Orlando City has given up a couple of weird goals early in games the last two weeks. It’s a trend that can partly be blamed on a lack of sharpness in the opening minutes of the match but also comes partly down to plain old bad luck.
Against Colorado, a ball over the top barely cleared a leaping Lamine Sané’s head. Robin Jansson was screened by Sané as the ball came in and it hit the Swede on the top of the head, bounced behind the back line, and was spotted first by Kei Kamara, who won the race to the loose ball and put it in the net.
Saturday night at Real Salt Lake, the Lions surrendered another weird goal on Sam Johnson’s first RSL scoring strike. This one was a just a little unlucky but mostly due to mistakes on Orlando players at multiple levels. Let’s break it down.
The play started with a giveaway by Sebas Mendez just across the RSL side of the field. It was a pass attempt out to the right and the Ecuadorian should have done better, but he allowed Everton Luiz to deflect and win the ball. Nevertheless, there was a lot for Real Salt Lake still to do from that point. Just seconds after the turnover, defender Shane O’Neill was called for a foul on a play high on his own side of midfield that was close and he thought he’d won it fairly. It set up a free kick for RSL in Orlando’s half. It wasn’t in a terribly dangerous position, but it set things in motion.
O’Neill put his hands up and argued the call with referee Chris Penso as he slowly walked away from the spot of the foul, with his back to the play, so he had no idea that RSL was taking the restart quickly and he was caught badly out of position. As part of the team’s last line of defense, this was a brutal error. Will Johnson seemed alert to a possible quick restart and stood in front, slightly toward the middle of the field, but the quick kick by Demir Kreilach was taken to the left side to Albert Rusnak.
Rusnak was in lots of space because Ruan was slow to get back after the whistle. This gave RSL a bit of a “fast break” opportunity. As you can see in the screen shot below, Orlando City’s two defensive midfielders — Will Johnson and Mendez were in a bunch with O’Neill and all were behind the ball, so already the Lions were in trouble. Couple that with Ruan being caught as well and RSL had a dangerous opportunity brewing at this point against two of the Lions’ center backs — Robin Jansson and rookie Kamal Miller — plus wingback Joao Moutinho.
Rusnak took the ball toward the center, which was an intelligent play that served three purposes:
- It put pressure on Jansson to cut off the run, as there was no one in the middle of the field;
- It allowed him to cut across in front of the trailing Ruan to nullify his recovery speed by changing the angle; and,
- It opened some space for Sam Johnson to run into.
Rusnak timed his pass perfectly, slipping it forward before Johnson passed Miller. Perhaps Miller could have stepped with Jansson in that situation, which would have thrown the entire play offside but that’s tricky timing for even a veteran pairing with a lot of games together, let alone for two guys with only a few MLS starts and one of them in his first year as a pro. Regardless, Miller did not step with Jansson and Rusnak delivered an excellent ball to Johnson.
At this point, Johnson was nearly in alone on goal, but Miller was working to try to cut off his angle and Ruan was still trying to recover and force the play toward the end line rather than toward goal. Brian Rowe looked to get his angle right and Moutinho was responsible for the trailing Jefferson Savarino.
In what should have been a huge break for Orlando, Johnson slipped inside the box. This caught Ruan a bit off guard and he then overran Johnson, but the ball trickled fortuitously in front of the Brazilian, who appeared to have an easy chance to clear the danger and snuff out the RSL threat.
Here’s when things got weird and the hosts got a break. I’ve watched this goal countless times and I still can’t figure out what Ruan was trying to do here or exactly how it happened, but the ball definitely hit his left foot and it was as good as a back heel flick right to Johnson, who had just gotten to his feet. It may have been that Ruan touched it with his right foot off of his left foot, but whatever happened (it’s far away from camera and my video gets a bit fuzzy even frame by frame), the Brazilian got his feet all wrong on the play and — much like the previous week against Colorado — the ball ended up in the worst possible place. It didn’t go far enough away for Miller to get to it, and it didn’t go offline for Johnson to have to spend any time tracking it down.
As soon as Miller realized Ruan didn’t clear it, he tried to step to Johnson, but the RSL forward is much quicker on his feet and was able to bypass the defender and head toward goal. Johnson split Miller and Ruan just as Jansson had nearly recovered. Just coming into the picture at this point was O’Neill, who was too nonchalant for the entirety of the play. With a bit more urgency, he’d have possibly been able to be in position to do something when Johnson slipped. Everyone, however, was fixated on Johnson and absolutely no one was bothered by Savarino, wide open with a lane available to cut the ball back into.
Johnson ultimately took the shot himself. Rowe was trying to protect the near post from that angle, but may have made the shot more difficult had he come out toward Johnson a bit more. At any rate, the shot was accurate and with good power, making it a difficult save opportunity, but Rowe still got beat to his near post. He’ll want that one back despite the power and precision on the strike. If Rowe had somehow made the save and parried that out to Savarino it would have likely been a goal anyway because everyone was watching the ball by that point.
It was a breakdown on multiple levels by multiple players. It started in the midfield on a routine play that happens often during a game — a deflected pass that turns the ball over. It became a run-of-the-mill restart seconds later, and before the Lions knew what happened, they were yanking the ball out of their own net. There was an element of bad luck with whatever happened with the ball coming off Ruan’s feet, but when players start a play out of position, bad things can happen.
When those bad things happen early in a game, especially on the road, it changes the match significantly and makes earning a result that much harder. It’s something the Lions have struggled with throughout their MLS existence and the team can’t be successful until it gets fixed.