A controversial play late in the first half spelled doom for Orlando City (10-7-8, 38 points) as it fell 3-1 to the Philadelphia Union (9-7-8, 35 points) this afternoon. What could’ve been a red card to Union forward Kacper Przybylko ended up as the Union’s first goal. Making matters worse, Przybylko scored a brace in the second half to end Orlando’s chances at a comeback.
Pedro Gallese was between the sticks and the Lions used a five-man back line in this one, with Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson, and Rodrigo Schlegel as center backs and Ruan and Kyle Smith as the two wingbacks. Junior Urso, Mauricio Pereyra, and Joey DeZart started in the midfield, with Tesho Akindele starting up top alongside Benji Michel. Nani and Andres Perea missed this game after being sent off in the team’s 4-2 loss to Montreal and both Daryl Dike and Silvester van der Water began this game on the bench.
Philadelphia dominated the first half as Orlando City found it difficult to get anything going offensively. In the 11th minute, the Lions had a decent chance when Akindele lost the ball near the end line but won it back. He ended up getting it to Pereyra at the top of the box, who was able to get a shot off, but it was blocked.
The Union nearly opened the scoring in the 14th minute when Jamiro Monteiro found space at the top of the box, using some fancy footwork to lose Junior Urso. His shot was just out of reach of the oncoming Jansson, but Schlegel blocked the shot from distance with his head.
Five minutes later, the Lions were forced into an early substitution when DeZart went down injured and was replaced by Raul Aguilera. Right after the change, Alejandro Bedoya played Monteiro right in front of goal. Fortunately for Orlando City, Monteiro was unable to make good contact and the ball went harmlessly out of play.
The second opportunity for Orlando City came in the 25th minute when Ruan took a shot from close range. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake had the near post covered, but the ball was deflected by Jack Elliott, who had extended his foot. The deflection forced Blake to slap the ball away, his first real action of the game.
Following the save, the Union went back on the attack. In the 30th minute, Bedoya played Olivier Mbaizo through on the right. The Cameroonian sent a dangerous ball across the box, nearly finding Cory Burke in on goal. However, Burke’s half-hearted attempt allowed the Lions to send it toward the top of the box. Leon Flach was waiting to collect it though and shot toward the far post, the ball rolling just wide.
The Union finally broke through in the 37th minute, though it was controversial. A Philadelphia free kick was quickly won by Orlando City, which tried to break out with numbers. However, a poor touch allowed the Union to regain control. With multiple Lions upfield, Burke found Kai Wagner at the top of the box and the midfielder’s shot was deflected past Gallese for the first goal of the game.
Replays showed that during the free kick, Przybylko elbowed Schlegel in the face, which should have been a free kick to Orlando City and possibly a red card for violent conduct for the forward. The assistant referee waved his flag, but was ignored by the referee, who let play go on. It was thought that VAR would’ve seen the infringement and reviewed the play, but the check informed Alan Kelly that he didn’t need to review it on the monitor.
In addition to the foul, it appeared as though there were multiple players offside and standing in front of Gallese during the shot. However, the referee didn’t call any of them offside and allowed the goal to stand.
“What I can tell you is what I saw first was a foul,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “I would consider it a red card. It was flagged by the linesman. He saw it first. Second, the play that he was allowed to have advantage for us, I respect this decision of the referee on that part. But then, what I thought was (a player) well in between the shooter and our keeper. He’s blocking his side and was being part of the play.”
“We were going to go on a counter attack,” Akindele said about the play. “And unfortunately, we lost the ball and they converted. That’s what good teams are gonna do. They had a couple guys in front of Pedro that could have been called offside or not. They didn’t call it offside.”
Despite the unlucky break, the Lions were fortunate to only be down one at the half. Philadelphia led the first half in possession (60%-40%), shots (8-1), shots on goal (3-1), total passes (209-150), passing accuracy (85.2%-74.7%), corners (4-1), and crosses (15-1).
The Lions did lead some first half statistical categories, but they were all defensive. These included duels won (28-17), tackles won (9-6), and clearances (18-3).
Orlando City came out much better to start the second half, beginning the period on the front foot. In fact, it didn’t take long for the visitors to get the equalizer.
In the 57th minute, Pereyra sent a good ball across the box for Ruan. Concerned about the wingback’s speed, the Union defenders provided plenty of space for him. So, despite Ruan being one of the smallest players on the field, he was able to redirect the cross toward the far post with his head. The header got past Blake and bounced off the far post for the equalizing goal.
The goal had Orlando City thinking of getting out of Philadelphia with at least a point, but that hope didn’t last long. In the 61st minute, Monteiro attempted to dribble down the Orlando City end line. He lost the ball to Smith, but Bedoya immediately won it back for the Union, laying it off to Monteiro. The midfielder found Przybylko, who could’ve been sent off in the first half for striking Schlegel, right in front of goal and the striker slammed it past Gallese, giving Philadelphia a 2-1 advantage.
Orlando City’s best chance after its goal came in the 74th minute. Ruan played a nice ball into the box for Junior Urso, who redirected it on target with his head. However, Blake was up to the task again, making the diving save and keeping the Lions behind by one.
Two minutes later, Sergio Santos had his first of multiple good chances on goal. Sent through behind the Orlando City defense, Gallese did well to cut down his angle. Santos shot but Gallese was right there to make the easy save. Orlando City was fortunate that Santos decided to shoot as he had Przybylko in the middle with no defenders around.
A bad situation almost got worse in the 80th minute. Santos once again was sent behind the defense, though it was questionable whether he was onside. Gallese came out of his box to tackle the midfielder, missing the ball and taking the Brazilian out. With no defenders around, the referee could’ve considered it denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, which would’ve been a red card for the Lions’ goalkeeper. But it was decided that Santos was too far toward the touchline, giving him a yellow instead.
In the 88th minute, the Lions did end up getting a player sent off. For the third time late in the game, Santos was able to get behind the defense, this time beating Carlos into the box. The usually solid center back grabbed the midfielder and pulled him down. Kelly immediately pointed to the spot and issued Carlos a red card.
The sending off was Orlando City’s third in its last two games. While the team will get Nani and Perea back next week, it will now be missing a key defender in Carlos.
To put a dagger in a disappointing afternoon, Przybylko stepped up to the spot and converted the penalty. So instead of being sent off in the first half, the Polish striker netted a brace and led his team to a 3-1 win.
It appeared at halftime as though this would be a lopsided affair. Despite the two-goal difference, the Lions made up ground in the second half. Philadelphia ended the game leading in possession (51.5%-48.5%), shots (13-9), shots on goal (8-4), total passes (381-365), passing accuracy (80.3%-80%), corners (4-3), and crosses (18-10). Orlando City led in duels won (51-42) and clearances (21-10).
The once defensively strong Lions have now conceded 12 goals in their last four games. This was the team’s third straight loss, the longest losing streak under Pareja.
“I think overall, especially our reactions in the second half when we tied the game and then we had control of it, we felt good,” Pareja said of the performance. “We could have had more. We have to say what came and take our responsibilities as well to keep improving. Try to get the team out of this moment that is difficult, but we are united and we will keep pushing.”
The Lions will look to end their losing streak Saturday night when they face the first-place New England Revolution in Foxborough, MA.