Another spectacular Nani goal put Orlando City on top but a penalty kick goal by Valentin Castellanos allowed New York City FC to split the points in a 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium. Joao Moutinho, who came on for Ruan at halftime after the Brazilian picked up a knock, got Ismael Tajouri-Shradi’s foot instead of the ball in the second half and that gave NYCFC the opportunity from the spot to pull level.
The winner of the match could have moved to the top of the Eastern Conference table but with the points split, the Lions (1W-0L-3D, 6 points) slip to fourth due to the New York Red Bulls holding the first tiebreaker. NYCFC (2-1-1, 7 points) jumped New England into first on goal differential.
Orlando City and New York City FC drew for the third straight meeting and the Lions ran their modest unbeaten streak in the series to 1-0-4 in all competitions. Orlando City is now 6-5-6 in 17 meetings with NYCFC in the all-time series in MLS play and 6-5-8 in all competitions.
“Obviously we wanted more,” Orlando Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I thought the boys did an excellent job today. It’s disappointing not to come up with three points, which is what the fans deserve and what we work for. But we played against a good team too. New York has a game model that is not easy to play against. There’s things that need to be corrected for sure — those moments where we need to decide the game in the two areas.”
Pareja made no changes from last Saturday’s starting lineup, with Pedro Gallese in net behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Sebas Mendez and Junior Urso manned the central midfield. The lineup graphic and MLS website showed a 4-4-2 but Mauricio Pereyra ended up in the middle between Nani and Chris Mueller most of the time, with Tesho Akindele up top.
New York City FC controlled possession out of the gate, with Andres Jasson getting the game’s first shot on target. Gallese stopped it and Orlando cleared the ensuing corner kick and attempting to counter, but Ruan, who ended up on the left after the set piece, sent a poor cross in for Akindele and he could only make a sliding stab at it.
But the Lions settled in and started holding more of it about 10 minutes in. They began working crosses into the box but just couldn’t find the right range, hitting them a little short or a little long of their intended targets.
Valentin Castellanos got down the right and tested Gallese in the 29th minute but El Pulpo made the save.
Orlando continued working the ball in but couldn’t quite get the timing right a few times, lofting balls in that allowed Sean Johnson just enough time to beat Akindele to the ball, or getting crosses knocked away in traffic. NYCFC blocked a pair of Orlando shots in the 40th minute, with Urso trying a scissor kick that was deflected. Nani’s follow-up shot was blocked as well.
The teams played a tight, chippy opening 45 minutes without a goal, with Nani’s battle with instigator Anton Tinnerholm being the main source of entertainment.
The stats reflected the evenly played first half. Both teams ended up with five shot attempts, with NYCFC getting one more on target (2-1). Orlando City had more possession (55.4%-44.6%) and was a bit more accurate in passing (85.6%-80.4%). NYCFC had more corners (3-1).
Ruan had tangled with an NYCFC player late in the first half and finished it out but he was not moving well and Moutinho replaced him at the break, with Smith moving over to the right side.
The first good chance of the second half fell to Urso, after some good combination play up the right side. Johnson got over to make the save in the 51st minute. Just seconds later, the Lions took the lead.
Pereyra moved the ball from the middle to Nani out on the left. The captain cut inside and smashed an unstoppable shot past Johnson to make it 1-0. It was Nani’s third goal in as many games.
Nani’s goal was his 21st in MLS regular-season play, moving him within three of Kaká and Dom Dwyer for second on Orlando’s all-time list. Pereyra assisted on the goal to earn his first of the season and 13th as a Lion in 24 matches.
“Always it’s good to score for your team. It’s very nice to score in the stadium in front of your fans, but the most important is to win the games,” Nani said. “It’s good to score but I think I need to continue to focus to help the team in winning the games. And if I continue like that, sometimes I will score beautiful games. But, like I said, for me it’s not the most important (thing) scoring goals, it’s helping the team in any way (on) the field.”
“I think he’s finishing and scoring good goals for us,” Pareja said of Nani. “I’m glad to see him and the rest of the group with with this good level. I’m proud of them.”
NYCFC started to push numbers forward to try to pull the goal back and Orlando started to get opportunities to counterattack. Some of those opportunities fell apart at the end. In the 61st minute, Mueller tried to feed to Akindele on the counter rather than take it himself and the defense recovered just in time to deflect the shot behind for a corner. Mueller has yet to score in 2021 and seems to be deferring to teammates rather than looking for his own shot.
Akindele did well to box out James Sands in the 64th minute and might have gotten in behind the defense alone if Sands hadn’t pulled him down and taken the yellow card for the tactical foul.
Nani perhaps passed up an opportunity to shoot in the 66th minute, laying off instead for Mendez, who in turn played back for Pereyra. The Uruguayan fired just wide of goal.
The penalty occurred in the 76th minute. Second-half sub Tajouri-Shradi hesitated, then tried to move to the end line. Moutinho swiped at the ball with his left foot but wasn’t quite quick enough to make the play and his foot came down on Tajouri-Shradi’s for a sure penalty. Castellanos stepped up to take it and his stutter step was so pronounced that to my view he appeared to move a foot backward in his approach. Gallese went the wrong way and the game was tied at 1-1 as the Lions conceded a goal at home for the first time in 2021.
The Lions got a couple of shots on target down the stretch, with Smith sending a shot through traffic that didn’t trouble Johnson in the 86th minute, and substitute Benji Michel heading at Johnson in the 89th minute.
The whole night could have unraveled for Orlando City in the final minute of stoppage time. A deflection on Nani’s pass in the midfield ended up creating a chance for Jesus Medina to get in behind the defense. Gallese made a huge stop to preserve the draw.
OMG— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 9, 2021
The Octopus secures the draw at the death! pic.twitter.com/zMNynhSRQc
Orlando City had more shots (11-9), shots on goal (5-4), possession (57.1%-42.9%), corners (5-3), and passing accuracy (85%-82%). Despite having played well against a tough opponent at home and carrying the bulk of the play, the Lions take only one point away from it.
“We knew coming into tonight that it was going to be a tough game against a good opponent that was going to come into our place and try and disrupt the game that we play,” Schlegel said through a club interpreter. “I think for the most part we were able to impose how we play, which in general is a pretty dangerous style of play, and really try and impose our will, and for the most part, we were able to do that. We were the better team for most of the game, but you know that’s football sometimes. It just doesn’t come off. We’re not happy with the draw in our house. We want to win. But, you know, we’re just going to keep working and keep moving forward.”
“I feel very disappointed like, I think, everyone on the team,” Nani said. “We performed very well against a very good team and I think we deserved to win this game. Unfortunately we couldn’t win at the end but we have to highlight the good performance of the team. We want to improve, we want to get our victories, and we have to be not happy with the result.”
The Lions will go on the road for their next game, traveling to play D.C. United on Sunday, May 16.