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Orlando City vs. D.C. United: Final Score 3-2 as Lions Drop Eighth Straight Road Game

Lions fall again in an inventive new way to get punched in the gut.

MLS: Orlando City SC at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A hell of an effort went to waste by Orlando City at Audi Field in a 3-2 loss to D.C. United. Down a man for more than 40 minutes, the Lions saw Luciano Acosta complete a controversial hat trick at the death, providing D.C.’s game-winner in the 96th minute.

Orlando City (7-15-2, 23 points) had Cristian Higuita sent off after video review in the 55th minute, Acosta’s second goal was initially called offside and then awarded after another video review on a close play, and a final video review of Acosta, who appeared to be offside when Wayne Rooney delivered a cross from midfield, was not overturned, as the calls all went the way of United (5-9-6, 21 points) whether they were clear and obvious errors or not.

The really frustrating part is that the winning goal for D.C. came seconds after an opportunity for Orlando to steal an improbable win. United goalkeeper David Ousted came up for a corner kick with about a minute to play. The Lions cleared the ball way out and Will Johnson busted his lungs to try to reach the ball just ahead of Rooney. Rather than try a low-percentage left-footed effort from midfield, he tried to spray a pass across the field for Stefano Pinho, who had a much more open look, but Rooney blocked the pass, got up first, and made the game winning assist.

It was maybe the toughest of all the 2018 losses to swallow, but it was yet another loss in a growing season of them. Orlando City lost its ninth consecutive road match in league play and the current winless streak is five games (0-4-1).

James O’Connor had no Sacha Kljestan (ankle) or Yoshimar Yotún (suspension) available, so he decided to free all of his defensive midfielders with this formation:

An often dull and plodding first half was just what Orlando City was going for, as the majority of play took place between the two penalty areas. Orlando dropped into a five-man back line on defense and took on a bunker mentality. Moving forward, the attack, such as it was, looked like a 4-3-2-1 or a 4-2-3-1, depending on how many Lions got forward. But in that final third, things often broke down, as they often do. The passing quality of Kljestan and Yotún was definitely missed, and, as you’d expect from a plethora of defensive midfielders, very few runs were made into the area.

It was a back-and-forth opening period. The Lions got the first look at goal in the game’s opening minute, with Higuita smashing a shot that stung Ousted’s palms.

D.C. countered six minutes in with a shot over the bar by Yamil Asad. Tony Rocha tried to go straight at goal on a set piece but his shot wasn’t close in the eighth minute and Zoltan Stieber fired well wide for D.C. in the 11th minute.

Stieber again missed the target in the 22nd minute off a Higuita turnover in the defensive half. After a few crosses from Chris Mueller were either deflected away or were off target, Mueller had a go himself in the 28th minute and his blast forced a good save from Ousted at the near post.

The hosts thought they went ahead in the 44th minute on a Rooney header but the pass to Rooney came from an offside Asad. The flag came up but the referee went over himself to check the replay and correctly ruled no goal.

That was only momentary, however. With just seconds remaining in the three minutes of first-half stoppage time, Mohamed El-Munir got cute near the sideline rather than blast the ball down the field. It was costly. On the throw-in, the ball found Acosta, who worked a give-and-go with Rooney, continuing his run into the box and beating Amro Tarek and El-Munir. Rooney’s return pass found him but he still had a lot to do from a tough angle. Joe Bendik left Acosta too much room at the near post and the United midfielder blasted the first of his three goals inside that post to put D.C. ahead 1-0 at the death of the first half.

Shots in the first half were even at 6-6, with Orlando holding a 3-1 advantage in shots on frame. United held a slight possession advantage, with 51%, and Orlando connected on 88% of its passes to D.C.’s 85%.

Stieber nearly doubled the lead in the 47th minute but his left-footed effort found the post instead of the net.

The Lions equalized in the 50th minute out of nowhere. Uri Rosell made a good play to push the ball into a wide area, then ran it down and tried to cross for Dom Dwyer. Ousted stuck out a leg to block the cross and it deflected into his own net to make it 1-1.

The game changed in the 54th minute, when Orlando City came forward and Higuita crossed the ball over everyone and out of play. Behind the play, Asad was on the ground and after referee José Carlos Rivero spoke with Video Assistant Referee Jorge Gonzalez, he went over to take a look at the replay. He decided that Higuita intentionally swung an elbow at Asad and sent the Colombian off. Whether Higuita was trying to elbow Asad or trying to get inside of him into the counter doesn’t matter now — he’ll miss the Atlanta United match along with Yotún.

Oniel Fisher fired over the bar off a corner kick in the 61st minute as D.C. began to dominate possession with the manpower advantage. Three minutes later, the ball was served to the back post where Acosta scored his second goal. Only he didn’t. The flag was up for offside and no goal was given. Again Rivero spoke with Gonzalez and went to look at the video. He awarded the goal on what looked to be a very close play. Personally, I think it was onside, but it doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is whether a clear and obvious error was made. Rivero decided it was and United led, 2-1.

It didn’t seem Orlando had a chance at that point but the Lions kept fighting (and mostly defending). City struck back in the 71st minute off a brilliant run by Dwyer. Rosell found him and the striker scooped a shot over Ousted and into the net for his 11th of the year to make it 2-2. It was the kind of pass we’ve been expecting from Rosell when he was signed in the off-season and he delivered perfectly. Everything looked good at full speed and on replay but Rivero took a look at the replay anyway and quickly decided the goal was good.

Orlando was a bit energized by the goal and made a few efforts to try to take the lead. Substitute PC had his shot blocked just wide in the 77th minute. Then Scott Sutter fired off a short corner a minute later and his effort was also just outside the post.

After that flurry, D.C. brought on Darren Mattocks and Ulises Segura, changed shape, and went for the win. The moves put Orlando on the back foot and Bendik was forced into big saves in the 83rd and 85th minutes. Dwyer got forward on the counter and looked to steal the three points in the 86th minute but Kofi Opare blocked his shot.

Bendik made another big save off a Russell Canouse header in the 93rd minute as the Lions tried to hold onto a big road point. Defending heroically, Orlando City was about a minute from getting that point when D.C. won a corner in the 95th minute. Despite having a good minute remaining, United brought Ousted up and went all out for the win. It should have backfired.

The ball was cleared out to the left, where Johnson ran it down just ahead of Rooney. He took a touch to cross midfield and saw Pinho across the field. With Rooney closing him down, Johnson tried to knock it across the field to a wide-open teammate but the former Manchester United and England star blocked the attempt, then got up and carried the ball back into Orlando territory. He looked up and sent a back-post cross to Acosta. Mueller tracked the ball in the air but didn’t sufficiently close down Acosta, who nodded it back across and into the goal. Rivero again went to the review but this time he decided he did not make a clear and obvious error, although Acosta did look a step offside this time.

It was just a brutal and awful finish to a game that saw a tremendous road effort from the Lions, missing several key players. The silly mistake by El-Munir just before halftime, the failure to get a shot off on the open net from distance, and several officiating decisions helped send Orlando City to yet another defeat.

Shots ended up 19-11 to D.C. (6-4 on goal) and United won the possession battle, with 60%, mostly due to being up a man for about 42 minutes. D.C. was more accurate in passing, 88%-83%.

After getting next weekend off, Orlando City will look to regroup at home against Atlanta United on Friday, Aug. 24. But seriously, how does a team regroup from that?