It looked like it was going to be the same story as most of the season. Orlando City (7-16-3, 24 points) was playing well, but couldn’t capitalize on its chances, and allowed a late goal to lose the match. This was almost the situation tonight, as the Philadelphia Union (12-12-3, 40 points) scored the go-ahead goal in the 88th minute. The Lions kept their heads up and Scott Sutter scored his second goal in as many games just three minutes later to rescue a draw in front of 22,912 fans in Orlando City Stadium.
“Obviously, the finish was, well, pleasing that we ended up getting a point so late on,” Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor said. “The one aspect that disappointed me was our movement. I think Chris Mueller, [Stéfano] Pinho, and the subs when they came on gave us a good bit of energy and burst but when you concede a goal in the 88th minute and then get a goal to get back into it it’s fantastic. So great credit to the players for fighting back and getting a point there at the end.”
O’Connor, celebrating his 39th birthday, made a few surprises with his starting XI. Carlos Ascues moved from the midfield into the back line. To make room for this, Jonathan Spector started as the left back, with Shane O’Neill and Sutter filling in the rest of the back line. Mueller began the game on the bench, and Cristian Higuita started at right wing. Sacha Kljestan and Yoshimar Yotún returned to the lineup after both missed the previous two games.
This lineup led to there essentially being no left midfielder for Orlando. Yotún continuously moved to the middle of the field. When this happens, the left back should typically push up the field and make an overlapping run but due to Spector’s lack of pace there was nobody to make that run tonight. To compensate for this, Sutter often got high up the field on the other side and it looked like Orlando was playing a three-back system while on the attack, at times.
It was all Philly to start the match and the Union got off two shots in the first five minutes, with a few more chances. Then, in the eighth minute, Sutter and Will Johnson played down the right hand wing with each other and won a free kick. Yotún took the service and Dwyer did the rest to put the Lions up, 1-0.
The goal gave Orlando momentum but it only lasted for about two minutes or so and the game stared to level out until the Union won a corner in the 23rd minute. It was a good routine straight from the training ground. Alejandro Bedoya, after losing Johnson, was left wide open at the back post. Fortunately for Orlando, Bedoya somehow missed the frame completely.
The Lions immediately went on the counter and should have went up 2-0. Spector played a good long ball that just missed the outstretched leg of Dwyer. The ball fell to Higuita, who had the goal wide open because Andre Blake was on the ground trying to defend Dwyer, but the Colombian hit the post and it somehow fell right into the hands of Blake.
Philly made the most of the lucky moment and tied the game in the 32nd minute. Borek Dockal had time and space and put in a cross to the back post. Cory Burke outmuscled O’Neill and headed the ball into the back of the net. Immediately after the goal Orlando almost went down 2-1 when Fabrice-Jean Picault hit the crossbar.
There were not many more chances in the remainder of the first half. Orlando City held a good amount of possession but it was all in its own half and not threatening. The Lions looked to try to build out of the back and not force anything which led to many backward passes.
The game went into halftime tied 1-1 with Orlando holding 55% possession. Philly outshot the Lions (9-4) and Orlando’s sole shot on goal ended up in the back of the net. Almost every attack in the first 45 minutes came through Yoshi and he finished as the only Lion to create a chance — he had four — and 89% passing accuracy on 27 passes.
The second half started out pretty slowly, as both teams started to feel each other out again. The Union had more chances though and Orlando struggled to get into the other half of the field. The few times that the Lions did break across the center line, poor decisions led to turnovers. Philadelphia had a couple of chances but could not direct the ball on frame.
“I think the energy levels need to be better, need to be higher,” O’Connor said. “In the second half there needs to be way more movement. Our expectation is for the guy with the ball to come up with something and he should have four, five options and that’s something we need to do a way better job at. I think decision making, and when to keep the ball, at times, particularly in the second half, we give it up way too cheaply.”
