Servando Carrasco’s goal in the 34th minute in relief of an injured Antonio Nocerino was all that separated Orlando City and the New York Red Bulls. With the 1-0 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 25,527, the Lions (3-1-0, 9 points) improved to a perfect 3-0-0 in Orlando City Stadium.
New York (2-3-1, 7 points) lined up what felt like a million set pieces in the game’s last half hour but could not find a way to tickle the twine in the back of Joe Bendik’s net. Bendik and the back four did their jobs well and the team escaped with another close win at its new purple palace.
“I think it was a hard-fought game for sure,” Carrasco said. “It wasn’t pretty at times but the guys showed tremendous fight. To come out of this game with three points was definitely the goal.”
Orlando City came out in a surprise 4-4-2 diamond after going with a flat 4-4-2 for the team’s first three matches. Scott Sutter got his first start at right back and Will Johnson played the right side of the diamond, opposite Cristian Higuita. Antonio Nocerino manned the bottom of the formation and Matias Perez Garcia played up top, beneath strikers Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas.
The new formation was evident early as the Lions often struggled to find the next pass as it appeared players had to think rather than react naturally under pressure. This led to some turnover issues and broke up promising attacks.
“My experience is that playing in that way you tend to put yourself in spaces where you can find the ball a lot more and maintain the rhythm or set the rhythm of the game,” Kreis said after the match. “But it also takes time. I think we suffered a little bit in the first half just because that was the first time we’ve done it. It’s also that a coach wants to play a couple of different ways. I’d like to not walk into every match and have the opponent know exactly what you’re going to be doing.”
“The idea was to try and have an extra man in midfield to keep the ball a bit better,” Spector said. “And we did make some good passing combinations during the game but not consistently enough. I think it can be a good formation for us going forward but perhaps we need a little bit more time to work on that.”
However, in the fifth minute, the strength of the formation showed, as the pitch got congested on the left, allowing Sutter to sneak down the right side. Larin’s pass picked him out but there wasn’t enough weight on it and the defense closed, but Sutter still worked hard to earn the game’s first corner. The set piece was poor, however, and New York broke on the counter, with Derrick Etienne racing down the field before being dispossessed by Johnson, just as Sutter was whistled for a foul. The long free kick found the head of Bradley Wright-Phillips but he had nothing on his attempt and it was off target.
After that, Rivas had a good spell in possession before having his shot at the top of the box blocked in the 11th minute. New York came back in the next minute with a perfectly lobbed long ball over the top for BWP. Bendik blocked his shot, but it deflected back toward goal and Jonathan Spector made a sliding save to clear it off the line.
Rivas nearly broke the scoreless deadlock in the 14th with a shot that took a slight deflection. Luis Robles made a diving save but spilled it. Unfortunately, it didn’t travel far from him and he was able to pounce on it. A minute later, Robles showed good strength in a midair collision with Larin and got to a cross to win it from the Canadian.
In the 17th minute, Antonio Nocerino — celebrating his 32nd birthday — got the worst present ever. The Italian pulled up lame without contact and had to be subbed off due to injury. Carrasco replaced him. After the match, Kreis said Nocerino sustained a calf strain and will be evaluated further on Monday.
The chess match continued, with Kemar Lawrence sneaking down the left and getting a shot on target in the 21st minute, but it had little power and was easy for Bendik. A minute later, Sutter fired just over the bar from the top of the box. In the 24th minute, MPG took a Rivas pass that nutmegged a defender and fired a shot that fizzed just inches wide of the left post, as Orlando got closer and closer to a breakthrough.
That breakthrough came in the 34th minute. City earned a corner and Johnson delivered a good ball in to the near post. Multiple defenders ran with Larin but the ball flew over them to Carrasco, who nodded home for his first MLS goal since 2013 when he was with Seattle. Johnson got the assist. It was the Lions’ first goal of the season that was scored by someone other than Larin, putting Orlando City up, 1-0.
“It means a lot because we won the game,” Carrasco said. “The fact that I scored is secondary to me. The fact that I could contribute is the main thing. Will played a fantastic ball and I was just lucky to be at the right place.”
New York battled hard after the goal and earned multiple set pieces but could not get much directed at Bendik’s net. Orlando City’s last good chance of the half came in the 43rd minute, with Sutter missing just wide of the post. BWP scored in first-half stoppage time but was correctly ruled offside and Ismail Elfath waved off the goal.
Orlando City out-shot New York in the first half, but the Red Bulls got three on frame to Orlando’s two. The Red Bulls held 55% of the possession and were more accurate in passing the ball (75.5%-63.9%).
The game opened up to start the second half, with both teams getting some chances in the early part of the second period.
Bendik came off his line to make a vital challenge to keep Etienne from reaching a pass in the box. Then, on the other end, Larin somehow missed off a gorgeous cross from Rivas in the 52nd minute. In the 56th minute, Higuita took a pass from MPG on the left side of the box and fired just over the net on a slight deflection.
In the 58th minute Higuita slotted in to Rivas in the box but he lost control trying to tee it up on his left foot. A minute later, MPG skied one into the upper deck of the south grandstand.
Former Lion Aurelien Collin’s header off a free kick was on target in the 62nd but he didn’t get all of it and it was right at Bendik on a hop. The set piece was set up by a foul on Higuita and the young Colombian compounded his error when he said something to Elfath and was booked. Collin again got a free header in the 64th on a corner kick but sent this one wide to the left of goal.
In the 67th minute, Larin was sent alone on Robles but was robbed by a diving save. Rivas played a quick ball to MPG, who released the Canadian. Larin then beat the defense but shot from the top of the box with a third defender cutting off his angle. Robles still made a hell of a save.
Kreis sacrificed Higuita — likely due to the yellow card — in the 69th minute, replacing him with Giles Barnes. The team took more of a flat 4-4-2 look after the switch.
The game got choppy after that, with Elfath giving foul after foul. The Red Bulls started racking up set pieces in good areas. The Lions started to do a better job of tracking Collin, however. One such set piece turned into an Orlando counter that saw Giles Barnes get taken down by Collin just above the box. Collin was booked and Rivas sent the ensuing free kick a few feet over the bar.
Luis Gil came on for a battered MPG in the 84th minute, making his Orlando City debut.
Collin again nearly brought his team level in the 85th, heading a free kick cross just wide of the right post after a Barnes foul, as the free kicks continued to mount. Gil went into Elfath’s book in the 86th minute for a late challenge and the Lions nearly paid dearly for it. BWP shot from the left just after the restart and Bendik made a vital save.
“The negative is that we’ve got to be better with the ball,” Kreis said. “We cannot force ourselves to defend for such long stretches in matches like these against opponents like these because in some moment you’re going to break and you’ll have lost all of the momentum that we should gain, especially when we’re winning the game by a goal. It’s game management issues I think we’ll continue to work on and we’ll continue to improve on.”
BWP tried his luck from distance in the 88th despite harassment from Redding and his shot was well off the mark. That was about the last real volley fired in a 90+ minute war between the two Eastern Conference sides.
“I think in all three of the home matches I thought a lot of the same things after the match,” Kreis said. “So many positive statements to make about effort level, intensity level, commitment of the players to defend — real, real signs of togetherness and just a fortitude that says we won’t be broken at home. And so [I’m] really, really pleased with that.”
New York finished with 61.2% possession and more shots on target (4-3) despite both teams having 12 total attempts. The Red Bulls attempted 403 total passes to Orlando’s 268.
The Lions are back in action at home Saturday against the LA Galaxy at 3 p.m.