Orlando City’s three-game winning streak in all competitions came to a crashing halt, as the team’s worst performance of the year resulted in a 3-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Exploria Stadium. The Lions (4-3-2, 14 points) were second best from the jump, had no sense of urgency or precision, lacked ideas, were careless with the ball, and were generally played off the pitch by New York (4-2-2, 14 points), which moved into second place in the Eastern Conference with the win. Luquinhas, Cristian Casseres, and Lewis Morgan scored the goals for New York.
Orlando has now lost three straight games to the Red Bulls and the loss drops the Lions to 5-9-2 in the all-time series. The Lions were so comprehensively outplayed that they attempted just three shots in 90+ minutes and failed to get a single one on frame.
“Obviously very disappointed with the result,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “When we compete, we are trying to get a result, but more than that, I thought our performance, where I’m fully responsible, was far from our normal one. I thought New York outplayed us today and I have to accept that they were much better than us.”
“This is the worst game for us and this is difficult to understand now,” captain Mauricio Pereyra said. “Sometimes everything that you plan is good and it’s perfect and you get the result and you get the good soccer. Today it wasn’t like that.”
Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in net behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo and Junior Urso played central midfield behind an attacking line of Facundo Torres, Mauricio Pereyra, and Alexandre Pato, with Ercan Kara up top.
Neither team got much going in the first 20 minutes. The Red Bulls came in looking to make it an ugly game and succeeded, committing fouls and being physical all over the pitch. Ruan got run over from behind and stepped on by Ashley Fletcher in the early going but got only a foul call and a warning. He later received another warning just before the first-half water break and finally got his yellow card just after the restart on what might have been his third bookable offense.
Orlando City moved too slowly and deliberately the entire first half and, as a result, the Lions spent most of the half penned in their own half. New York punished any off-line or poorly weighted ball by taking it the other way in transition.
That’s exactly how the Lions conceded the game’s first goal in the 26th minute. Several Orlando City players were caught up field and no one seemed particularly eager to get back defensively as the Red Bulls came forward. No one closed down Luquinhas at the top of the area and he slotted a well-placed ball just inside the left post to make it 1-0.
The chippy play continued as New York simply took fouls any time Orlando seemed to have even the slightest thing going offensively. That ended up in a double yellow card situation late in the first half, with Luquinhas and Morgan each getting booked on a play when Kara was knocked down to deny a counter opportunity.
Gallese made a huge save on Fletcher late in the half to keep it 1-0 at the break.
Orlando City held 62.8% of the first-half possession to New York’s 37.2% but most of that was kicking it around the back trying to figure out how to attack the Red Bulls’ 3-5-2 formation and press. The Lions were also the more accurate passing team (79.9%-65.8%), but New York had more shots (9-0), shots on target (3-0), and corners won (2-0) with the Lions seldom possessing the ball in the attacking half.
Pareja sent Benji Michel and Thomas Williams into the match at the break to change the shape. But a poor pass from Ruan in the attacking half allowed the Red Bulls a transition opportunity and the visitors doubled the lead just moments after the game resumed. New York broke toward goal with numbers and Casseres ended up in front of Gallese with the ball. El Pulpo made a great initial save but Casseres tapped in the rebound to make it 2-0 in the 48th minute.
Orlando looked to have a decent counter opportunity in the 54th minute, with the ball ending up at Michel’s feet in the box. Michel lost his balance and went down, shouting for a penalty but there was nothing in the challenge.
Araujo finally gave Orlando a shot attempt in the 60th minute, launching a shot well off target from outside the area.
Schlegel got his head to a Ruan cross in the 72nd minute on a recycled set piece but his shot was just wide and Carlos Coronel looked to have it covered.
The Red Bulls added a third after referee Alex Chilowicz went to video review and determined that Rodrigo Schlegel was guilty of a handball in the box. Schlegel went up for a 50/50 challenge but the ball cleared his head by inches. The attacking player in behind him appeared to head the ball into Schlegel’s arm and there’s little doubt nothing would have come of the play. But Chilowicz ruled in New York’s favor and Lewis Morgan scored from the spot for the final margin of victory.
A look at the handball called on Schlegel. pic.twitter.com/hoADIlWY89— Austin David (@AustinDavid22) April 24, 2022
Rookie Jack Lynn was given a cameo appearance late and made his MLS debut but the match was over and the Lions were cooked.
“It was a moment I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, so I was ecstatic to get on the field, but you know what’s important is getting the three points,” Lynn said after his debut. “So, it’s always a little bit of a gut punch when we don’t get that.”
New York finished with more shots (17-3), shots on target (6-0), and corners (4-1), while Orlando City held more possession (64.2%-35.8%) and passed more accurately (80.8%-62.8%). But the Lions did nothing with that possession, passing sloppily and lazily all game long and falling into the traps the Red Bulls wanted them to walk into.
“We knew already how New York plays and we prepared in the week some plan, and we couldn’t do it in a good way,” Pereyra said. “I think we we didn’t have many positive things today. We know that this is maybe the worst game that we played in the season. Even the other games that we lost, we created many chances and we played so good, and today is the exception because we didn’t play and we didn’t create any chances.”
“We were outplayed, really,” Pareja reiterated. “The first step that we need to recognize today is that we couldn’t put together the soccer that we normally play because with their intensity they destroyed any idea that we wanted. And basically with recovering the ball in the middle third they started just creating their sequences and tried to create their chances. We were not connected. It’s not that they had more energy but they had more ideas up front too, and I thought it was a fair result.”
The Lions remain at home for their next match when Charlotte FC visits Exploria Stadium for the first time ever.