Orlando City ended its three-game winless streak with a 2-1 win at home against the Philadelphia Union. It was certainly a close match and some late game heroics were needed to secure victory at Exploria Stadium. The Lions stood their ground, came out on top, and ultimately moved up the standings.
Let’s dive right into what we learned from this win over the Union.
Orlando’s Defense Bends, Doesn’t Break
OK, so maybe that’s not entirely true considering center back Robin Jansson broke his nose late in the match. Orlando’s defenders really left it all out on the field. The game certainly changed after Kacper Przybylko scored in the 68th minute, with center back Antonio Carlos coming on just five minutes later to help fortify the back line. It was far from easy as the Union threw everything they had at Orlando for an equalizer, but the defense saw it through. To give you an idea of the onslaught the defense dealt with, Rodrigo Schlegel led the team with a whopping eight clearances while Jansson made seven.
Pedro Gallese made crucial stops when there were lapses in defending, but the best save of the night came from right back Kyle Smith. The fullback has played every single minute for Orlando this season and had to be feeling that in his legs late in stoppage time. With the game on the line, Smith was there at the goal line to stop what was sure to be the equalizer for Philadelphia. The clearance was unorthodox, the ball smacking him in the face, but it was a clearance nonetheless
Mauricio Pereyra Steps Up
Our Topher Adams said it first: Orlando needed more from Designated Player Mauricio Pereyra. The Uruguayan had an up-and-down season but came alive in this game, assisting on Orlando’s first goal and making a good pass to set up Nani’s cross on the second. Pereyra had a chance to score himself after a good series of passes in front of goal with Andres Perea, but his shot went just wide.
While Pereyra has been dubbed El Maestro by many due to the clever ways he pulls the strings on offense, I tend to see him as more of a butcher. He’s capable of finding the best uses of Orlando’s many dangerous weapons and making them outright lethal against the opposition. Time and time again, Pereyra found the Union’s weak spots and carved up their defense as he saw fit. His assist was an example of how he excels in Oscar Pareja’s system and a warning to Orlando’s future opponents. When he catches you sleeping, he makes you pay for it.
No Striker, No Problem
Orlando’s starting lineup didn’t include a striker, but the Lions were still able to find the back of the net twice in this one. DPs Pereyra and Nani provided the assists, but all of Orlando’s offensive players were creative and hungry to score. Perea in particular deserves credit for running upfield and sneaking into dangerous areas. We saw him do this late in Orlando’s previous game against Toronto FC, heading the ball wide and nearly taking all three points on the road. This time, his header was on target when Nani found him in a similar position for his second goal as a Lion. Still, the Lions’ only shots on target were the two goals, despite creating chances in the final third. Daryl Dike is at the Concacaf Gold Cup and Alexandre Pato is still recovering from surgery. When either returns to the action, it should really open up ways for Orlando to score.
Just to be clear, the Lions didn’t go the whole match without a striker on the pitch. Tesho Akindele came on for Michel in the 78th minute and was perhaps the most impactful substitute Pareja made. He was the big body the Lions needed up top, not to score, but to win possession and keep it after the Union’s goal. Akindele also gets some extra love from me for his sprint to deflect a set piece while Jansson was temporarily on the sideline.
Joao Moutinho is Back
Moutinho has been dealing with injuries throughout his career and it’s nearly been a year since his groin injury last August that required surgery in the off-season. While this game wasn’t his season debut, it was the closest he’s resembled the player that was named to the MLS is Back Tournament Best XI. Moutinho led the Lions in touches (92), passes (68), and interceptions (three). He tied Perea with three tackles and made two clearances as well. Offensively, he had no trouble whipping in good crosses and nearly had an assist with a nice ball towards the back post, but no one could get on the end of it. Most importantly, he played two full shifts in a row for the Lions and more time on the field will result in better connections with his teammates. He wasn’t perfect, giving the ball up cheaply a few times, including the turnover that led to Philadelphia getting back in the game, but if he can get in a few more performances like last night’s, he’ll be back to his old self.
An Important Win in Many Ways
The Lions are back in second place in the Eastern Conference standings after this win, jumping over the Union and Nashville SC. There’s something a bit sweeter about leapfrogging the Union by beating them directly. I’ve never been fond of using strength of schedule to determine how good a team is since you can only play the teams you’re scheduled against. But before this match, Orlando only played two games against teams currently above the playoff line and those were 1-1 draws with Sporting Kansas City and New York City FC. This win over the Union proved that the Lions can win against the better teams in the league as well. More tough tests await the Lions later in the season, but Thursday night proved they can handle it.
That’s everything I took away from the Lions’ seventh win of the season. What did you see in this one? Make sure to let us know in the comments below.