A second-half goal by Ilie Sanchez snapped a 2-2 tie and late insurance tally by Kwadwo Opoku spoiled a good performance by Orlando city as LAFC defeated the Lions 4-2 at Exploria Stadium. Orlando (2-2-2, 8 points) had a mesmerizing first half but made two mistakes and was punished for both by LAFC (4-0-1, 13 points) — a team the Lions have still never beaten.
Alexandre Pato and Joao Moutinho canceled out first-half goals by Brian Rodriguez and Jesus David Murillo. Orlando fell to 1-2-0 at home and has conceded six goals in the last two home matches.
“What happened is that we lost and we conceded four goals — three of them that are not accepted by ourselves and not at this level, and that’s why it just created the difference in the game,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “But it would be bad as well to let this feeling be more than what we produced today as a team. I’m trying to recognize the game that the boys played today, especially in the first half. If they go in that direction they’re going to win many games and I don’t have any doubt about it.”
Pareja had his starting goalkeeper back from international duty as Pedro Gallese lined up behind the first-choice back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo and Junior Urso manned the central midfield behind an attacking line of Alexandre Pato, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Ercan Kara returning to the starting lineup up top.
Orlando City jumped on LAFC from the opening kickoff, earning some early corner kicks and buzzing around the visitors’ goal. Moutinho did well to send a cross into the area for Urso, hitting the midfielder in stride but the Bear couldn’t set his feet properly and lost control right in front of goal in the seventh minute.
Pato scored in transition in the 10th minute but the flag came up for an offside call on Torres on the buildup. Torres streaked down the left and got onto a ball, crossing in to Pato for the score. The play seemed to be onside but there wasn’t a definitive angle to overturn it.
In the 12th minute, Pato unselfishly dished off to Kara instead of shooting it himself and the striker fizzed his shot just over the bar.
LAFC got its first shot attempt off seconds later when Cristian Arango got a fortunate bounce after being surrounded by three Lions at the top of the box. The ball bounced back to him off a defender and he fired wide.
The game changed moments later when Carlos was injured after suffering one of the 11 first-half LAFC fouls. Rodriguez hit Carlos from behind and he planted awkwardly, going to ground. The Brazilian immediately grabbed his the back of his leg in the hamstring area and appeared to be in a lot of pain. He was stretchered off and Rodrigo Schlegel came on as a sub in the 18th minute.
The Lions kept attacking, and suffering fouls when they were able to create space, but in the aftermath of the Carlos injury, it was LAFC that scored first. A long ball over the top of Ruan by Vela found Aranga down the left side. Aranga had only one man in the box, but that’s all he needed as Rodriguez ran unchecked through the penalty area and scored off the cross in the 24th minute.
“They got the ball back really quick and they opened it up out wide to the left side,” Moutinho said. “And I saw that (Rodriguez) had some space inside the box. I tried to track back and I tried to yell at Robin that (he) was behind him. I think he made a really good run and the cross was just inch-perfect and he got the goal.”
The Lions pulled it back in the 36th minute as Pato again put the ball in the net. A ball over the top by Pereyra found Kara, who made a perfectly timed run. Kara nodded the ball back for Pato, who volleyed it past Maxime Crepeau to make it 1-1.
The tie score didn’t last long. After a set piece in the Orlando end, a recycled ball into the area found Ruan’s head. The Brazilian tried to head it back to Gallese but got it horribly wrong, allowing Murillo to get to it first and restore the LAFC lead in the 38th minute.
Orlando got that goal back just before the break. Pereyra took a pass from Urso on the right and he spied Moutinho lurking on the back side. The Uruguayan fed him a quick pass and the Portuguese fullback slotted his shot just inside the right post to make it 2-2 in the 45th minute.
It was Moutinho’s second competitive goal in an Orlando uniform and both came at the expense of his old team. The first was the late equalizer in the MLS is Back Tournament knockout round that allowed the Lions to go on and win the post-game penalty shootout. Tonight’s goal was Moutinho’s first regular-season goal for the Lions.
“I saw that Urso and Mari were trying to find some space, and as soon as I saw that Mari had some space on the ball, I moved up there to a space where I thought I could score,” Moutinho said. “And I put my hand up and I yelled at him and he saw me. He played me the ball. I took a good first touch and a good finish and that was that.”
Orlando City held more possession (61.5%-38.5%), fired more shots (7-5), and got more on target (3-2), winning more corners (3-0). The Lions were also the more precise passing team (83.1%-78.6%).
“I think the first half was one of those games that make us feel very optimistic about it,” Pareja said.
Despite what should have been an uplifting goal going into the half, LAFC came out more aggressively and much better defensively after subbing on Jose Cifuentes for Francisco Ginella.
LAFC broke the deadlock just six minutes after the restart. Orlando had issues clearing a ball in off of a set piece opportunity and as Schlegel knocked the ball into space and went to follow it, he was picked by Murillo, allowing Ilie Sanchez to collect with enough space at the top of the box to pick out his spot and fire a shot past Gallese.
The Lions struggled to connect in the attacking half with the same accuracy as in the first half. Orlando was able to move the ball across midfield but often sent in a poorly weighted ball or an off-line pass when trying to unlock the LAFC defense.
“The sequences that we created in the first half, probably there were many, and then just comparing the two halves, you feel like we did not have any (in the second half),” Pareja said. “We were not as fluid and we were not as precise.”
Pato, Torres, and Kara all visibly seemed to tire as the second half wore on. Chasing the game, Pareja sent Benji Michel in for Araujo and replaced Ruan — who had a subpar performance on the night, particularly in his own end — with Kyle Smith. Michel’s speed was needed when a poorly worked short corner ended up in an LAFC counter-attack opportunity. The Homegrown did well to hustle back and not only prevent a scoring chance but also won his team a goal kick in the 74th minute.
Pereyra sent in a set piece cross in the 78th minute that nearly produced an equalizer. Kara got his head to it and got the shot on goal but the cross was behind him so he was going backward when he hit it and couldn’t get much power on it. Crepeau was able to make the near-post save.
Two minutes later, Michel freed himself on the left at the top of the box but fizzed his shot wide of the right post.
Tesho Akindele and Silvester van der Water came on in the 83rd minute to give the Lions fresh legs but neither did much. The duo combined for just 13 total touches and produced no shots or (on the official stat sheet I received, anyway) scoring chances.
As time wound down, Crepeau made a good save to deny a Pato header off a cross from van der Water in the 90th minute. A minute later, Moutinho got his head on a set piece cross and headed it down into the turf. The ball had so much power on it that it hit the ground and bounced just over the bar.
“I kind of saw the ball just as it was about to hit my head. So I didn’t have a lot of time to think about what I was going to do,” Moutinho said. “But I definitely think that I should have done better on that.”
Opoku finished a 4-on-2 break in the 93rd minute with Orlando sending numbers forward in search of an equalizer.
Orlando City finished the game with the edge statistically but not where it counts. The Lions had more possession (61.2%-38.8%), shots (13-11), shots on goal (5-4), corners, 7-2, and passing accuracy (82.6%-76.2%). But LAFC capitalized on its few chances, created mainly by Orlando mistakes, and made the game ugly with fouls (19), knowing Orlando hasn’t been precise enough on set pieces.
“We were playing really well until the injury to Antonio,” Pereyra said. “We had control of the game in the first half. We created a lot of chances, we scored twice, but we need to keep working on improving because we (conceded) two goals in the first half and then in the second half, with our mistakes, we (gave up) two more goals. We need to keep working and move forward.”
The Lions will be back home next Saturday when the Chicago Fire visits Exploria Stadium at 1 p.m.