The New England Revolution had never won a game at Orlando City before. At some point you knew that would change but unfortunately it happened in the postseason as the Revs beat the Lions 3-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals at Exploria Stadium. Orlando fell behind 2-0 and battled back into it, only to see Designated Player Mauricio Pereyra sent off for an awful challenge from behind and the Revs tacked on a late insurance goal against the shorthanded Lions.
Carles Gil’s penalty put New England up early on a fairly soft call on Uri Rosell against Tajon Buchanan in the box and Gustavo Bou added another at the end of a transition that started with what looked like Nani getting fouled in the offensive end but no call was made. Junior Urso pulled a goal back for Orlando but Pereyra’s red card changed the game, although the biggest talking point will be a Nani penalty that Matt Turner saved. Another talking point might be that Adam Buksa didn’t get a second yellow for taking out Brian Rowe when Daryl Dike was booked for a similar offense earlier in the match.
Whatever your favorite talking point is, it’s all academic now.
“Obviously at this moment there is a lot of pain, and there is a lot of frustration that we have been carrying in the last 10 days, probably, with with things that happened and we could not apparently flush them off,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said. “I know how hard they worked for this objecitve and now we need to grow. Certainly this will help us, for sure.”
Without the suspended Pedro Gallese or Ruan, Pareja started Rowe in goal behind a back line of Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Central midfielders Rosell and Urso played in the middle of the park with attackers Pereyra and Chris Mueller, with Nani and Dike leading the attack.
The first half started out looking like extra time, with the teams playing cautiously and perhaps a bit nervously. Nani provided good service into the area three minutes in but the cross was just a bit high for Dike to reach.
The Revolution earned a corner in the 11th minute with their first foray into the attacking third. New England played the set piece short and the Revs were called for a foul in their attacking box, turning it over.
Buchanan came down the right a few minutes later and changed the game. Rosell, backing up Miller, attempted a tackle and Buchanan anticipated contact, leaving his feet and going down easy. Referee Alex Chilowicz saw enough to award a penalty and Video Assistant Referee Chris Penso didn’t see a clear and obvious error. Gil stepped up and hit his penalty right down the middle, past Rowe, who guessed left, and New England led 1-0 in the 17th minute.
Orlando tried to pull it right back, winning a corner after the restart. Nani played the corner short to Pereyra, who crossed in. Jansson collected at the far side but hit his shot into the outside netting in the 19th minute. Mueller tried a long-range shot three minutes later but didn’t get much on it and hit it right at Matt Turner for the easy save.
New England doubled its lead in the 26th minute. Nani got double teamed in the attacking third and went down under contact. Chilowicz allowed the play to continue and the Revs broke in transition. Adam Buksa hit a sliding shot off the right post but Bou reacted to it first, scoring into the empty net to make it 2-0.
“We conceded a goal early, but I think we were OK in the game,” Nani said. “We were pressing up. We were creating our chances. But there was a decision when the ref didn’t give a foul on me and then they scored the second goal. I think there was the key of the game.”
“Obviously the two goals that New England scored early put us in a difficult situation,” Pareja said. “
The Lions found some life in the 33rd minute, pulling a goal back. Nani sent a gorgeous cross to Mueller at the back post. Mueller picked up the loose ball in traffic between Turner and defender Henry Kessler, sending it back to Urso, who fired home for his first MLS playoff goal, making it 2-1.
Dike nearly freed himself up in traffic in a similar way to Mueller two minutes later but couldn’t bring it in. Rosell picked it up at the top of the area and fired over the bar.
The last chance of the half came in the 38th when Rowe got a hand on a Buskas shot to parry it over the bar. New England took its 2-1 lead into the locker room.
Orlando had more first-half shots (6-5), while the Revs got more on target (3-2) and won more corners (3-1). The Lions held more possession (57.9%-42.1%) and were the more accurate passing team (86%-78%).
The Lions generated a chance out of the break in the 46th minute when the ball found its way to Nani on the left side. He tried to curl a shot to the back post but didn’t hit it right and it sailed well off target. Moments later, Rosell stole the ball in midfield and started the break but Mueller’s cross into the area was between teammates and easily cut out. Nani then won a corner but the cross was a bit behind the attacking line and Carlos couldn’t do much with it.
