Orlando City played host to Charlotte FC at Exploria Stadium on Saturday night and suffered its first loss of the season, 2-1 to a team which previously had been at the bottom of the entire league. The fifth game in 15 days for Orlando City saw the shine come off the armor as the home team conceded two early goals before pulling one back in the second half.
What can we take away from the home loss?
Bend-Don’t-Break Finally Broke
The Orlando City back line has been a strong point to start the season, employing a bend-but-don’t-break mentality, which often resulted in heroic efforts from goalkeeper Pedro Gallese to keep the squad in matches. Saturday night, the defense was pressured early and finally broke. Both center backs, Robin Jansson and Rodrigo Schlegel, had moments where they were out of position, provided careless turnovers in dangerous positions, or were flat-out beat down the seams, as Charlotte looked to attack early and often in the first half. After several nervy moments to start the match, Charlotte finally broke through on a run from Enzo Copetti and a ball over the top of Jansson and left back Rafael Santos. Hopefully, without a midweek fixture, the defense will be able to recuperate and regain its form.
A Game of Inches
Orlando City saw one goal called back in each half due to offside calls. Just a few minutes into the match, a solid cross from Michael Halliday found Martin Ojeda, who buried it home for Orlando City, only to be called offside. Replay showed that you could have had your pick of attacking options for OCSC to be whistled for jumping the gun. In the second half, newly subbed-on Ramiro Enrique had a much closer call go against him as he successfully chipped George Marks and the ball found the back of the net for what would have been the equalizer. The celebration was cut short as the flag came up and the video assistant referee confirmed that Enrique was off by the slightest of margins. For a team that has struggled mightily to find the back of the net to start the year these two calls demonstrated just how slim the margin of error can be when an offense fails to generate scoring opportunities.
Lack of Finishing Touch
Orlando City did well to start the match and generated more chances in the first half than fans have seen from the club in the three previous matches combined. What we have learned so far is that generating and finishing chances are two very different things on the field. When players were not firing wide or over the net, the majority of shots were directly at Marks who had a little challenge on the evening. To make matters worse, Orlando City was without Designated Player Ercan Kara, as the Austrian striker was held out of the matchday lineup for precautionary reasons after suffering a knock in training. Say what you will about Kara, but he has shown that with proper service he has excellent placement — a skill that Orlando could have sorely used against Charlotte.
Hustle Pays Off Early in the Second Half
Starting the second half staring at a two-goal deficit, Orlando needed to strike first and fast if it had any hope of pulling out a result at home. The Lions finally broke through in the 56th minute when Ducan McGuire beat the Charlotte defense on a ball from Facundo Torres and fired a shot (once again right into Marks), but with enough pace that the ball ricocheted off the keeper. McGuire did well to out-hustle two defenders that were surrounding him to knock the ball across to Ojeda, who hammered it home emphatically. When the product on the field is stagnant and uninspired, there is something to be said for flat-out working harder than your opponent and the first goal was a product of exactly that.
Nothing like your first @TinchoOjedaa | #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/BAFFZWZZW8— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) March 19, 2023
Absences Loom Large
While Oscar Pareja fielded a strong lineup given the number of miles his team has logged in the last two weeks, there were several absences that could have made a difference for Orlando City. Antonio Carlos continues to rehab from a preseason injury, and while many expected him to see the field against Charlotte after several reports of his participation in training, he was once again a no-show on Saturday night. This could be a product of the game dictating play, as the substitutes who were inserted were largely offensively minded as the team chased a draw. But at some point, Orlando City needs its first-choice center back on the field next to Jansson.
Joining Carlos on the missing-in-action poster was the previously mentioned Kara, who may have not been destined for the start, but after his golazo against Tigres surely would have seen the field if Orlando elected to switch to two attackers up front as the game approached its end. Finally, left back Luca Petrasso was not in the match-day lineup as a starter or as a substitute. Whether this was due to rotation due to fixture congestion or an undisclosed knock, this left Santos to start the match and Charlotte FC consistently attacked the fullback during the first half. For Orlando, the absences will only continue as the team heads into an away match in Philidelphia missing first-team members to international duty. Gallese, Wilder Cartagena, Torres, and Halliday who will all be out.
That is what I saw during the match. What did you see? Let me know in the comments below.