Orlando City’s first foray into Concacaf Champions League play was a short one as the Lions drew 1-1 against Tigres UANL of Liga MX at Exploria Stadium in front of 21,112 fans. Even though Tigres couldn’t beat Orlando, the Lions must bow out of the competition due to the dreaded away goals tiebreaker after holding the Mexican side to a 0-0 draw away last week.
The Lions could hardly have had a tougher draw in their first outing and gave a solid effort but came up just short after Ercan Kara’s bicycle-kick goal in the 90th minute evened things up late. Duncan McGuire fired high with the goalkeeper out of position moments later on what turned out to be the last play of the match. The Lions were incensed that it was the last play after the Honduran referee gave five minutes of stoppage time and then watched as Tigres players milked those five minutes with the typical dark arts of time wasting. Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja — who carries a stopwatch during the match — confronted referee Said Martinez after the match about not adding more time, but he was shown a red card for his troubles.
Pedro Gallese put on an incredible show in goal to give his team a chance but his teammates simply couldn’t generate anything offensively and wasted the few good chances they did create.
“We are proud of the effort we showed during the game,” Pareja said after the match, discussing what he said to his players in the locker room. “They played against a good rival and we were there. So, we will move on, but we were upset as well.”
Pareja’s lineup included Gallese in goal behind a back line of Luca Petrasso, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Michael Halliday. Cesar Araujo and Mauricio Pereyra were in the central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Martin Ojeda, and Facundo Torres, with Ramiro Enrique up top. Enrique returned to action for the first time since leaving with a minor knock at halftime last Tuesday in Mexico.
The first half chances mainly belonged to Tigres. Although the shots weren’t that uneven in terms of numbers, there was a big difference in the quality of those chances. The visitors got things started in the ninth minute, when Luis Quinones intercepted Ojeda’s cross-field pass attempt and broke the other way. Near the top of the area he stepped into his shot and Gallese got over to make a good save.
EL PULPO @pedrogallese | #ORLvTIG pic.twitter.com/2R3ET7MMWN— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) March 16, 2023
The Lions cleared the ensuing corner and looked to break but Pereyra was called for a foul just outside the area and booked for it. Gallese touched the ensuing free kick over the bar but it may have been staying high anyway.
Orlando’s first attacking motion ended badly when Torres chipped the ball into the air and tried to turn and shoot in one motion. He got the movement wrong and fired way off target in the 14th minute.
One minute later, Gallese bailed out his teammates with a huge stop on Nicolas Ibanez’s header in front. Fernando Gorriaran fired just wide on the rebound off the save.
The Lions should have broken the deadlock in the 19th minute. Petrasso’s pass found Angulo in the box and the winger fired but missed just inches wide of the right post.
The miss was costly, as Tigres grabbed the lead moments later. A cross in from Orlando’s right should have been defended by Petrasso, who got caught ball watching. That allowed Sebastian Cordova to chest the ball down to himself and fire past Gallese from close range, giving the visitors a 1-0 advantage in the 21st minute. With a road goal in their pocket, it made the uphill climb for Orlando that much harder.
⚽ ¡GOL de @TigresOficial! El marcador se abre temprano en el partido con anotación de @Cordovar97.#SCCL23 pic.twitter.com/Y4vdQo9pcb— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) March 16, 2023
The Lions didn’t respond to the goal well, as Schlegel and Araujo both took unnecessary yellow cards within the next few minutes. Halliday had an opportunity on the break with numbers in the box in the 30th minute but he couldn’t beat his defender with the cross and the ball deflected out.
Orlando didn’t do much with a couple of set pieces in the latter stages of the first half but should have pulled level seconds before halftime. Petrasso’s pass deflected in front to Enrique just a few yards in front of goal but his shot hit goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman in the chest. The Lions thwarted the ensuing counter and that was it for the first half.
The visitors held more possession in the first half (53.5%-46.5%), and had more shots (8-5), shots on target (4-1), and corners (4-1). Orlando City passed slightly more accurately (84.9%-82%).
Orlando City looked more lively to start the second half and fashioned the first chance after the break. Off a Pereyra corner, the ball fell to Enrique’s feet. The forward poked it toward goal but it was blocked behind for another corner.
