Without Dom Dwyer or Nani in the lineup, Orlando City failed to find the net, drawing Real Salt Lake 0-0 in the 2020 season opener at Exploria Stadium. The Lions seemed to generate the bulk of the chances in the game but lacked sharpness in putting away chances. On the other hand, their own net was rarely threatened in the match as the team stayed well organized and pressed well at times throughout the match.
Orlando (0-0-1, 1 point) has now drawn in five of the team’s six MLS openers and is 1-0-5 in opening day matches and 2-1-3 in the series against RSL (0-0-1, 1 point) and 1-0-2 at home against the Utah side.
“We could not put the ball in the back of the net unfortunately,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “But the performance was very right and our players had a great effort and the intensity and the passion that I want to see from this team was on the pitch and I’m very proud.”
“I think we played well,” said midfielder Junior Urso, who wore the captain’s armband with Nani suspended. “We controlled the game. Sometimes they got the ball but they don’t make danger for us. But we have to be better.”
Despite the graphic below, Orlando appeared to mostly be in a 4-2-3-1 to start the game. Pedro Gallese got his first start in goal for the Lions, behind an expected back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Sebas Mendez and Urso patrolled central midfield behind Benji Michel, Mauricio Pereyra, and Chris Mueller, with Tesho Akindele up top.
Your first City XI of the 2020 season! #ORLvRSL | #MLSisBack pic.twitter.com/tW2dnG8wys— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) February 29, 2020
The first half was a cagey affair. Orlando City fashioned more chances than the visitors but mostly of the half-chance variety.
The big talking point of the first half happened five minutes in, when Pereyra sent a ball over the top for Akindele, who went down under contact as he was attempting to get a foot on the ball. Rubiel Vazquez did not signal to the penalty spot and the teams played on.
Orlando had perhaps its best chance of the first half in the 17th minute, when Ruan shook free on the right, cut inside, then sent a cross to Mueller, who was unable to get a foot to the ball between the RSL defenders. A minute later Pereyra sent a shot toward goal that was blocked just wide by Marcelo Silva. In the 19th, Ruan found Mendez at the top of the area but the Colombian stabbed his shot over the goal.
Most of the remainder of the first half consisted of Orlando winning corners or getting up the wings and sending in crosses — only to see RSL’s center backs head the ball to safety. RSL’s best chance came on a shot from distance by Aaron Herrera that Gallese scooped up on the bounce in the 44th minute. It was El Pulpo’s first MLS save.
Orlando held 51.3% of the possession to RSL’s 48.7%. The Lions attempted three shots to two by Real Salt Lake, with each getting one on target.
The Lions should have had a free kick just outside the penalty area early in the second half. Former Lion knocked down Michel by going through his back with no attempt to play the ball in the 57th minute after a good ball over the top nearly sprung him in behind. Vazquez did not see it as a foul from well behind the play.
As in the first half, the bulk of the play came in the middle third of the pitch, although the Lions were sloppier in possession in the second half with several careless giveaways.
Mueller had a great opportunity in the 74th minute to break the scoreless deadlock. He got onto a ball from Pereyra over the top, chested it to himself and volleyed it on goal but right at MacMath from a tough angle.
Four minutes later, Urso got onto a cross but his shot was deflected out for a corner.
The best chance of the night fell to Mueller in the 83rd. A great ball over the top by Pereyra hit second-half sub Robinho in stride as the Brazilian timed his run perfectly. Unfortunately, Robinho could not control the ball first time and the defense knocked the ball to the top of the area where Mueller had MacMath off his line but he sent a shot fizzing just over the bar.
Mueller talked about the missed opportunities after the match.
“The first one over the top I brought it down well and couldn’t really generate the power and directed where I wanted it to,” he said. “Second one...just yeah, I’ll think about it tonight for sure and I’ll score it next time.”
That was the last good opportunity and the teams left the field with the points split between them.
Orlando City led in shots (9-5), shots on goal (2-1), possession (50.7%-49.3%), and passing accuracy (79.2%-77.3%).
“We had everything there for the taking,” Mueller said. “I thought we moved the ball well, I think we could have had a little bit more quality in the attacking third, a little bit more patience on the ball to circulate and maybe find a better pass, me included, so I think that we’ve all got to improve and learn and focus on the next game.”
Pareja said he liked what he saw out of his team, although the Lions didn’t get the three points.
“We didn’t retreat. We didn’t feel like we needed to be sitting back,” Pareja said. “I felt that the team had that protagonist (attitude) that we’re asking them to have. I saw a team that always just had that initiative and we needed to walk out with more.
“Tonight I saw the team’s heart. And I saw the soul of the team on the pitch. That just (made) me more content but now we have to keep it because it’s a long journey.”
The Lions will hit the road for the first time in 2020 when they take on the Rapids in Colorado next Saturday at 9 p.m.