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Orlando City vs. New York City FC: Final Score 3-1 as Mueller’s Early Brace Lifts Lions

The Lions took it to NYCFC in the first half hour and did just enough to stay in front to improve to 2-0 in the MLS is Back Tournament.

MLS: New York City FC at Orlando City SC Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Mueller scored two early goals, Pedro Gallese made several big saves, and Tesho Akindele added some late insurance to lead Orlando City to a 3-1 win over New York City FC at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World. The Lions (2-1-1 on the season, 2-0-0 in the tournament) took a big step toward the knockout stages of the MLS is Back Tournament with a decisive win, improving to 6-5-5 in all competitions against the Pigeons.

It was the first time Orlando City has won consecutive league games since April/May of 2018.

“We had the personality to have a good start. And at the end, hold the result against a team who is well structured and has a lot of very good players too,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “So it’s a night to grow. It’s a night to feel confident about what we’re doing here. This was very well deserved for the players who made a great effort on the field.”

Pareja sent out a 4-2-3-1 lineup with no changes from the side that beat Inter Miami 2-1 last Wednesday, with Gallese in goal; a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan; Uri Rosell and Junior Urso in the defensive midfield; Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Mueller in the attacking midfield; and Dom Dwyer up top. As usual, the shape differed on the MLS site from what the club released on social media.

NYCFC’s Ronny Deila countered with his own 4-2-3-1, featuring Sean Johnson in goal; a back line of Ronald Mattarita, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, and Anton Tinnerholm; Alex Ring and James Sands in the defensive midfield; an attacking midfield of Valentin Castellanos, Gudmundur Thórarinsson, and Jesus Medina; and Heber at center forward.

It took Orlando nearly no time to break the scoreless deadlock. Pereyra drew a foul from distance three minutes in and Moutinho stood over the ball. His delivery fell perfectly for Mueller to take first touch, beating Johnson to put the Lions up 1-0 in the fourth minute. It was Mueller’s third goal in four matches in 2020.

Six minutes later, Cash struck again. Ruan flew down the right wing and sent in a cross for Dwyer. The striker, a bit far from goal, noticed Mueller making a run and headed back across the box. Mueller made a quick move to round Johnson and slipped the ball home for his brace in the 10th minute. It was the fastest brace in OCSC history.

“We had a game plan that we wanted to come out with a lot of energy and try and catch them in the first 15 minutes. And, you know, we did that,” Mueller said.

Orlando kept up the pressure. Nani and Mueller tried to work a give-and-go at the top of the area in the 17th minute but the return pass for the captain was a bit heavy and New York City snuffed out the chance.

NYCFC nearly pulled one back off a corner kick in the 19th minute, with Chanot heading wide on a near-post flick across the six. Gallese then made a huge save in traffic in the 30th minute on a second ball in after the initial clearance of a NYCFC free kick.

Castellanos got in behind the back line a minute later but sent his shot wide. It was potentially offside but no one knew that when the shot went just inches wide. Castellanos perhaps should have already been off the pitch after picking up an early yellow card for piggy-back riding Jansson and then later simulating contact on the sideline in an effort to get the Swede booked in return.

The game then opened up both directions. Nani sent in a cross attempt in the 35th that landed on the roof of the net. The captain then missed the net from a good shooting position a minute later.

New York City pulled one back in the 38th minute. Medina was given too much space just outside the area and he ripped a half-volley shot that gave Gallese no chance.

In the 41st minute Urso nearly got onto a Ruan cross at point-blank range but couldn’t make good contact in traffic. Two minutes later, Mueller came within inches of a hat trick, rattling the crossbar with a header in front.

That was about it for the opening half except for a few NYCFC half chances down the stretch. New York City FC out-shot the Lions (9-7) with each team getting three on frame. Orlando had a slim edge in possession (51%) and passed a bit better (86%-81%). The Lions more or less controlled the opening half hour but NYCFC came into the game over the final 15 minutes of the half.

Not wanting a repeat of last Wednesday, Orlando was on the front foot to start the second period. Pereyra forced Johnson to make a diving save on a shot from the left, just outside the area in the 47th.

On the ensuing corner, Moutinho tried a bicycle kick but couldn’t hit it squarely. A minute later, Mueller hit a shot that skipped off a defender and fell easily for Johnson.

From about the 50th minute, NYCFC’s high press started to pay dividends and Orlando City had trouble hanging onto the ball. New York City generated tons of corner kicks (finishing with 13) and set piece opportunities but the defense did just about enough to fight most of those off and when it couldn’t, Gallese stepped up and did it. He finished with seven saves on the night, several of the game-saving type.

New York City FC nearly equalized in the 62nd minute. Moutinho drifted away from Medina in the area and Ring’s cross found him. He squibbed the first-time shot attempt and it sailed harmlessly out of play. The Pigeons kept coming, with Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Heber testing Gallese and then El Pulpo made an incredible double save in the 77th to preserve the Orlando lead.

Those saves loomed even larger four minutes later, when the Lions grabbed an insurance goal. A good bit of buildup began with second-half sub Akindele on the right, who fizzed a pass to Urso in the middle. The Bear sent it over to his right to Nani. The captain floated a back-side pass to Benji Michel, who blasted a shot on goal. Johnson fought it off but the ball hung in the air for Akindele to easily nod home from point-blank range. The Canadian’s first goal of the season bulged the Orlando lead to 3-1 in the 81st minute.

From there, Orlando had to see out nine minutes of normal time and 10 more minutes of stoppage time. New York City racked up several corner kicks and nearly pulled one back when Alexandru Mitrita found Gallese’s crossbar in the 92nd minute. NYCFC drew no closer than that and Orlando notched its second straight win.

NYCFC dominated shot chart, out-shooting Orlando 26-12 (8-7 on target), and flipped the possession around to keep 51.8% of the ball. Both teams finished at 82% passing.

Pareja said NYCFC added another midfielder to the press after Orlando’s early flurry in the second half and started getting on the ball more.

“We were spending a lot of energy, especially in the first half and I think we paid at the end,” he said. “Certainly the second half, they put a lot of pressure and we controlled it but I think they had a lot of volume too in our box.”

The Lions close out group play on Monday at 8 p.m. against the Philadelphia Union.