Gallese made a save on a free kick from distance in the 52nd minute on a ball that eluded the wall and was heading just inside the left post. The Peruvian international kept making big saves as his team pushed numbers forward as time grew shorter. He made vital stops in the 67th, 73rd, and 83rd, robbing Quinones on the last of those. He made another key save in the 84th. It was an unbelievable display as Gallese finished with seven saves and there weren’t many easy ones in the bunch. His save on Ibanez was absolutely filthy.
With an outstanding performance and a number of crucial saves @pedrogallese @OrlandoCitySC is the Player of the Match! #SCCL23 pic.twitter.com/7eSMTN6o8j— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) March 16, 2023
“Obviously for us he represents a lot of security,” Pareja said of his goalkeeper, “especially today after we pushed in the second half and the lines were higher and we left the spaces in behind. Very good to see him in a good form.”
The Lions fought hard to get back on level terms and Torres had an opportunity in the 80th. Kara’s backheel sent the Uruguayan in and he sent a lunging toe poke toward the net. His shot was deflected by defender Igor Lichnovsky up into Guzman’s midsection for an easy save.
Second-half sub Kara was fouled just outside the area late in the match and fellow substitute Dagur Dan Thorhallsson lined up over the ball. His free kick was going just under the bar when Guzman got a touch to it at the last second, pushing it over the bar in the 89th minute. The ensuing corner led to the equalizer.
Torres took the set piece from the left corner and he picked out McGuire at the near post. The rookie’s header was cleared off the line but Kara turned around, tracked it down and sent an overhead kick looping back toward goal and in, tying the match at 1-1 in the 90th minute.
What a HIT, Ercan! pic.twitter.com/jRUY1goTvs— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) March 16, 2023
Martinez indicated a minimum of five minutes of stoppage time and Tigres used up nearly every second of it. Kara tried another bicycle kick in stoppage time and there were some shouts for handball but there was no call from the video assistant referee for Martinez to take a second look at it.
Orlando had a series of corners and set pieces but couldn’t get onto them. Guzman came off his line and initiated contact on one, drawing a questionable foul and then milking precious seconds by staying down. Tigres center back Samir was sent off for a second yellow in stoppage time as well.
The last set piece came agonizingly close to providing a winner. Guzman came off his line to try to catch a set piece cross but could only get a hand on it. With the keeper well out of position, McGuire smashed it toward goal but his shot was always rising and fizzed over the bar.
Martinez then signaled the end of the match and Pareja bolted onto the pitch to argue, earning himself a red card.
“We’re not bad losers. We’re respectful, but we’re not stupid,” Pareja said of what happened after the game. “We scored in minute 89 and between 89 and 96:45 it was four minutes, 50 seconds that they did not play the game. They didn’t allow us to play the game. Whether it was because their goalkeeper wasn’t playing — not restarting — substitutions, and even the celebration of the goal. So they need to understand that. I mean, you give five minutes, but they’re wasting time. They need to add more time.
“We are competing and they need to realize that. So, the two teams were very feisty and it was a great game. I think they needed to reevaluate on the referee how many minutes they need to add. And that’s frustrating.”
The Lions turned around possession in the second half, finishing with the advantage (54.1%-45.9%) as well as a higher passing accuracy (84.4%-81.1%). Tigres had more shots (15-12), shots on target (8-5), and corners (7-6).
It’s a tough way to leave the competition, and the away goals tiebreaker seems rather random, but them’s the rules.
“This team did not give up at all,” Pareja said. “We pushed, pushed, pushed and then we found the game — probably later than we want, obviously. And 89 minutes (we scored) but after that I thought we had the energy to score another one, including and that option that Duncan had. But it could be one more or two more. But again, the referee just cut the game.”
“I’d definitely say we gave it all and played till the end,” McGuire said. “So, I definitely think from now on the games that we play we have to play the way that we finished that game, giving it all and leaving it all on the field.”
Orlando City wraps up a brutal stretch of five games in 15 days on Saturday when Charlotte FC visits Exploria Stadium in league play.