Ercan Kara opened his Orlando City account to lift a massively wasteful Lions team to a 1-0 win over the 10-man Chicago Fire at Exploria Stadium. Orlando (3-2-2, 11 points) snapped a two-match home losing streak and finished the season set against the Fire (2-1-3, 9 points) with a 1-0-1 record and four points. It was Chicago’s first loss of the season, which might have been two if not for a poor refereeing decision in the two teams’ first match-up of the season.
The Lions wasted numerous opportunities to stretch the lead by missing the net from excellent scoring positions throughout the second half against the 10-man Fire, who were without Brian Gutierrez from the 43rd minute on. The 18-year-old Chicago Homegrown Player received two first-half yellow cards, putting his team a man down.
“Good day to walk out with three points,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The red card changed a lot for the rival. We may think that just winning 1-0 isn’t enough, but I said to the players that we can choose just being worried about things, be negative about things that didn’t work the way we wanted, or enjoy the victory that was necessary for the team. It was not an easy game and we created a ton of chances. I know we all have that feeling now we need to be more precise. Sometimes we get worried by not creating them.”
Pareja’s lineup included goalkeeper Pedro Gallese behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel (in for the injured Antonio Carlos), and Ruan. Sebas Mendez replaced Junior Urso in central midfield with Cesar Araujo behind an attacking midfield line of Facu Torres, Mauricio Pereyra, and Alexandre Pato, with Ercan Kara at striker.
The opening minutes were played between the boxes as the teams settled in and Gutierrez took a silly early yellow for delaying a restart, which ended up coming back to haunt him later in the half.
Orlando got the game’s first scoring opportunity when Pereyra slipped a ball down the left side of the penalty area for Kara. The Austrian fired a hard, low shot from a tough angle and Gabriel Slonina made a good save.
Four minutes later, Pato sent either a shot or a cross wide of the left post from the right side and afterward said something to Kara, so I’m inclined to think it was a pass.
Gutierrez found himself in acres of space at the top of the Orlando area in the 15th minute. He fired a shot but it was parried away by Gallese, who kept the game scoreless. Two minutes later, Jansson did well to block a shot by Stanislav Ivanov.
Pato forced a near-post save from Slonina in the 20th minute as the Lions regrouped and continued to look dangerous. However, Orlando often struggled to get that final pass through Chicago’s defense or get the proper weight on the ball.
Orlando City was fortunate not to fall behind in the 24th minute after a Mendez turnover ended up giving Kacper Przybylko an open look from the right. He fizzed his shot just off target.
Pereyra slipped Ruan down the right side of the box in the 31st minute and the fullback sent an easy near-post shot at Slonina when a better option may have been a cut-back ball across the top of the six for Kara and Pato.
Three minutes later, the Lions were fortunate again when they turned the ball over on a too-deliberate counter-attack and Schlegel was caught up the field. Chicago came forward and Gutierrez tried an ill-advised long-range shot that didn’t trouble Gallese.
Moutinho came close in the 37th minute with a volleyed effort that went just over the crossbar. Torres fired a shot into the ground a few minutes later and it bounced over the net.
Gutierrez fouled Araujo from behind in the 43rd minute and saw his second yellow card of the match, putting the Fire down a man for the remainder of the match.
Orlando didn’t do much with the last two minutes of normal time and a minute of stoppage, getting just a long-range Araujo shot that the midfielder wasn’t able to get any power into, and Slonina easily stopped it.
The Lions held a halftime advantage in possession (57.2%-42.8%), shots (10-5), shots on target (4-2), and passing accuracy (86.7%-79.1%), with each team earning just one corner.
Pareja sent Junior Urso into the game for Araujo at the break and it helped the Lions play quicker through the Chicago defense. He won the Lions an early corner and Orlando fashioned a chance in the 51st minute on a ball over the top that Kara took in the air but hit well over the bar.
“It (was) a big difference when Junior Urso on the field because Junior Urso is more box to box,” Mendez said. “It was a little better for our team because Junior Urso helps in the marking and to attack, and Junior Urso is a very good player for us.”
Pato smashed a shot just wide in the 56th minute and then had a shot deflected out by the defense a minute later for an Orlando corner. Jansson got a head to the ensuing cross but could only knock it up in the air and Chicago cleared.
The breakthrough came in the 59th minute. Torres was fouled near the left corner of the box, setting up an Orlando free kick. The Young Designated Player took the kick and sent a cross to Pato at the back post. Pato headed the ball across the top of the six and Kara nodded it home for his first MLS goal.
“I saw the space and it was a great assist from (Pato) and he played a very good header to me,” Kara said. “It was not the hardest goal for me but I’m happy.”
“We have suffered a lot of fouls. It was a concern for us,” Pareja said after his team finally punished a team for fouling often. “But then we need to take advantage of those moments. We were not taking advantage. Today we did. We’ll take it. Being effective in set plays is important.”
The Fire sent offensive subs into the match after the goal and had a bit more possession for the next five minutes before Orlando regained control of the match. Ruan’s last opportunity to affect the match took place in the 73rd minute when he got forward in transition but again opted to take a bad-angle shot that gave Slonina no trouble, despite having some passing options.
A minute later, the Lions should have doubled the lead. Torres got on the ball in the box but opted not to shoot, instead passing back to Pato, who fired from the top of the area. Slonina made a sprawling save but couldn’t control the rebound, which popped up into the air perfectly for Kara, who sent his point-blank header wide of goal.
Pareja subbed off Kara, Torres, and Ruan just after that, sending on Benji Michel, Tesho Akindele, and Kyle Smith.
Michel’s introduction almost paid dividends instantly, as Pato found him at the back post with a cross, but the Homegrown sent his header wide in the 77th minute. Akindele’s hustle won the team a corner shortly after that and a well-worked short corner ended up getting crossed in by Pato but this time it was Schlegel heading wide of the near post.
Orlando City again should have put the game away in the 88th minute. Akindele slipped Pato in between the defenders and he managed to work around Slonina but sent his shot off the crossbar.
That was the last good opportunity and the Lions were content to knock the ball around and eat up the final few minutes of the match to earn the victory.
Orlando held lopsided advantages in possession (61.7%-38.3%), shots (21-7), shots on target (6-2), corners (6-2), and passing accuracy (89.3%-78.9%).
“The players did a terrific effort today and they walked out with three points that (were) very necessary, so we’re good,” Pareja said.
“Today was a very important game for us because we lost the last game against LAFC,” Mendez said. “But now we need to continue to work because we have another game. Every single game in MLS is difficult so we need to continue to work.”
The Lions are back on the road next Saturday when they visit the Columbus Crew at 7:30 p.m.