Orlando City went on the road and drew 0-0 against the Chicago Fire on Saturday night, but it was a game the team will feel it should have won. The Lions had a goal controversially ruled out for a hand ball in the buildup, and the Fire could’ve had two players sent off in the game. The adversity faced in this game could’ve sent the team into a meltdown, but the opposite occurred and the Lions had the better of play in the final 15 minutes.
Through the first 70 minutes of play, Chicago had outplayed Orlando City. The Fire had more possession, chances, and the Lions hadn’t even had a shot on target. However, things started to change when Ercan Kara came on for Alexandre Pato.
Shortly after the substitution, the Lions built an attack. Antonio Carlos played to Ruan on the outside, and the speedy right back sent a cross into the box. The cross was deflected into the air by Rafael Czichos and Kara brought it down with his chest. Quick movement by Tesho Akindele and Facundo Torres set up Junior Urso at the top of the box.
In his first start of the season, Urso fired on goal. Chicago goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina seemed to have a read on it, but the shot deflected off Boris Sekulic and went into the Fire’s net.
Before Chicago could restart play with a kickoff, referee Ismir Pekmic went to the video review monitor to have a look at Kara’s involvement with the play. While no replays showed the ball hitting the forward’s hand, a lengthy review resulted in the referee disallowing the goal due to a hand ball.
“I can’t understand at the end what is clear and obvious,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “And knowing that the referees are so close to the play, and hearing from our players about what happened, (it) makes you feel very bad about what happened in that situation.”
“It’s different for us because we know the rules,” midfielder Junior Urso added. “You have to cancel the goal if you are sure. If the image of the VAR is clean. I think the referee was there a long time to watch what happened but it wasn’t clear. And then he was like review, review for like three minutes or four minutes and then he said no goal. But he can’t do that because the rule is it has to be clear to cancel the goal.”
Already feeling as though they had a goal stolen from them, things got more challenging for the Lions in the 80th minute. Cesar Araujo went up for a 50-50 ball with the Fire’s Jhon Duran and replays showed that Duran threw his elbow into Araujo’s face.
Under MLS rules, contact with the face of an opponent is an automatic red card. However, Pekmic determined that the challenge deserved a yellow and did not go to the monitor to review it himself.
It was the second time that the Lions felt as though a Fire player should’ve been sent off. Earlier in the game, Fabian Herbers was booked in the 12th minute for a hard, cynical challenge on Torres that prevented a counter-attack opportunity. In the 60th minute, Herbers took down Araujo from behind. In most situations, it would’ve been a yellow card, but the referee decided to give him a warning instead, keeping him on the field.
At this point, the Lions must have felt as though they should’ve been up a goal and a man. Additionally, the goal was taken away by Pekmic, but he didn’t even bother to go look at the replay of what was a clear elbow to Araujo’s head. There are multiple negative ways that the team could’ve reacted to the situation, potentially resulting in a loss.
The frustrated players could have shut down, feeling as though the referees were against them. They also could’ve played with anger, attempting to play difficult balls that would result in turnovers. However, the team responded in a different way.
Despite being outplayed for much of the game, Orlando City played its best all night in the final 15 minutes. The Lions played with calm and control, stringing several passes together to form multiple attacks. Meanwhile the Fire had difficulty gaining possession on the Lions’ side of the field.
“We found more consistency, the better action,” Pareja said about the later stages of the game. “They started coming more often and that gave us peace in the middle of the field especially.”
The way that the team responded differs greatly from Orlando City teams of the past. Prior to the arrival of Pareja, it was more likely that the team would fall apart. This was evident in the 2018 season, when calls against the Lions turned into multiple goals for the opposition.
In that season, you could see the players’ heads go down and a change in their mood. They felt defeated before anything else had happened. The result was that they spent several ensuing minutes on their heels while the opposition scored multiple goals, often putting the game away.
Conversely, this team showed resilience and a strong mindset. Instead of putting their heads down, the team appeared to fight even harder and created multiple chances as the clock wound down. They may not have converted late in this game, but this mindset could pay off down the road.
In the end, you need to gain points where you can. While the quality of play isn’t at the highest level, MLS is a difficult league due to other factors, such as travel. Winning at home and getting draws on the road can lift a team closer to the top of the conference.
This isn’t the first game in which Orlando City has faced this type of adversity and it won’t be the last. But if the team can respond to similar situations like they did Saturday night in Chicago, the Lions will be fine.