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Orlando City vs. FC Cincinnati: Final Score 1-1 as Lions Again Drop Points Against a Team Low in the Table

Nani’s second-half goal rescues a point on the road.

MLS: Orlando City SC at FC Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw against Inter Miami should have been a wakeup call despite being a rivalry game. But Orlando City continued to be wasteful with chances in a 1-1 away draw against FC Cincinnati tonight, dropping points again in a match-up with a lower table team at TQL Stadium. The Lions (8-4-6, 30 points) came from a goal down in the second half on a Nani strike after conceding to Cincinnati (3-7-7, 16 points) forward Brenner in the closing minutes of the first half.

Orlando has not lost to FC Cincinnati since FCC entered the league (2-0-2) but has yet to win against the recent expansion side in their home stadium (0-0-2) with one more match to play there this season. The Lions are unbeaten in their last three (1-0-2) but still haven’t returned to their form from earlier in the season. FC Cincinnati still hasn’t won in its new home (0-3-4).

“Obviously it’s always tough, because you want to win every game,” goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar said. “We fought hard, though. We came back in the second half.

Oscar Pareja didn’t rotate heavily, but did swap out some players from Wednesday’s match against Inter Miami. Stajduhar got his third straight start in goal, backing up a defensive line of Emmanuel Mas, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel (for the injured Antonio Carlos — concussion protocol), and Kyle Smith. Junior Urso and Uri Rosell played central midfield, with Benji Michel, Mauricio Pereyra, and Chris Mueller funneling the attack toward Tesho Akindele at the top of the formation. Nani started on the bench and Joao Moutinho returned to the match day roster, although there was no sign of Daryl Dike, Pedro Gallese, or Alexandre Pato.

Orlando City held much of the possession in the first half but did little with it. Cincinnati played defensively and the Lions didn’t do a lot to break down the hosts’ shape, opting for shots from outside the area or trying to be too fine around the top of the box and losing the ball without generating anything.

The Lions got the first opportunity in the 11th minute when Mas tried a shot from outside the area. The ball skipped in front of Kenneth Vermeer and nearly slipped underneath him for a goal.

Cincinnati’s first chance came in the 17th minute when Allan Cruz was able to sneak in down the right but Jansson got back and made a sliding block.

Three minutes later, Mas hit an inside-out shot toward goal that Vermeer was able to snare, although it may have been drifting wide anyway.

Mas said he’s getting more comfortable in Pareja’s system and that’s allowing him to get more into the flow of the match.

“It’s a new football for me. It’s a new system,” Mas said through a club interpreter. “I think, seeing that’s the way that Oscar wants to play and he’s got the confidence to give me some minutes, that really helped me develop. It’s a system where you need minutes. You need time in the game playing with your teammates to really make it work.”

A minute after his second shot, Mas sent a dangerous cross back across the area from left to right but the defense knocked it away before Akindele could get to it. Mas was easily Orlando’s best player in the opening half.

Mueller had a go from outside the area in the 22nd minute but hit his shot way over the bar as Orlando just didn’t seem to have any ideas on how to finish an attack.

In the 27th minute, both teams fashioned a chance. Brenner had his shot blocked by Jansson and it fell for Yuya Kubo, who fired well over the crossbar. The Lions somehow got the ball to Akindele behind the defense seconds later (the broadcast didn’t show how) and he was 1-v-1 against Vermeer, who made an outstanding save to preserve the 0-0 score.

Two Lions got in each other’s way on the ensuing corner and it appeared Mas got his head to it, but the confusion made him send it wide. Mas then served in a great cross in the 32nd minute to the top of the six and Smith got to it first but made a mess of his shot attempt and popped it up over the goal.

A minute later, the Lions almost paid for that miss when Luciano Acosta worked Schlegel back and forth and sent a shot just wide of the far post from the top of the area.

In the 36th minute, Pereyra sent a good ball across to the far side from the left. Mueller slipped on the play but Smith was able to reach it before the defense closed. The right back again got his final touch completely wrong and the ball squirted harmlessly off target.

Alvaro Barreal fired a shot wide of goal in the 39th minute and moments later Rosell went down with a non-contact injury, holding his groin area. He struggled back onto the pitch on the ensuing throw-in but was obviously not moving well. Barreal got down the right and cut the ball back to Brenner who was completley unmarked and the Brazilian finished easily. It was Cincinnati’s first goal in more than three matches.

As the video shows, Rosell’s lack of mobility after the injury set up an overload on the attacking right, but on the back side no one picked up Brenner. Rosell was subbed out after the goal for Andres Perea.

