Orlando City lost the MLS is Back final 2-1 to the Portland Timbers. This was not how the coaches, players, or supporters hoped it would end, but in the end there is still a lot to be happy about. I’ll get to that, but first let’s see what we learned from Orlando’s first and only loss of the tournament.
Another Chippy Match
This wasn’t the only match in the MLS is Back Tournament that the referee has allowed the game to play without blowing the whistle much. As a result, there were seven yellow cards. Orlando City earned four, and Portland had three. It also allowed Diego Chará to play as dirty as he liked. The elbow to Mauricio Pereyra was just the most egregious and worse than the persistent infringement that actually got him the yellow later. Those weren’t his only hard fouls, and he wasn’t the only one on either club that had fouls that bordered on a yellow card.
Pereyra is Key
The Uruguayan took an elbow to the head in the 22nd minute from Chará that in any sane universe would have been a yellow card, but this is 2020, so it was just a foul. Pereyra got his revenge in the 39th minute when he drew the Lions even with a messy but effective goal. The midfielder does all the little things needed for a club to be successful. He creates chances, pulls opponents out of position, maintains possession, and occasionally scores. We saw glimpses of his talent last season, but he’s really shown his quality in this tournament. He is the linchpin of the new-look Lions.
As we heard so much before and during the match, Orlando City was the team that hasn’t been in big games, other than Nani, of course. Portland on the other hand has won the MLS Cup in 2015 and been to the MLS Cup final in 2018. So when the Timbers went up 1-0 in the 27th minute, one would have thought that the Lions would have simply wilted since they haven’t been in big matches before. Of course, that isn’t what happened. Orlando City went about not changing a darn thing and just kept playing its game. The result of the no-panic, keep-to-their-game approach was the equalizer by Pereyra in the 39th minute. It’s an attribute the Lions have shown throughout the MLS is Back Tournament and should not have been a surprise to anyone. While Orlando wasn’t able to get the win, the Lions never panicked.
Nani Not On
Every other match in this tournament, Nani has had at least a few moments of magic that made the difference. Yes, he helped set up Pereyra’s goal, but otherwise he seemed off. I’m not saying he was rattled, but he seemed to be looking for the easy foul to get Orlando in position rather than taking command of the game as he’s done before. He did get the occasional call because he’s Nani, and because he actually got fouled a few times, but that can work only so many times in a match. It might be that it’s more noticeable when Orlando is struggling, but it certainly didn’t help in the final.
El Pulpo was Great
Pedro Gallese singlehandedly kept Orlando City in the match. He had multiple saves that should have won Orlando City the match on any normal day. The fact that he let two goals in from Portland’s center backs is an unfortunate consequence of Portland executing on set pieces and Orlando City not defending them as well as they had the majority of the tournament.
An Extra Takeaway: The Big Picture
Normally, I wouldn’t take a bigger picture look but, given this is the end of the tournament, I’m going to take the liberty. No, this isn’t the storybook ending we all imagined, but we shouldn’t allow anyone to diminish what the club accomplished over the last month or so. No one, not even me, gave Orlando much of a chance when it started. The club wasn’t supposed to make it out of the group stage nor every knockout match that followed. It wasn’t until the final that some begrudgingly gave Orlando some sort of chance. That’s not what I want to focus on. This team played their way the entire tournament and it got them to the final. This tournament proved that changes are happening in Orlando, and regardless of not winning, the Lions find themselves in third place in the Eastern Conference heading into the remainder of the rest of the season.
That will do it for now. Orlando City is back in action on Aug. 22 against Inter
Miami Fort Lauderdale. So, feel bad for a day and then it’s time to get back to it. As always, your comments are welcome below.