Orlando City withstood two Chicago Fire penalties and two goals by the visitors that were overturned by video review to win a crazy, rain-soaked match 4-1 at Exploria Stadium. Orlando (6-2-4, 22 points) got goals from Chris Mueller, Nani, Junior Urso, and Benji Michel to extend its unbeaten run to six games (4-0-2) and finally beat the Fire (2-7-3, 9 points) at home.
In fact, Orlando is still unbeaten at home in 2020 (3-0-2). The Lions will take it as they will have to go on the road for the next two matches to close out September.
“I think it was a roller coaster game today with a rival that came here with initiatives and an idea of the game that was very clear,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “From the first minute it was difficult to control, especially with with such a great players in the middle of the field. But I think we had our own identity and we had courage all the time to overcome the difficult moments.”
Pareja’s lineup in front of goalkeeper Pedro Gallese included the return of Robin Jansson and Kamal Miller to the left side of the starting lineup, alongside Antonio Carlos and Ruan. Urso and Sebas Mendez handled the central midfield with Uri Rosell still unavailable. The attacking midfield was the usual lineup of Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Mueller, behind striker Daryl Dike.
The first half was insanely wide open with neither team doing well in defending on the rain-soaked field. The rain poured down throughout the first half, soaking the players and the ball and making conditions tough for both teams, which may have contributed to the wide-open nature of the match.
Dike had a couple of early chances but couldn’t quite get onto a Mueller cross in the second minute with goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth coming out just enough to distract him. Dike then flicked a header to the back post but Chicago was able to clear.
The Fire came down to the other end for the first time and nearly opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Robert Beric took a shot that deflected off Miller and then hit the crossbar.
Orlando took the lead in the 11th minute. Mueller cut in from the left side and hit a shot that deflected off Alvaro Medran and crossed up Shuttleworth, who could do nothing but watch it trickle over the line for the opening score — Mueller’s seventh of the year.
The Lions continued to buzz around the Chicago penalty area, with both Nani and Dike getting shots blocked in front in the 14th minute. Then Beric nearly equalized in the 18th minute when he got in behind but he fired off target against an empty net and the offside flag was up anyway.
Chicago came close again in the 20th when a cross in from the right deflected off of Gallese and fell for Ignacio Aliseda, who hit the right post with the bouncing ball.
Four minutes later, Mueller took the ball down the right flank and crossed in perfectly for Nani to finish with a header to make it 2-0 in the 24th.
The Fire appeared to pull a goal back on a free kick in the 27th minute but after video review, referee Nima Saghafi ruled that Elliot Collier obstructed from an offside position and the two-goal lead stood.
The Fire again had a golden opportunity to score in the 34th minute when a ball in the box hit Ruan’s hand and a penalty was awarded. Beric and Medran argued for a couple of minutes over who would take it and eventually Medran did. It didn’t matter though, as Gallese dove to his right and made a spectacular save to keep it a 2-0 game.
“On the penalty I just saw one guy fighting with a bunch of his teammates,” Gallese said through an interpreter. “I was just ready and when he took it I went to the right.”
Mueller should have made it 3-0 in the 38th minute as he sliced through the Chicago defense and freed himself up for an easy finish, but he lost his balance and couldn’t set himself to take the shot. Nani made a slick move in the 42nd minute to get in behind the defense but then hit his shot wide from in close. Dike fired from the top of the box a minute later but didn’t get all of the shot and Shuttleworth made a diving save.
Chicago got the last good chance of the half when a cross found Djordje Mihailovic around the penalty spot but he fired his shot wide. That was it for a wild first half.
Chicago actually attempted more shots (10-7), with Orlando getting more on target (3-1). Orlando was slightly more accurate in passing (87%-86%) while Chicago saw slightly more time on the ball (51.6%-48.4%).
The Fire got one back right after the half on a penalty call on Chris Mueller. He trailed Miguel Navarro into the area and put his hands on the Chicago fullback, who went down immediately on what appeared to be very little contact. Beric hit the ensuing penalty to pull Chicago back into the game in the 48th minute.
“I was a little late to track the guy inside but I don’t feel like I really touched him in the sense of grabbing him,” Mueller said. “I think that when you’re that close to somebody it’s natural — especially when you’re directly behind them — to clip them on the heels and if they feel something and they go down in the box that it’s a penalty. That’s on me for not following my guy right there in the beginning of the second half. I’ve got to be a little bit sharper mentally, a little bit better concentration. And, you know I’m going to learn from it and move forward and focus on the next match.”
The Fire kept coming, with Gaston Gimenez forcing a huge save by Gallese in the 54th to preserve Orlando’s lead.
“I’m always proud of the goalkeepers who keep the team in the game or keep the lead when it’s needed,” Pareja said. “And Pedro’s experience and leadership today will show. I’m proud of Pedro just giving us that energy in the moment when we needed it. He came big and tonight was a great game for him again.”
Boris Sekulic then appeared to tie the game at 2-2 in the 56th minute off a corner kick. The wet ball bounced off several players until it found the foot of the Chicago defender, who fired through traffic and it appeared to hit Jansson before sneaking inside the right post. However, Saghafi again went to video review and ruled that Mauricio Pineda had handled the ball on the initial cross into the box and for the second time in the match the Fire had a goal overturned.
Both teams started using their substitutions and Orlando began to settle down a bit. Kyle Smith, who replaced Miller at halftime, fired wide of goal from the top of the area on a blistering shot in the 68th minute. Ten minutes later, Urso supplied some breathing room. The ball pinged around Chicago’s penalty area and finally fell to substitute Andres Perea, who knocked it into the box where Urso found it on his foot and fired it in off the right goal post in the 78th minute.
Three minutes after Urso’s goal, the Lions nearly got another. Ruan made a great play to find Nani across the field on the left and the captain fired a blast toward goal but the shot stayed wide of the post. Orlando quickly won another corner and Carlos headed over the bar a minute later.
As time wound down, Nani found substitute Benji Michel in the area. Michel took two dribbles to his left and hit a shot past Shuttleworth to make it 4-1 in the 95th minute on nearly the last kick of the match. It provided the Lions’ highest scoring output on the season and largest margin of victory since Pareja took over.
Shots were even at 19 apiece, but Orlando got more on target (7-3). Both teams passed at an 83% rate, with Chicago holding a slight edge in possession (54.4%-45.6%).
Pareja said after the match that it was Chicago’s midfield players that created so many problems for Orlando City’s defense.
“They gave us a lot of trouble, indeed,” he said. “They have players in the middle that are very technical. They know what they’re doing there. Their idea of the game is very clear.”
“I think we’re happy with the three points for sure, but I do think that there was a lot of areas in our game that we could be much better,” Mueller said.