The Lions were riding a successful two-match road trip by taking points at the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers when they returned home to face LAFC. Despite never having beaten the newer side from Los Angeles, there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Orlando City was seemingly in good form and Michael Halliday was the only player on the injury report. But things didn’t go as planned in the 4-2 Orlando City loss.
Orlando played fluid, beautiful soccer despite the visitors trying to “ugly up the game” with fouls to slow down Facundo Torres, Mauricio Pereyra, Alexandre Pato and others. This has become a common tactic that teams have employed early in 2022 and it has been somewhat successful in limiting the Lions’ offense. LAFC did the same to break up transition opportunities and take their chances with what has been so far this season an Orlando City side struggling to menace the opposition on set pieces.
Orlando was slicing and dicing through the LAFC midfield and getting into dangerous positions, but the game changed after a quarter of an hour, when Orlando center back Antonio Carlos went down with an injury after being fouled by Brian Rodriguez. Carlos had been his usual superb self to that point, but when he was stretchered off, Rodrigo Schlegel was forced into action. LAFC struck first — very much against the run of play and only after a Pato goal was waved off for an offside call — on a transition opportunity with Schlegel caught up field. Carlos Vela played a ball down the left over Ruan, who was unable to prevent Cristian Arango from crossing in to an unmarked Rodriguez, who profited from his earlier foul and scored the opener.
Orlando struck back on a well-worked goal from Pereyra to Ercan Kara to Pato, who volleyed home the equalizer. The 1-1 score didn’t last long, as a big mistake by Ruan on a wayward, headed back pass was well off target, allowing an easy go-ahead goal. The Lions hit back just before the break with a well-placed shot from ex-LAFC defender Joao Moutinho off a great seeing-eye pass from Pereyra.
The second half saw the Lions getting less space and doing much less with it, as the connections of the first half weren’t quite there, whether from a poorly weighted ball or an off-line or telegraphed pass. Many of the attacking movements never materialized. The visitors exacerbated things with an early goal by Ilie Sanchez after the Lions failed to clear. That allowed LAFC to play a more defensive-minded second period. LAFC killed off any comeback attempt with a transition goal in stoppage time with the Lions stretched in an effort to find the equalizer.
LAFC scored on its only four shots on target on the night and the result seemed harsh given the way Orlando had played, especially in the opening 45 minutes. The Lions were punished for every error and the loss of Carlos was felt — not that Schlegel played poorly, but he was not quite at the level of the man he was replacing.
Orlando City is left to fix the mistakes it made on Saturday night and continue to evolve the dangerous-looking offense the team showed in the opening half. Still, it was an exciting night at the stadium and the Lions showed glimpses of what the team can be when operating at an optimal level.
We hope you enjoy these images from a wet night at Exploria Stadium, despite the outcome of the match.
Images: Dan MacDonald
Words: Michael Citro