A few of the Union’s chances came from bad plays by Higuita, almost gifting the visitors a goal, and he was replaced in the 57th minute by Josué Colmán. Higuita had an excellent first half so this drop in performance was surprising. The team as a whole was poor coming out in the second half, and O’Connor stressed that the energy needed to be higher.
“I think there was a drop in energy all across the field [to start the second half],” said Dwyer. “It’s hot, it’s tough conditions — but I don’t think that’s an excuse for it. We were working through the game and there were moments when we slowed down a little bit and we showed a lot of fight and character to come back in the end.”
A scary moment came just after the hour mark. Ascues played the ball back to Bendik after a goal kick. Burke was right there and nearly put Bendik’s clearance in the back of the net. Philly was able get the ball back but the shot was poor and Bendik caught it. Orlando quickly got down the field and had a chance but Kljestan’s pass to Dwyer was too long.
After the Union played a mid-week game it would be expected that they would be the team that was tired. However, that was not the case and the last 30 minutes Orlando was on its back heels. Yoshi particularly looked gassed, with good reason. He was the best player on the field tonight for the Lions and hasn’t played a game since Aug. 4. O’Connor opted to keep the Peruvian in the game, however, and subbed out Kljestan and Johnson for Chris Mueller and Stéfano Pinho in the 76th minute.
“The role of the substitute is really important,” said O’Connor. “You need a sub to come in and impact the game. Sometimes you're winning it and you expect sub to come in and help out defensively. I thought Chris [Mueller] did an exceptional job going forward and defending. Josué [Colmán] showed glimpses of movement. Pinho at times was a threat. It’s pleasing to see players coming on and impacting the game.”
The game started to pick up after this and there were a good amount of chances by both teams. First, the Union had a free kick from about 25 yards out but hit the wall. Orlando got down the other end but Pinho couldn’t get on the end of Yoshi’s cross. Yotún had a shot around the 80th minute that was hit one hundred miles an hour but missed wide of the net.
In the 85th minute, there were cries around the stadium for a penalty kick. Dwyer got a shot away and missed and Auston Trusty was right on him. Dwyer went down but it looked like a nominal amount of contact happened after the shot and it was a good no call from Chris Penso.
As the game was inching closer and closer to a draw, Picault created something out of nothing and put the visitors up 2-1 in the 88th minute. Picault got by Yotún and Uri Rosell and shot. The ball deflected off of O’Neill, and caught Bendik on the wrong foot ending in the back of the net.
Three minutes after the goal, a long ball fell to Colmán. He tried some nifty footwork before playing it off to an overlapping Sutter. The right back hit it first time and the ball beat Andre Blake and ended up in the back of the net to tie the game at 2-2.
“At the end of it we are happy that we got a draw,” Sutter said. “it’s definitely not the result that we wanted, not the result that we expected. I think we invest a lot in the moment and get a little back in return and I think we controlled the game for large patches of the game and one or two half chances gives them goals and in the end we managed to get a goal and we are lucky to get a point.”
It looked like the Lions might get another goal and earn their first win since July but it would not be so. Dywer was called offside, plus a few turnovers, and Penso blew the full time whistle and the players looked gutted not to win this match.
Orlando finished the game with 53% possession. The Lions had 11 shots but only three were on target. Yoshi led the team with seven chances created, 88 touches, and 58 passes in his return.
“[One point] is not enough,” Sutter said. “Football is only fun if you win and you’re playing. If you don’t play, you’re not happy and if you don’t win you’re not happy. We’re not winning. I haven’t gone to The Wall and raised my hands like we won, like we did at the beginning of the season, and that hurts. that’s what we’re here for, that’s what we train for everyday, and at the moment it’s just disappointing.”
The Lions have won just one time in the last 17 games (1-14-2) and will try to get back in the win column next Saturday night at Sporting Kansas City. They’ll have to do it without Yotún, Mohamed El-Munir, and Amro Tarek, who will all be away on international duty.