Tesho Akindele, Nani, and Junior Urso provided the goals and Pedro Gallese wasn’t called on to make a single save, as Orlando City dominated FC Cincinnat 3-0 at Exploria Stadium. The Lions (1W-0L-2D, 5 points) turned in a good performance to get their first win of the season and remain unbeaten (2-0-1) in the all-time series against FCC (0-2-1, 1 point).
“Very good game for us, very solid performance,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The best part of the game was that we found the net — something that we were missing in the last two games, where we did a very good performance also but we were missing that final touch. In today’s game we did it. We were more precise and that makes us happy.”
Pareja’s lineup included Gallese in his customary spot between the sticks behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Mauricio Pereyra slotted into the midfield with Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez behind an attacking force of Nani, Tesho Akindele, and Chris Mueller.
It took just over 30 seconds for Orlando to take the lead. Akindele was the first to reach a wayward back pass and slotted home to score the fastest goal in Orlando City’s MLS history. The only other first-minute goals in the club’s history came in the USL days, as both Dom Dwyer and Kevin Molino accomplished the feat in 2013.
“It’s super important for sure,” Akindele said of scoring early. “I mean, think of it from their point of view. They just lost last week, a big loss, and then they come out this week and they’re down right away. It’s tough. I’ve been in that position where something like that’s happened. I know it’s tough mentally. So, we knew that we had a mental edge right there. We had the fans behind us, we have momentum, we’re feeling good. They’re playing in the heat. So I think at that point we kind of have a lot of things on our side.”
“It meant a lot, especially because I felt the boys in the locker room trying to come up with intensity and and setting the tone of the game,” Pareja said of the early goal.
The Lions’ bright start continued with Urso heading just over the bar three minutes in. Akindele nearly had a brace in the 15th when a deflected cross from Smith just cleared the Cincinnati defense but the ball took a big bounce right in front of Tesho, who bodied it to himself, but he couldn’t keep his shot down.
Nani doubled the lead in the 19th minute with a vintage Nani moment. He faked right, shedding Cincinnati’s Yuya Kubo, then came left again and fired a screamer past Przemysław Tytoń to make it 2-0.
The second goal seemed to wake Cincinnati up and the visitors fashioned a chance off a free kick conceded near the right corner. The cross came in and found Nick Hagglund, who headed just wide in the 22nd minute.
A minute later, Nani nearly made it three for the Lions, getting his head to a Mueller cross but hitting the left post with it. Pereyra nearly slipped in behind in the 26th minute but the play was broken up from behind and the Uruguayan needed a visit from the trainers, although he did continue.
That broke Orlando’s momentum and Cincinnati started playing more directly, trying to lob balls over the defense for well-timed runs by Brenner. A corner in the 36th minute found Tom Petterson’s head at the back post but again the free chance was nodded wide.
Cincinnati should have scored in the 38th minute when a long ball sprung Álvaro Barreal, who made a nice run. Gallese charged off his line but couldn’t get close to Barreal, but El Pulpo’s presence forced an errant shot by the Cincinnati man.
Orlando settled down a bit after that and fashioned some opportunities. Mueller cleared himself on the left and fired for the back post but couldn’t get enough curl on his shot in the 42nd minute in the final decent look for either side in the opening period.
“Oscar told us the last two games to score the goal. If we have one or two chances we have to score, and we missed that,” Urso said. “So, we talked about that last game. We said when we play against Cincinnati they have to pay the bill. Of course, we respect all teams in the league, but that’s the football. That’s the soccer. So we had talked about that. Today we have to win so today Cincinnati paid the bill. We scored the goals — more than one. That’s important too. I think today Oscar...he’s happy, I think.”
Orlando City attempted more shots (9-4), shots on goal (2-0), and held a slight edge in possession (51.1%-48.9%). Both teams earned two corners in the first half and Cincinnati was a bit sharper passing (87.8%-84.2%), but had very few pass attempts in the final third.
The Lions tried to get back on the front foot immediately after the break, with Mueller ripping a shot that was blocked behind for a corner in the 47th. Schlegel headed a shot on target off the ensuing set piece but it was right at Tyton.
Brenner nearly pulled a goal back out of nowhere in the 50th, sending a long range shot just wide of Gallese’s far post.
A minute later, Mueller again let ‘er rip, this time on the volley, sending his screamer just wide of the far post at the other end.
Nani smashed a gorgeous shot in the 63rd to force a good save by Tyton. Mendez ripped a shot just wide moments later. Ruan cut inside and fired a shot that Tyton saved in the 74th as the Lions continued to generate most of the game’s attack and looked to put the game to bed.
Orlando did just that in the 80th minute. Nani sent a back-post cross that second-half sub Andres Perea headed back across the box. It fell for sub Benji Michel, who turned, but he put the ball right on Urso’s foot and the Bear slipped a shot inside the left post to make it 3-0.
Hagglund headed wide on a corner shortly thereafter but the visitors didn’t cause too much of a fuss for the rest of the match. Joao Moutinho subbed on late, seeing his first game action since last August. After a late shot attempt just wide by Silvester van der Water, the game was over.
Orlando attempted more shots (22-7), got more on target (5-0), and held more possession (52.5%-47.5%). Both teams earned four corners and Cincinnati maintained a slight edge in passing accuracy (88.5%-87.6%).
With his second clean sheet of 2021, Gallese now has five as a Lion, tying Tally Hall for third on the team’s all-time list since joining MLS. El Pulpo trails just Brian Rowe (8) and career leader Joe Bendik (13). But it was the offense that stole the show on this night.
“Just getting that first win and especially getting a win with a few goals, it feels really good, Akindele said. “Maybe kind of takes some pressure off of the team, maybe the forwards especially. So that was huge from us.”
“Congratulations to the group. Congratulations to the fans as well, for the first win of the year and hopefully can can do many more,” said Pareja.
The Lions remain at home for their next game, hosting New York City FC next Saturday at 6 p.m.