Orlando City’s 2-2 draw against LAFC feels frustrating, and I’ll be the first one to say it. The Lions were unable to maintain a 2-1 halftime lead and ultimately had to settle for one point instead of all three. While something is better than nothing it still feels like a missed opportunity at a time in the season where chances are dwindling fast. What comes after are my five takeaways from the match.
Dropped Points in a Winnable Game
It’s been the theme for a lot of recent Orlando games and unfortunately it was the theme again last night. It was a great opportunity for Orlando to make big strides up the Eastern Conference standings with LAFC missing a score of players through injury and international duty but it wasn’t to be. The Lions — also missing several key players — were unable to hold on to a 2-1 halftime lead over LAFC and it cost the team two points on a night when the seventh-place New England Revolution lost to New York City FC. It would’ve been the perfect chance for the Lions to move closer to a playoff spot but instead of being a mere two points behind the Revolution, the gap is four. While it was always going to be a crucial match-up, this now makes Orlando’s tilt with New England next week a must-win game.
Big Energy in the Midfield
One of the Lions’ best traits, especially in the first half, was the amount of energy in the midfield. A large part of the Lions going and staying ahead in the first half were the motors of Cristian Higuita and Dillon Powers and the hard work that the two did in pressing LAFC anytime the ball came to the team’s midfielders. Uri Rosell played his part as well, although he tended to sit farther back and provide cover for the back four, allowing Higuita and Powers to be all over the field. Unfortunately, LAFC getting back into the game in the second half was due in big part to the Lions being unable to sustain the kind of high energy play that was present in the first half. Higuita, playing only his second match in months, was forced off the pitch in the 73rd minute due to cramping issues and Powers also slowed late in the game. Even professional players can’t sprint around the field for 90 minutes — especially if they haven’t been playing regularly — and this was a night where being unable to bring on the likes of Will Johnson and Carlos Ascues may have meant the difference between coming away with one point versus all three.
Higuita’s Vision Key
Speaking of Higuita, his vision and ability to pick a pass is the reason for Orlando getting a point out of the game. He played a delightfully weighted ball through to Nani for the equalizer, and did supremely well to spot his run in the first place. His through ball was played exactly where it needed to be for Nani to take a touch and delicately place his chip over and beyond Tyler Miller. For Benji Michel’s goal, Higuita’s pass in behind to find Ruan again showed good vision and anticipation of where the fullback was going to be. He has certainly been missed and will be needed to turn in similar performances in the last few games if Orlando is to make a run at seventh place.
Ruan Immense in His Return
Orlando City SC is a different and better team when Ruan lines up at right back. Period. The team is infinitely more dangerous going forward, and at times his pace amounted to a get-out-of-jail-free card at the back. He picked up an assist on the second goal, beat defenders time after time, and very nearly created another scoring chance after a smart interception at the back which saw him beat four men and play a ball for Dom Dwyer when he maybe should have been selfish and simply continued his run. Regardless, his presence has been sorely missed and its hard not to wonder what recent results would have been like had the speedster been fit and in the starting lineup. If the Lions end up making a late surge towards the playoff line he will surely be a big reason why.
Hold-Up Play and Finishing Much Improved
Two very just criticisms of Orlando in recent weeks has been poor hold-up play and equally poor finishing. The same couldn’t be said about the team last night though. Before being substituted, Dwyer did a good job of backing down defenders and either winning free kicks or bringing the ball down and distributing it to his teammates. After his introduction Santiago Patiño continued right where Dom left off, and showed an excellent first touch on a couple of occasions to keep the ball with the Lions. When it came to finishing, the Lions put two shots on target and scored on both of them, with Patiño hitting the post on another occasion. While the Lions ultimately weren’t able to take all three points they did a lot more with the chances that were presented to them than in previous games. That will need to be continued and improved upon in the coming weeks but it was an encouraging sign.
As I said up top, I can’t help but be frustrated after this one. LAFC was missing a number of key players and Orlando City was in prime position to take advantage of that fact and move closer towards a playoff spot. While it isn’t a bad thing to draw with the best team in the league, how many times this season have Lions fans said “well if you’d offered me a draw before the game I would have taken it?” If Orlando had won even half of those games then the team is probably comfortably above the playoff line. Right now these sorts of games are the difference between OCSC being below the line as opposed to above it.
All the same, I think there were a score of positives to take away from this game and if Orlando can perform the way it did for the first 60 minutes for the remainder of the season then who knows what might happen?
That’s how I saw this one, please let me know your thoughts on the game down in the comments section.