Orlando City blew a great opportunity to double the lead in the second half after an early Facundo Torres goal had the Lions up. But City couldn’t convert and Gyasi Zardes equalized for the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO. The Lions (8-7-5, 29 points) earned yet another road point in 2022 but it felt like it could have been more, although at the same time they may have been lucky not to lose to Colorado (5-8-6, 21 points) in the end.
Pedro Gallese had a heroic second half to at least salvage a 1-1 draw for Orlando.
The Lions are 1-1-2 in four trips to Colorado and 4-1-2 in the overall all-time series in MLS play, but against a struggling bottom feeder in the Western Conference, even a point in that thin mile-high air feels like not enough during this vital stretch of the season. On the other hand, Orlando City is now 3-2-5 on the road this year, taking points in eight of 10 away matches.
“A good point in a difficult place,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I thought it was a game with two different versions. First half, I thought we played very well, went ahead of the score, and had a couple more chances. Then Colorado started reacting and in the second half they overloaded us with more players up front where we couldn’t sustain the possession as we did in the first half.”
Pareja’s lineup featured Gallese in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. It was the first start for Carlos since April 2 against LAFC. Cesar Araujo was joined in central midfield by Junior Urso, but there was a big shakeup in the attack, with Torres starting alongside Alexandre Pato and Benji Michel and Tesho Akindele in the striker’s role.
Orlando held possession off the opening kickoff and worked it up the field, with Pato finding Urso at the top of the area. The midfielder fired a shot that deflected off a defender and that touch slowed up the shot so William Yarbrough could get down and make the save.
Moments later, Pato delivered a long, bending free kick but nobody from the Lions could get onto it. In the fifth minute, it was Jansson unlocking the defense with a long ball to Michel, who danced into the corner of the box and smashed a wicked shot on frame that Yarbrough parried away.
The Lions kept generating chances early. In the seventh minute, a good buildup of play put the ball on Torres’ foot on the left side. He crossed in for Akindele’s run but the pass was behind the striker. Seconds later, Pato tried a shot from long range but it was no trouble for Yarbrough to catch.
The first Rapids shot came in the 11th minute, when Jonathan Lewis found space in front of Ruan and curled a shot toward the near post, where Gallese caught it.
Orlando broke the scoreless deadlock in the 22nd minute. Smith took a long throw-in from the left side that skipped off a defender’s head and fell in the box, where Pato got a foot on it and settled it for Torres, who smashed it home just under the crossbar with his left foot to make it 1-0.
It was Torres’ fourth goal in MLS play and fifth in all competitions this season. The Uruguayan Young Designated Player now has double-digit goal contributions on the season, with six assists to go with his four MLS goals.
“Happy to have that luck to score tonight,” Torres said through a club interpreter. “Scoring goals for me is obviously very important. It was a set piece that we had worked on and prepared with (Assistant Coach) Josema (Bazan). We knew that we were going to be able to use that long (throw) and thankfully I was there, and it fell to me, and I was able to score.”
The goal woke the Rapids up and they were able to start generating chances, playing long balls down both wings and feasting on Orlando’s fullbacks. Colorado started getting on the ball more and drawing set pieces. Urso’s foul on Lewis handed the Rapids a free kick in a decent spot and the delivery was on target but Gallese was there to catch it. Moments later, Sam Nicholson got past Smith to the end line and chipped a cross over to Lewis at the left post. The forward hit the post with his shot, although a sprawling Gallese may have had it covered in the 29th minute.
Colorado quickly won a corner and then Lewis chipped a shot — or a cross — over the net. The next chance for the hosts came on another corner in the 39th minute when Zardes got his head to a cross, but the striker got under the ball and it sailed high over the bar.
Orlando survived a late corner and took its slim 1-0 lead into the locker room at the half.
Colorado ended up with slim advantages in most of the statistical categories in the opening half. The Rapids had more possession (51.6%-48.4%), shots (8-7), corners (4-3), and passing accuracy (86.4%-83.4%). Orlando City got more shots on target (4-1).
After the break, the Rapids picked up where they finished the first half and created a great scoring chance in the 49th minute. Nicholson was given too much space by Smith and sent in a perfect ball that bounced between the Orlando center backs and fell for Zardes to head on target. Gallese got over to make a vital save.
