Orlando City’s winless skid reached seven games (0-3-4) after a 1-1 draw to expansion FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. However, Orlando’s result ended up being meaningless with New England clinching the final playoff spot at home against New York City FC and eliminating the Lions from postseason contention.
Benji Michel’s stoppage-time goal lifted the Lions (9-14-10, 37 points) out of an embarrassing loss to the expansion side and gives FC Cincinnati (6-22-5, 23 points) the new MLS record for most goals conceded in a season, with 75 — with one match left to play. Allan Cruz had Cincinnati ahead for much of the game before that late equalizer, when the hosts started to sag deep and absorb pressure in an effort to cling to the one-goal lead (sound familiar?).
James O’Connor was no doubt happy to have Joao Moutinho back in the starting lineup, giving him his preferred back line along with Robin Jansson, Lamine Sané, and Ruan. Will Johnson and Sebas Mendez joined Mauricio Pereyra in the midfield, with Nani, Dom Dwyer, and Tesho Akindele up top.
From the opening kick, Orlando City wasn’t good enough. The Lions couldn’t string passes together, failed to move quickly enough, telegraphed opportunities to allow the hosts a chance to cut them out, and gave too much space to attackers in the box.
Orlando’s first decent attack came in the ninth minute when Nani unlocked the defense with a superb ball to Akindele on the right. But the break melted down when the Canadian’s cross for Dwyer was well behind the striker.
Emmanuel Ledesma barely missed picking out the far corner with a curling effort a minute later, as he was given far too much space at the top of the area.
Disaster struck at the 13-minute mark when Mouinho pulled up lame with an apparent leg injury and had to be subbed off for Kyle Smith, making it a short return for the Portuguese fullback.
Rowe was called into action in the 25th minute after a quick Cincinnati throw-in. After Akindele passed the ball to no one and out of play, the restart was taken quickly and only a good stop by Rowe kept the hosts from opening the scoring.
Johnson smashed an outside-boot effort just wide in the 30th minute as Orlando went through about a five-minute good spell of possession and build-up. Six minutes later a ball played into the area found Akindele, who flicked the ball to get past goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton but then couldn’t direct his second touch on frame as he ran out of room at the goalpost and his effort was just wide.
Cincinnati came right back down the field and forced two saves from Rowe. The first was from Roland Lamah’s blast that the goalkeeper parried off his own crossbar and out. Cincinnati sent it back into the middle where Cruz flicked one toward goal but Rowe caught it.
Four minutes later, the hosts opened the scoring. Mendez turned the ball over on one of his now well-known “kick the ball back where it came from with the first touch” efforts and Cincinnati countered. Orlando momentarily fought them off but got caught on the recycle as Cruz ended up with the ball all alone in front and he easily slotted home in the 40th minute.
There were shouts for a penalty from Cincinnati late in the half but no clear and obvious error was found and the half ended 1-0.
Cincinnati led in shots (9-4), shots on goal (4-0), and passing accuracy (83%-80%), while Orlando held a bit more of the possession (54%-46%). Aside from chances and shots on target, the biggest discrepancy between the sides was fouls, with Orlando being called nine times to Cincinnati’s three.
The Lions came out with a lot more intensity in the second half but fantastic goalkeeping helped Cincinnati hold the lead. Tyton denied two excellent shots by Dwyer in the second half and nearly did enough to keep his team in front.
Pereyra did well to send Nani down the left flank in the 48th minute, but the captain couldn’t quite cut his cross back enough to find Dwyer and Tyton collected. Two minutes later, Dwyer sent a point-blank header on target from a Pereyra cross that forced a great reaction save from Tyton to keep it out.
Orlando kept coming, with Ruan fizzing a cross just a bit too far out in front of Dwyer in the 51st minute. Johnson then blasted a shot that appeared to be headed in but deflected off a defender and out for a corner kick in the 54th minute. Nani then fizzed a cross through the area off a short corner give-and-go with Pereyra, which was just out of Dwyer’s reach and no one made a back-post run for the easy tap-in.
Nani found Dwyer again in the 67th minute and the striker made a nice move to stop the ball with his heel, shook his defender, then turned and fired a shot labeled for the corner but Tyton again got down to make the save.
Cincinnati was content to sit back, stay organized, and absorb pressure, resulting in more opportunities for the Lions. If this sounds familiar and if it sounds like a recipe for disaster, it’s only because you’ve seen it several times this season, only the other way around. So the Lions kept coming.
Johnson made a nice run, then made a cheeky no-look flick to Dwyer in the box. Dwyer tried to smash it out of midair but got under the ball and it skied over the bar. Three minutes later Nani smashed a header just wide. In the 88th, Johnson again continued his run into the area and had a free header off a cross but he mistimed his jump and it sailed high.
Just when it looked like the breakthrough wouldn’t come, it did. Nani sent in a cross nearly a full minute into stoppage time that Dwyer got his head to and nodded backward. Second-half sub Michel ran onto it and smashed home his fourth goal of his rookie season to level the match. Dwyer and Nani each got an assist, giving the captain double figures in helpers (10) this season to go with his team-leading 12 goals.
Both teams had half-chances to find a late winner, but Cincinnati had the best opportunity, as the Lions got caught out and Ledesma ended up behind the defense. Robin Jansson did just enough to put him off and Ledesma dragged his shot wide in the 95th minute. Mueller then won a corner at the other end but it was cleared and the final whistle blew.
Orlando ended the season series 1-0-1 against FC Cincinnati, despite being out-shot (16-13) and having fewer shots on target (7-3) and a worse passing accuracy (83%-78%). Orlando managed more possession (54.6%-45.4%) largely due to Cincinnati sitting back in the final half hour of the match.
With Columbus beating the Philadelphia Union, the Lions fell to 11th place in the Eastern Conference, so...hey, better draft position, right?
With New England’s 2-0 win over New York City FC tonight, Orlando City will finish up its season at home next Sunday against the Chicago Fire at 4 p.m. ET.