Orlando City went to Chicago and will bring home one point that should have been three after a 0-0 draw against the Fire. We may never know if Ercan Kara actually handled the ball in the area, because the available replays were inconclusive at best, but referee Ismir Pekmic not only believed he saw Kara do it from those replays, which he watched repeatedly for several minutes, but after the game he also claimed Kara did it intentionally.
Pekmic also said regarding the VAR decision:— Austin David (@AustinDavid22) March 6, 2022
"Orlando #9 deliberately handled the ball using his arm in the attacking phase of play that led to the scoring of the Orlando goal."
You really have to hand it to PRO — every year they find new ways to remove points from Orlando’s final total and absolutely lack any humility when doing it. If Kara clearly and obviously handled the ball intentionally on a goal originally ruled good, that should show up on the video in a matter of one viewing (because that’s how “obvious” works) rather than requiring several minutes of review.
Anyway, the Lions have to grin and swallow it yet again. They were at least able to keep a second straight clean sheet without the suspended Robin Jansson and get a result on the road.
Here’s how I saw the individual performances of the men on the pitch.
GK, Pedro Gallese, 7 — The Peruvian international did his job with four saves out of four on target and controlled his area for the most part. He didn’t have any especially spectacular saves. Of the four, the toughest was a rocket from outside the area that wasn’t too much of a reach for him and he was able to parry it over the bar for a corner, showing good control. The other three were fairly soft and right to him. He looked confident and passed at a strong 90.5% rate and connected on two of his four long balls. It was a good night for El Pulpo.
D, Joao Moutinho, 6 — The Portuguese fullback was mostly solid through the night, settling in after an early turnover to Xherdan Shaqiri. He didn’t allow attackers to get down to the end line for dangerous crosses and kept most of the play on his side out wide. He contributed two tackles, an interception and a clearance defensively while dealing with Chicago’s most dangerous midfielder much of the evening. He was able to get on the ball a lot, but like many of the Lions, he had trouble unlocking the Chicago defense, as the Fire’s back line and central midfielders did a good job on their own end. Moutinho passed at only a 71.2% rate. He connected four of his 10 long balls but none of his four crosses, but created a scoring chance from his left back position on a night when the Lions had few of those.
D, Rodrigo Schlegel, 6.5 — Schlegel got his first start of the season with Jansson sidelined after last week’s second yellow card. The Argentine and central defense partner Antonio Carlos were aggressive, often coming up the field to crowd Shaqiri. He had a scary challenge in the area early on against Fabian Herbers that had the home crowd screaming for a penalty. I think it was a good no-call, with Herbers flying in out of control and getting a piece of the ball, but it looked more a case of the attacker getting into Schlegel than the other way around. He and Carlos did well to limit Kacper Przybylko’s looks at goal, which was his primary focus. The Polish striker was limited to just one shot attempt. Schlegel had a tackle, an interception, a blocked shot and three clearances. His 80.5% passing rate wasn’t bad on a windy night in Chicago, although he was successful on only one of six long balls. His biggest knock was conceding four free kicks, with a couple of them coming from dangerous spots.
D, Antonio Carlos, 7 (MotM) — The Brazilian continued to show that preseason is overrated with his second strong showing of the year. He helped limit Przybylko to one weak header attempt and, as usual, had more territory to defend than his central defense partner due to Ruan serving as a de facto wingback further up the pitch. Carlos had two interceptions, a team-high four clearances, and a blocked shot. His 82.4% passing rate was tops among all outfield starters, although he connected on only three of 10 long balls. He had a shot attempt on a late set piece but his header went wide.
D, Ruan, 6.5 — The Brazilian speedster was creating issues down Chicago’s left side for Miguel Navarro and Herbers throughout the night, helping force turnovers, but he couldn’t quite get his crosses right in the attack, going only one of five for accuracy. He attempted one unsuccessful long ball and completed 21 of his 28 passes (75%). Defensively, he did well overall with a tackle and three clearances. He nearly allowed a goal to Brian Gutierrez in stoppage time but his positioning wasn’t a problem so much as his height on that play.
MF, Cesar Araujo, 6.5 — The MLS U22 Initiative midfielder has basically made the No. 6 role his own very quickly. Tasked with the difficulty of defending Shaqiri in the middle of the pitch, the young Uruguayan held his own. He had only one tackle, but largely worked well in either denying the ball to dangerous areas with his movement and positioning or forced the Fire to go wide into the channels. His 50 passes were the most by any non-back line player on the team and he completed 80%, including one of his two long balls. He unlocked the defense with a key pass, attempted one shot (off target), and drew a team-high five fouls (along with two of his teammates). His yellow card was laughably soft as he attempted to reach out and slow down an opponent but he whiffed.
