Orlando City came back to draw LAFC — then won the ensuing penalty shootout — in one of the biggest games in Orlando’s MLS history. Most pundits did not give the Lions a chance, but Oscar Pareja came up with a perfect game plan, and the Lions executed it.
Orlando was the better team for the first half, but could not capitalize on its chances. After going behind, it took a Joao Moutinho goal in the 90th minute against his former team to level the match and send it to penalties.
Here are five things to take away from the match.
Dealing with the High Press
Entering the match, one of the big talking points was how Orlando was going to be able to cope with LAFC’s high press. L.A. made its success off this press and it has been a crucial reason why the team has been so good. Orlando still attempted to build out from the back, as has been a theme this season. The Lions took the ball deep as they typically would. Robin Jansson even was dribbling inside Orlando’s 18 at points. While it caused some turnovers, for the majority of the match, the Lions handled the press well. But it seems impossible to do it for the entire match. LAFC’s goal came off of a turnover in Orlando’s own third of the field.
Right before the first-half water break, LAFC went ahead — or so it seemed. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored, but the goal went to review. Brian Rodriguez’s foot was offside, and the referee correctly called back the goal. VAR is nothing new at this point, but the entire conversation between center referee Joseph Dickerson and VAR Ismail Elfath was heard on air. This is a great advancement, as viewers can truly understand what the referee is seeing and why it is being called. The entire sequence can be viewed in the tweet below.
The first half was wide open. Both teams got into promising spots, had threatening looks, and free kicks in dangerous positions. Possession was fairly even too, with Orlando having a slight advantage, with 52%. However, the Lions out-shot LAFC 7-0 in the opening 45 minutes. Nani had four of those shots, but Orlando was not able to take advantage of any of them, and the first half ended without any goals. It looked like Orlando was going to go ahead in the 57th minute. Ruan won a penalty kick, but Nani couldn’t convert it. All those missed chances came back to haunt Orlando and LAFC scored on its first shot of the match.
Injuries Bit the Lions in This One
Chris Mueller landed awkwardly on his shoulder early in the game after being fouled by Diego Palacios. He was able to stay on for the rest of the half but was holding it and looked to be in pain. He kept playing, and that seemed to be the end of it. Benji Michel subbed on for Mueller at halftime, and Cash was seen getting a sling put on. Mueller had little impact on the match and the injury is likely why.
Jansson picked up an injury late in the second half. He went up for a 50/50 ball on a corner and got shoved from behind. He fell awkwardly and had to be immediately substituted. Jansson has consistently been one of Orlando’s best players this season.
Both Mueller and Jansson will be huge losses to Orlando if they miss any time. Both players will be needed in the semifinals.
The Return of the Cardiac Cats
The game seemed to be over. LA was up 1-0 with the minutes closing down. But Orlando never stopped fighting and kept going for the tying goal. The visitors from California never looked comfortable at the end of regulation because the Lions kept coming at them. Then Ruan got down the wing and put in a great cross. LAFC cleared it, but conceded a corner. This led to Joao Moutinho’s goal and Orlando coming back in the 90th minute. This is the mentality and the culture that has changed in the team this season, and that focus and mentality was visible in a perfect five-for-five penalty shootout performance.