Orlando City lost center back Robin Jansson to injury, then went on to give up a bunch of goals, losing 5-2 to the Chicago Fire at Exploria Stadium in the team’s final game of the 2019 MLS season. Despite Tesho Akindele’s opening goal just four minutes in, the Lions allowed an equalizer before halftime then completely fell apart in the second half.
The Lions (9-15-10, 37 points) end the season with a losing home record (6-8-3) and in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Orlando has still never beaten the Fire (10-12-12, 42 points) at home (0-2-3).
Kyle Smith scored an own goal for Chicago that perhaps should have been credited to C.J. Sapong (who added a goal later). Aleksander Katai added a goal for the Fire and Przemyslaw Frankowski scored a brace. and Benji Michel added a second for Orlando.
“Obviously very disappointing finish to the season,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “It’s just a really bitter way to finish the season.”
Lamine Sané was forced out of O’Connor’s lineup due to illness, Michel replaced Dom Dwyer in the starting lineup, and Uri Rosell stepped into the midfield for Sebas Mendez, otherwise it was the preferred starting lineup (minus the injured Joao Moutinho, of course).
It didn’t take Orlando long to get on the scoreboard. It nearly happened in the second minute when Kenneth Kronholm made two outstanding saves to deny Mauricio Pereyra and Michel in successive attempts.
But the Lions broke through two minutes later anyway.
A long ball from Pereyra sent Michel in behind the defense. The rookie rounded goalkeeper Kronholm but his touch was heavy and took him wide. Michel sent the ball to Akindele who sent a shot off the right post that hit the back of Kronholm’s legs and went in, giving the Lions a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute. The goal was originally called offside in the buildup on Michel but video review showed Michel was onside and the goal counted.
It was Orlando’s earliest goal from the start of the game all season.
Chicago equalized in the 17th minute. After several good crosses in from the right by Katai, the Fire finally paid one off. Katai fizzed a ball into the middle that Sapong got a foot on. The ball hit off Smith and went in for what was called an own goal.
Kronholm was outstanding in net for Chicago in the first half and kept the Fire from falling back behind. The first stop was in the 22nd when Nani sent Akindele in behind. The Canadian left his shot too close to Kronholm, who made the stop.
The next big save came at the other end, with Brian Rowe making a spectacular diving stop on a Brandt Bronico drive from just outside the penalty area in the 30th minute. The ensuing corner kick resulted in disaster for Orlando. Sapong barreled into Jansson in the air, sending the Swede toward the turf. Jansson’s head hit Smith’s knee as he fell and the defender had to be stretchered off on a back brace and in a neck collar for precautionary reasons. He was sent to the hospital to get checked out for a potential neck injury and Shane O’Neill took his place on defense.
Kronholm robbed Michel of a goal in the 41st minute as his excellent first half continued.
After nine minutes of first-half stoppage due largely to the Jansson injury, the teams went to the break tied at 1-1. Chicago held most of the possession in the first half (56%) and was the more accurate passing side (89%-84%), while Orlando had more shots (7-5) and shots on target (6-1).
Chicago came out with some early pressure in the second half, looking to break the stalemate. Frankowski missed a shot over the bar early in the half, but the game really turned after a play in the 58th minute.
Orlando got a chance in close, with Akindele getting sent in by second-half sub Sacha Kljestan. Tesho crossed right to left for Michel to tap it in but the rookie was shoved from the top of the six all the way over the goal line and into the net by Johan Kappelhof. The ball trickled through to Klestan who fired just wide from a tight angle but the bigger issue was that no foul was given for what seemed to be a pretty clear denial of a goal-scoring opportunity.
“I felt like I was fouled,” Michel said after the game. “But I guess the ref saw otherwise. I can’t really think about that play. I’ve just got to keep going. Whatever he calls, he calls.”
Three minutes later, the Fire started a three-goal barrage in just seven minutes. Sapong started things in the 61st with Sapong putting Chicago in front for good. O’Neill was slow in closing down the striker who one-timed a pass from Fabian Herbers into the net to make it 2-1.
“Even before their second goal we’ve had...goodness...who knows how many chances,” O’Connor said. “That’s pretty indicative of how the season has gone for us.”
Two minutes later, Katai twice got Kamal Miller leaning the wrong way and drove home a left-footed shot just inside the far corner.
Four minutes after that, Frankowski got the ball with his back to goal in the area. After Smith went to ground trying to clear it, he simply back-heeled it into the net.
Rowe made a save on a 3-on-2 break in the 69th to keep the score at 4-1.
Nani said teams that miss so many chances are susceptible to conceding when the ball isn’t going in.
“It’s almost the same as the last couple of games,” Nani said. “We had the chance to kill, the chance to put our opponents down, and the chances probably gave the other team the chance to score a goal and gave them confidence. And we go down in our motivation and our belief if we can win the game. The last five games are almost the same.”
Kljestan set up Michel for a consolation goal in the 75th, splitting the Chicago center backs with a perfect pass. The rookie turned and fired home to make it 4-2.
The game got chippy over the next 10 minutes with some nasty challenges by the Fire that drew two yellow cards and a retaliatory foul by Pereyra that earned a booking.
Orlando should have pulled closer in the 85th minute. A perfect ball from Kljestan to the back post found second-half sub Chris Mueller, but the second-year man didn’t go for goal and instead nodded the ball across for Michel, who let it bounced, then smashed it right at Kronholm, who fought it off.
Frankowski completed his brace in the 87th minute, getting into the area behind the defense. Rowe made the initial save on the shot but then stood watching, expecting the ball to sail out of play. Instead, the pop-up came down in play and Frankowski nodded it in unchallenged to make it 5-2 on an embarrassing play for Orlando City.
Just for good measure, Nani got 1-v-1 with Kronholm, then fired off the right post in stoppage time as yet another chance went wasted.
The final whistle mercifully blew the proceedings to a close, and in true Orlando frustrating fashion, it was just as the Lions had won a corner. Chicago ended with a 20-17 shots advantage, with Orlando getting more on goal (10-9). The Fire held 53% of the possession and were the more accurate passers (88%-85%).
O’Connor was frustrated with Orlando’s inability to put Chicago away early despite some outstanding scoring chances. Kronholm played his part in that but there were some good opportunities where the Lions simply didn’t finish.
“The chances that we didn’t capitalize on tonight, it’s just incredible,” he said. “You can’t miss the volume of chances like that.”
“We just weren’t clinical enough,” Michel added.
That’s all, folks. Another crummy season is over, but at least this is the first time it was a better season than the previous one since the Lions entered MLS. There’s nothing left to do now but wait to see what changes the team undergoes in preparation for 2020.