What seemed like a great start did not last very long as Orlando City’s first goal early on was not enough to propel the Lions to the next round of the MLS playoffs. It was another close match between the two sides this year, but Nashville SC ended up winning 3-1 to send the Lions back home and out of the playoffs.
Here are my five takeaways from a disappointing end to the season.
Orlando Took Advantage of Corner Kicks
Orlando City set the tone early in the game as it cashed in on the second of its two corner kicks in the first half. Daryl Dike climbed the ladder to head in the first goal of the game and his fifth in the last five straight matches. His goal was Orlando’s only shot on target in the first half. The Lions got the best start they could have hoped for as the away side in the playoffs and they were level with Nashville after Hany Mukhtar’s goal from an unlucky deflection off Antonio Carlos. Corners overall would continue to give Orlando City great looks and opportunities throughout the match as players made good runs into the box. Here is a look at Dike making the most of Mauricio Pereyra’s service from the corner kick.
Gallese Kept The Lions in The Game
Despite not being able to do anything about the cruel deflection that got by him on Nashville’s first goal from Mukhtar, Pedro Gallese was able to fend off scoring chances from Nashville up until the final third of the match. Nashville’s Randall Leal had a chance from outside the box in the 24th minute that El Pulpo was able to hang on to and end the threat on goal without a rebound. Mukhtar again put a shot on goal in the 40th minute, this time getting past the Lions defense without a touch. An outstretched Gallese made a great effort to get his hands on the ball and deny a goal from the initial shot. The rebound fell to Anibal Godoy, who put the ball away in the net, but he was correctly ruled offside. Gallese had dependable hands for most of the night as he caught most of what came his way but it wasn’t enough in the end.
Stalling Out in Midfield
It was a rough night in Nissan Stadium for Orlando City’s midfield. Orlando had trouble connecting in the center of the field due to sloppy passes that either put players in bad spots, ended up out of bounds, or turned the ball over. Even the first goal from Nashville came from a turnover as Junior Urso received a pass from Sebas Mendez and was looking to turn up field when the ball was poked away from behind and led to a break for Nashville and the eventual score. Field conditions on the pitch (there was a heavy rain during Sunday’s NFL game on that surface) may have also contributed to the poor play in midfield as players on both sides could be seen slipping to the ground on some occasions. The midfield battle is an important part of the game, as it is the starting point of offensive chances and can just as well be the downfall without proper ball security. This was on display when a two-man show put on by CJ Sapong and Mukhtar started in the midfield and led to Nashville’s second goal of the game with little resistance from Orlando’s midfield during the counter attack. This proved to be critical for Orlando and ultimately let the Lions down too many times.
Bad Timing Thwarts Nani Sub Strategy
Oscar Pareja’s usual substitution pattern includes making halftime adjustments and giving the starters the first 15 minutes of the second half to implement them. With the threat of 30 extra minutes in case of a tie, and with the match still hanging in the balance by the 70th minute, Pareja had Nani — who isn’t 90-minutes fit due to a knock down the season’s final stretch — set to come on and give his best for the remainder of normal time. The coach said after the match that had been the plan on how best to use the captain in limited minutes. However, while he was waiting to come on, Nashville took the lead in the 74th minute. Benji Michel had been getting into good positions but struggling to get much going offensively.
Pareja made several attacking substitutions as a result of the second Mukhtar goal, replacing Chris Mueller with Alexandre Pato and defensive midfielder Mendez with Tesho Akindele. Tesho had a chance when a deflection from a corner kick dropped right to him, but with Daniel Lovitz closing him down and ready to block the shot, he sent his attempt at goal wide. These offensive subs tried their best to provide a spark for the Lions as they got on the ball often to dribble forward and create chances. Because the Lions fell behind before they came on, instead of the game still being tied, it just felt like playmakers such as Nani and Pato did not have enough time on the pitch to impact the game. Had the ball gone out of play prior to the goal and the match still been tied, it’s impossible to say how the strategy would have played out.
Not Clinical Enough
Although Orlando ended the night with nine shots, it was the lack of quality shots on goal that left the Lions with only one goal. It was frustrating to watch many of Orlando’s chances go wide and not challenge Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis. Orlando had a tough time trying to break through Nashville’s defense to get a clean shot on goal and players were too hesitant at times in the box, looking for the perfect play. You don't score when you don't shoot, especially when the shots you do end up taking don’t find the frame of the goal. Nashville held onto its lead at the end by parking the bus, but Orlando did not take quality chances on its opportunities throughout the whole match.
Overall, it was a depressing way to see the Lions exit the playoffs after a promising start and an end to the 2021 season. At least we have 2022 to look forward to. Let’s hope the Lions can build for an even better 2022 season. What are your thoughts on this game? Let us know by leaving your comments down below.