MF, Júnior Urso, 6 — The Bear should have scored a goal, blasting a shot in off a defender in the 73rd minute, stepping into a layoff pass by Facundo Torres. Alas, the referee stole his moment along with two vital points. That would have been Orlando’s only shot on target in the game if it hadn’t been erased for...reasons. He had one key pass on 71.4% passing but was dispossessed a worrying, team-high five times. Still, he did well defensively with a tackle and two interceptions and kept the Orlando press organized.
MF, Facundo Torres, 6 — In their opening game, the Fire saw Inter Miami use the tactic of fouling Shaqiri a lot. It seemed that Chicago coach Ezra Hendrickson borrowed that tactic against Orlando, as his team employed it often, including five of them against Facu. One of those fouls, by Herbers, prevented an Orlando counter-attack and was sufficiently vicious that I honestly thought the red card would come out but it was only yellow. Torres was fouled well over those five times but only five were called as Pekmic allowed several two-handed shoves and clips from behind to go unpunished — mainly through the opening 45 minutes. Torres recorded one shot and three dribbles. His 62.1% looks quite pedestrian until you look at the rate of Orlando’s other starting attacking midfielders, though he was unsuccessful on three long balls and two crosses. His layoff for Urso should have been an assist if not for...well, you know. Defensively, he contributed a tackle and two interceptions.
MF, Mauricio Pereyra, 6 — The captain wasn’t able to leave his usual mark on the game. His passing was just 55% as the Chicago defensive midfield and back line played aggressively all night, which is a tactic that was successful because the wind prevented Orlando’s ability to play over the top into spaces in behind. Pereyra attempted one shot and created one chance. He was successful just once on six long balls and on one of three long balls. He had one tackle, an interception, and a clearance. Like Araujo and Torres, he was fouled five times and, much like Torres, it should have been more than that.
MF, Benji Michel, 3.5 — The Homegrown winger had a tough night offensively, although his defensive hustle was evident while he was on the pitch. After he was subbed off for Tesho Akindele, Chicago fullback Boris Sekulic was able to get forward more often. Benji’s passing rate of just 16.7% was simply dreadful and his hold-up play was lacking (four unstable touches, dispossessed once), forcing Oscar Pareja to sub on Tesho. He recorded a tackle and an interception on defense but had no shot attempts and no key passes on the offensive end.
F, Alexandre Pato, 6 — Much like his attacking teammates, Pato was roughed up quite a bit whenever Orlando got the ball in the attacking half, and for some reason he wasn’t even able to get some of the calls Pereyra and Torres got, drawing just two foul calls. He had one key pass on 63.6% passing but no shot attempts. He had one chance to get into a good shooting position but took an uncharacteristically heavy touch and the chance evaporated. He was active defensively with one tackle, an interception, and two clearances.
MF, Tesho Akindele (52’), 6 — Tesho’s lack of lateral quickness allowed Sekulic to dribble past him a couple of times but the Lions’ hold-up play got noticeably better when he came on for Michel. His work rate and pressure was evident as always, as the Canadian posted two interceptions and a blocked shot. He passed at a 77.8% rate, giving the Lions something that had been lacking on the left, but he attempted no shots and didn’t create scoring chances on a night when the Fire were dealing with any attack by simply crushing guys. He did well to switch the play on the disallowed goal, getting the ball over to Torres on the left. That provided the space to score the goal, but...yeah.
F, Ercan Kara (72’), 5.5 — The Austrian came off the bench and made a difference in his first minute on the pitch, winning an aerial ball in the box, which led to Urso’s goal. It should have been a game-changing play. It’s possible that the ball hit his arm, but nothing shown on TV or on the referee’s monitor — which was shown on television and seemed to have the exact same two angles we saw — should have resulted in any overturned call. Kara was officially only credited with three touches and he completed his one pass attempt. He didn’t have a shot or a key pass but chipped in one defensive clearance. It will be nice to see what he can do when he’s 90-minute fit and fully integrated.
MF, Andres Perea (88’), N/A — Perea came on late for a tiring Torres but didn’t play enough minutes to warrant a grade or impact the match. He completed one of his three passes and won an aerial on his eight touches.
That’s how I saw the performances in Orlando City’s road draw. It’s difficult to look beyond the statistics sometimes but Chicago did a great job of playing the weather conditions, crowding the Lions up high to force low-percentage balls over the top on a gusty night and fouling everywhere. The Fire’s strategy was helped by a referee who was quite lenient until midway through the second half (which is, not coincidentally, when Orlando started looking more dangerous) and by Orlando’s complete lack of ability to hold onto the ball on the left side for the first 50+ minutes.
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