“I was very upset with that moment because I thought as well that (Rosell) was hurt,” Pareja said. “When I saw him walking back to the field — sometimes that happens with a player. It was almost the last two or three minutes in the half. I’ll take that responsibility on not subbing right away.”

Pareja said he’d hoped they could get to halftime and not have to use up one of their three substitution stoppages but dropping Pereyra deeper didn’t work on the play and he had no choice but to then send Perea on for Rosell.

Orlando held a possession advantage (51.4%-48.6%) and passed more accurately (87.8%-86.1%) in the first half, but a late flurry by FC Cincinnati had the hosts ahead on shot attempts (8-7), although Orlando got more on frame (3-1). Each team won one corner.

Pareja let the second half play out for 10 minutes and then brought on a triple substitution, sending Nani, Moutinho, and Ruan on for Michel, Mas, and Smith. Mas had been his most productive offensive player all night but he’s still likely a little short of 90-minute match fit and Nani works well down the left with the Portuguese left back.

Just a minute after Nani came on, he tied the game. A terrible no-look pass in his own half by Cruz ended up on the foot of Orlando’s captain instead. Nani dribbled toward the top of the area and sent a shot just inside the right post to even the score with his ninth goal of the season in the 56th minute. It was the captain’s 15th goal involvement in 15 appearances in 2021.

Orlando went for the kill in the moments right after the goal. Mueller ended up with the ball on the right and he blasted a shot but Vermeer was able to fight it off in the 57th minute. A minute later, Urso got into the box and went down as he was set to tee up a shot but referee Fotis Bazakos wasn’t interested in his penalty shout. Ruan won a corner on the other side just seconds later and the cross found Akindele’s head but his redirect was just over the bar.

Cincinnati had to sub Vermeer out a few minutes later as the keeper went down, holding his quad and Przemyslaw Tyton entered the match. That delay seemed to break Orlando’s momentum and allowed the hosts to settle down a bit. The game opened up and FCC seemed to generate the better opportunities on the counter. Cruz fired over the bar in the 66th and Brenner did likewise from a tight angle in the 73rd.

Mueller nearly sent Akindele in behind just seconds after the restart from Brenner’s miss but new Cincinnati defender Geoff Cameron poked the ball away at the last second as the forward was preparing to shoot.

Brenner sent another shot just inches wide in the 75th minute before Orlando won a series of corners, but the Lions could do nothing with them.

Pareja sent Joey DeZart into the match for Urso in the 83rd minute with his final substitution, but would have liked to have made an attacking sub late. He said the injury to Rosell forced his hand to go a different way.

“The substitution early in the middle just took away the possibility, for example, to bring (on) Silvester (van der Water) or Alex (Alvarado). That was in my plans just to finish stronger up front,” Pareja said.

DeZart got into the box in the 88th minute and went down after contact but again Bazakos wasn’t interested. That was the last promising opportunity for Orlando other than some forays down the right that fizzled when Ruan either waited too long to cross or just sent a low ball blindly into traffic with his runners on the far side.

Cincinnati fashioned a chance to win the game in stoppage time. Forward Isaac Atanga was either offside or just held on by Moutinho and the ball found its way through to him. He dribbled into the area and Stajduhar came off his line, made himself big, and deflected the ball away for Jansson to clear in the 94th minute.

“I first thought he was offside — it’s what it looked like — but I guess he wasn’t,” Stajduhar said. “I just wanted to stay patient, stay up, wait for him to make a move, make him do something. The last second I went to spread and luckily got a piece of it. Robin was there to sweep it up, clean it up.”

Orlando saw out the ensuing corner and the match was over.

The more open second half allowed Cincinnati to out-shoot Orlando 17-13, although the Lions got more attempts on goal (5-2). Orlando also held more possession (53.8%-46.2%), earned more corners (6-2), and passed more accurately (87%-84.1%) but could only manage a single goal.

“I think we leave a little bit angry about the result,” Mas said. “We came in today to take the three points. I think that’s the beautiful thing about MLS is that every team is competitive. You can’t take a day off. You can’t relax on any particular game because there are so many irregularities that if you don’t come in and give your best effort, then any team can take the three points.”

“There’s no easy game in MLS, but you want to win every game you play,” Stajduhar said. “I think it’s just keep doing that next little step, get us over the hump, and get back in the win column.”

Next up for Orlando City is a Leagues Cup match-up at home against Santos Laguna on Thursday, Aug. 12. It’s the Lions’ first international competition and a big moment in club history.