Orlando City sank beneath the weight of bad bounces and defensive transition mistakes in an inconceivable 4-1 beatdown loss to Inter Miami CF at DRV PNK Stadium. The loss dropped the Lions below the playoff line with one match day remaining.
Starting in the game’s very first minute, awful mistakes cost the team and luck played a little bit of a role as well, as the Lions (13-14-6, 45 points) fell back below .500, fell below .500 on the road (5-6-6), and lost their fourth game in the last five since winning the U.S. Open Cup. Meanwhile, Miami (14-13-6, 48 points) climbed above .500 and clinched a postseason berth for the first time.
Leonardo Campana, Gonzalo Higuain (twice), and Ariel Lassiter did the damage on the scoreboard, but the Lions were honestly their own worst enemies in the first Tropic Thunder match that was decided by more than one goal. Ercan Kara pulled a goal back in the second half but by then the game was effectively over.
“I know what these kinds of games mean for our fans and I’m very disappointed not to perform the way we should,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “In that part, I take responsibility.”
“I want to say sorry to our fans, because they come from Orlando to Miami to to push us and today was not so good for us,” Junior Urso said.
Pareja rotated his lineup somewhat, playing Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Cesar Araujo played his customary stopper role next to a deep-lying Mauricio Pereyra, with an attacking midfield line of Benji Michel, Junior Urso, and Facundo Torres, with Tesho Akindele up top.
It took less than a minute for that lineup to break down. Smith somehow knocked a pass attempt off an opponent and the ball squirted in behind the Orlando center backs. Neither Carlos nor Schlegel went to get the ball so Campana ran onto it and chipped Gallese, who was off his line but not nearly far enough out to get to the ball before the Miami forward. Just over 30 seconds into the match, Orlando City trailed. (Warning: sound off is better, so you can avoid Ray Hudson’s overblown, maniacal commentary.)
The Lions didn’t respond well to going behind, despite getting a ton of possession. Orlando looked unsettled, consistently did nothing with set piece opportunities, and broke down in transition when there were chances to get numbers forward. Wayward passes from Torres, Akindele, and Urso and a couple of poor touches from Michel prevented some quality chances from materializing. The Lions did set up some half chances but did nothing with them.
“It’s normal when you start the game in the first minute just conceding the goal and then obviously, the other team with energy and with this momentum that they have, they take advantage of that situation,” Pareja said. “And then from there, our energy was doubtful and we were not precise in the movements, and then we started losing confidence.”
Akindele tried to flick a pass from Smith on target but he didn’t quite pull it off, slowing the ball too much and sending it off target. Smith sent a blistering pass through the six in the 18th minute, but there was no way Akindele could get to it in time and Michel didn’t anticipate the pass quickly enough to get to the back post for the tap-in.
Higuain nearly got in behind in the 21st minute but Carlos did just enough to force him wide and Gallese chased him into the corner and knocked it out of play. Two minutes later, Campana got in for a first-time shot but just missed wide.
Moutinho smashed a shot well wide from the top of the area when a long throw fell to him. A failure to put shots on target was a problem Sunday at New York City FC and it definitely continued into tonight.
The hosts doubled the lead in the 38th minute on a weird transition as Akindele tried to force a pass into traffic. Miami came the other way and Schlegel got caught pressing high, giving the Herons a 2-on-1 break. Ariel Lassiter crossed in early to Higuain and his first touch was a shot past Gallese to make it 2-0.
Akindele ‘s headed flick went just over the bar in the 43rd minute off a corner kick cross, which was the closest the Lions came in the opening half. In the final minute of the half, a good cross found Urso but he swung and missed at it and kicked DeAndre Yedlin instead.
Orlando City held more possession in the half (61.9%-38.1%), had more shots (7-4) and corners (2-1), and passed more accurately (87.3%-78.3%) but Miami got more shots on target (2-0) and both of those went in. It was the second consecutive first half in which Orlando failed to get a single shot on frame and the Lions had only one on target in its last three halves.
The Lions brought on offensive-minded reinforcements to start the second half as Pareja withdrew Akindele, Michel, and Smith, sending Kara, Ivan Angulo, and Ruan onto the pitch. The changes made Orlando seem more dangerous immediately. Angulo got in the box, made a good move to bypass two defenders and took a shot. The Lions screamed for a handball but Victor Rivas did not give it and a check by the video assistant referee maintained the call on the field. The only replay shown on the broadcast was inconclusive.
But Rivas wasn’t opposed to giving Miami a penalty moments later when the Lions were bit again by a bad bounce. A ball in for Lassiter skipped up off the Miami forward’s foot and hit Ruan’s arm at close range. The fullback’s arm wasn’t extended unnaturally, nor was the play intentional, but the call was upheld again and Higuain scored on the ensuing penalty to make it 3-0 in the 53rd minute.
Three minutes later, Lassiter added to Orlando’s misery with a shot just inside the right post, making it 4-0. Don’t ask me why Carlos was trailing on the play, my stream froze a few seconds earlier and started back up right where this video begins.
Ari Lassiter picks his corner to find Miami's fourth.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 6, 2022
And the griddy in front of the home crowd to follow. pic.twitter.com/IYtyc2vH2s
Things got worse for Orlando City moments after the fourth goal when Carlos was booked, meaning he’ll miss Sunday’s regular-season finale against Columbus with a suspension for yellow card accumulation.
“It’s a little bit soon to answer it but we always have to think about what’s next,” Pareja said when asked if he had formulated a plan for the back line on Sunday yet with Carlos suspended and Robin Jansson injured. “(The booking) was probably the thing that frustrated me the most. It’s the lack of common sense from the referee. It’s unbelievable. Their responsibility is to protect the game and they need to have the context of the players. And it was a very, very, very unnecessary yellow card, and that’s what disappoints me. Not a good call for me, and it affects us not having Antonio, but we have to find a different answer and see how we can set out that back four. Somebody needs to do the job.”
Kara spoiled Miami’s shutout bid in the 71st minute, taking a pass from Torres at the top of the box, then turning and firing a well-placed shot just inside the left post. It was the big Austrian’s 11th goal of the season.
Ruan had a chance to set up Kara for another moments later. With Kara running free to his left, Ruan tried to chip a pass across to him over Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite get the pass high enough and Callender caught it to prevent the easy header at the back post.
Orlando squandered a late series of corner kicks and Ruan got deep into the box but sent a pass behind both of his teammates crashing the net and that was basically the end.
As a product of chasing the game for all but a few seconds of the match, Orlando finished with more possession (60%-40%), shots (16-6), corners (8-1), and passing accuracy (89.1%-83.4%), but Miami got more shots on target (4-1). Every shot on target in the match ended up in the net. The Lions now have one shot on target in each of the last two matches, which is just two on 29 attempts.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Urso said of the lack of precision. “We had good passing, we had good combinations, but like Oscar told us we have to get more confidence in front of the target and to shoot well. I think we have to be more calm in front of the goal, but no excuses for us.”
“We’re going to leave it there, we’re going to make our corrections,” Pareja said. “We’ve got to move on. This is a quick turnaround. We have a possibility at home that nobody gave us. We fought for that one during the season and this opportunity belongs to us. We’ll see. If we don’t beat Columbus then maybe we didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, but certainly we have a great opportunity at home to get our qualification.”
The Lions have a knockout game in the final match of the regular season on Sunday, when the Columbus Crew visit Exploria Stadium. A draw won’t be good enough unless Cincinnati somehow loses at D.C. United.