OCB — those long throws to streaking players to start counters. He had a great leading ball to Sacha Kljestan, who found a streaking Mueller, who unfortunately took one touch to many and couldn’t get the ball out from under himself to get a solid shot on goal.
In the 25th, Morrow put a classic spin move on Schuler — possibly Schuler’s one big mistake of the night — to free himself to make a run into the box and find a wide open Giovinco. Thankfully, the Italian’s shot was not well taken and the threat was over. This would certainly not be last time we heard from Gio though. The next big chunk of minutes would see Toronto sustain some good possession, and take a bit of control of the game, including another shot from the Italian. The Lions were giving up possession way too easily at this point in the match, and Toronto was closing down the passing lanes with ease.
Dom finally got to go one on one with a center back in the 31st, beat him on the left side of the box and got a shot off, but it was saved by Bono. Mueller almost got to the rebound, but it was eventually cleared by the defense. A few more chances were generated by the Lions, but it appeared as though the nerves of needing a win might be present. Rocha had a great chance to bring the ball down and regain control with City in a good offensive position, but rushed to head the ball back into play, leading to Toronto gaining possession.
Int he 34th, Yoshi was fouled from behind by Michael Bradley. The free kick was taken somewhat quickly to Dwyer, who immediately sent a hard shot at goal. Bono punched the shot, and Schuler leaped to head the ball into the net, notching his first goal of the season and his first with Orlando City.
“I knew [Bono] wouldn’t be able to hold on to it so I just made a run through it expecting the rebound and it kind of worked out,” said Schuler.
RJ Allen went down on the pitch in the 37th minute, and it did not look good. Thankfully, after working with the trainers for a minute, he was able to return to play. It almost looked as though he was cramping already. It was good he was able to return as he had a distinct impact a few minutes later in the 44th when he was part of a great chance for City.
Rocha put a great ball in to Dom, who found Mueller streaking down the right side. The rookie once again had trouble getting the ball out from his feet, and his shot was blocked, falling to Allen. The right back put his laces through the ball, but the shot went just wide of the near post and into the side netting.
The Lions came out in the second half just as they had ended the first, looking solid and confident. In the 48th, Mueller found Dwyer with a perfect ball to the middle, Dom stood the defender up, got the ball onto his left foot, and smashed the ball low and away from Bono into the back of the net, for another back flip, and a 2-0 lead.
Toronto had some solid chances, but the Orlando back line and Edwards were up to the challenge. There were a few scary moments in the 58th when Toronto’s Jay Chapman picked up a stray ball at the top of the box. The defense was caught a little flat, but Edwards was able to make the save. In the 59th, Giovinco got in alone for the first time all night on a gorgeous long ball from Bradley but Earl made a point-blank stop to protect the two-goal advantage.
For the next 12 minutes, the Lions certainly looked a bit shaky again, as tired legs looked to be taking hold. It wasn’t until the 70th minute when the tide swung back towards the Lions’ favor. Will Johnson stole the ball, drove into the box and earned a corner. The corner was taken short, like so many during the match, ending up at Dillon Powers’ feet (who subbed in for Rocha in the 56th). Powers put a beautiful cross into the box, but the linesman flagged Dwyer as offside. Many players from both sides looked tired as the evening heat was taking an obvious effect.
The next best chance happened in the 85th, when Mueller picked up a missed ball from behind the Toronto center backs, charged the box, and sent a strong cross over to a streaking El-Munir, but the cross was too strong and just out of his reach. Mueller found himself with another golden opportunity in the 90th after a great pass from Sacha that he should have buried, but again could not get the ball out from under his feet and sent a low shot straight at Bono.
The 92nd minute saw the last real attacking chance for the Lions when Yoshi had a beautiful turn, only to be fouled to stop the attack at the top of the box. Sacha stepped up for the free kick, and didn't miss the top corner over the wall by much. Unfortunately, two minutes later Toronto would pull one back. After what appeared to be a fairly innocent collision at the top corner of the box involving Amro Tarek, the ensuing free kick by Giovinco led to Nick Haggland getting inside of El-Munir and getting a foot on it to send it inside the far corner.
That was just about the last kick of the game. The whistle blew seconds later and the Lions had mercifully ended their nine-game losing streak. Orlando out-shot Toronto, 18-16 (7-4 on target) and the Reds held the possession advantage, 54%-46%. Toronto completed 90% of their passes compared to 85% for the Lions. Much of Toronto’s possession came in the middle part of the second half while Orlando nursed its 2-0 lead.
“It’s been a while,” Dwyer said of the win. “Obviously we put in a good performance tonight. We’re trying not to live in the past so much and move forward, it was a big result for us tonight. I wouldn’t say we are at our best but we are improving. I think we are back on track, which is important for us and we’ll keep moving forward.”
Orlando City will be back in action Wednesday in Philadelphia, facing the Union in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.