You can’t really make up what happened to Orlando City in the second half while up 2-0 at Austin FC. But you don’t have to make it up because we’ve all seen this movie before.
The Lions (6-4-3, 21 points) went down two men in the second half, allowing Austin FC (7-3-3, 24 points) to rally back for a 2-2 draw at Q2 Stadium in Austin, TX, in the first-ever meeting between the two teams. Referee Joe Dickerson made sure he was the star of the show by sending off Rodrigo Schlegel for a second yellow card for handball within seconds — with the second one in the box and highly suspect. He sent off Cesar Araujo minutes later for a warranted dangerous play as the Orlando midfielder foolishly kicked out after being stepped on by Alex Ring.
Finally, Dickerson awarded a corner kick that certainly appeared to be a goal kick deep in stoppage time, from which the hosts tied the game. In fact, it was the player — Moussa Djitte — who appeared to touch the ball last before it went out who then scored the tying goal.
All of that aside, it was Orlando City’s own fault for not putting the game away by halftime with the unbelievable chances the Lions wasted.
“Well, first just allow me to recognize the effort of the players today, trying to overcome all those things that happened, especially at the end and in the second half, with many unfair things happened,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “But I guess we’ve got to take it. We played a very good game until all those things came in the second half.”
Pareja’s starting lineup offered no surprises. Pedro Gallese took his spot in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo played in the central midfield with Andres Perea — starting his third consecutive game in all competitions. Junior Urso functioned as a winger on an attacking midfield line with Mauricio Pereyra and Facundo Torres, with Ercan Kara up top.
The Lions jumped on top in the second minute. Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver tried playing out of the back but sent his pass right to Urso. The Bear sent the ball to Kara in front and the Austrian redirected it just inside the right post to make it 1-0. It was Kara’s third goal of the MLS season — fourth in all competitions — and the fourth-fastest goal from the start of a match in club history.
“We wanted to press them right from the first minute and we did it very good,” Kara said. “And the goalkeeper (made) a mistake and Urso (saw) me very good, and played me the ball, and the rest was an easy finish.”
The first two opportunities for Austin came off of turnovers by Araujo in the midfield. The first didn’t result in a clear-cut chance but in the ninth minute, the miscue led to a shot by Maxi Urruti that smashed off the left post. The rebound was cleared behind for an Austin corner with Diego Fagundez lurking.
Following a good spell by Austin, the Lions doubled the lead. Moutinho sent the ball down the left for Torres. The Young Designated Player got to the end line and crossed back into the area for Kara. The ball was deflected by defender Kipp Keller and fell to Pereyra, who fired immediately. Stuver made a good save to deny the captain but the ball fell to Ruan lurking near the back post and the right back slotted home to make it 2-0 in the 22nd minute.
The Lions were wasteful for the rest of the first half. That started in the 26th minute after Kara stole the ball in the attacking third. He fed Urso on his right and the Bear fired a shot right at Stuver, who made the comfortable save.
The hosts came into the match after that missed opportunity, holding much more possession for the rest of the half. Center back Julio Cascante fired a long-range shot that deflected well over the net. On the ensuing corner kick, a cross found Cascante at the back post. The defender headed the ball down and it bounced over the bar. The play may have been offside but the flag stayed down, so no review was necessary.
Right back Nick Lima cut inside the wing a few minutes later and fired a tight-angle shot that Gallese did well to save in the 35th minute. Three minutes later, Moutinho turned the ball over in his own half and Urruti fired just wide. Gallese was shaken up on the play but continued after receiving treatment from the training staff.
Orlando had some chances to put the game in a chokehold down the stretch. Kara let a shot fly from outside the area in the 43rd minute but Stuver got over and made the save. In stoppage time, the Lions had three more excellent scoring chances and should have scored. The first came on a transition opportunity with Torres and Ruan going 2-v-1. Torres was located centrally but chose to send a pass to Ruan on his left. Ruan not only failed to hold his run and stay onside, but he also missed the wide open net. Moments later, Torres had a chance to redeem himself at the top of the area but turned down a shot again to lay off for Kara who was closed down from behind and never got a shot away.
In the dying seconds, Moutinho crossed after a throw-in in the attacking third that found Urso. The Bear headed on frame and Stuver made a big save. The rebound fell for Urso who then missed everything from just a couple feet from the goal line.
The Lions went to the locker room up 2-0 but Austin was still in the game because of the missed chances.
“I thought today was a game that we could easily score two or three goals more until all this mess happened,” Pareja said.
Austin had a big advantage in first-half possession (66.2%-33.8%), corners (4-1), and passing accuracy (90.4%-75%). But the hosts fired only one more shot (8-7) in the opening period and Orlando got more of its chances on target (6-2).
The Lions again had a chance to put the game away in the 53rd minute. Kara laid off for Perea at the top of the area but the midfielder fired his shot wide of Stuver’s goal. Four minutes later, the Lions created another chance. Pereyra floated in a ball for Kara, who headed down for Urso. The Bear fired his shot immediately but left it too close to the middle. Still, Stuver had to make an outstanding reaction save in the 57th minute to keep the score at 2-0.
Moments later, the entire complexion of the game changed.
