Well, that was a much-needed point! I’ll be honest with you guys, even after the Daryl Dike penalty, I still didn’t see Orlando City getting anything from this game. That meant I had to re-write a few of these talking points following a late Brian Anunga own goal that meant the Lions left Tennessee with their own very valuable point. I can’t say the extra work bothered me very much though, and I’m just happy that damn losing streak is over.
Here are my five takeaways from Orlando’s ground-out 2-2 draw in Nashville.
Lions Lose Cool Early
The game began very quickly in Nashville’s favor, with Pedro Gallese called upon to save a stinging drive within 30 second of the opening whistle, even though it wasn’t too taxing of a stop for the Peruvian. The home team looked to carry more danger early on, but just when Orlando started to possess the ball and grow into the game, a rash moment cost the Lions dearly. Sebas Mendez made an ill-advised challenge on Anibal Godoy in the box as the Panamanian was dribbling away from Gallese’s goal, got none of the ball, and referee Drew Fisher pointed to the penalty spot. El Pulpo saved the initial spot kick from Hany Mukhtar but could do nothing about the German’s follow-up effort and just like that, Orlando was down inside of 15 minutes.
First Half Possession Without Product
Orlando dominated possession in the first half. After Nashville went ahead the hosts were more than happy to sit back, get men behind the ball, make Orlando break them down and then break on the counter if the Lions failed to do so. It was a strategy that worked pretty well. The Lions ended the half with 62% of the ball but only put two of five shots on target and had a paltry 0.21 expected goals (xG), which nicely summarized how little danger OCSC carried during the opening 45. The visitors had plenty of the ball but weren’t able to do anything meaningful with it, and that suited Nashville just fine. At one point in the second half around the 55th minute, the Nashville commentators noted that Orlando was in the midst of a great spell of possession albeit without carrying much threat. Shortly after he said that, the ball was turned over and Randall Leal scored down the other end. It summed up most of the Lions’ night nicely.
Penalty Jitters Put to Rest...for Now
There was heightened intrigue when Dike was pulled down in the box during the second half and Drew Fischer awarded the second penalty kick of the game. Not only was it a possible avenue back into the game for the road team, but would Dike take it himself or would it be Nani or even Mauricio Pereyra who stepped up? Nani and Pereyra have both missed penalties this year, and an additional Tesho Akindele miss meant that Orlando was only two of five on penalty kicks going into this game. Ultimately Dike grabbed the ball and made no mistake by thumping the ball past Joe Willis with precision and conviction into the bottom corner. Shoddy camera-work aside from the broadcast crew, Dike never looked much like missing and while his confidently taken pen was exactly what Orlando needed on the night, it will be interesting to see what that means going forward. We know Oscar Pareja has a shortlist of guys who can take penalties, but it will be interesting to see how future situations play out, especially if someone other than Dike, Pereyra, or Nani wins a spot kick.
The Ship Starts to Right Itself?
Maybe it’s the combination of injuries and suspensions that have meant Orlando hasn’t once put out a first-team lineup. Maybe teams have begun to figure out Orlando City under Pareja. Or maybe it’s just that a lot of the time in MLS when it rains it fully pours. Regardless, something has felt off about this team for some time now, even more so during the losing streak and time is rapidly running out for whatever that is to be fixed. Tonight might have been a step towards correcting whatever has been sour in Orlando. One of the staples of the Lions under Pareja is that the team simply gets results one way or another, and when they do lose it’s often a close game. That’s what made the four-game losing streak all the more shocking — often OCSC didn’t look like it belonged on the same field as its opponents. Sometimes a team just needs a gritty, un-sexy result to get things moving in the right direction again, and that’s exactly what it got last night.
Lions Find a Way
After the Lions went down in the first half this was not a game I expected OCSC to get anything from, especially after watching the way the first half played out. Orlando simply looked unable to seriously threaten the Nashville goal. However, the visitors kept fighting and ultimately got what looked to be a very unlikely point, even more so after Nashville doubled its lead. To be fair, the Lions probably got a bigger helping hand than they should have from Fischer as the penalty called in Orlando’s favor was soft, to say the least, and leaning towards wrong, to say the most. Regardless, the team took advantage of the chance that it was given and managed to rescue a point from a game it maybe didn’t deserve one from. At this stage of the season though, results are all that matter, and make no mistake this was a massive one. Whether or not it shakes Orlando out of its recent funk remains to be seen.
Bonus Takeaway: Something to Build On?
What it does for OCSC in the standings aside, I cannot overstate how important this point has the potential to be. In my career I’ve worked with winning teams, losing teams, and teams that fluctuate wildly between the two. When a team loses a lot and endures losing streaks it can change something in the atmosphere. Tension is raised, doubts can start to creep in, and frankly as much as it’s not fun when a team you’re a fan of loses a lot, it’s infinitely worse when you’re actually part of that losing team. So, when you finally get a win or a draw, especially in the manner that Orlando City did, it can be huge for morale, self-belief, and the trajectory of the team going forward. It’s entirely possible that this is merely a brief plateau and the Lions will continue falling off a cliff as the season draws to a close. If not though, we might very well look back on this game as an extremely important moment in Orlando’s season.
What did you guys think of this one? As always, be sure to have your say down in the comments!