Orlando City played an outstanding first half and solid road match overall but threw away all three points by allowing the tying and winning goals in a 2-1 loss to D.C. United at Audi Field. The Lions (8-9-6, 30 points) threw away a one-goal lead in the second half for the third consecutive road match but made it worse by allowing a second to host D.C. (6-12-3, 21 points) in its first match under new manager Wayne Rooney.
Junior Urso’s wondergoal put the Lions ahead in the first half but two huge missed chances on empty nets cost the team what would have been a commanding lead. Still, it was hard to imagine Orlando getting nothing from the game until Chris Durkin and Taxi Fountas scored in the 91st and 95th minutes, respectively.
With tonight’s loss, the Lions were swept in the season series by the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
“We have tremendous pain on tonight’s result after a great first half and part of the second one too,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We just ended up giving up a result that was very important for us. I think I did not coach them well, especially in the second half. I take that responsibility. I feel like I could have done a much, much better job of helping them.”
Pareja’s lineup reflected a “they can rest when they’re dead” attitude toward squad rotation, as the gaffer made no changes to the lineup that played Wednesday night in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals. Pedro Gallese started in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo and Junior Urso took up their customary spots in central midfield behind an attacking line of Alexandre Pato, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Benji Michel in the striker role.
Despite a lack of rest, the Lions started the game on the front foot, harassing the hosts in their own end, causing turnovers, and getting numbers quickly into the attack. The waves of attack started in the fourth minute, with a fantastic pass from Pato sending Ruan down the right side. The right back’s crossing pass for Michel was just a tad too far out in front, however.
Three minutes later, Urso caused a turnover in the attacking third but Pereyra overcooked the entry pass. In the eighth minute, Michel sent a weak header on target that didn’t worry the goalkeeper. Nevertheless, the Lions grabbed the lead moments later.
Pato chipped a pass over the defense to Urso on the right side to create an attack in the ninth minute. Urso finished that attack with a chip of his own, sending an absurd ball over Rafael Romo and into the inside netting from the right side near the top of the box.
“Always in my career when I have that chance, I never tried to put it over the keeper,” Urso said of his unusual goal. “I always tried to bring the ball and tried to score on a hard shot. But today I had good confidence to do that. If I had the opportunity, I would change my goal for the three points.”
The rest of the first half seemed like a series of plays designed to test the will of all Orlando City fans, as the Lions continued to get into good scoring positions but refused to put a second shot in the net.
That started in the 19th minute when Torres took the ball down the left and fed into the box to Pato, who fired over the bar. Moutinho headed a recycled corner kick ball across the box to Michel in front in the 24th minute but he took too many touches and had his attempt blocked in front.
Urso sent a header wide in the 26th minute off a good cross from Ruan before the really egregious errors started. The first was a perfect ball over the top from Pereyra that sent Michel and Pato in behind the defense on the right. Michel pulled Romo way out of goal and fed to Pato, who turned and missed the gaping wide, goalkeeper-free net in front of him in the 28th minute.
In the 37th minute, Urso went for a brace with a good, low shot toward the right corner, but Romo made a good last-ditch diving save. A minute later, Michel had a worse miss than Pato’s empty-net whiff. Torres cut a beautiful ball back across the top of the six and Romo was caught at his post, but the Orlando attacker missed the net. The game could have been well over at that point but the Lions just weren’t ruthless enough.
Urso fired another shot at Romo in the 42nd minute but it was straight at the goalkeeper, giving him no trouble. It was the last decent look at goal for either side in the first half and the Lions took a 1-0 lead into the break that should have been three times that.
Orlando’s dominance in the game may not have shown on the scoreboard, but it did on the stat sheet, with the Lions leading in possession (51.8%-48.2%), shots (10-1), shots on target (4-1), corners (2-1), and passing accuracy (90.9%-87.3%).
The second half began a bit more evenly played after D.C. sent on Martin Rodriguez to add width to the midfield, substituting off Sofiane Djeffal. United found its footing in the match after Pereyra subbed off in the 55th minute for Andres Perea and started to create opportunities and get more possession in the attacking third.
“He came out with a pain in his knee,” Pareja said of Pereyra’s substitution. “He let us know in the middle of the game. We decided to continue in the second half with him and after 10 minutes or so the pain was increasing and he couldn’t continue. We lost control in there with the ball. I thought we had a lot of connections from (Pereyra) dropping those 10-15 yards and creating from there.”
The first warning sign for Orlando came in the 61st minute when a cross from Jackson Hopkins found Fountas in front for a golden opportunity. Gallese made himself big and came up with a huge save to protect the lead. The hosts sent the rebound wide.
Pato made a good run through the D.C. defense in the 64th minute but his shot was deflected out for a corner by Brendan Hines-Ike.
Pato had another look — this time in space at the left corner of the box — in the 69th minute but he missed the target again.
Orlando got sloppy in the late stages (almost like a team that played a midweek cup semifinal). A poor exchange in midfield gave the ball away in Orlando’s defensive third in the 71st minute but Hopkins sent his shot wide. Moments later, Ravel Morrison had his shot at the top of the area blocked.
The rest of normal time consisted mostly of Orlando doing well to hold the ball and eat up minutes and it seemed as though the Lions would come home with all three points but disaster struck in the 91st minute with a simple ball over the top to Ola Kamara on D.C.’s left side. Kamara cut back a diagonal pass to Durkin who sent it past Gallese to pull the hosts level.
Ruan was shaken up on the play and the time spent tending to him cost the Lions the point they still had, because it turned four minutes of stoppage into more than six. Kimarni Smith sent a ball into the area and this time Fountas didn’t leave his shot where Gallese could reach it.
The D.C. Designated Player’s winner in the 95th minute seemed a harsh result for Orlando but that’s what can happen when a team wastes sitters like the ones the Lions missed.
United turned most of Orlando’s statistical advantages around in the second half, finishing with more possession (56.3%-43.7%), passing accuracy (90.3%-89.7%), and corners (4-3). Orlando still had more shots (15-8), but each team finished with four on target.
“They added more numbers up front and started creating some sequences that for us were difficult to sustain, especially on the left side with the winger that they brought up,” Pareja said. “But then that’s circumstances in that moment we needed to have control the way we did it in the first half and we couldn’t do it.”
“I think the last 10 minutes were terrible,” Urso said. “The first half, we were really good on the field. In the second half we were really deep and then they had more control of the game. I think we have to keep more attention.
“Oscar puts us on the field to do what he says. He tells us to keep the ball and try to find space to score the goals, but sometimes we don’t try that. Sometimes we just stay and wait on the (other) team coming, so this is not the idea of Oscar. So, I think we have to follow what he says. And sometimes we don’t follow, we just defend there and wait for the other team coming, so I think we made a mistake.”
Apart from the U.S. Open Cup, it was a July to forget, and a critical month to get through. The Lions hardly navigated it in optimal fashion and continue to be fragile when the game most calls for nerve — moments in front of net and defending late against teams throwing numbers forward.
It’s something that needs to be fixed quickly or Orlando City will be on the outside of the playoff chase at season’s end.
The Lions will get a bona fide normal work week, returning to action next Saturday night when the New England Revolution visit Exploria Stadium.