Junior Urso scored the game’s only goal and Pedro Gallese made three saves to keep a clean sheet as Orlando City beat FC Cincinnati 1-0 at TQL Stadium. The Lions (12-8-9, 45 points) are now unbeaten in three straight matches (2-0-1) and got a crucial three points against FC Cincinnati (4-17-8, 20 points), which lost its seventh consecutive game — and its fifth of those by a single goal.
The match had plenty of controversy at the end, with substitute Tesho Akindele seemingly scoring a golazo off the crossbar that was (apparently) never reviewed and a potential penalty review against Rodrigo Schlegel in stoppage time that was not given after referee Marcos de Oliveira went to the monitor.
The Lions remained in fourth place, closing to within a point of the Philadelphia Union, who drew against Montreal earlier today.
“A great result for us. We needed it,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The boys came convinced about getting those three points. I think the effort on the field was great. They showed one more time their character during the whole game.”
Pareja’s lineup once again featured Gallese in net, but there was a change at left back as the questionable Joao Moutinho (lower body, naturally) was left home. Emmanuel Mas slotted in for Moutinho next to Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Andres Perea slotted into central midfield with Urso rather than Sebas Mendez, who was on the bench. Mauricio Pereyra and Chris Mueller were tasked with facilitating the attack to Nani and Daryl Dike. Alexandre Pato returned to the bench for the first time since opening day, although he didn’t get a runout.
Orlando controlled play in the opening minutes and Ruan had a lot of success getting down the right flank without Ronald Matarrita in the Cincinnati lineup. However, the Brazilian right back did not have a lot of success with his crossing, as time and again he put balls in areas without teammates or behind them. Still, he created the opening goal after peeling back to the top of the box and finding a trailing Urso, who sent a perfectly placed shot just inside the right post. The Bear’s fourth goal of the year had Orlando up 1-0 in the 13th minute.
“Sometimes I try to put power in my shot, but I saw one guy in front of the keeper too,” Urso said. “So I tried to make some curve to bend it and it was perfect. Important goal for City.”
Ruan got back in the box in the 16th minute and had his shot blocked. Pereyra’s follow-up was deflected out for a corner. Moments later, Ruan got loose again on the right and had a speeding Mueller to his left but played his pass behind the Lions’ winger.
Gallese made a huge save off a strange play in the 24th minute on Cincinnati’s best chance of the half. A corner kick to the back post came off Urso’s head and deflected back toward his own goal, falling at the feet of Cincinnati’s Geoff Cameron. The defender seemed sure to score but El Pulpo made a vital save to preserve the lead.
Orlando was wasteful with some good buildup play, either passing up potential shots or working the ball around until a poorly placed pass allowed the hosts to collect. As the first half wore on, Cincinnati got more of the ball but didn’t do much with it. Alvaro Barreal fired well over the bar from long range in the 34th minute.
Perea tried a shot from the right side in the 40th minute but hit his shot right at goalkeeper Przemysław Tyton. Nani tried to curl one inside the upper left corner from the right side in the 42nd minute but couldn’t get the shot to curl quite enough. Late in the half, Nani had his shot blocked and it fell to Pereyra on the left. The Uruguayan fired on target but Tyton got a hand to it.
Mueller got a late chance off a corner kick but didn’t hit his shot cleanly and it sailed high into the stands. The Lions took their 1-0 lead into the break.
The Lions dominated in shots (14-4) and had more shots on target (4-2). Orlando also earned more corners (5-2) and was slightly better passing (84.6%-84.5%). Cincinnati held a little more of the possession (50.2%-49.8%).
The hosts made a change at the break, bringing on Allan Cruz for Isaac Atanga and the switch gave Cincinnati a jolt of energy that pushed the Lions back on their heels. Orlando didn’t help matters by being a lot looser with the ball against the pressure.
Brenner thought he’d tied the match in the 48th minute when he fired a shot past Gallese but the whistle had blown for a foul on the entry ball as Perea was pushed to the ground to win the duel.
Orlando finally got a good buildup that led somewhere in the 60th minute when Perea sent Mueller down the right side, but his cross in front of goal was too close to Tyton, who smothered it.
Six minutes later, Perea made a mistake that will have ramifications for Wednesday’s match. Cutting in from the left to the middle of the field, he tried to send a pass across to Carlos, but he not only caught his teammate off guard, he also didn’t get enough on his pass. Carlos was late to the ball and his challenge resulted in a booking that will have him suspended for Wednesday’s game.
The service on the ensuing set piece found the foot of Tyler Blackett at the back post but the fullback could only get a toe on it and pop it straight to Gallese.
Pareja sent Akindele and Benji Michel on for Dike and Mueller, getting fresh legs into an attack that was just not able to get into gear in the second half. The move nearly paid dividends right away, as Michel got down the left side on a pass from Jansson and had Akindele lurking at the far post but Benji’s cross was way too far out in front of his teammate and went out for a goal kick.
Michel was robbed by Tyton in the 77th minute. Pereyra sent Mas down the left flank and the left back found Michel in front. Benji spun and fired a hard shot on target but Tyton was able to get an arm on it and Nick Hagglund sent it out of play a split second before Urso could get to the loose ball.
The Lions should have put the game away in the 84th minute. Akindele found himself in space and fired a cannon shot off the underside of the crossbar that appeared to land across the goal line before bouncing back into the field of play, where Tyton collected it. There was never a stoppage for a review and Pareja said he was never able to talk to the ref after the game about the play to get an explanation.
“I thought we could have that second goal of Tesho’s. I cannot understand why it wasn’t seen,” Pareja said.
The Lions went to five at the back in the 90th minute, sending Schlegel on for Pereyra with the final substitution. His first involvement nearly ended in disaster. A set piece was sent into the box and bodies got tangled. Cincinnati lobbied for a penalty but none was given during live play. However, de Oliveira went to the monitor to take a second look after consulting with VAR Fotis Bazakos. Schlegel’s arm clearly came up and hit the head and neck area of forward Brandon Vazquez on the play but Hagglund appeared to send Schlegel off balance with a foul prior to the play in question. The referee ended up seeing it that way and Gallese took a free kick instead of facing a penalty.
Penalty or not? You make the call. pic.twitter.com/YnAkgsB4CQ— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 17, 2021
The Lions defended desperately as the game went through nine minutes of stoppage time before de Oliveira ended the proceedings.
Cincinnati finished with slight advantages in possession (52.5%-47.5%) and passing accuracy (83.2%-82.8%), but Orlando out-shot the hosts (18-9) and got more on target (5-3), while earning more corners (6-4).
“The second half was very choppy,” Pareja said. “The first half was much better for us.”
Gallese earned the team’s eighth clean sheet of the season and first since a 0-0 draw against Inter Miami in late August. El Pulpo now has six clean sheets on the season and nine in his Orlando City career, which pushed him past Brian Rowe and into sole possession of second on the club’s all-time list. He is four shy of Joe Bendik’s career club record of 13.
Pareja said that Gallese was adamant about playing in the match despite arriving in Cincinnati late the night before after playing for Peru in the international window.
“In our conversation this morning, the first thing that he said is that he wanted at any cost to play tonight and for us to give him the opportunity to be in the squad,” said Pareja. “That shows his commitment as a great professional. The team is first for him.”
Orlando snapped a six-match winless streak in road games (0-3-3) with the win.
“We’re very happy for those three points. It’s very necessary at this stage,” Pareja said.
The Lions have a quick turnaround with Montreal visiting Exploria Stadium on Wednesday.