Orlando City had about the sharpness you’d expect from a team playing its eighth game in 26 days. The Lions (7-10-5, 26 points) hit every part of the goal except the inside of it and -allowed a silly goal off a turnover to fall 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls (10-8-4, 34 points) at Exploria Stadium. Brian White’s tally was the only score of the game.
“Obviously very disappointed,” Head Coach James O’Connor said about the result. “I think for the first 30 minutes, 35 minutes, we were off. We looked flat. Took us awhile to get going. The last 10 minutes of the [first] half we started to feel like we were coming into it more. Second half I think we’ve absolutely bossed the game and completely dominated. Hit the woodwork — whatever it is, three times — and had some chances. We’re unlucky not to get anything out of the game but it’s obviously very frustrating, especially when you have the ball bouncing off the crossbar and off the post.”
O’Connor went back to pretty much his first-choice lineup, minus Cristian Higuita’s ongoing absence, with Joao Moutinho returning to left back after a month out with a quad problem.
The first half belonged to New York, almost right from the beginning, as the Red Bulls won a corner in the game’s very first minute. They’d end up with five more in the first half to Orlando’s none.
Ruan nearly put a ball into his own net trying to cut out a cross in the fourth minute but it skipped out wide for another corner. Orlando got its first shot of the game three minutes later when Nani launched an effort well over the bar from the top of the area.
Former Lion Amro Tarek got a free header in the 11th minute off another corner but he hit his shot right at Brian Rowe, who caught it cleanly. Michael Murillo fired well over the crossbar from 30 yards out three minutes later off yet another corner kick after the Lions cleared it out of the area.
The sloppy Lions kept giving the ball back to New York. The Red Bulls were pressing but many of the errors were still unforced. Such a play occurred in the 23rd minute when Chris Mueller made a horrible pass that Ruan had to track down. The Brazilian was then fouled by Daniel Royer, who was booked for the infraction.
In the 26th minute, Ruan conceded a free kick out to Rowe’s right side and Tarek again got a free head on the cross. This time Rowe kicked it out of danger.
Orlando should have scored in the 31st minute. The first truly dangerous buildup by Orlando up the right side saw Nani pick up a loose ball and dish to Tesho Akindele in the middle of the area. Akindele turned and found an oncoming Will Johnson but the midfielder’s effort was wide of goal.
It was a costly miss, as the Red Bulls scored a minute later. Carlos Ascues tried to dribble through three Red Bulls on his own side of midfield but his final touch was heavy and Tarek picked it off. The former Lion gave it to Kaku, who sent in a ball for White. Rowe got a piece of White’s shot but it trickled over the line to give New York a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute. The play was reviewed for a possible offside but eventually given.
“As regards the first 30 minutes, we need to be a little bit sharper coming out to start the game, because we got hurt in the first 30 minutes,” O’Connor said. “They’ve had a couple of opportunities, Brian’s made a save, they’ve scored.”
Orlando had a chance to pull the goal back quickly. Mueller was set up on the left side at the top of the area. He dribbled toward the middle and fired but sent his shot well off frame in what must have been a frustrating first half for the second-year attacker.
Nani sent an inside-out shot just wide in the 36th minute and then a free kick wide in the 41st as Orlando continued to be wasteful with opportunities. New York took its 1-0 lead into the break.
The Red Bulls led in shots (9-5), shots on goal (4-0), and corners (6-0). Orlando held 53% of the possession and neither team passed particularly well, with the Lions holding a 76%-67% edge.
The second half started the same, with New York earning an early corner again but then the game started to slowly change over the final 45 minutes. The Red Bulls couldn’t maintain their press and the Lions started to get more of the match, eventually pinning in New York for most of the game’s final 20 minutes.
Akindele said the team discussed at halftime, “just to go and impose ourselves on the game.”
“We said ‘we’re playing at home, we know we’re a good team, we have good players, go and impose ourselves on the game.’ And I think the second half we did just that. We were camped in their half the entire second half. We couldn’t score but I think it was a big change.”
Akindele finally put Orlando’s first shot on target in the 51st minute, taking a delicious pass from Lamine Sané, turning, and forcing a decent save from Luis Robles.
The Lions then started to earn a series of what eventually turned into nine corner kicks, completely reversing the trend of the first half, but Orlando couldn’t get many decent scoring chances off of them.
The first shot off the woodwork came in the 60th minute off the foot of Carlos Ascues. The Peruvian ran onto a gorgeous cross from Moutinho and volleyed it off the bar.
Ascues and Mueller departed in the 67th minute for Sacha Kljestan and Robinho and the Lions had their second shot off the woodwork three minutes later. This time Akindele took a pass from Ruan, found some space, and fired off the crossbar. The ball hit Robles off the ricochet but stayed out.
Nani, who was down on the field behind the play for Akindele’s shot off the bar, came off in the 71st minute without putting any weight on his left foot. O’Connor said after the match that there was no update but they would evaluate the Portuguese Designated Player. Santiago Patino came on in his place.
It became apparent in the 77th minute that the ball was just not interested in going in the net. Moutinho sent a fantastic ball across the field for Akindele, who laid off for Kljestan. The midfielder struck it first touch but it hit the far post and bounced back into the penalty area. Kljestan lost his footing trying to sweep it back in but it hit off Robles and it deflected back off of Sacha’s head. The ball fell to Robinho, who tried a flying scissor kick but he couldn’t make contact. The bouncing ball then found its way to Patino, who tried to settle it instead of hitting it first time and was closed down by two defenders. The rookie then lost possession trying to clear himself for a shot and the entire sequence evaporated.
A minute later, the Lions should have tied the match. Kljestan sent a beautiful through ball to send Ruan down the right. With Akindele breaking free to the top of the six, the Brazilian took the shot himself from a tough angle and Robles had no trouble with it. Akindele had started the play by feeding the ball back to Kljestan in space. It was a good play that deserved a better finish.
Akindele found Patino in the 81st in the middle of the penalty area. Covered by two defenders, the rookie tried to spin free for a shot and nearly succeeded but lost his balance before he could shoot. Two minutes later Patino tried to go for a difficult move to free himself to shoot with Robinho breaking into space. The rookie didn’t see him, or chose not to pass it, and another great opportunity was wasted.
Johnson forced a Robles save in the 87th minute as the Lions kept knocking at the door. After a couple more corners, Robinho sent a weak shot right at Robles from the left side. That was about all she wrote for Orlando and the whistle eventually went in New York’s favor.
Orlando turned around the stats significantly in the second half, finishing with more shots (18-13), but one fewer shot on target (5-4). The Lions held 62% of the game’s total possession and out-passed the Red Bulls, 81%-68%. Orlando even finished with more corners (9-8).
“The Red Bulls, to be fair, started bright and end up getting a goal. But after that I don’t think we could have done much more to win the game. When you look at the chances and off the bar and off the post. There was only one team second half that was trying to really go and get after it. So, I think when we look at that it’s obviously really frustrating.”
The Lions get a little breather now, as their next game isn’t until next Saturday night when they visit the New England Revolution at 7 p.m.