Two pivotal video review decisions both went the Phildelphia Union’s way and Orlando City lacked precision in front of goal as the Lions fell 1-0 in a key Eastern Conference battle at Exploria Stadium. Orlando (8-8-6, 30 points) fell back below .500 at home in 2022 (5-6-0) by getting only one lousy shot on target all night and seeing two key moments in the game go to the Union (11-2-9, 42 points).
Daniel Gazdag scored the game’s only goal, although it was originally ruled offside and required a lengthy review both upstairs and on the field before it was given to Philadelphia. The decision that particularly infuriated the Lions was the second one, which came in stoppage time on what appeared to be a foul in the box that would have handed Orlando a late penalty.
“I think you have to start with that incredible call that the referee made. It frustrated us all,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I’m not going to blame it on that. We’ll take the responsibility of the result but I have to say it was very clear. But we have to be really clear to say that we had some chances, especially in the first half, where we need to open the game. And (against) a team that defends well, you have to be polished and we couldn’t do it.”
Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo was joined in the central midfield by Andres Perea behind an attacking line of Jake Mulraney, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Ercan Kara up top.
The first half was a bit sloppy from both teams, who took turns moving the ball into the offensive end but without creating much of anything. Philadelphia’s lines were compact and organized and created issues as a result, because they had enough numbers to pressure wide when the Lions got the ball to the flanks and drop into passing lanes when Ruan (especially) got into some space. Both teams had some early set pieces but nothing came of them.
Orlando got a look in the 16th minute when Pereyra chested a ball out of the air and hit it on the volley but he couldn’t keep it down and it sailed high. Moments later, a Ruan cutback pass hit off a defender and had a lot of spin on it so Pereyra kind of whiffed on his shot attempt. Torres’ effort on the rebound was blocked.
The captain then turned over Jakob Glesnes at the top of the area. Mulraney picked it up but lost it immediately.
Araujo had a rare howler of a giveaway near midfield in the 27th minute. Julian Carranza saw Gallese well out of his net and went for glory from midfield, but his shot was just wide.
The Lions had a huge opportunity to take the lead a minute later. Gallese sent a great ball up that Kara flicked on to Pereyra. The captain sent Torres into the area and the Uruguayan cut inside his defender and fired a shot toward the far post but it skipped just wide of goal.
“We did get some chances but we didn’t capitalize on them,” Moutinho said.
Carranza sent a header toward goal off a corner kick in the 34th minute that hit a defender and deflected wide. In the 39th minute, the Union scored off another corner. Or did they?
Kai Wagner’s ball found Glesnes in the area and he flicked it toward goal. Gazdag headed it past Gallese but the flag came up for offside. Ruan had been marking Gazdag — and make no mistake, Ruan should never be the guy marking Gazdag 1-v-1 in front of goal — but had stepped up and offside was called. After a lengthy check by Video Assistant Referee Jair Marrufo, referee Alex Chilowicz went to the monitor and he took another long look at it before awarding the goal. He ruled that Ruan’s foot clearly kept Gazdag onside. The visitors led 1-0.
After Video Review, Gazdag's goal counts! pic.twitter.com/qQmPrA6TOL— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 24, 2022
Araujo got the last look at goal of the half for Orlando. Finding himself in space, he had a go from outside the area and struck his shot hard, but it was right at Andre Blake for an easy save. The Union took a 1-0 lead into the break.
Orlando City had more possession (60%-40%) and passing accuracy (87.5%-81.1%) but the Union got more shots (6-4) and corners (4-0). Each team got just one shot on target.
Benji Michel replaced Mulraney to start the second half.
The Lions earned an early corner that deflected out of the area to Araujo. The midfielder hit it first time but couldn’t keep his shot down and it sailed well over the bar. Three minutes later, Orlando worked the ball well up the right side and it ended up on Torres’ left foot but he hit his shot wide of the target.
Torres had a shot inside the top of the box in the 64th minute but the defense blocked it. Michel tried a scissor kick on the rebound but only succeeded in committing a foul.
Substitute Alexandre Pato fired a shot wide in the 72nd minute.
Philadelphia employed all of the dark arts in the final 20 minutes, with players going down repeatedly. This stalled the game and helped prevent the Lions from finding any rhythm whatsoever, though the time wasted was made up for with nine minutes of stoppage time.
“It was messy game for me. I don’t think that it had a lot of continuty,” Pareja said. “Stopping the game. The players laid on the ground. I don’t know how much time they spent. It’s not the way MLS wants (it). And that frustrated us more.”
Down the stretch, the possession was almost all Orlando City’s way but the Union parked the bus well and they knew their assignments. Part of that was allowing Torres to go to his right but the Young Designated Player wouldn’t try a right-footed cross. Instead, there were a series of back passes out of the right flank that ended up repeatedly resetting the attack.
Still, Orlando’s best chance to equalize fell to Torres’ foot in the 91st minute. A long throw-in from Araujo skipped off the head of a defender and fell for Torres near the back post. He stabbed a shot toward goal but it went just a bit wide.
The most controversial play came in the 93rd minute after Michel won the Lions a corner. Gazdag pulled on the arm and shirt of substitute Antonio Carlos, clearly impeding his ability to elevate toward the cross. The defender went down screaming at Chilowicz for a call. Marrufo did talk with the referee, who went to the monitor at the next whistle. After another lengthy look at the play, he ruled that he did not make an error on the no-call. The crowd, the players on the field, and the Orlando bench were incensed.
This was the reply from the question by the pool reporter (a.k.a. me) about the play that was submitted after the match:
“Upon reviewing the APP (attacking phase of play), the referee determined that Antonio Carlos pulled the shirt of Gazdag first and committed a holding foul. Therefore, the foul in the in the APP by Antonio Carlos preceded the pull by Gazdag and negated the penalty claim. The final outcome was a direct free kick for Philadelphia for the foul by Antonio Carlos.”
I have to admit, it’s certainly a cool story. Carlos did have a hold of Gazdag’s shirt — like every player in the box on every set play ever — but there didn’t seem to be any clear pull or tug on his part, while Gazdag made damn sure Carlos wasn’t going to get up to head that ball. He must have known he was guilty because he threw up his hands in the universal “I did it but am going to protest my innocence anyway” gesture.
The last opportunity came in the 99th minute. Michel floated a cross from the right over Blake to the far post. Tesho Akindele got his head to it but couldn’t get on top of the slow floater and he popped it up just over the bar.
Moments later the whistle blew and the Lions fell at home again.
Orlando finished with more possession (63.5%-36.5%), shots (11-9), and passing accuracy (87.2%-76.9%). The Union won more corners (5-2), and each team finished the match with just one shot on target.
Beyond the two frustrating referee decisions, the loss can be pinned squarely on Orlando City not hitting the target. There were opportunities to score, even against the stingy Union defense, but being inaccurate was a problem, as was the constant recycling around the area. Players still have to try to get the ball in with their weaker foot sometimes in top flight soccer, and the movement and decision-making has to be faster in order to maximize the chances of catching the defense off guard. The Lions couldn’t do those things and that resulted in a shutout loss at home in a pivotal game.
“We did not have the creativity to break them up,” Pareja said.
“They’re very organized team and the spaces in between their lines are really hard to find because they’re very cohesive,” Moutinho said. “Even though that’s the case, I think we did a we did a good job finding the spaces. It was just that final third, that final pass that was missing tonight.”
The Lions have yet another short turnaround before hosting the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.