Facundo Torres scored from the penalty spot in the second half providing all the offense on opening night at Exploria Stadium, as Orlando City defeated the New York Red Bulls 1-0. The Lions (1-0-0, 3 points) got some big saves from goalkeeper Pedro Gallese down the stretch and survived a couple of late free kicks in stoppage time to hold on against the Red Bulls (0-1-0, 0 points).
The team raised a U.S. Open Cup championship banner to the rafters over The Wall prior to the match on an electric night in front of a crowd of 24,088 fans. Red Bulls Head Coach Gerhard Struber called the amosphere “brilliant” and despite that it was a tough slog for the hosts but the Lions ultimately prevailed on Torres’ penalty.
Orlando City remains unbeaten on opening day (3-0-6) and has now won two straight openers. The Lions have not conceded a goal on opening day in four seasons under Oscar Pareja.
“A very intense game against a rival that doesn’t give up in any minute,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said of the match. “And certainly New York, with their pressing and the way they structure their defensive zones in the middle and up front, is very difficult to break. For us, it was a big challenge to find the spaces that we normally do. I think the best part of the game for us was that we kept intensity all the time and in our heart was great today.”
Pareja’s starting lineup included Gallese in net behind a back line of Luca Petrasso, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Michael Halliday. Cesar Araujo and Mauricio Pereyra played in the central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Martin Ojeda, and Facundo Torres, with Ercan Kara up top.
Throughout the first half, New York’s pressure gave Orlando City trouble and the few times the Lions had something going in possession, players split their teammates with passes and sent them straight to the opposition.
Frankie Amaya sent a shot wide in the 10th minute from outside the box and Lewis Morgan followed suit a minute later as Orlando continually lost control of the ball.
The game was 15 minutes old before the Lions got the ball into the opposing penalty area when Petrasso sent in a low cross that Andres Reyes cut out for a throw-in. The Lions then won a corner kick in the 19th minute and played it short. The set play was so poorly executed that the Red Bulls were about a foot away from being able to catch Gallese off his line from midfield, but Angulo poked the ball away at the last moment to deny the visitors the chance.
Morgan blasted a shot right at Gallese in the 22nd minute and that should have served as a warning sign but instead the Lions just kept playing the ball into danger. A turnover in the defensive third just seconds after the save on Morgan’s shot fizzed just wide of the right post.
A minute later, Jansson gave the ball away and then took a yellow card keeping Elias Manoel from breaking in behind the defense. The ensuing free kick was blocked by the wall.
The game settled down a bit after that but Orlando struggled to get the ball past the midway line and once there, could not put an accurate pass on a teammate’s foot. The first half mercifully came to an end without the team conceding but the Lions were completely dominated in the opening 45 minutes.
Orlando City ended up with more possession (60.2%-39.8%), and was slightly more accurate in passing (74.6%-72.5%) but the visitors dominated in shots (7-1). There were no shots on the halftime stats but one was later credited to Torres. Thankfully, of New York’s seven, only Morgan’s effort was on target. Each team won one corner kick.
Pareja said he liked his team’s demeanor even though they were struggling to break through the Red Bulls’ press.
“I went in the locker room and I asked, ‘(assistant coach) Diego (Torres) we haven’t taken a shot, now, have we?’ ‘No.’ And I said, ‘And you know what? I like the game. But we haven’t taken a shot.’ And he said, ‘But we have heart. These guys are a good team and it’s going to be tight. It’s going to be very tight.’”
Not much changed in the opening minutes of the second half, but Orlando did eventually get more control in the match. The Lions continued to be sloppy in possession at times, though.
Araujo gave the ball away in his defensive third in the 47th minute and scrambled back to block the ensuing shot after the giveaway. Five minutes later, Torres sent a poor pass across in the attacking third and New York countered. Morgan ended up firing wide at the end of the play.
Orlando finally fashioned a chance in the 54th minute when Halliday shook free on the right and sent a dangerous cross that skipped just out of Kara’s reach in front. The ensuing corner, however, led to the opener. The cross into the box found Araujo’s head. The midfielder nodded a shot toward goal that bounced up and caught the outstretched arm of Sean Nealis. Referee Guido Gonzales Jr. pointed to the spot immediately. Struber called the penalty a “wrong decision” by the referee in his postgame press conference, but the play was reviewed and the call upheld by the video assistant referee, Jose Carlos Rivero.
Torres stepped to the spot and Coronel dove to his left. The shot went slightly the other direction to open the scoring in the 56th minute.
Facu Torres with the cool finish from the spot! #OrlandoCity pic.twitter.com/rHu2JJlTSK— Major League Soccer (@MLS) February 26, 2023
Prior to taking the shot, Torres was standing at the spot having a discussion with Kara and Ojeda.
“We talked and trained penalties yesterday and today. I just felt like I had a ton of confidence,” Torres said. “And so I told that to my teammates, and thankfully they agreed, and let me take the PK, and thankfully I scored.”
After his goal, Torres celebrated by putting the ball under his shirt to indicate that he and his partner are expecting a child.
“I’m going through a very happy time in my life right now — not just with my football, but off the field as well,” he said after the match. “So, thankfully we were able to get three points as well against a Red Bull team that’s very difficult and in a game that was incredibly difficult. They’re always running, they all press, and they give you absolutely no space. So to take three points tonight was fantastic.”
Shortly after the goal, Ramiro Enrique replaced Kara, making his MLS/Orlando City debut. His relentless energy helped Orlando win some 50/50 balls as the visitors’ legs grew heavier.
But the Red Bulls kept coming after the equalizer. In the 72nd minute, John Tolkin sent a floating, hopeful ball into the area. Gallese came off his line to punch it away but a shot was immediately sent back toward his goal. From his knees, the Peruvian parried it away and the Lions were able to clear and counter attack, with Enrique winning a free kick on the other end.
In the 80th minute, Enrique was on the end of a good passing sequence up the right and he danced past two defenders before unleashing a shot that was deflected wide.
Orlando seemed to be about to get a free kick just outside the area when Torres was taken down in the 86th minute but the ref allowed play to continue. The Red Bulls countered and Casseres smashed what appeared like an equalizer toward goal but Gallese got his shoulder on the shot and it caromed off the side of his face, but he made the stop.
Pedro Gallese with the massive save to keep the clean sheet! pic.twitter.com/a5d26RmkIC— Major League Soccer (@MLS) February 26, 2023
After shaking off the cobwebs, Gallese was able to continue. He was interfered with on the ensuing corner kick and Orlando was able to take a breath.
Pareja went to a five-man back line down the stretch and Orlando City had eight minutes of stoppage time to survive. The Red Bulls won two dangerous free kicks in injury time but Morgan sent the first of those well over the net and Casseres fired his effort straight to Gallese. That was the last action of the match.
Orlando held slightly more possession (50.6%-49.4%) and earned more corners (4-3), but the rest of the statistics favored the visitors. New York passed more accurately (75.7%-71.7%) and finished with more shots (14-6) and more shots on target (4-1).
“In the second half, we kind of got our groove and once we got that penalty and Facundo Torres put it in the back of the net, we kind of calmed down and settled into the game a bit more,” Petrasso said.
Orlando City improved to 7-9-2 in the all-time series in league matches (8-9-2 in all competitions). The Lions have won three straight against the Red Bulls in all competitions, including consecutive 1-0 decisions in the regular season, and improved to 4-4-1 at home against New York in MLS play — 5-4-1 in all competitions.
Orlando City will be back in action at home again next Saturday when FC Cincinnati visits Exploria Stadium.