Schlegel was booked for a handball just outside the area in the 58th minute. The defender’s arm was out from his body and he was trying to change direction, leaning to block the shot. Although Schlegel was pulling his arm toward his body, and almost got it there, the ball hit it and the Lions couldn’t complain too much about the free kick. However, on the free kick, the delivery by Sebastian Driussi hit Schlegel, who was part of the wall. This time, his arm didn’t appear to be in an unnatural position and he probably knew nothing at all about it. In fact, the shot may have been going wide.
Nevertheless, Dickerson showed Schlegel a second yellow and pointed to the spot. He also booked Orlando’s captain, Pereyra — who suffered four play-breaking fouls in the match, including one in transition, without drawing a yellow card — for dissent. The conversation with Video Assistant Referee Rosendo Mendoza didn’t take very long and Dickerson never went to the monitor himself to take a look.
Driussi took the spot kick right down the middle. Gallese dove to his left but dangled a leg and got a piece of the shot. However, the ball deflected into the roof of the net to pull Austin back to within 2-1 in the 63rd minute.
Up a man and now down only one goal, Austin pressed like crazy for the equalizer, winning a couple of quick corners. On the second of those, Araujo blocked a cross by Ring, who looked to have clipped the young Uruguayan, who lashed out with his boot in retaliation. There wasn’t much contact in it but Ring went down and rolled around. A conversation ensued between Dickerson and Mendoza and this time Dickerson decided to look at the play on the monitor himself. He determined it was a dangerous play by Araujo and sent off the midfielder, putting Orlando City down to nine men with still 21 minutes remaining in normal time.
And, as I said earlier, we’ve seen this movie before. Despite changing players, coaches, and even owners, this keeps happening.
7 - Orlando City has had multiple players sent off in an @MLS match for the seventh time in club history. No other team has more than four such games since Orlando joined MLS in 2015. Reduced. pic.twitter.com/Xn6SC49dFY— OptaJack⚽️ (@OptaJack) May 23, 2022
Pareja sent on Tesho Akindele, Kyle Smith, and Jake Mulraney to provide some energy as the shorthanded Lions attempted to see out the match. He withdrew Kara, Pereyra, and Torres.
Mulraney nearly made his presence felt immediately, pressuring the ball high and poking it toward goal, but the shot rolled wide in the 73rd minute.
Two minutes later, Austin Head Coach Josh Wolff sent Djitte for Daniel Pereira, as he no longer had need of a holding midfielder, chasing the game while up two men.
Orlando caught a break when Driussi sent a free header over the bar in the 77th minute, but the Lions’ stayed compact with their nine men and invited crosses rather than giving Austin space to get inside.
Austin tried to get a third Lion sent off when Fagundez tried to hurry Gallese, picking the ball up and walking toward Orlando’s goalkeeper. Jansson stepped between the two players and Fagundez lowered his shoulder and initiated contact. Jansson certainly didn’t get out of his way and lowered his own shoulder at the last second. Fagundez crumpled to the ground to sell a call and did manage to get Dickerson to book Jansson in the 82nd minute.
A minute later, the ball ended up on Fagundez’s foot behind the defense. He beat Gallese with a far-post shot but the ball caromed off of the woodwork and Orlando recovered.
Gallese bought his team some rest with a lengthy delay as the trainers came out to look at him for the second time in the match. But Austin went right back on the attack after that.
A cross in found Djitte unmarked, after the forward had gotten in front of Smith, but his header went over the bar in the 89th minute. A minute after that, Ring had a go from the top of the box and Gallese made a sensational one-armed save to preserve the lead — for the moment anyway.
The fourth official signaled seven minutes of injury time, and Pareja tried to waste some of that with a couple of substitutions, sending Sebas Mendez and Michael Halliday on in separate switches for Urso and Ruan.
Dickerson made his final critical mistake in the fifth minute of stoppage time. A ball into the area was headed off of Djitte’s shoulder and out for an apparent goal kick — but not apparent to Dickerson, who signaled for a corner.
Orlando players were incensed and argued vehemently to no avail. Austin played the corner short and sent a back-post cross in that Djitte got a touch on and knocked into the net to level the game at 2-2 in the 95th minute.
“It’s frustrating, very frustrating, the management of that. Those plays,” Pareja said of the officiating. “When it hurt us the most is when they scored a goal, it was it was a corner that was called that...no way. It was our ball and they called a corner and that’s what frustrates us the most. It’s unbelievable the corner that they gave up. It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable. Unbelievable. Unacceptable for me.”
Orlando looked to have something going moments later. Akindele went straight up and headed an aerial ball, then appeared to have a chance to get in alone on goal when the defender fell. Dickerson, however, saw some kind of infraction on Akindele and gave Austin the ball back.
The 97th minute came and went, then the 98th, and the 99th, before Dickerson finally blew the full-time whistle. Orlando City was probably fortunate to get any kind of result, given the circumstances, but the Lions could have, and should have, come home with three points.
Austin finished with way more possession (71.4%-28.6%), shots (22-12), corners (10-2), and passing accuracy (90.4%-73.1%). Orlando had more shots on target (7-5).
“It was a tough game, but I think we played very well,” Kara said. “And we did good in the first half and also in the beginning of the second half, but the red cards put us from our way, and it was hard decisions from the referee, but yet we still keep fighting. It’s a point away and we’re looking forward.”
The Lions will have a quick turnaround with a Wednesday night home U.S. Open Cup match-up against Inter Miami CF. Schlegel and Araujo will miss Saturday’s match against FC Dallas.