While many expected Orlando City to suffer a U.S. Open Cup hangover on short rest against the conference-leading Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park, the Lions came out in the mood for a battle. Unfortunately, some questionable officiating and a lucky deflection got the Union (18-4-9, 63 points) started and Orlando (12-11-6, 42 points) couldn’t climb back in it, suffering a lopsided 5-1 defeat on the road. That snapped City’s four-game MLS winning streak and five-game streak in all competitions.
It was the second straight time the Lions have gone to Subaru Park and had a legitimate complaint for an opponent to be sent off but nothing happened. Last year, Kacper Przybylko elbowed Rodrigo Schlegel in the face and then proceeded to score twice after not being sent off. This time, an early headbutt by Jose Martinez on Wilder Cartagena wasn’t seen by the referee and the video assistant referee didn’t bother to do anything about it either.
That could have changed the game, but instead the Union got goals from five different players — Oliver Mbaizo, Mikael Uhre, Daniel Gazdag, Alejandro Bedoya, and Jack Elliott — to more than offset Andres Perea’s goal.
“Well, first congratulations to Philadelphia and the way they were sharp in the box and the opportunities that they had, they just put it in the back of the net and that requires a lot of work,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I know that it was going to be difficult in that end and in regards to the game, I thought it was very level. We tried to modify some positioning and some things worked, some things didn’t work.”
Pareja rotated his squad but perhaps a little less than expected. Mason Stajduhar got the start in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Cartagena started in place of Cesar Araujo with Perea in central midfield behind an attacking line of Jake Mulraney, Mauricio Pereyra, and Niko Gioacchini, with Benji Michel up top.
The Lions played a decent first half, all things considered. Pereyra had a look in the 10th minute after Andre Blake punched a Mulraney cross out of the box. Orlando’s captain fired but the shot was blocked.
Martinez smashed a cannon shot over the bar in the 14th minute. Julian Carranza scored a minute later in transition but the flag came up and a VAR check confirmed the call.
Moments later, Cartagena and Martinez got tangled up and in the aftermath, the Philadelphia midfielder got up and appeared to headbutt Cartagena in the head. Referee Armando Villarreal didn’t see it because it happened behind the play but the broadcast picked it up. However, VAR Jose Carlos Rivero did not deem it worth a look for Villarreal and he continued.
“It was a very important play for sure,” Pareja said, without commenting further.
Moments later, Martinez took Perea down from behind in transition and wasn’t booked in a second curious non-call in quick succession.
Michel fired a shot at the end of that play and Blake got a piece of it to knock it out for a corner in the 20th minute. The Lions could not get the ensuing corner cross beyond the first defender.
Orlando had a golden opportunity in the 31st minute when Ruan shook free down the right side of the box. He needed only to get his pass through one defender to set up a sitter but couldn’t do it.
The Union found the breakthrough in the 39th minute on a lucky bounce that came after an Orlando giveaway. Perea had Mulraney wide open to his left in space but ignored him and tried to play a ball to Pereyra in traffic on the right instead. He got the pass wrong and Philadelphia came the other way. Mbaizo fired either a cross or a low-percentage shot that deflected off Moutinho and went high in the air, looped over Stajduhar and somehow found its way inside the far corner to make it 1-0.
“That first goal came on a very unfortunate play,” Pareja said. “It’s the game. We’ll take it, but it was a very unlucky play and then that kind of reduced (the team’s) energy.”
“Always in those situations when you score a goal or you make a good play, you firm up your confidence a little bit, and unfortunately, it just went the other way for us,” Perea said.
That goal energized the Union and they started becoming more dangerous immediately. Uhre fired just wide in the 41st minute after clearing himself through the defense. But two minutes later he got his goal and doubled the lead. Cartagena tried to play Ruan in on the attack but the fullback was never making the run. The Union broke 3-on-2 and Uhre beat Carlos for pace and slipped his shot past Stajduhar to make it 2-0 in the 43rd minute.
“With this team, you have to be concentrated and organized all the time. You cannot allow them to go through that middle channel easily,” Pareja said. “That second goal came on a counter attack when we were trying to look for the game.”
The half came moments later and the Lions, who played well overall, were in a two-goal hole. Orlando City had more possession (52.6%-47.4%) and passing accuracy (80.8%-79%), but the hosts had more shots (7-3) and shots on goal (2-1). Each team had one corner opportunity.
Pareja sent Facundo Torres and Ivan Angulo on for Gioacchini and Mulraney to start the second half but the Lions couldn’t get back into it. In fact, things got worse and a Villarreal decision again was involved. Stajduhar spilled a cross in from his left and he and Uhre went for the ball. Uhre touched it first and sent it over the end line while at full stretch and there was some light contact. Villarreal gave a penalty and even though Rivero had him take a second look at it, he stuck with his initial call. Gazdag scored from the spot and the game was effectively over in the 55th minute.
Dániel Gazdag is on— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 11, 2022
He scores for the fifth-straight game for his 19th goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/bAxYEBtR2o
Orlando’s legs left them after that and the Lions created very little. Stajduhar made a save on a long-range try in the 60th minute and then stoned Uhre 1-v-1 in the 62nd after the striker again beat the back line for pace on a ball over the top.
But the Union struck again in the 63rd minute when Schlegel failed to track Bedoya’s run and a perfect cross split the center backs for the former USMNT midfielder to head home, making it 4-0.
In the 67th minute, Stajduhar punched away a shot from distance off a set piece and then had to come up big to deny both Uhre and Gazdag in quick succession. Leon Flach tried his luck from outside the area in the 71st but Stajduhar made another save.
Perea gave the Lions a consolation goal in the 75th minute. Moutinho sent a long throw into the box that deflected to Perea’s feet. The midfielder smashed his shot inside the left post to make it 4-1.
Two minutes later, Moutinho sent in a great cross for second-half sub Junior Urso but he got under his header and popped it well over the goal.
Philadelphia tacked on a late goal off a corner kick when nobody on Orlando tracked Elliott and he easily headed in Kai Wagner’s cross for the final margin of victory.
The Lions held more possession in the game (51.8%-48.2%) and passed more accurately (80.5%-79.5%) but the Union led in all of the other major categories, including shots (19-9), shots on target (12-2), and corners (2-1).
“In that second half we did not have energy to cope with the game, and that was the difficult part of the game,” Pareja said. “ That first goal just made us lose a little bit of confidence and they raised. But at that point, we were better than them. And then after that, it was a normal game. There’s a way to play that they have, very direct, and they affect us. Any inch that you give them in the back they’re alert on them. And we couldn’t cope with that. There were no excuses. I thought on that part of the field they were much better than us.”
“We’re all trying to push. Every team is trying to qualify for the playoffs,” Perea said. “And we’ve got to make sure that we’re continuing to fight, because those situations depend on us. The situations that are coming ahead depend on us and the results that we make of them. So, we have to make sure that we’re keeping the energy high in the group, we have to find our way back to what we did these last five games, where we were able to take stronger results.”
The Lions come home for two matches next week, starting Wednesday against Atlanta United.