Orlando City scored goals with its only two shots on target all night and withstood a furious rally attempt to defeat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 at Exploria Stadium. Benji Michel and Andres Perea scored the goals as the Lions (7-3-4, 25 points) halted a three-game winless skid and jumped over the Union (6-4-5, 23 points) in the standings. The Lions remain five points behind the New England Revolution with a game in hand on both the Revs and the Union.
With the win, Orlando improved to 4-4-5 (2-1-3 at home) in the all-time series. Oscar Pareja improved to 6-2-1 against Philadelphia in his MLS coaching career.
“A fantastic match against a fantastic opponent, and three points that we value a lot tonight,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “Today we faced a rival that has a lot of consistency in their ways and I think we were protagonists of the possession especially in the first half.”
Pareja’s back five was unchanged from Saturday at Toronto, with Pedro Gallese backstopping a defense of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Kyle Smith. Junior Urso got the night off, so Andres Perea got the start for the Bear, while Uri Rosell stepped in for the injured Sebas Mendez. Mauricio Pereyra and Michel were charged with feeding attackers Nani and Chris Mueller, with no true striker in the starting XI.
The game was delayed by lightning in the area because Florida and didn’t get underway until almost an hour past the original start time.
It took Orlando a few minutes to figure out how to play through the Union’s press. Once the Lions did get forward, however, they looked dangerous and they took the lead in just the 10th minute on the team’s first shot.
Pereyra threaded a pass through the Union defense to Michel, who made a diagonal run and nearly tripped over the ball. He was so open that he had plenty of time to recover and fire a shot past Matt Freese and into the net to make it 1-0. It was Michel’s third goal of the year and Pereyra’s fifth assist.
“I’m going to be honest. Props to Nani, because we were on the same side and he said, ‘Benji go inside,’” Michel said. “And so I started to creep inside and the space opened up. And right when the space opened up, Mauricio saw me, and I was able to take it first touch. I stumbled a bit but I was able to keep my cool and slot it in.”
Getting that early goal was important.
“When we’re able to score that first goal it takes a lot of pressure off our shoulders, but we’re still able to maintain a level of play that we want to play at,” Michel said.
Three minutes later, Pereyra nearly made it 2-0, taking a pass from Perea around the penalty spot and firing a shot that trickled just inches wide of the left post. That ended up being the last Orlando shot attempt of the half, although the team did work the ball around the Union penalty area several times without creating a shot after that.
Most of the remainder of the half consisted of half chances for Philadelphia that went wide or high, and a lot of play between the two boxes. The Union’s best chance came on a corner kick that was headed off target.
Late in the half Pereyra picked up a yellow card while trying to fend off Jose Martinez, who was roughing him up from behind. Being smaller, Pereyra tried to make himself bigger by putting his arms out to box Martinez out and prevent him from getting a touch on the ball. Martinez leaned into Mo’s arm and got the call from Alan Kelly. Pereyra will be suspended for yellow card accumulation for Sunday’s match.
Philadelphia led in shots (6-2) in the opening period but Michel’s goal was the only one on target. Both teams earned one corner kick in the first half and Orlando held the advantage in possession (52.6%-47.4%) and passing accuracy (84.9%-83.9%).
The Union started attacking from further out when the second half began. Daniel Gazdag sent Gallese scrambling with shots in the 51st and 53rd minutes but both were just wide of goal.
Perea doubled the lead six minutes after that second Gazdag effort. Pereyra sent the ball wide to Nani on the right side and the captain sent an inch-perfect cross into the area. Perea jumped early and placed his header just inside the far post and out of Freese’s reach. It was Perea’s second goal in three matches.
Pereyra got his second goal involvement of the match with a secondary assist on the play, sending the ball wide to Nani for the entry ball.
Orlando pressed for the kill shot and Nani nearly had it twice. He fizzed a shot just over the bar in the 64th minute from the left and Mueller set him up in the 65th in the box but Gazdag nicked the ball from behind at the last second from behind. The Union midfielder got a piece of Nani after getting the ball and Orlando appealed for a penalty but there was no call from Alan Kelly and the Video Assistant Referee didn’t ask the referee to take a second look.
Moments later, Kacper Przybylko pulled one back from the visitors. Moutinho knocked a ball away toward the middle of the field, but it went straight to Gazdag, who found Olivier Mbaizo streaking down the right. Mbaizo crossed at the top of the area, Schlegel was a split second slow to close, and Przybylko hit it first time, scoring in the 68th minute.
Quinn Sullivan forced a save from Gallese in the 78th minute as the Union kept coming. Then in the 83rd, with Nani down with what appeared to be a cramp, Philadelphia kept playing while the Lions asked them to kick it out of play and the Union fashioned a shot on goal that forced another save.
The Lions tried to put the game away on the counter in the 85th minute but Smith’s shot was blocked out for a corner at the last second.
Philadelphia continued to push bodies forward, looking for the equalizer. A set piece ended up with Jansson on the ground in his penalty area having suffered what appeared to be a broken nose after his face hit Schlegel’s shoulder. It took several minutes for trainers to stop his nosebleed and the Swede’s nose was obviously crooked after the collision.
The Union nearly tied it at the death. Jack Elliott roamed forward and got a shot on target that forced a diving save from Gallese. Jack McGlynn tracked the ball down and sent it across the front of the goal line. Quinn Sullivan got to it at the far post first and seemed about to score but Smith blocked it with his face. Philadelphia sent in another cross that Przybylko headed on frame but again El Pulpo was there to make the stop.
“It was a crazy ending,” Moutinho said. “I think we held on for dear life. We held together and we got the three points in the end. We’re already very tired because it’s the end of the game and they’re pushing even more numbers forward, so there’s not a lot of organization. It’s really tough for us, but I think we did a really good job. We had some luck there at the end with that last play, but that’s football. We held on tight. And we got the win and we ended up not conceding.”
“In the end we suffered more than we wanted,” Pareja said. “Philadelphia started pushing, putting their lines higher. We may remember that last play where they had that option, but also we had more opportunities, especially in the first half, when we could (have) put the game away.”
That was the last gasp and the whistle blew at last to end the match with Orlando on top. Philadelphia out-shot the Lions 18-5 (6-2 on target), earned more corners (3-2), and edged Orlando in passing accuracy (83.4%-83.2%). Each team had 50% of the possession.
The Lions will travel north Sunday to take on New York City FC at Yankee Stadium at 7:30 p.m.