The last time Orlando City played the LA Galaxy, the Los Angeleenos came into Exploria Stadium and smash-and-grabbed a 1-0 win despite being dominated by the hosts. The Lions (2-1-1, 7 points) returned the favor today at Dignity Health Sports Park in Los Angeles with a 1-0 road win over the Galaxy (2-2-0, 6 points) on an early Facundo Torres goal.
It was Orlando’s first ever win in the state of California and may have erased some of the bad taste from being victimized a week ago by FC Cincinnati at home on a similar smash-and-grab. The Lions held their concentration for 95 minutes, weathering 20 shots and an incredible number of set pieces to keep LA’s offense quiet.
“Today we showed a lot of things that we liked and we’re looking (to build on), which is our character, and willingness, and our braveness to be a team that can go away and get results and be strong at home,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We’re very pleased. I think we won a game against a very good rival in a difficult place. Our boys did a fantastic job.”
Pareja made one change from the team that dominated — but lost — at home to Cincinnati a week ago, inserting defensive midfielder Sebas Mendez for Alexandre Pato. Pedro Gallese had the usual back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan in front of him. Cesar Araujo, Junior Urso, and Sebas Mendez were deployed to slow down the Galaxy attack, while Mauricio Pereyra was the main facilitator for Torres and Ercan Kara.
Urso played as a false winger and Pareja said that although Araujo has been playing well and learning the league quickly, he wanted to give him some help for this match against LA’s tough attacking players.
“Today (we were) playing against a very good team with good players,” Pareja said. “That’s why we decided to reinforce the middle. We thought it was obvious that some territory would be conceded to LA, but sometimes you have to choose. I would like to see more control with the ball and the way we want to do things.”
The Galaxy were on the front foot from the jump, working the ball around the perimeter and looking to slip balls through or over to Chicharito and Kevin Cabral in the middle. Sometimes they’d try balls over the top from Victor Vazquez and came close to connecting a few times. Rayan Raveloson took the game’s first shot from the top of the area and Jansson got a piece of it to deflect it out for a corner on a dangerous early chance in the third minute.
Jansson did well to deny a dangerous cross from Julian Araujo a minute later when a cross from Vazquez found the fullback sneaking toward the back post. Orlando did well to clear multiple LA set pieces to keep the game scoreless, and that allowed the Lions to strike first.
Torres opened the scoring in the ninth minute in transition. Ruan sent Kara down the right flank and the Designated Player picked out a perfect cross for the onrushing Uruguayan to nod home for his first MLS goal on Orlando’s first shot attempt. It was Kara’s first MLS assist as well.
“Kara was able to get the ball high up the field and I knew that he was going to put it in, so I needed to anticipate where he was going to put the ball and try to find the space in (between) the defenders,” Torres said through a club interpeter. “Thankfully I was able to get up, and now we’re taking a goal and three points home as I go back to Uruguay for the international window.”
Torres said he feels the chemistry starting to build with Kara up top after the Austrian international’s return from injury.
“We’re all kind of integrating into this team, especially with Ercan being able to come in and go a few more minutes and adjust with everyone,” Torres said. “It provides a respite for us in the attack. A lot of us in the attack are a little bit on the smaller side. So, having someone out there that’s big and physical gives us a respite and we’re able to create a lot of options behind the defense with that. It’s coming along and I think we’re on a good path.”
Orlando was bolstered by the go-ahead goal and created a couple more opportunities. Ruan bombed down the right in the 12th minute in plenty of space but his cross attempt was well behind his attacking teammates. In the 15th minute, Kara looked to be in position to double the lead but he was run down from behind by Raheem Edwards at the last second while teeing up a shot. He could have perhaps played in Urso instead for a better chance.
Less than a minute later, Chicharito nearly tied the game. He sent a spinning shot on target but Gallese did well to make a save. Cabral couldn’t make good contact with the rebound, allowing the goalkeeper to collect it.
The Galaxy had some near misses on shots and crosses as the first half wound down. A cross was inches in front of Cabral in the six in the 35th minute. LA won multiple corners down the stretch as Orlando struggled to hold possession and to hold the hosts at bay.
Cabral went down a bit easily in the 44th minute on a minor bump by Ruan on a ball over the top. The referee not only bought it, giving LA a free kick just outside the area but also booked Orlando’s right back. Douglas Costa hit the ensuing free kick into the wall.
Orlando got one more decent look in the second minute of stoppage time, with Torres blasting a shot from outside the area that sliced wide of the goal.
LA dominated the stat sheet at halftime, with more possession (60%-40%), shots (10-3), shots on target (2-1), corners (5-0), and passing accuracy (90.2%-82.9%).
The second half was much more of the same, as the hosts won another corner within 30 seconds of the restart en route to seven in the second half and 12 in the match. That’s not even counting a number of set pieces that weren’t corner kicks. Somehow, the Orlando defense held firm.
Efrain Alvarez had a go just moments into the second half but couldn’t get his shot on frame.
The Lions nearly created something off the mounting number of set pieces in the 52nd minute. Orlando got forward in transition after clearing a corner and Araujo fired a shot toward goal but a desperation slide by a defender knocked the ball out for an Orlando corner. Carlos got his head on the ensuing set piece delivery from Pereyra but the cross was behind him and he could only harmlessly pop it well over the goal.
After Orlando dealt with two more quick corners from the Galaxy, the Lions created a chance at the other end when Urso slipped Ruan down the right side of the area. With Kara in the middle and Torres running at the back post, the right back sent his cross harmlessly at the keeper instead of across the top of the six, wasting a chance to double the lead in the 56th minute.
A moment later, that looked like it would cost Orlando when Moutinho gave the ball away in his own defensive third. Carlos cleared the dangerous cross in from the wing to snuff out the danger.
Chicharito laid a pass off for Cabral at the top of the area in the 59th minute but the Galaxy forward whiffed badly on his swing and made a mess of the shot. Two minutes later, Edwards fired from the left corner of the box but missed wide of the far post. LA had a great passing sequence moments later to free up a shot for Chicharito at the top of the area but his effort skipped a foot wide of the left post.
SO CLOSE.— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) March 19, 2022
Chicharito is knocking on the door ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/WzEldFv4r8
Former Lion Sacha Kljestan came on in the second half and fizzed a shot over Gallese’s goal in the 73rd minute from distance.
Orlando finally fashioned another decent chance in the 77th but substitute Kyle Smith hit his shot at goalkeeper Jonathan Bond. A minute later, Alvarez skipped past Moutinho in the corner and fizzed a shot across the front of goal that hit Gallese but the keeper was able to smother it, preventing it from bouncing in or dangerously out in front.
Neither team got a clear-cut look the rest of the way. Chicharito skied a header well over from the top of the area on a good cross in and the Lions did well to waste most of the five minutes of stoppage time. The lone exception was when sub Benji Michel tried to take on Julian Araujo at the corner of the box rather than taking the ball to the corner. He lost control and teammate Cesar Araujo took a tactical foul — and a yellow card — that he ordinarily wouldn’t have had to take.
Moments later, the Lions had their victory.
Like the Lions a week ago, LA led in every statistical category but the most important one at full time. The Galaxy had more possession (62.8%-37.2%), shots (20-6), shots on target (3-2), corners (12-2), and passing accuracy (89%-82.2%).
“I was very proud of the players,” Pareja said. “The full squad had a terrific week of training, trying to bounce back from that result we had at home. That control that we had defensively and the concentration today was first class against a good rival.”
The Lions will be out west again in their next game as Orlando City visits the Portland Timbers next Sunday. That is also an afternoon start, at 4 p.m. Eastern.