Orlando City continues throwing away points at Exploria Stadium like they’re junk mail. This time the Lions (12-8-11, 47 points) blew a late two-goal lead at home against Supporters’ Shield winners New England Revolution (21-4-7, 70 points) after an excellent 80 minutes of soccer and lost two vital points in the playoff race.
Nani and Daryl Dike staked the Lions to a 2-0 lead but no one could handle the size of Adam Buksa, who scored in the 81st and 93rd minutes to turn a two-goal lead into another unsatisfying home draw. Both of Orlando’s home games this week end up with a bad taste in the Lions’ mouths after four points dropped from a winning position.
Orlando did manage to run its unbeaten streak to five matches (2-0-3) but the last two draws felt more like losses than wins for a team trying to clinch a spot in the postseason.
“We’re disappointed, obviously, with giving up those two goals at the end and not accomplishing the objective, which is no less than those three points that we were pursuing tonight,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “Difficult as well just to recognize we did such good things today that we could put the game away very early again. And then at the end we just finished with a very tight game with them, sending in crosses, and that’s the way they scored the goals.”
Pareja’s lineup was nearly a first-choice starting XI. Pedro Gallese started behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan, with Robin Jansson reportedly suffering from a stiff neck. Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez slotted into the central midfield, with Chris Mueller and Mauricio Pereyra facilitating the attack to Nani and Daryl Dike.
Orlando dominated play in the first half much like Wednesday against Montreal but — also like Wednesday against Montreal — had only a 1-0 halftime lead to show for it. Orlando’s first opportunity came nine minutes in when a fantastic cross from Nani was heading for Dike’s head but Jonathan Bell arrived at the last second to head it away. Nani tried his luck from just inside the top of the box three minutes later but his effort was blocked by the defense.
Mueller tried his luck from just outside the area in the 18th minute but got under the wet ball and hit it well over Matt Turner’s goal. Moutinho got up into the attack in the 28th and fired from the top of the box but his shot skipped right at Turner for the easy save.
The Lions could have opened the scoring in the 34th minute. Urso collected the ball on the left and sent in a cross to Dike but his header was straight at Turner for the save.
On a corner played short, the ball was played around the top of the box and eventually Urso ran it down in the left corner. He passed back to Moutinho, who curled in an inch-perfect cross for Nani to head home to make it 1-0 in the 39th minute. It was the captain’s 10th goal of the season and first since Aug. 7 at FC Cincinnati.
“This is our game. We need to cross the balls, we need to have the players in the box,” Nani said. “The more we cross, the more we have players in the box, we have a chance. We’ve been scoring a lot of goals like that. I think the first half was a great performance from the team. We controlled the game. We were on top of the New England team.”
Nani was shaken up on the play and got a nosebleed but was able to continue.
Orlando had a promising buildup three minutes after the goal that ended on Urso’s foot but the midfielder hit his shot over the bar.
New England won a late corner but committed a foul during the service and the first half ended with the Lions up a goal.
Orlando City led in shots (7-2), shots on target (3-0), possession (67.4%-32.6%), passing accuracy (90.2%-79.9%), and corners (3-2).
Bruce Arena sent Designated Players Buksa and Carles Gil on to start the second half, but unlike the last couple of matches, the Lions didn’t allow their opponents to dictate the game at the beginning of the second half. They did concede a set piece but nothing came of it. Instead, it was Orlando doubling the lead moments later.
Nani was fouled in the box by AJ DeLaGarza, who he had a spirited battle with all evening. Referee Chris Penso pointed to the spot, giving Orlando its third penalty against the Revs in the last three meetings between the teams. Pereyra appeared to be handing the ball to Mueller when Nani got involved and Dike ended up stepping to the spot.
“We players on the field, we are not sure who is going to take it. The players take the ball and ask the others (if they want to take it),” Nani said. “So, what I was telling them in that moment, I said, ‘Just take it. Don’t ask the others if they want to take it.’ Daryl (made) the decision and it was good for us.”
The big forward stepped up and slotted home past Turner just inside the right post to make it 2-0 in the 50th minute. It was Dike’s seventh goal of the season and the second-year player is now two-for-two on penalties.
Four minutes later, Orlando nearly made it 3-0 when a set piece delivery from Nani fell for Mueller at the near post. Mueller redirected it but Turner was able to make a diving save. In the 58th, Dike got to the end line and sent a ball toward the back post that was cleared off the line. It fell near Mueller, who swept it inches wide of the right post.
Just past the hour mark, New England sent on Designated Player Gustavo Bou and Tajon Buchanan to get more attackers on the field.
Orlando helped out the visitors by being more cautious in the attack, not wanting to allow the Revs a dangerous counter. Fewer players made runs in the attack and multiple players passed up opportunities to shoot when presented the opportunity and were eventually closed down after trying to work into a better position. Mendez did make a run to get forward in the 73rd minute and fizzed a cross through the 6-yard box, but no one made a back-post run.
“It’s not that we want to sit back and wait,” Pareja said of the late-game play tonight. “We wanted to control the game and when we have those opportunities, we want to just obviously put the game away.”
New England’s comeback started suddenly. Bou slowed play, lulled Orlando to sleep, and sent in a cross to Buksa who timed his run perfectly and got in behind, heading past Gallese in the 81st minute. The play was close, but looked to be onside.
“He’s a very strong player that’s really strong in the area, and we knew that coming into this game,” Gallese said of Buksa. “It caused problems for us tonight, so we know that we had issues, but we’re going to take a look at it, we’re going to fix it and get stronger moving forward.”
Michel got down the left side in the 83rd but didn’t shoot with his left and tried to dance around a defender. Instead, he ended up losing the ball and New England countered, ending in a shot by Buchanan that went just wide. DeJuan Jones then nearly equalized in the 86th minute but Gallese made a huge stop to preserve the lead for the moment.
Another ball up the left found Michel on the left in the 90th minute with Turner out of his goal. Rather than trying to chip the keeper from out wide, the winger carried into the box and got his shot blocked. The tying goal came three minutes later.
Jones got down the left and sent in a cross. Buksa made a run in between the center backs and got airborne before Schlegel could react. The much larger forward easily flicked in the cross to tie the game at 2-2 in the 93rd minute.
46': Subbed on at halftime.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 25, 2021
81': Bring one back.
90'+3': Score the equalizer.
Just another day in the office for Adam Buksa. pic.twitter.com/PY8ZsdSeT0
Buksa got another header opportunity in the 95th but missed the target or else the end could have gotten even more sour for Orlando.
The Lions finished with more shots (15-13) and shots on target (5-3), more possession (59.4%-40.6%), and better passing accuracy (88.2%-81.6%), while New England’s late flurry had the Revs ahead on corners (8-5).
“We faced a very strong team tonight,” Gallese said. “We came into those last 15 minutes and weren’t fully up to the task to take them on. In those last 15 minutes they were very direct, and we can learn from a few errors that cost us two points tonight. But moving forward, the thing that we need to realize is that this team is still very good. This team is still very strong. And we move on to the next one.”
“The proximity of the game doesn’t let us get too down,” Pareja said. “We have to move on and try to get the points in the three games that we have left.”
Orlando City will hit the road for the penultimate time in the regular season as the Lions head to Ohio to play the Columbus Crew on Wednesday.