The Lions got their first road win ever against Toronto FC and weirdly enough it came at home. Due to the pandemic forcing the Reds to camp out and play in Central Florida, Saturday’s match at Exploria Stadium was technically considered a home game for TFC even though it was held in Orlando City’s home building.
Orlando came roaring out of the gate to take a quick 2-0 lead, only to watch that evaporate before the half ended. The Lions played like the better side in the second half but couldn’t quite find the final connection until a wayward Auro Jr. pass was picked off by Junior Urso late. Urso played a give-and-go with Chris Mueller and the Bear scored the game winner in a thrilling 3-2 Orlando win.
Here’s what I took away from the match:
An Emotional Win
Oscar Pareja, Tesho Akindele, and Urso all talked after the game about how difficult this week has been for the team, as their thoughts are with teammate Rodrigo Schlegel, who lost his father and has been back home with his family in Argentina. The Lions came out flying and scored the first two goals early. After the first, there was a celebration with Schlegel’s jersey on the sideline as the Lions showed the love and respect they have for the young defender. Urso said the team pushed hard to get the win in the final 15 minutes despite being tired and dealing with a humid, midsummer, Orlando night. Urso said he was the one who initiated the Schlegel celebration, so it was only fitting that the Bear scored the game-winning goal. After blowing a 2-0 lead, this is the type of game that past Orlando teams might have lost. The team showed great resolve in getting the win on Schlegel’s behalf.
Tesho Akindele is in the Form of his Life
Orlando City’s Canadian striker has scored three goals and added three assists in his last six games, including one of each goal contribution Saturday night. As Tesho told us on the Mane Land PawedCast on June 9, Pareja has been emphasizing making the smart decision with the ball in the final third. Akindele has taken that to heart and has three assists this season as a result — one off his career high of four, which he set back in 2016, which took him 31 games to do. He’s already matched his goal output from last season in nine fewer appearances and he’s been efficient doing it. His three goals have come on 12 shots (six on target), so he’s scoring on a quarter of his total shots and on half of his shots on goal. Akindele is on pace to potentially finish with his second double-digit goal season in three years with Orlando. He’s also raised his passing percentage this year to 80.3% (so far). If he maintains that throughout the season it would be a new career high.
Kyle Smith Illustrated the Duality of Man
El Soldado/The Accountant has raised his game in 2021 in an obvious way. However, he played with a bit of a split personality against Toronto. Defensively, he was an important factor. Everyone took note of his goal-line clearance in the second half. No doubt it was a vital moment in the match. But it was another defensive play that caught my attention. Orlando had just taken a set piece and Toronto looked to counter. The Reds had a significant numeric advantage as Richie Laryea busted down the left side of Toronto’s attack with four teammates with him and only three Orlando defenders in position to do anything. Smith was patient, held his position, and dispossessed Laryea at the top of the penalty area to thwart the chance.
However, on the offensive end, Smith just couldn’t seem to provide what the team needed. He was fine in possession, but in the final third there were issues. A couple of times he had bad first touches and Orlando lost its advantage as he went to track down the ball. There were a couple of opportunities to play guys in early but he held the ball. And some of his crosses were just curiously off the mark. And then there was his volley attempt, that looked a lot like some of my fairway shots as it squirted way off the mark. In my mind, Smith’s play in the attacking third didn’t live up to his play in the defensive third on Saturday.
It’s Good to Have Nani Back
Even though I think Toronto did an overall good job of marking Nani, the captain still found his moments of magic in his return from a two-game suspension. His header for Orlando’s second goal was well-placed and in the second half he sent several dangerous crosses into the area. While teammates weren’t able to get onto some of them — deeming them “inaccurate” crosses on the stat sheet — these were often whipped balls that just needed a touch. I credit Chris Mavinga and Omar Gonzalez in turning a few of those crosses into inaccurate ones by doing enough on their end to ensure no Lion got to those balls. Nani also drew a couple of free kicks and created space for his teammates.
Good First Outing for the new Backup
It’s easy to point at two goals against and suggest Brandon Austin had a tough first night as an MLS goalkeeper in game action, but I didn’t see it that way. He allowed two goals on 2.74 expected goals (xG), so he performed pretty well relative to the chances Toronto created. He could have perhaps controlled the rebound that led to the first TFC goal better, but I don’t think he could have done much about the second. He finished with two saves and his distribution was on point. There were, however a few bumps and that’s to be expected in his first match. A cross late in the game surprised Robin Jansson, who let it go through, figuring his goalkeeper had it covered, but Austin, in fact, did not. When Jansson turned around and saw that former Lion Dom Dwyer had nearly scored an equalizer, he appeared surprised that there had been a chance of that happening. Austin’s communication with his teammates will improve as Pedro Gallese continues to be away for Copa America and now that he’s got a match on film, he can work with Orlando City Goalkeeper Coach César Baena on the areas in which he needs to improve. Pareja lauded Austin’s preparation for the match in his post-game press conference. Remember, Austin is only 22. That’s a baby in goalkeeper years.
Those are the things that stood out to me in Orlando City’s 3-2 road victory all the way up in...[/checks notes]...err...downtown Orlando. What did you notice?