Orlando City failed to bother the opposing goalkeeper for the second straight match at Exploria Stadium but the visitors couldn’t beat Pedro Gallese and so the Lions (1-0-1, 4 points) split the points with FC Cincinnati (1-0-1, 4 points) in an unsatisfying 0-0 draw. It was Orlando City’s first home draw since Halloween of 2021 against Nashville, when a late goal by Orlando was waved off.
City didn’t threaten FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Roman Celentano all evening and the Lions were fortunate that the visitors weren’t clinical in front of goal and that Gallese was behind them. Orlando has now gone three straight matches against Cincinnati without a win (0-2-1).
“We’re happy of just getting a result. At home, we need a win but this team needs to balance things,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “When we cannot win it, just get a result and walk out with a point. We’ve got to take it. but there’s a lot of positive things that we recognized tonight, especially the players who are new with the team and making us better.”
With five matches coming in a span of 15 days, Pareja rotated the hell out of his lineup, going to a similar starting XI to what was used in some of the Lions’ preseason games. Gallese started in goal behind a three-man back line of Kyle Smith, Abdi Salim, and Rodrigo Schlegel. Mikey Halliday and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson flanked Wilder Cartagena and Mauricio Pereyra, with Ercan Kara up top between Gaston Gonzalez and Facundo Torres.
For Pereyra, it was his 100th competitive match with the Lions across all competitions. Meanwhile, Ramiro Enrique was held off the team sheet due to tightness.
It took Cincinnati less than 90 seconds to create the game’s first great scoring chance. Luciano Acosta beat Pereyra in the mifield and slipped Brenner behind the defense. The shot, however, was sent high over the net as the chance was wasted in the second minute.
Moments later, the Lions turned it over in their own half and Cincinnati attacked down the right, sending a dangerous ball into the box for Brandon Vazquez. Gallese got there at the same time to get a hand to it and a foul blew the play dead seconds later.
Orlando’s first decent foray up the pitch came in the 10th minute after Halliday did well to break up a play inside the corner of the box and then Cartagena gave the slip to two pressing Cincinnati attackers. The ball was sent left to Gonzalez and ended up with Thorhallsson cutting in. He sent a cross in but the defense knocked it behind for a corner. Nothing came of that, nor did the Lions pay off a free kick won by Torres moments later, as Pereyra thumped his delivery off the defensive wall. Torres then smashed the ball wide on the recycled attack.
Brenner got forward on the ball after an Orlando turnover on a throw-in and tried a shot from outside the area but Gallese parried it away in the 23rd minute. Gallese made another diving save in the 29th minute on an Acosta free kick from just outside the left corner of the box.
The final 15 minutes of the first half were mainly spent in the middle third. Orlando struggled to work the ball into dangerous areas and struggled to execute basic plays, like throwing a ball in to a teammate and getting an accurate return pass. The first-half whistle mercifully blew on a scoreless deadlock.
Cincinnati had the bulk of the first-half possession (57.3%-42.7%) and passed more accurately (86.5%-82.9%). While Orlando City attempted more shots (4-3), the visitors got more on target (2-0). The Lions had more corner opportunities (3-0).
“We don’t ignore it,” Pareja said of the offense’s struggles through two matches. “We know, especially with a team that has had a lot of volume these past three years. It’s a number that we’re aiming to improve. We all know and today this feels probably similar to what the New York game was — not too much volume and getting actions in the box. It’s something we need to get better.”
Pareja withdrew Schlegel and Pereyra at halftime, deploying Robin Jansson and Cesar Araujo in their places. However, those changes did little to help Orlando City. The Lions did manage to get the first look at goal, however. Jansson sent a fantastic long ball over the top into the right corner from Halliday. Thorhallsson took a layoff from fullback and fired in the 50th minute but sent his shot over the bar.
Just an absurd pass from Robin @RJANSSON24 | #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/j1yJvxljiR— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) March 5, 2023
A minute later, Cincinnati came within inches of breaking the deadlock when Vazquez hit a shot off the crossbar after taking a good pass from Nwobodo. A shot came back in toward goal just afterwards but Gallese was there to stop it.
Vazquez got his head on a cross near the top of the box moments later but sent his header sailing well wide of the target. A minute later, in the 54th, Smith got burned for pace by Acosta on a diagonal ball from Nwobodo but he sent his shot skipping wide of the far post.
Araujo sent Kara down the left side with a good ball in the 59th minute but the Austrian was outnumbered and without help and was shouldered off the ball as he tried to cross.
Pareja sent Martin Ojeda and Ivan Angulo on for Torres and Kara and the Lions had a spell of possession but didn’t create anything out of it. But that didn’t happen until Angulo nearly gifted Cincinnati a chance by giving up on a play after he thought he’d been fouled but there was no whistle. Cincinnati was offside on the play, bailing the Lions out.
Acosta was denied by another good Gallese save in the 77th minute. The Cincinnati attacker took a pass from Alvaro Barreal. The shot was back against Gallese’s momentum, but he was able to get to it.
Two minutes later, Ojeda teed up a shot from about 25 yards out, but he missed the target.
Vazquez sent another shot dribbling just wide of goal in the 82nd minute. Brenner and Jansson battled and the ball deflected to Vazquez who flicked it toward goal but the spin on it carried it just wide.
That was the last decent look for either side.
The visitors finished with more possession (56.5%-43.5%), shots (11-7), shots on target (4-1), and passing accuracy (88.2%-83.7%). Orlando had more corners (4-1), but the one measley, weak shot on target the Lions got was only one more than the team got (aside from the penalty) last Saturday night.
Simply put, offensively, Orlando City isn’t very good right now. Fortunately, the Lions have Gallese, who posted his second straight clean sheet to start the 2023 campaign.
“I think in terms of the attack, I think we had a little bit of trouble with some of the things that they were doing,” Gonzalez said through a club interpreter. “But I think for the most part we did well and we’re just in a moment where we need to continue improving, continue trying to get that connectivity and that chemistry with each other, and just keep improving the way that we’re able to finish.”
“We played against a good team,” Pareja said. “Cincinnati last year just created trouble for us. We couldn’t beat them. We need to be heavier at front. We need to be heavier, we need to create more volume. We’re gonna be fine. Today I’ll take the point, not proudly, but I’ll take it. It was a challenge because the rival was very hard and they played well.”
The Lions travel to Mexico for Tuesday night’s Concacaf Champions League match-up with Tigres at 10 p.m. before heading on the road to face D.C. United next Saturday.