Orlando City just can’t quite seem to find a way to win consecutive games. With yet another good opportunity to start a winning streak, the Lions saw Robin Jansson sent off at the end of the first half for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity in a tie game and Sacha Kljestan sent off in the second half for a horror tackle. The first-place Union (10-5-5, 35 points) took full advantage and beat the Lions (6-9-3, 21 points) 3-1 at Exploria Stadium.
It was the first time this season that Orlando scored first and lost. It was also the Union’s first win at Orlando in five tries (1-1-3).
Chris Mueller opened the scoring for Orlando just eight minutes in, but Kacper Przybylko answered later in the first half and added another just after halftime as the Union capitalized on the Lions being down a man.
“We started the game brightly, got a goal and then after the goal I felt like we needed to do a better job of maintaining possession. We allowed them to come back into the game a little bit,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “They obviously scored a goal but then I think obviously the sending off (of Jansson) was a major impact.”
O’Connor wasted no time inserting some of his internationals back into the lineup. Will Johnson and Sebas Mendez joined Kljestan in the midfield. The forward line and back four remained the same as it was for Saturday’s win at Columbus, with Brian Rowe back in goal. Dom Dwyer made the 18, along with Kamal Miller.
The Lions got on the front foot immediately, with Danilo Acosta getting a couple of crosses into dangerous spots in the first minute. The second found Tesho Akindele, who was denied at point-blank range by a sliding Matt Freese.
Just after Kljestan and Mendez had shots blocked in the area off a corner kick, Orlando broke through in the eighth minute. Mueller took advantage of an Auston Trusty turnover, backed Jack Elliott into his own penalty area, and firing home for the Lions’ earliest goal in a game this season. It was the fifth of the season and the second straight game with a goal for Cash.
“I picked it up and just started driving kind of towards the goal,” Mueller said. “The defender just kind of kept backing off, backing off, backing off until I thought I was close enough to get a good look and I just kept it low and took my shot.”
“I thought we started out really well,” said Akindele. “They’re a good team. We knew it. We knew we had to kind of impose ourselves on the game and we did. Chris scored an amazing goal and I thought we had control of it. They kind of started taking the momentum back.”
Philadelphia started to climb into the match shortly after that. Przybylko fired a shot from range in the 12th minute that Rowe didn’t pick up right away, but he was able to get down with a strong hand and knock it away.
The Union then spent about the next 10 minutes winning several corner kicks but the Orlando defense did well to keep any of them from becoming dangerous.
Nani had a ball fall for him on the left in the 24th minute but he sent a scorcher over the bar. Two minutes later, Orlando tried to break on the counter off a Union corner but Haris Medunjanin was booked for a professional foul.
The Union leveled in the 32nd minute when Akindele turned it over in the midfield. He went down under contact but Chris Penso waved play on and Jamiro Monteiro passed to Przybylko, who put a move on Jansson, who went to ground, then fired into the net to make it 1-1.
Disaster struck in the 43rd minute when a ball got in behind and Jansson took don Fafa Picault. He managed to get a touch on the ball first but fell awkwardly and ended up scissoring Picault to the ground. Penso gave him a yellow card initially, before reviewing the video and changing his decision to a straight red.
“I think that obviously completely changes the game,” O’Connor said.
“Obviously the red card was unlucky for us, but you know, it happens sometimes,” Akindele said. “We need to learn from it and we need to go and review what we did wrong and make sure we’re ready to do better in that situation next time.”
The Lions saw out two minutes of stoppage time down a man, but the game changed dramatically with Orlando’s first red card of the season.
Orlando out-shot the Union in the first half, 8-7, with Philadelphia getting more on target (4-3). The Union held a slight edge in passing (89%-88%), with possession split just about 50/50.
The Union wasted no time grabbing the lead, with Przybylko notching his brace just 62 seconds after the restart. A routine ball into the area fell for the Union striker and second-half sub Kamal Miller was too slow in closing him down, allowing him to get off a volley shot that made it 2-1.
Seven minutes later Picault put the game away with his third goal of the season, roofing a shot toward the near post to make it 3-1 in the 52nd minute. This time Acosta was late tracking back to close down the shooter.
“The first 10 minutes of the second half I think we needed to be sharper,” O’Connor said. “Granted we’re down to 10 men but I think that’s something that we feel as if we needed to start the second half brighter than we did.”
“I think we lost our discipline as a team,” Akindele said. “You need to at that point bunker and not allow a goal in that first couple minutes. And that’s on everyone. That’s on me from the top and our defenders — everybody needs to be better and I think we just need to be a little bit more disciplined in those situations.”
Things got even worse in the 67th minute when Kljestan caught Monteiro with his studs from behind and got Orlando’s second straight red card of the game and the season. It was a terrible challenge and Kljestan will be lucky if he doesn’t receive any additional punishment beyond the suspension for Saturday’s return leg in Philadelphia.
“Obviously Sacha makes a poor decision, goes to ground,” O’Connor said. “Too tired, to be fair to Sacha, and then obviously we’re down another man. I think the game was completely impacted by the sendings off.”
The Lions did try to hit on the counter a few times after going down to nine men, but Akindele and substitute Dom Dwyer couldn’t quite break free. Dwyer nearly scored in the 84th on a corner kick after Johnson headed a ball into the area with an audacious bicycle kick attempt but he hit his screamer over the bar.
After that it was just damage control. Miller blocked a shot that would have made it 4-1 in the 87th minute and seconds later Rowe was forced to make an outstanding stop to deny Medunjanin.
Philadelphia led all statistical categories, including shots (22-13), shots on target (9-3), possession (58%-42%), and passing accuracy (91%-87%). But going down a man and then two goals, then losing another player was too much to overcome against virtually any team, let alone the Eastern Conference leaders.
“The issue for Saturday now is we’ve got a load of guys that have played a lot of minutes and have covered a lot of ground,” O’Connor said. “And then with another game on the Wednesday against New York (City) we’re going to really have to manage the situation.”
These two teams will do it all over again — hopefully without the Orlando red cards — at Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m.