The good news was that Orlando City finally scored a goal from open play. The bad news is that the Lions finally conceded a goal on the season as they left Audi Field with a 1-1 draw against D.C. United. Rookie Duncan McGuire put Orlando City (1-0-2, 5 points) on the board in the second half but an inch-perfect shot by Chris Durkin enabled United (1-1-1, 4 points) to claim a point.
“In the first half today, we didn’t look like us,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I don’t blame the players. I just think that they did great trying to adjust. The intensity was good. We would like to play much better, obviously, but they’re always good (in terms of intensity and discipline).”
Pareja rotated his squad from Tuesday night’s match in Mexico. Pedro Gallese again started in goal but his defense was a three/five depending on whether Orlando had the ball or not. Rookie Abdi Salim, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Kyle Smith got the start, with Rafael Santos getting his first start at left wingback and Ivan Angulo playing wide right, with Wilder Cartagena and Mauricio Pereyra in central midfield. The attacking line featured Dagur Dan Thorhallsson and Facundo Torres on the wings underneath McGuire, who got his first start up top.
As has been the case throughout this young season, the Lions provided little to no danger in the attack in the opening half, while Gallese bailed the team out multiple times to keep the game scoreless through the first 45 minutes.
The hosts started to cause trouble early when former Orlando fullback Ruan sent in a good cross (I know!) in the sixth minute. Gallese came off his line to get a hand to it. The ball fell to Theodore Ku-Dipietro, who had his shot blocked in front.
Orlando City’s first shot attempt came from Wilder Cartagena in the 17th minute. He was way outside the box and obviously not in as much space as he thought because he got his shot blocked and it didn’t even make it inside the penalty area.
Gallese made a couple of tame stops early but in the 28th minute, the ball ended up with Christian Benteke all alone in front of goal when Salim missed getting his head to a cross. Benteke’s shot was good but Gallese’s save was better.
@OrlandoCitySC’s Gallese simply saves ‘em all! #ElPulpo— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 12, 2023
In the 34th minute, Gallese robbed Ku-Dipietro with a big stop and then Benteke nodded off target on the recyle attempt.
The Lions nearly got their first quality look of the game in the 41st when Pereyra sent a ball in for Torres. The younger Uruguayan’s first touch was a bit heavy though, and Tyler Miller scrambled off his line to smother it. It was practically Miller’s only activity in the opening 45.
Gallese had no trouble collecting Pedro Santos’ shot from distance in the 42nd minute, taking it on the first hop. Benteke fired wide of goal off Miller’s long free kick deep in first-half stoppage time as D.C. continued to present threats to the Orlando City goal.
The Lions had maybe their best attacking movement of the half deep in stoppage time when Torres sent a headed pass in behind down the left. McGuire ran onto it but could only win a corner kick.
D.C. held wide margins in possession (57.2%-42.8%), passing accuracy (85.2%-77.1%), shots (8-3), and shots on target (4-0). Orlando City had the first half’s only corner kick attempt deep in stoppage time but provided no threat from it.
If not for Gallese, the score could have been much different at the break.
Pareja changed shape and personnel at the break, sending Robin Jansson on for Salim and Martin Ojeda on for Torres. The Lions went to a four-man back line with Smith on the right, pushing Angulo up to the wing.
The move opened the game up a bit and the Lions were able to get on the ball more but also allowed D.C. to advance more easily as well, at times.
“We did expect the game in the second half we could have more volume and more actions up front,” Pareja said. “We knew the defensive five in the first half would probably reduce our possibilties because we were playing with one more defender and one less attacker. But we wanted to have solidness and try to see if we can create some more sequences around, in the flanks, and I think we did but not with so much consistency. Second half when we made the change of the model and the change of the personnel, we knew that this was going to surprise D.C. at some point and that we would add one more forward, and that happened.”
Thorhallsson finally gave the Lions a shot on goal in the 48th minute, sending a shot from distance directly in at Miller, who had no trouble catching it. In the 52nd minute, Ojeda sent a ball straight to Miller that may have been a weak shot or an attempted through ball for McGuire that didn’t work out.
