Orlando City played well enough for the opening 30 minutes to extend its unbeaten streak to 11 games (6-0-5) but looked completely out of sync for the last hour in a 1-1 draw vs. New York City FC at Exploria Stadium. Chris Mueller provided the opening goal for the Lions (8-2-7, 31 points) but a mistake at the back allowed Keaton Parks to equalize for New York City FC (8-7-3, 27 points).
Although the Lions have gone 11 matches without a loss, the team has only won one of its last four (1-0-3) and in this game looked disjointed against an NYCFC team that played just four days ago and traveled on match day. Orlando City is now 6-5-5 in the all-time series against New York City FC and 3-2-3 at home.
“It was a hard game and a hard rival too, but today, listen, we’ll take the point,” said Head Coach Oscar Pareja after the match. “(The players) had been consistent on results and today we wanted so bad the three points but we couldn’t (get them) and we didn’t deserve it either.”
The Lions kicked off the match missing a huge chunk of their roster, including:
- Dom Dwyer (knee)
- Joao Moutinho (groin)
- Uri Rosell (not medically cleared)
- Tesho Akindele (not medically cleared)
- Mauricio Pereyra (not medically cleared)
- Benji Michel (not medically cleared)
- Pedro Gallese (international duty)
- Sebas Mendez (international duty)
- Kyle Smith (not on the injury report but also not on the match day roster)
With so many players unavailable, Pareja went with Brian Rowe in goal — his 100th career MLS start — behind a back line of Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan, who made his return from injury. Junior Urso and rookie Joey DeZart started in the central midfield behind an attacking midfield of Nani, Andres Perea, and Mueller, with Daryl Dike up top.
Orlando City started the match on the front foot. Nani sent Perea down the left in the first minute but the young midfielder missed just wide of the near post. Three minutes later, Nani practically put a curling cross on a plate for Mueller, but Cash couldn’t make good contact with his head and his shot was well off target from right in front.
In the 14th minute it was Dike’s turn to waste an opportunity. Ruan sent in a nice cross but the big striker hit his shot just wide of the right post.
The Lions finally broke through in the 18th minute. Ruan knocked the ball past GudmundurThorarinsson and then raced by him to keep it from going over the end line. Then he sent in a perfect cross to Mueller, who guided his header inside the back post to make it 1-0. It was Mueller’s team-leading eighth goal of the season.
Orlando nearly made it 2-0 on a set piece a few minutes later when the ball pinged around the box and fell to Dike, who passed to Urso for an easy finish. Unfortunately, Dike lined up offside on the set piece and did not establish himself on before playing the ball.
New York City started to grow in the game, largely to Orlando tailing off. The Lions started to get a bit sloppy with their pass placement and misjudging where their teammates would be and could never quite get back to playing the free-flowing way they did in the first half hour. The visitors fired their first shot at Brian Rowe in the 25th minute for an easy save and Jesus Medina fired right at Rowe again a minute later from the top of the area and after that, NYCFC controlled much of the match.
The Pigeons finally got their equalizer off a sloppy turnover from Carlos, who took a back pass from Mueller but then tried to play around a New York City player and got his pass attempt blocked. The visitors made the most of the sudden change of possession and worked the ball in behind to Parks, who had his initial shot deflected by Rowe. As the ball headed toward the end line for a corner kick it slowed to a crawl, allowing Parks to reach it first and slot it home to make it 1-1 in the 43rd minute.
After several more Orlando turnovers and six minutes of first-half stoppage time, the teams went to the break even at 1-1. New York City led in shots (9-7), shots on goal (4-1), and corners (3-1). The Lions held more possession (51%-49%) and were more accurate overall in the passing game (85%-80%) despite their nervy last 10 minutes of the opening period.
“Thirty very good minutes for us in the first half,” Pareja said. “After that, New York started just getting the ball. We couldn’t get the ball back as we used to do and they started creating some actions there, including the goal.”
The entirety of the second half looked like the last 20 minutes of the first half, with the visitors on the front foot and Orlando struggling to string passes together or win 50/50 balls. DeZart and Perea swapped positions at times but neither was effective in the attack. Rowe, meanwhile, came up with several big saves to prevent New York City from leaving Orlando with all three points.
“I’m very happy for Brian and I think we can thank him a lot today for one point,” Jansson said.
Nani forced Sean Johnson into his only save of the game in the 62nd minute, lining up a free kick from straight out in front of goal and firing a shot that was headed inside the right post if not for a diving save.
That was about it for Orlando City’s scoring chances in this game. From that point it was all about Rowe keeping NYCFC out at the other end, and the veteran goalkeeper had an outstanding night, finishing with seven saves, including several big ones down the stretch.
The first of his impressive saves came on a drive by Gary Makay-Steven in the 63rd minute and then he denied a Valentin Castellanos header in the 64th minute on the ensuing corner.
Rowe made another important stop in the 83rd minute on Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to keep things level.
Orlando’s last opportunity for a winner came in the 88th minute when Urso sent a beautiful diagonal ball to spring Ruan but the right back never looked at the goal in front of him and instead tried crossing back through traffic, wasting the opportunity.
Pareja gave Homegrown midfielder Jordan Bender his MLS debut in stoppage time. After about 10 minutes of added time, the teams had to be satisfied with the 1-1 draw.
New York City dominated the stat sheet, leading in goals (18-9), shots on goal (8-2), corners (8-1), possession (55.3%-44.7%), and passing accuracy (82%-80%).
“We are disappointed but, it’s a tight schedule and we just need to prepare for the next one,” Jansson said.
“It’s definitely a special evening for me,” Rowe said of his 100th MLS start. “A little bit bittersweet. I would have loved to have gotten the shutout and the win.
“It would have been great to get the three points, but I think we’re okay escaping with the draw after that performance tonight and it looks like the other results around the league went our way. So, we’ll get through this one and set our sights on this weekend, and kind of correcting course, and getting back to the football and the quality that we know we can play.”
Orlando City hits the road for a Sunday evening rematch against the New York Red Bulls at 7 p.m. at Red Bull Arena.