Orlando City conceded twice after the break and fell 2-1 to the New England Revolution on jersey reveal night at Exploria Stadium in the Lions’ last preseason game before the start of the 2023 season. Ivan Angulo gave the Lions a 1-0 lead in the first half, but a second-half goal by Giacomo Vrioni and an 82nd-minute own goal by Robin Jansson handed the visitors a 2-1 win.
Orlando City came out in the 4-2-3-1 formation they’ve used frequently over the past three seasons under Oscar Pareja. Pedro Gallese started in goal behind a back line of Luca Petrasso, Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Mikey Halliday. Cesar Araujo and Mauricio Pereyra were the defensive midfielders, with Angulo, Martin Ojeda, and Facundo Torres in the attack. 2023 MLS SuperDraft pick Duncan McGuire got the start up top.
The first solid chance of the game came in the fifth minute, when Angulo played a cross toward the back post. Petrasso headed it back towards the top of the six-yard box, where Ojeda was making a run. It was a little behind the Designated Player, so he attempted to turn and shoot, but the shot was wide of the far post.
The Lions nearly opened the scoring in the 11th minute when a quick free kick from Araujo put Ojeda behind most of the New England defense. The Argentine took a shot from outside the box that was headed towards the far post, but Djordje Petrovic made an excellent diving save to tip it wide.
The Revs felt they should’ve had a penalty in the 16th minute when slight contact between Jansson and Bobby Wood saw the latter go down. The referee waved play on and Wood slammed the ground in disgust. However, replays showed there clearly wasn’t enough contact to point to the spot.
Less than two minutes later, Orlando City took the lead. Jansson’s long ball to Torres was flicked with the heel to McGuire, who quickly played it on for Halliday. The right back’s shot required a diving save by Petrovic, but Angulo beat Brandon Bye to the ball and tapped it in to give the Lions a 1-0 lead after 17 minutes.
New England had a chance in the 27th minute when Carles Gil’s cross was just behind Wood. The forward attempted to flick it on goal with his heel, but the shot went wide. The Revs had another chance in the 31st minute when an Araujo foul provided a free kick opportunity for Gil. The midfielder decided to take a shot at goal rather than play it into the box, but it was well off target.
The final good chance of the first half came in the 34th minute. Torres set up Halliday for a cross that went across the top of the six-yard box, but it couldn’t find a purple-clad player’s foot. Torres ended up with it again, but his shot was blocked and the Lions took a 1-0 lead into the break.
At halftime, New England had more possession (52%-48%) and a higher passing accuracy (83%-81%), but the Lions had more shots (10-5) and shots on goal (4-2).
New England had the first good second-half attempt in the 52nd minute. Christian Makoun’s cross initially appeared harmless, but found the head of Dave Romney in the box. The defender turned it on goal, forcing Gallese to dive and tip it wide of the post.
In the 59th minute, a poor clearance attempt by New England provided a chance for Ojeda. The initial shot by Angulo bounced off two players and fell to Ojeda at the top of the box. His first touch was a shot on goal, but it was over the target.
Three minutes later, Ojeda had another shot from distance when Torres played a short pass back to the oncoming midfielder. Ojeda took a low, hard shot towards goal, but Petrovic did well to get low and knock it wide.
The Lions nearly scored in the 64th minute when Halliday got a shot off just inside the box. It forced Petrovic low to make the stop, but the ball bounced to Ramiro Enrique charging in. The substitute headed the ball back towards goal, but Petrovic made a good stop with his foot to keep it a one-goal game.
The Lions had dominated the first 65 minutes and were unlucky not to have a multi-goal lead. However, things changed after Petrovic’s save on Enrique and the Revolution began to create most of the chances down the stretch.
The 66th minute provided a scary moment when Gallese came way out of his box to tackle Justin Rennicks. It was a solid tackle and Gallese won the ball, but he immediately lost it back to Rennicks. With Gallese way out of his box, Rennicks attempted a shot from the left side, but missed wide of the near post and into the side netting.
Second-half substitute Emmanuel Boateng nearly equalized for New England in the 68th minute when he beat Halliday to the ball in the Orlando City box. As Halliday went to the ground, Boateng was in on Gallese. However, the Lions’ goalkeeper made an excellent save with his left foot, maintaining the one-goal advantage.
Two minutes later, Boateng caused confusion among Orlando City’s defense that led to a goal when he made a run in behind Halliday, who stepped up to take Makoun with Pereyra already moving in to cover the Revolution defender. That allowed Makoun to slip a pass to Boateng, and Schlegel was forced wide to provide coverage. Receiving the ball from Makoun, Boateng sent a cross into the box. Vrioni got behind the two center backs, getting his head to the ball right in front of goal. Gallese attempted to dive for the ball, but to no avail as it went into the corner, tying the game at 1-1.
The visitors nearly had a chance to take the lead in the 77th minute on a counter attack. Gil was sent past all but one Orlando defender and looked to have a decent chance at a breakaway. Jansson caught him from behind and made a risky challenge, but fortunately got the ball.
After coming up short of a go-ahead goal in several opportunities, New England finally took the lead in the 82nd minute. Vrioni challenged Jansson on a good, low Bye cross, and the ball gently rolled past Gallese for an own goal on Jansson. The Orlando City goalkeeper was glued to his spot, only falling backwards as the ball went into the net to give New England a 2-1 lead.
The Lions tried to get one back in the 87th minute when Torres created space just outside the box and took a shot. Petrovic made a good save that went right to substitute Kyle Smith, but his shot hit the outside netting. That was the last good chance of the game.
New England ended the game with slightly more possession (51%-49%), but Orlando City controlled most of the other statistical categories. The Lions had more shots (22-11), shots on goal (10-6), and a better passing percentage (85%-83%), but still lost the match.
“I thought it was a good game. I like it. I thought we had a lot of good things that we surely need to improve and bring it into the competition next week,” Pareja said about the performance. “A lot of good things. I’m very, very happy, very optimistic with the team. The new players today, they started just testing what is Major League Soccer and what is the competition. We have in front of us a good rival in the opener and I know that this will help us. Obviously, we compete for winning in a friendly game and taste after a defeat is not the best. It was good in terms that we pushed. The good news is that the boys are showing good things.”
Orlando City dominated the first half, creating several chances that could’ve put the game away. They also had the better start to the second half, but New England started to control as the game went on, eventually leading to two late goals.
“It was good first half, better than second,” Halliday said after the game. “I think we were attacking well in the first half. We were killing them in behind, but then in the second, we got a little beat down in the middle. So then, they’re exploiting our wide spaces and just getting in crosses and just killing us because we kept losing the ball. But it’s a good start just, you know, better finish.”
Despite the uneven performance, Pareja said it was a game that will help the Lions as they head into the season opener next weekend.
“I think the rhythm of the games. Just being in competition mode over time, and just getting more games, it surely would help us continue with the same rhythm that we have shown in the first half,” Pareja added. “We had that. It was a fairly dominant half. And the second one, 65 minutes, we started slowing down and New England showed more energy in those moments.”
Orlando City ends the 2023 preseason with a 3-1-1 record.
With the preseason now complete, the Lions look to the regular season. They’ll start their ninth MLS campaign next Saturday night at Exploria Stadium when they welcome the New York Red Bulls to town.