It’s never easy with this team, is it? Orlando City SC is back in the MLS Cup playoffs for the third straight year, but had to do it the hard way in a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew at Exploria Stadium on Decision Day. Junior Urso and Facundo Torres nullified Derrick Etienne’s goal, and the Lions will now face CF Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.
Here’s how I graded Orlando’s players in Sunday’s heart-pounding win.
GK, Pedro Gallese, 8 (MotM) — El Pulpo rebounded from the midweek loss to Miami in style. He made five saves on the day, several of which were seriously impressive. His first-half stonewalling of Cucho Hernandez nearly defied belief, as the Peruvian international got down low to his right to tip the ball onto the post and preserve a draw that wouldn’t last. It didn’t stop there though, as he made two late, great saves on Lucas Zelarayan to preserve Orlando’s slim lead and help put the Lions through to the playoffs. Gallese was successful on four of his seven long balls and completed 83.3% of his 18 passes. He takes the plaudits in this one.
D, Kyle Smith, 6 — Orlando Head Coach Oscar Pareja pulled a fast one in this game. It was expected that Smith would partner with Rodrigo Schlegel in central defense, only for him to be deployed at left back while Joao Moutinho was slotted inside. Despite the surprise, Smith had a solid game, notching two tackles, a clearance, a cross, and two accurate long balls while passing at a 77.8% clip. He also played roughly the last 20 minutes on a yellow card and was smart to avoid picking up another.
D, Joao Moutinho, 6 — I was originally quite fearful when I saw Moutinho at center back, as I had doubts about his ability to deal with some of the more physical aspects the position demands. As it turns out, I had no cause for concern, as he put in a steady performance in an unfamiliar role. His passing rate of 93.8% was excellent, and he also completed two long balls. Moutinho didn’t have any defensive stats, but he did have a shot that was off target. It will be nice to have Antonio Carlos back next week, but Joao did what he needed to do when it counted.
D, Rodrigo Schlegel, 7 — Schlegel put in a great showing against Columbus. He racked up three tackles, two interceptions, three clearances, a shot, a key pass, and drew a foul all while passing with 87.8% accuracy. His header back across the box late led to the Benji Michel shot that drew a penalty. The main black mark on his day was his positioning on Etienne’s goal, as he got sucked out too far from where he should have been by Lucas Zelarayan — leaving room behind him for Derrick Etienne to run into. Other than that, he was an immense figure in the back line in the most important league game of the season.
D, Ruan, 5.5— Ruan had a decent defensive showing in this one. He made three tackles and a clearance, and also won three fouls while passing at an 83.3% accuracy. He should have been quicker to tuck in and protect the space Schlegel vacated on Columbus’ goal, failing to track Etienne’s run. He also left Etienne too much space on the flank early for a cross that nearly gave Hernandez an early headed goal. Ruan couldn’t quite get going on the offensive side of things, and he’ll need to be more involved on that end if Orlando is going to advance past Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.
MF, Cesar Araujo, 6.5 — Araujo was his usual industrious self in the win. He did a ton of running in the Lions’ midfield and provided cover for when Mauricio Pereyra and Joao Moutinho ventured further forward. He chipped in with a tackle, an interception, two clearances, a block, a key pass, and a long ball. He also passed with 86.4% accuracy and did well to play over half an hour on a yellow card.
MF, Mauricio Pereyra, 7.5 — Like most of Orlando’s offensive players on the day, it took Pereyra time to get involved in the game. Once he did though, he was effective and finished with two key passes, an assist on Junior Urso’s goal, a cross, a long ball, a tackle, a clearance, and three fouls drawn. His passing accuracy of 83% on the day wasn’t his best, but he did well to bring the ball back out to find Urso with a good pass to his outside foot in order to give the Bear the chance to turn his man and get off a shot.
MF, Facundo Torres, 7 — Once Torres found his way into the game, he left his mark. He didn’t have a ton of shooting opportunities but helped affect the game with his passing, which he did with 93.3% accuracy while connecting on a cross and a key pass. He also had two shots, was fouled once, and most importantly, converted the penalty kick which sent Orlando City to the postseason for the third straight year. There was never really any doubt about the result when he set the ball down, and while goalkeepers seem to have figured out that he likes shooting to his right, when he puts the ball as far in the corner with as much power as he does, it’s tough to stop.
MF, Junior Urso, 7 — Urso had a rocky start to life in the first half. Several bad touches and misplaced passes meant there were concerns about the Bear having a bad game when Orlando could least afford it, but he came up big when he was needed most in the second half. He did ever so well to shield and turn his defender, shape his body and pick out the far side-netting to give Orlando a foothold in the game, and things kicked off from there. He finished with two tackles, two shots, two long balls, and 48 passes at a 95.8% passing accuracy.
MF, Ivan Angulo, 6 — Angulo started on the left wing, but had one of his quieter games in purple against the Crew. He wasn’t bad, as he recorded two key passes and 31 passes at an 84% accuracy with two key passes, while also notching two tackles and an interception. But he wasn’t quite as involved in the attack as Orlando City needed for large parts of the game, although the same can be said about many of his fellow attacking players. Not a bad performance, but not his best either. He also picked up a weird yellow card when the refereeing crew botched his substitution off the field.
F, Ercan Kara, 5.5 — Kara was also quiet during this one, and struggled to get involved with play. Part of that can be attributed to Columbus being content to sit back when it didn’t have the ball, making it difficult for Orlando to get the ball up to the big Austrian. Part of it can also be attributed to his teammates not providing service. Still, one clearance, one block, two fouls drawn, and a 62.5% success rate on eight passes is likely less than what Orlando was hoping from him on the day. His 14 touches weren’t many, but his replacements combined for just four over the last 20 minutes, so regardless of who played up top, there weren’t many connections being made.
F/MF, Benji Michel (74’), 6 — Benji didn’t do a ton to light up the stat sheet, as he finished the game with a yellow card, three touches, one shot, and one completed pass for 100% accuracy. With that being said, the shot he did take hit Milos Degenek’s outstretched hand, giving OCSC the penalty kick that sent the team to the postseason. Right place, right time, and it was a shot that would have been on target had it not hit Degenek on the way through.
F, Tesho Akindele (89’), N/A — Akindele was brought on as a late sub with time running down. His only stats recorded were being caught offside once and misfiring on the lone pass he attempted, but he ran hard and pressed the Columbus back line while the Crew chased an equalizer.
MF, Andres Perea (89’), N/A — Another late substitution, Perea didn’t record any stats during his time on the field, but helped provide energy and fresh legs to get the game over the line.
MF, Wilder Cartagena (89’), N/A — There was a mess of miscommunication on the officiating crew’s part that occurred while Orlando tried to get Cartagena on the field. Once he was there, he connected on his lone pass and also picked up a yellow card while helping see out the game.
D. Mikey Halliday (95’), N/A — Halliday came on as the final time-killing substitute from Pareja and stayed mistake free as Orlando booked its third-straight postseason berth.
That’s how I saw the performances in yet another game with late heroics from the Cardiac Cats. It wasn’t perfect, and the first half was almost universally ugly and devoid of the necessary urgency, but the Lions managed to find the required gear and get themselves into the postseason yet again. Be sure to have your say on everyone’s performances and vote for your Man of the Match below.
Who was your Man of the Match in Orlando City’s 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew?
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