The New York Red Bulls are no longer the only team to get the better of Orlando City this season as the Lions lost 3-1 against the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field. Although Orlando was able to take the lead in the first half, defensive errors and poor finishing doomed the Lions. Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja gave rest to key players and the starting Lions had a hard time getting a result on the road.
Let’s dive right into what we learned from the Lions’ road loss to the Fire.
An Unfortunate First For Pareja’s Lions
For the first time since Pareja has been at the helm, Orlando City has lost consecutive games. The Lions weren’t able to bounce back after falling 2-1 at home to the New York Red Bulls and they’ve squandered a golden opportunity to reach the top of the Eastern Conference. Orlando was far from full strength during this match, which does take some of the sting out of the loss. But it does put more pressure on the Lions’ next match on July 17 against a Toronto FC side that just won 3-2 on the road against the New England Revolution. While it’s nice that the Lions are still in striking distance of the Revolution for the time being, they are trending in the wrong direction. It is the first losing streak of the Pareja era and the team will have to snap it soon with tough opponents on the horizons.
Substitutes Couldn’t Save Orlando
In the past, Pareja has been able to use weaker lineups on the road and earn results while resting regular starters. It worked well during the shortened 2020 season, but the strategy faltered against the surging Fire. Pareja didn’t make any changes until after the Fire took the lead in the 72nd minute, with Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Sebas Mendez all coming on to try to turn the tide. Chris Mueller came on for Michael Halliday minutes later as well, but Orlando’s second goal never came. There were plenty of chances created once these players came on but it was all too little too late for the Lions.
To me, the strategy seemed to be for Orlando to keep the game close for as long as possible and then bring in these offensive players to ensure a result. If these Lions came on earlier, then Chicago may not have taken the lead as Orlando would’ve likely taken more control of the match. In particular, if Mendez came on sooner for a struggling Uri Rosell then the Lions could’ve better stabilized the midfield. At the end of the day, Pareja got his more creative players the rest they needed after a congested schedule. But in doing so, it definitely cost the Lions important points.
Andres Perea Gets His First Goal
With a heavily rotated starting lineup that lacked many of Orlando’s usual playmakers, Perea stepped up to the plate in the 34th minute to score his first goal as a Lion. Perea’s goal gave the Lions a needed lead, but that was canceled out with the blow of Chicago’s equalizer right before the half. It was Perea’s 35th MLS regular-season appearance and hopefully this will open the gates for more goals to come from the 20-year-old in the future.
Minutes Finally Catch Up With Kyle Smith
Orlando’s back line has been banged up all year long, with Antonio Carlos, Joao Moutinho, Ruan, and Rio Hope-Gund all unavailable for this match. The Lions have heavily relied on fullback Kyle Smith to fill gaps, with the 29-year-old playing every single minute for the Lions this season. While he’s been fantastic for the Lions, Smith had a massive defensive lapse on Chicago’s first goal. In the dying moments of the first half, Smith was caught out of position on a cross to the back post and was unable to mark Boris Sekulic, who easily headed the ball past Brandon Austin. The Fire scored a second goal in the 72nd minute after Smith kept Robert Beric onside during a run and he wasn’t able to close Beric down before the forward slotted it home. It was definitely Smith’s worst game of the season and certainly put an urgency on the returns of Moutinho and Ruan.
The Lions Lacked Killer Instinct
Orlando put nine of its 16 shots on target, but only Perea’s wound up as a goal. For most of the match, the offense was headed by Benji Michel, Silvester van der Water, and Tesho Akindele, with Junior Urso helping out here and there. Van der Water led the team with six key passes and played a beautiful ball right in front of goal but there was just no one making a run to put it away. Michel had five shots but just couldn’t make the most of them despite great opportunities. It was a frustrating night to say the least as players made too many passes in front of goal only to send shots directly at Chicago goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
Daryl Dike’s absence certainly hinders the Lions’ offense and his lethality could’ve definitely been used in this one. But the Lions have found ways to score without Dike already this season and Alexandre Pato’s return should give the Lions more options on attack.
That’s everything I took away from the Lions’ third loss of the season. What did you see in this one? Were there other areas that Orlando faltered in or some silver linings hidden in defeat? Make sure to let us know in the comments below.