Mauricio Pereyra’s first goal as a Lion erased a 1-0 deficit and helped Orlando City draw the Philadelphia Union 1-1 in the final Group A match of the MLS is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Orlando City (2-1-2, 8 points, 2-0-1 in MLS is Back) finish at the top of Group A by virtue of a slightly better goal differential than the Union (also 2-1-2, 8 points, 2-0-1 in MLS is Back).
Orlando ran its unbeaten streak to three straight (2-0-1) on a night when the Lions weren’t at their best but still did enough to feel they should have taken all three points. Orlando City is 3-4-5 against Philadelphia in league play and 3-5-5 against the Union in all competitions.
“Let me congratulate this group of players that has made a great effort today to bounce back, and even deserve to win it,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We had another experience where we were down in the score and we bounced back quickly. That just tells us that the team has personality and desire and that made us feel very confident, playing against a very good team also well-coached, and very dynamic in the middle. We’ll take the point and to qualify as the first of the group is something to be proud of.”
Pareja didn’t have his full arsenal as Dom Dwyer experienced some tightness in his quad and was held out for precautionary reasons. The team instead went with a 4-4-2, moving Nani ostensibly up beside Tesho Akindele, although Nani had the green light to freelance and drop deeper as needed, per usual.
Jim Curtin went with the expected 4-1-2-1-2 (or 4-4-2 diamond) lineup, with Andre Blake in goal; Kai Wagner, Mark McKenzie, Jack Elliott, and Ray Gaddis on the back line; Warren Creavalle — in for the suspended Jose Martinez — Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, and Brenden Aaronson in the midfield; and Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos up top.
Junior Urso had a couple of early opportunities but hit one weakly at Blake and fired the other wide of the left post. Unfortunately, after a bright start to the match, Urso picked up a knock at a quarter of an hour and left the match. At the time, he was a perfect five-for-five passing with a recovery and an interception in what had been to that point his best play of the tournament. After playing a man down for a few minutes, Sebas Mendez came on to replace him in the 19th minute.
Both teams sent in a few crosses for the next several minutes before Nani finally had a look at goal, but fired right at Blake from outside the area in the 27th minute. A minute later Orlando should have scored. Pereyra found Akindele on the right but the Canadian fired and Blake parried it away. The better play would have been a return pass to Pereyra, who was all alone in front of goal for a tap-in, but it’s hard to fault a striker for having a go from that range when he hasn’t had a good look at goal yet.
Each team squandered a good free kick opportunity, with Nani and Monteiro trading weak bouncers at the keeper. Philadelphia’s best opportunity of the half came just before stoppage time, when Santos was denied by a decent Pedro Gallese save. Santos retrieved the ball and appeared to foul Ruan while doing so but the referee saw nothing wrong and Santos crossed for Aaronson, who should have scored but fired about a foot wide.
The whistle blew on a somewhat unsatisfying half for both teams. Orlando lacked sharpness in the opening 45 minutes. Some of that was due to Philadelphia, but Nani, Chris Mueller, and Ruan were a bit off and Mendez struggled to get into the game, although he settled in a bit toward the end of the period. Urso’s strong start illustrated the difference between the team before and after his injury.
The Union had more shots (8-5) but Orlando got more on target (4-2). Possession was almost evenly split, with Philly holding a slim edge (50.7%) and the Union passed a bit more crisply (83%-80%).
Philadelphia started the second half on the front foot, getting lots of the ball early. Orlando managed to finally break the pressure and Nani fired well off target in the 49th minute. Just seconds later, Mueller sent Mendez in alone but he went for power rather than a chip over the onrushing Blake or trying to slot it around him and it was saved. Mueller followed but Blake got there just after Mueller did and nothing came of it as the Money Badger tried to finesse around him.
Orlando had several crosses that were just a little bit off in the second half. Moutinho had one in the 60th that only needed a touch from Akindele or Mueller but his pass had too much spice and skipped out in front of both of them. Ruan did the same to Akindele in the 64th in a 2-v-1 situation in front of Blake on what should have been a goal.
Antonio Carlos nearly got his first MLS goal in the 66th as he blasted a header on goal off a corner kick cross. Blake got a touch on the ball and then it crashed off the crossbar.
Two minutes after Carlos nearly opened the scoring, the Union took the lead against the run of play. Philadelphia ended up with numbers on the right side and second-half sub Ilsinho got the ball on the right side. From a severe angle he sent a perfect shot off the inside of the far post and in to make it 1-0 in the 68th minute. The Lions have still scored first only once in 2020.
Philadelphia’s lead didn’t last long. Pereyra sent the ball out wide to the left for Nani, who surveyed the scene in front of goal and sent in a perfect ball back to Pereyra at the near post. The Uruguayan nodded home his first MLS goal to level things in the 70th minute.
“I think we didn’t deserve this goal in our net,” Pereyra said of Ilsinho’s strike. “But after we conceded that goal we started with the same energy that we started the second half and have a good combination. And then when Nani gets the ball something different can happen and I went inside the box feeling that this was coming for me and it was like that so I’m very happy to score my first goal in Orlando.”
From that point on the teams exchanged a couple of crosses through the box and some near connections but nothing came of it and the match finished at 1-1. There was a late handball scare deep in stoppage as a ball came back at Ruan quickly but the referee blew the final whistle and replays weren’t conclusive.
The Union ended up with more shots (12-10) but took some of those from downtown Orlando. The Lions got more of their efforts on target (7-4). Orlando took over the possession battle, keeping 53.7% of the ball for the game, and the passing got a bit closer, with the Union holding an 83%-82% advantage in accuracy. The Lions created more and seemed to have plenty of opportunities to put two or three in the net but Blake was outstanding when he had to be and a few crosses were hit just a bit too hard or too far in front of the attacking line.
Uri Rosell talked about how the team was able to keep the Union’s big names — Przybylko and Aaronson — mostly quiet on the night.
“Yeah, honestly, before the game, we knew that they were very good players. They know what they were doing, and they had success in the last games. So we really focused on ourselves first, but then keeping an eye on them and and putting the work in,” he said. “At the end, when you are well organized and everybody gives their best and they know their role, things come through.”
Now we wait to see who Orlando will play on Saturday in the Round of 16. It could be Atlanta.