If you have been a fan of the Orlando City Lions for any length of time at all, you’ve most likely heard a plethora of excuses by fans after every match lost. Some of the most repeated have included the travel involved in Major League Soccer, the lack of time between games, injuries, and poor refereeing decisions. The outcries against the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) always seem to be the loudest, as we’ve all heard or read phrases like “we got PRO’d” or “the ref belongs on OBT” on the internet and at Orlando City Stadium.
Unfortunately, last Sunday’s home loss to Wayne Rooney and D.C. United featured three back-to-back controversial decisions. In the 30th minute, Orlando City striker Dom Dwyer attempted a sliding tackle on Rooney as the former Manchester United star dribbled in the Lions’ corner. Rooney managed to jump out of the way and was never actually touched, but PRO referee Armando Villarreal called a foul and awarded the visitors a free kick. Odd as it may be, a player doesn’t need to make contact to commit a foul and in Villarreal’s judgment Dwyer committed a foul by intending to make contact with the player rather than the ball.
When Rooney then placed the ball for the free kick, it appeared to be a bit of a better angle on goal than where the foul occurred. Villarreal let play go on, and Rooney subsequently curled in a nasty ball to the far post that hit the back of the net. City goalkeeper Brian Rowe was completely helpless to stop it, and many believe it was because D.C. defender Frederic Brillant interfered with Rowe enough to draw a foul. Villarreal appeared to consult with the Video Assistant Referee before deciding not to review the play and allowing the goal to stand.
Here’s the thing: Orlando City created a good amount of chances throughout the match, failing to convert on all except one, and defended D.C.’s first set piece of the game terribly, resulting in the game’s first goal. Actually, D.C. only had two set pieces in the match, both of which resulted in goals, as compared to six for the Lions. Rooney’s old Manchester United teammate Nani, now a supposed savior in purple, missed the first clear chance for City in the eighth minute when he headed a cross from Dwyer over the bar. The Lions would go on to take a total of 16 shots with only five on target, while holding D.C. to four shots with three on target. A 6% conversion rate versus a 50% conversion rate — doesn’t exactly look like a bad call cost Orlando the match.
Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor was quick to criticize the refereeing judgments immediately following the match. “The players go out and give an incredible second-half performance — absolutely incredible — and yet we come off and we lose the game again through no fault of our own,” the gaffer said in anger. O’Connor continued, “We’ve got VAR, but why bother? They don’t even look. And you look at it and the whole stadium can see. It’s mind boggling stuff.”
I think everyone can sympathize with the coach’s frustration over another loss, though calling the performance “absolutely incredible” is definitely a stretch. In the first five matches of the 2019 season, Orlando City has gotten off 46 shots with just 15 finding the target and six of those resulting in goals. That means the Lions are able to convert a tiny little 13% of its average 9.2 shots per game. Of the 24 MLS squads, two are tied with City for that statistic — expansion side FC Cincinnati and the basement-dwelling San Jose Earthquakes, and only the Columbus Crew are worse at 8.4 shots per game.
While it may be the easy and convenient thing to place the blame on outside sources when your team simply cannot manage to win matches, it’s clear that squandered chances are one real, provable reason for the team’s rough start. Goals change games, even games in which the refs make a questionable call, or ones that are on the other side of the country three days after the last match at home and five of the starters are out hurt.