But a minute later, the Lions found their breakthrough.
Smith got the ball on the right side from Angulo and sent a cross to the back post. Thorhallsson was there and nodded it back across the front of goal. McGuire arrived to bundle the ball in despite a challenge from Steve Birnbaum and the ball finally found the inside of the net for Orlando. A check for offside confirmed the goal — McGuire’s first as a professional and on Thorhallsson’s first MLS assist.
The rookie celebrated his goal with a celebratory flip.
What a moment.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 12, 2023
Duncan McGuire scores his first MLS goal on his debut! #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/BVXkYUbi7p
“It was a great team buildup. Great cross,” McGuire said. “I thought I could get my head onto (the initial cross from Smith). I turned, and Dagur played a great ball across the face of goal — made the goalie out of the play — and then it was a simple tap-in. Dagur could not have made it easier for me.”
“It’s a dream for him,” Pareja said of his rookie’s goal. “I’m very pleased because he’s a young kid and very committed with the group, and an American player that came from the college system, which is fantastic. And he’s proven already in his first game that he belongs. We’re very happy for him.”
The game had hardly restarted when it seemed D.C. would equalize. A shot that was blocked riccocheted off the arm of Wilder Cartagena and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. But Cartagena’s arm was not only tucked in, but his entire forearm was behind his back. That, added to the close proximity and sudden change of direction made the decision a harsh one, and the video assistant referee, Jorge Gonzalez, suggested that referee Jon Freemon have another look. Freemon went to the monitor and quickly overturned his initial call.
Pereyra turned down an opportunity to shoot from the top of the box in the 61st minute, and instead tried to thread a ball through the defense to Ojeda, who appeared to be offside anyway. Ojeda re-established himself and Pereyra played it to his left. Ojeda tried to turn and shoot in a single motion but couldn’t get squared all the way around and left his shot wide.
Seconds later, at the other end, Smith did well to erase a good cross from his former teammate, Ruan.
The Lions dealt with a series of corner kicks shortly after that but D.C. couldn’t pay them off. The best look for the hosts was a shot through traffic by fullback Mohanad Jeahze, but it was well wide of the goal in the 73rd minute.
Ojeda put a shot on target in the 79th but it was from distance and right at Miller.
A minute later, Durkin equalized. Smith and Schlegel were unable to gain control in the corner and the ball was sent to Durkin at the top of the area. He faked a shot on his right and pulled the ball back onto his left as second-half sub Cesar Araujo went for the block. Durkin then fired an unstoppable shot just inside the far post that Gallese somehow almost got to.
Chris Durkin hit it so sweet pic.twitter.com/vPV7SwBqCK— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 12, 2023
It was Durkin’s third career MLS goal and his second against Orlando City. Both cost the Lions points at Audi Field.
Ruan fired a shot well up into the crowd in the 86th after an initial clearance of a D.C. corner kick.
The final seconds of stoppage time produced a set piece for the Lions near the left corner, won by substitute Gaston Gonzalez. Ojeda played the ball to the penalty spot for Jansson, who had peeled away from goal. The Beefy Swede was open for the shot but mishit it badly and it went nowhere near the goal frame.
Orlando survived a quick D.C. push up the pitch and the final whistle brought the proceedings to an end.
D.C.’s advantage in possession dipped a little in the second half, but the hosts still finished with a comfortable advantage in that stat (56.7%-43.3%). United also led in passing accuracy (81.1%-75.5%), shots (16-9), shots on target (5-4), and corners (5-2).
“I thought we looked much, much better,” Pareja said of the second half. “I think we had a couple actions. I think we had a goal. And we accomplished that objective.”
Orlando City has made it through three of the five matches in 15 days and will return home to face Tigres in the second leg of Concacaf Champions league play in the Round of 16 Wednesday night at Exploria Stadium. The next league game for the Lions is set for next Saturday night at home against Charlotte.