Rodrigo Schlegel and Ercan Kara scored and Pedro Gallese earned his fifth clean sheet of the season as Orlando City bested the Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field. Orlando (4-2-2, 14 points) improved to 7-6-3 in the all-time series againt the Crew (2-3-2, 8 points) and got just its second win in seven trips to Ohio’s capital city (2-4-1).
Combined with last Saturday’s home win over Chicago, the Lions put together back-to-back wins for the first time during the 2022 season. Meanwhile, the Crew suffered their third consecutive loss via shutout and Columbus is now winless in its last four (0-3-1).
“Big big result, but more important, big performance,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I have a lot of respect for this group. The players understand that this is a commitment that we all have for instruction, this is a commitment that we have for a common objective, and sometimes you may work with some difficulties. But if we all have that heart and they have that discipline, I think we are going to get many good results like tonight. We played against a very good team in a very difficult place. A fantastic performance.”
Oscar Pareja made a couple of surprise changes to the starting lineup. Kyle Smith took Ruan’s spot at right back on the back line, along with Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, and Schlegel, in front of goalkeeper Gallese. Junior Urso started in central midfield with Cesar Araujo. Benji Michel took Alexandre Pato’s spot in the starting XI on the attacking midfield line with Facundo Torres and Mauricio Pereyra, and Kara started up top.
Much of the first half was one-way traffic toward Gallese’s goal. Lucas Zelarayan was active and won some fouls early while Steven Moreira gave Moutinho problems down Orlando’s left side. A dangerous ball through the middle of the box in the eighth minute was dealt with.
Smith blocked a shot from Yaw Yeboah that would have been an opening goal in the 22nd minute after the Lions fell asleep on a throw-in. Torres tried a couple long-range shots in the next couple of minutes, trying to chip Eloy Room from near midfield on the first and firing over the bar from outside the area on the second.
The Crew’s closest chance for a first-half goal came in the 32nd minute. An unnecessary foul on Zelarayan by Smith set up a free kick just outside the box to Gallese’s right. Zelarayan smashed a shot that got over Gallese near the back post but crashed off the crossbar.
Moments after hitting the woodwork, the Lions got disorganized in their own end and Artur had an open look from the top of the box, but he hit his shot over the bar. Gallese went down after that shot and needed some attention from the trainers but he was able to continue.
The Lions struck against the run of play in the 37th minute. A free kick from distance was knocked down by the defense and picked up by Kara on the left side of the six. He passed back to Torres, who fizzed a dangerous low cross into the area. Urso arrived as a late runner in the box and knocked it down and it fell for Schlegel to knock in for his first Orlando City goal.
Schlegel celebrated by displaying a t-shirt under his jersey with a picture of his late father, Adrian, who died of COVID-19.
“I remember him every day, but this goal was a special moment,” Schlegel said of the celebration. “There was a lot of happiness when I scored. I know he’s overseeing and watching me and I want to dedicate the goal to him and my family. I’ll never thank my teammates enough for having that confidence in me and with their help, one enters the pitch with more confidence.”
The Crew should have equalized in the 44th when they again got the Lions’ defense out of sorts. The ball found its way through Smith to Etienne to Gallese’s right. Etienne fired for the back post but missed wide of the net.
Orlando was able to see out the remaining time in the first half and take its lead into the break. Columbus led in possession (57.2%-42.8%), shots (8-4), corners (2-1), and passing accuracy (85.1%-79.9%) but the Lions got two shots on target, while the Crew failed to put a shot on frame in the opening half.
Orlando came out of the break with a bit more possession and better passing to start the second half. Pereyra nearly picked out Kara in the box just after the restart but the pass was just beyond the Austrian striker.
In the 48th minute, Gallese made a fantastic save on a shot by Zelarayan. The Columbus Designated Player fired from range and the ball deflected. Gallese seemed to see it late but was able to reach down and knock it away with a strong hand.
Kara got his goal a few minutes later. An incredible team goal sequence began with Michel down the left side. The winger peeled back and found Pereyra at the top of the area. Pereyra gave off to Torres, who dropped it to Urso deep. Urso shifted the ball right to Pereyra and the captain found Kara, who laid off to Torres. The Uruguayan sent it right back to his striker. Back to goal, Kara was able to spin himself around and blast a shot into the upper right corner to make it 2-0 in the 51st minute.
“They understand that things are going to bounce their way if they keep doing the good things,” Pareja said, after so many chances went wanting in recent weeks. “So, seeing that quality of the play, the combination that they had on that second goal, the many good decisions that they took, and finalizing with the number nine getting a good shot and putting the ball in the back of the net is a reward for those guys. It is a reward for them and I’m very, very happy. I really congratulate this group of players.”
Orlando bossed the game for the next several minutes as the Crew tried to regroup from the second goal. The Lions won several corner kicks but couldn’t do much with them.
As the second half wore on, Orlando City did well to limit the Crew’s chances but the Lions were extremely cautious in moving forward, opting to slow things down and take the air out of the ball rather than attack for a third. It was an effective tactic overall, despite a few silly fouls that handed Columbus unnecessary set pieces.
Gallese didn’t have to make any difficult saves in the final half hour of the match as the team in front of him did well to gum up the works for the Crew attackers. Pareja was able to give Homegrown defender Thomas Williams his first MLS minutes with a stoppage-time substitution and the Lions hung on to get the shutout.
The Crew dominated the stat sheet, with more possession (59.6%-40.4%) and shots (17-8), and a more accurate night passing (85.6%-78.8%). Each team put three shots on target and the Lions won more corners (6-5). But the important stat is the scoreboard, and the Lions’ win pulled them within two points of first-place Philadelphia, albeit with the Union holding a game in hand.
Despite the Crew having so much possession in the attacking half, the Lions did well to limit clear sights at Gallese’s goal all night and ultimately didn’t break even if they bent a lot.
“We always strive to be together defensively and to be a team that is tough to break down defensively. And, you know, we did that,” Schlegel said. “We’ve continued to stay compact as a team and all push and pull in the same direction. We had a great night on the defensive end and that’s the way — always moving together as one team and moving together in the same direction. So, if we continue working the way that we have been working, I think we’ve we’ve got a very strong chance to to fight this season.”
“I see how they’re collectively growing and it just (makes) me more content,” Pareja said of his team’s performance.
The Lions return home next Sunday when they’ll take on the New York Red Bulls.