Orlando’s passing started to look a bit labored in the thin Colorado air and it allowed the Rapids to keep possession. Carlos did well to block a Lewis shot in the 58th minute as the Rapids kept coming. Colorado went for it at that point as Robin Fraser sent on Diego Rubio and Michael Barrios.
Just after the substitution, Orlando should have doubled the lead. A long ball forward was flicked on by Akindele for Michel. The winger got in down the left and was in perfect position to either shoot or pass back to Akindele to his right. Michel either made an awful shot or a terrible pass, because from that range, he should have had no trouble picking out his teammate or getting his shot on frame. The ball was sent well wide of the far post instead.
Barrios started causing problems after that and an already effective pair of wingers for the Rapids got even more dangerous. Smith simply couldn’t stay with Barrios and it allowed the Colorado winger to put inch-perfect balls across to his teammates. The first of those found Zardes’ head in the 61st minute. Gallese came off his line to pressure the striker and forced an off-target shot.
The Lions had an opportunity two minutes later when Torres got the ball at the top of the box from Michel, who had started the play with a nifty takeaway on defense. But just as Torres went to send the ball toward goal, he was pressured from behind and wasn’t able to get off a shot.
In the 64th minute, Rubio found space from distance and sent a wicked shot on goal that skipped off the turf in front of Gallese. The goalkeeper was able to swallow it up anyway. But a minute later, the Rapids equalized. Barrios again beat Smith to the end line and sent in a perfect cross that Zardes only had to get a touch on to send into the inside netting. the game was tied in the 65th minute.
Zardes makes it even for the boys in burgundy! pic.twitter.com/fvr8i4H3Nt— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 14, 2022
Max fired a shot that took a deflection in the 67th but Gallese was able to correct his movement and make the stop. A minute later, Gallese made yet another absurd save from close range on a Rubio header.
“Pedro’s obviously a very important part of our team. He’s always there for us,” Torres said. “And we’re able to kind of have faith and confidence in him that he’s going to step up in those moments where the game is maybe a little bit more fluid and getting a little bit crazy. We know that we’ve got him behind us and he’s able to step up in those big moments and just play great, as you saw in that second half.”
While Pareja often goes to a five-man back line to see out wins or results, in this match he had no choice. With the Colorado wingers raining in dangerous crosses, the team needed more stability in the back, so Rodrigo Schlegel came on and it helped limit the number of point-blank opportunities.
“The chances that they had was with those two wingers, wide open, very deep,” Pareja said. “We wanted to have control without losing our initiative to play. We wanted more control. It was a point in the second half when it was extremely, extremely difficult to mark, and Kyle had some difficulties there. Ruan had some difficulties, and then that’s why we came with five. We brought in Rodrigo, we extended the line, and we started to match Barrios and Rubio, and then we were just trying to control them more. And I think we did. We lost a man in the middle, but I think we had control. At least we were better there.”
Orlando was able to deal with the next couple of Barrios crosses with Jansson and an alert Gallese breaking them up. Then Rubio sent in another shot from distance in the 81st minute that Gallese caught.
The Lions got a couple of late set pieces, looking to break the deadlock. Michel drew a free kick just outside the area after a takeaway by substitute Michael Halliday. Pereyra touched the free kick and Jansson blasted it, but his shot hit the wall in the 83rd minute. Three minutes later, Schlegel sliced through the Rapids and won a free kick on the left side in the attacking third. The ball into the mixer fell to Carlos and he had a corner to shoot at but a defender got in the way and blocked it in the 87th minute.
Halliday wasted a couple of decent-looking attacks late by sailing his crosses well past everyone wearing the same colored uniform as him, even though he had plenty of space and time to send in his passes. Orlando seemed the likelier team to find a winner for the final minutes of normal time and early in stoppage time, but just couldn’t get the ball to a Lion in a threatening position.
A dangerous cross through the six in the 93rd minute by Lewis had Orlando fans and players holding their collective breath, but it skipped harmlessly out of play wide of the back post for a goal kick. A few minutes later, the game was over.
The Rapids held just a slight possession advantage at the end (50.6%-49.4%), but Colorado ended up with a dominant advantage in shots (19-12), and turned around the shots on goal stat (7-4) in their favor, putting six on frame in the second half while the Lions failed to hit the target. Colorado also passed more accurately (84.2%-80.6%) and earned more corners (5-4).
The Lions have a short turnaround with more travel to come, as they head to Georgia to take on Atlanta United on Sunday afternoon.