Orlando City continued to show its mental toughness in the middle of a brutal July, grinding out a 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers in a late Thursday night affair at Providence Park. Santiago Patino’s goal didn’t quite hold up to take all three points, but with a fullback playing center back, a midfielder playing right back, and three rookies on the field, that’s a much better point for the Lions (7-9-5, 26 points) than the Timbers (7-8-4, 25 points), who ran out their first-choice squad with a Cascadia match-up at Seattle looming over the weekend.
The Lions improved to 3-1-1 in the all-time league series against Portland (1-1-1 at Providence Park) and survived a game without any of its Designated Players, no first-choice defenders on the field, backups in the midfield, and two rookies and a guy making his first appearance in purple on the forward line. Orlando also survived an early injury to a starting center back — with no replacement central defenders on the bench — and an inexplicable seven minutes of second-half stoppage time given for reasons known only to possibly some high roller in Vegas and God himself.
James O’Connor rotated the squad heavily, giving Robinho his first start as a Lion and resting several key starters a few days ahead of Sunday’s home match vs. New York Red Bulls. Nani, who missed Saturday’s win over Columbus due to food poisoning, did not travel, making this the third game on artificial turf without him (out of three). As a result, the looming trip to play resurgent New England next week will bear watching.
So few regulars dressed that three goalkeepers were in uniform, with Greg Ranjitsigh getting the start between the sticks on his birthday. Danilo Acosta and Kyle Smith flanked Kamal Miller and Alex De John on the back line. Sacha Kljestan returned from suspension and joined Dillon Powers and Uri Rosell in the midfield, with rookies Benji Michel and Patino up top next to Robinho. Joao Moutinho returned from injury to make the 18.
As one might expect from the lineup, Orlando’s strategy was to dig in defensively and look to spring opportunities the other way. The Timbers owned the ball and the territorial advantage throughout the opening half but Orlando defended with determination.
Defending became more difficult early on. De John was kicked in the face in just the eighth minute and went down, seemingly unconscious before he hit the ground. Brian Fernandez was booked for the high boot — which was unintentional but incredibly dangerous — and De John went off officially in the 12th minute, replaced by Will Johnson. Smith slid into central defense and Johnson played right back.
Immediately after the change, Portland fashioned its first good scoring chance. Cristhian Paredes fired just over the bar from the top of the area in the 13th minute. Four minutes later, Sebastian Blanco fired just a couple feet wide of the right post as the Timbers probed for an opening goal.
Diego Valeri fired just wide of the far post in the 23rd minute after being given too much space on the left side.
Five minutes later, Valeri broke down the left side of the area but Johnson blocked his shot out for a corner. Claude Dielna headed over the bar on the ensuing corner kick.
Michel won Orlando’s first corner kick in the 31st minute and seconds later Johnson fired wide on Orlando’s first shot attempt of the game.
Blanco’s header hit the crossbar in the 37th minute and nearly bounced in off Ranjitsingh’s back but the goalkeeper was able to turn and grab the ball before it could cross the line.
Three minutes later, Ranjitsingh made a good save to deny Fernandez from just left of the penalty spot.
Orlando opened the scoring a minute later. Robinho made a good hustle play to keep the ball in play on the sideline, then crossed in for Michel. Jorge Moreira knocked the ball away from one Lions rookie, but sent it right to another. Patino hit the ball first-time past Steve Clark to give Orlando a 1-0 lead against the run of play.
The Lions survived a late header by Dielna that sailed just inches over the crossbar off a corner and took their slim advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Portland’s commanding statistical advantage was not represented in Orlando’s 1-0 halftime lead. The Timbers led in shots (10-2), shots on target (2-1), possession (62%-38%), and passing accuracy (87%-78%).
The second half was a bit more lopsided, in that the Lions attempted not a single shot and Portland attempted 16. While the Timbers helped by not being clinical, Orlando sufficiently gummed up the middle of the pitch in front of Ranjitsingh’s goal to make life difficult for Valeri and Blanco to find Fernandez and neither could get many clean looks from outside the area.
Portland started fast, looking to push the pace, nearly finding Fernandez over the top off the second-half kickoff. Seconds later, Blanco blazed down the left channel but shot wide. Fernandez one-timed a cross from the right in the 51st minute but didn’t hit it cleanly and Ranjitsingh was able to cover it.
Orlando’s best chance of the second half came at the hour mark. Robinho beat Zarek Valentin down the wing and opted to fire an aerial cross, but he hit it too hard and it sailed past Patino and Michel. A hard cross on the turf may have yielded better results. Nevertheless, that half chance was the Lions’ best second-half opportunity.
In the 67th, Larrys Mabiala was booked for elbowing Michel in the face, which was a red card on Saturday when done by the smaller player against the larger player but it was not a red on Thursday when the larger man did it to the smaller. Go figure.
In the 70th minute, Paredes headed a cross right at Ranjitsingh as the Timbers kept coming. Dielna headed wide off a set piece in the 78th minute and Powers was shaken up on the play, replaced by Tesho Akindele in the 80th.
Just eight minutes shy of the end of normal time, the Timbers equalized. Orlando was in good shape, looking to break out of its own end with possession. Patino sent a soft pass to his left intended for Michel but under-hit it, allowing Valeri to make a sliding challenge to take possession. Valeri’s ball found Moreira, who crossed in to Fernandez. The Argentinian headed it on to the back post where Jeremy Ebobisse was waiting to nod it in off the left post, tying the match in the 82nd minute.
The goal looked to be coming all game long but it still felt like a sucker punch to come so late.
Orlando did a good job of managing the rest of the game. The Lions didn’t look much for the game winner so much as they tried to hold on for a point. Both Akindele and Kljestan had opportunities to perhaps play Patino in as the Timbers pushed numbers up the field, but neither looked up to see the rookie.
After an interminable seven added minutes of injury time — almost twice what De John required in the first half — the whistle mercifully blew on another road result for Orlando. The Lions are 3-4-4 on the road in 2019.
In addition to a 26-2 advantage in shot attempts, Portland led in shots on target (4-1), possession (63%-37%), corners (8-3), crosses (41-10!!!), and passing accuracy (86%-73%). To say that the Lions were under siege throughout the match would be an understatement. Credit to Ranjitsingh and O’Connor’s makeshift back line of Johnson, Smith, Miller, and Acosta — as well as Powers, Rosell, and Kljestan in the midfield — for keeping Orlando from getting pounded into Portland’s artificial turf.
The Lions are right back at it again on Sunday at home against the Red Bulls at 7:30 p.m. ET.