Orlando kept coming. Mueller won a corner in the 57th minute and Nani sent a low pass that Pereyra fired on target but it was deflected wide by the defense.
But just when it appeared Orlando was on the front foot, disaster struck in the 60th minute. Matt Polster brought the ball forward and Pereyra trailed, looking for a chance to nick it back as he often does. However, when the chance came and Polster showed him too much of the ball, the Uruguayan launched himself late and his studs caught Polster’s ankle instead of the ball. It was an obvious straight red and the Lions were suddenly down to 10 men with a half an hour to play.
“I know Mauro, and I know how much he will be hurt at this moment,” Pareja said after the match, not having yet spoken with his DP midfielder. “I know how he feels, but I back him up 100% all the time, knowing that [he] made a mistake.”
“Mauricio today got a red card. He has our support. I love this guy,” Urso said.
“We’re professionals and I think we have to learn and find a way and find our character and deal with all these things that are part of the game,” Pareja said of the red cards the last two games. “And certainly today was another moment where we we lost our head. I want to be responsible for all that. It’s something that cannot happen.”
The Lions continued to try to find the equalizer. Mueller tried to split two defenders in the box in the 64th minute. He was walled off and Chilowicz ignored his plea for a penalty.
The Revs didn’t attack much but looked for opportunities and Bou fired a long-range shot that Rowe could only fight off for a corner. New England took the corner short, passed it back to Bou and the whole sequence repeated, as the Orlando keeper couldn’t do much but parry the shots away.
After the second corner, Buksa tried to dispossess Rowe on a passing sequence at the back and clobbered the keeper. Despite showing Dike a yellow card earlier for a play with less contact, Chilowicz kept his card in his pocket. Buksa was already on a yellow and the referee opted not to even up the two teams’ manpower on the pitch with a curious decision.
Orlando finally got its chance to level it in the 73rd when Dike was run over from behind inside the area. Chilowicz didn’t hesitate to point to the spot and Nani stepped up to take it. After going right twice last week against Sean Johnson — scoring once and seeing the other stopped on a great save — the captain opted to go left, but with the same, slow, stutter-step run-up. Turner guessed correctly and Nani didn’t get his shot far enough into the corner. Turner made the save and that seemed like the final nail in the coffin, although that was yet to come.
“Sometimes you should do better and then you must accept it was not your best. And today I couldn’t take the penalty,” Nani said. “We didn’t know what’s gonna happen at the end but I feel sorry for my teammates because the dream finishes, right there.”
“Nani made a mistake. He don’t score the penalty, [but] he’s our leader. We believe in him,” said Urso.
Nani is five for 10 in penalties, including making an important one last week and against LAFC in the MLS is Back Tournament.
“Nani has had the personality. He has had the responsibility,” Pareja said. “There are always two, three people who are in charge of taking the PK. In that moment he did it and we gave [him] the responsibility. It’s something that now obviously we may think that it should have been different...but Nani had the confidence from everybody.”
The Lions went to a three-man back line, sending Benji Michel and Tesho Akindele on to try to chase the game and, like any high-risk strategy might, it ended up costing them. After Akindele got under a free header on a free kick that might have tied the match, the Revs put it away.
With more space at the back, Gil took the ball down the left side, waited for a run, and sprung Bou through the defense. The New England DP slotted a shot right through Rowe’s legs to make it 3-1 in the 86th minute.
Orlando fashioned a couple of set pieces but couldn’t do much with them and the clock ran out on the Lions’ 2020 season.
The Lions out-shot New England 11-9 but the Revs got more on goal (6-3). Orlando had more corners (6-5), held more possession (61.2%-38.8%) and, passed more accurately (86%-77%).
“I’m very proud of this group. I’m very proud of the players,” Pareja said of his 2020 team. “Today people have seen us, the people recognize this group, the people know that they are good competitors and we’re proud of that.”
“I’m very proud of the team, of my teammates,” Nani said. “We talked a couple minutes ago. We had a team who’ve been working so hard, who’ve been improving so much, and everyone could see it on the field. In one season you can see so much difference on each player. And I’m so so happy for what this team gave me. They made me believe we could win this league. They made me believe I could win a league again. Even at my age.”
Orlando City’s season is over. It doesn’t feel good right now but it was a great season and any of us would have taken this if offered at the start of the year.