Orlando City has only played FC Cincinnati on the road twice, and both games have had the same result after the Lions drew 1-1 on Saturday night at TQL Stadium. This was a pretty interesting game, and there was a lot to be learned from it. What follows are my takeaways from this one.
NYCFC Lessons Learned
Oscar Pareja made changes from the midweek game against Inter Miami, giving Nani, Ruan, and the injured Antonio Carlos a rest after a short time to bounce back between games. However, the rotation was nothing like we saw when Orlando play NYCFC on short rest after playing the Philadelphia Union, when Pareja made a whopping six changes and the Lions got pummeled in Yankee Stadium. While it didn’t result in a win for Orlando and the team didn’t look as solid as anyone would have liked, the hard lesson from the end of July seems to have been learned.
Chances Hard to Come By
Orlando was not able to create a ton of danger against one of the teams near the bottom of the table in the Eastern Conference. Tesho Akindele had two good chances with a shot after an FCC mistake at the back in the first half and then a header off a corner kick in the second half. Kyle Smith skied a couple of decent half-volley chances. Chris Mueller had a shot saved in the second half. Other than that, the Lions weren’t able to make a ton of danger happen in front of goal. That was frustrating but semi-understandable during the first half. Without Nani, Ruan, and Joao Moutinho on the field, Orlando was very one-dimensional in the final third, with the ball mostly staying central and little happening out wide. With the Lions not able to pull the FCC defense out of place, the Orange and Blue were mostly comfortable.
The Changes Worked...Kinda?
Pareja didn’t wait too long to make substitutions, with Nani, Ruan, and Moutinho entering the game and Benji Michel, Emmanuel Mas (who was mostly very good), and Smith exiting. Nani almost immediately changed the game, latching onto an...interesting flick in the midfield from Allan Cruz and dispatching the ball past Kenneth Vermeer from the edge of the box. The Lions created multiple chances right after the goal. Mueller forced a save from Vermeer and Tesho had the aforementioned chance from a corner kick. Once the game halted several minutes for an injury to Vermeer, the chances mostly dried up. That was certainly frustrating to see, and against a better team it might well have cost the Lions all three points.
Mason the Hero
It nearly did cost Orlando all three points in the end. FCC was the more threatening team after OCSC equalized, and was honestly rather profligate considering the sort of dangerous areas that they managed to work the ball into. Orlando did make some timely blocks and defensive recoveries, but Cincinnati definitely had the better chances after the equalizer as opposed to the Lions. One of the best chances of the night fell to FCC at the end of the game, when Isaac Atanga was sent clean through on goal with only Mason Stajduhar to beat. Luckily for the Lions, the Homegrown goalkeeper was up to the challenge, coming off his line, making himself big, and preventing the striker from even really getting a shot off. In the end, Orlando managed to salvage a point on the road, and Mason is the one to thank for it staying that way.
A Draw is a Letdown
Overall, a draw has to be considered a letdown for Orlando City. The Lions have now only taken a point apiece in their last two games against teams near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. While it’s true that Orlando has just cleared a fairly brutal stretch of five games in 17 days, OCSC will simply have been hoping for more out of the last two games. Short rest or not, it has to be a little concerning that Orlando wasn’t able to generate more chances than it did with a half-hour of an almost full-fledged starting lineup on the field. The summer has had its ups and downs and while the current patch of games is more of a plateau than a downswing, the Lions will need to refocus and get back to beating teams they should beat to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference.
At the end of the day, a draw is frustrating but the manner of the draw is maybe what makes it so frustrating. Still, a point on the road in MLS isn’t the easiest thing in the world to come by, and Orlando will have a good opportunity to build momentum when it takes on Santos in the Leagues Cup on Thursday. Vamos Orlando!