Orlando City played a game at home and did not win. Unfortunately, that was not a typo.
Coming off of a point-less, two-game road trip in the last week, Orlando City couldn’t recapture its winning ways at home in a 2-2 draw with Sporting Kansas City. The Lions dropped their first points at Orlando City Stadium after starting the season a perfect 5-0-0 in their new building in front of yet another sold out crowd of 25,527 — but they remain unbeaten here.
Orlando City fell behind a goal less than 10 minutes into the match, trailing at home for the first time this season on a Latif Blessing goal. The Lions answered later in the first half with a pair of goals from Cyle Larin and Kaká to take over the lead before Blessing scored a second in the second half. Jose Aja controversially had a goal waved off in the 76th minute that would have put the team back ahead but the assistant referee ruled that Will Johnson’s service curled over the end line before returning to the field of play for Aja to nod home.
Instead, Orlando (6-3-1, 19 points) walks away with its first draw of the season.
“Difficult game. Really difficult game against a really quality opponent,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “Really pleased with the guys’ work rate and effort, and their togetherness. I think at the end of the day I have to say that the draw was a fair result, and very pleased to take a point.”
Blessing opened the scoring early for Kansas City (5-2-4, 19 points) with a ninth-minute goal. Ricardo Salazar awarded SKC a free kick just outside Orlando’s penalty area after what appeared to be a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge by Jonathan Spector. After the Lions cleared the initial free kick, KC picked up the ball and recycled in another chance, with Gerso Fernandes centering a cross into the box that hit a slew of sliding bodies in front of Joe Bendik before finding Blessing for his first goal of the season.
After the match, Kreis said he expected Sporting Kansas City to start Soony Saad over Blessing and the speedy forward caught them slightly off guard.
Orlando’s first best chance of the night came in the 16th minute, when Carlos Rivas lofted a cross forward from the left wing, finding Larin running forward into the box. The Canadian timed his run perfectly and put his foot up to poke in the ball past Tim Melia for his seventh of the season after going scoreless for three games for the first time in 2017.
Just 10 minutes later, Rivas again found himself with the ball on the left side and sent in another cross for Larin that sailed over everybody and rolled towards the right sideline, where Scott Sutter was there to pick it up and send the ball back in. This time the only Lion in the box was Kaká, who chested the ball down, took one step forward, then curled a shot around two defenders and the goalkeeper to put the Lions ahead, 2-1. It was a top class goal for the captain, who now has three in five games this season — all since returning from injury four games ago.
“He’s been showing up at the right spots at the right time.” Kreis said of Kaká. “Tonight’s goal was special; to take it down that calmly and around that much traffic to be able to get it to the far post, there are not too many players capable of those types of goals.”
Orlando City came into the second half and put up a good opportunity right away in the 48th minute, when Johnson found Cristian Higuita on a sailing run up top with a great ball forward. Higuita was able to bring the ball down, but was fouled at the top of the box by Graham Zusi, who picked up a yellow card on the play. Kaká took the ensuing free kick, sending it just over the bar.
Moments later, on the other end, as Sporting KC mounted another attack on Orlando’s defense, with Bendik coming up with a big save on Roger Espinoza to preserve the lead for the time being — one of six saves on the night for Bendik, as United States Men’s National Team Head Coach Bruce Arena watched above from the club suites.
Larin was presented with another great opportunity in the 71st minute when Luis Gil, who had come into the game about five minutes earlier for Higuita, sent a nifty through ball forward to the Canadian, who had no one to beat but Melia, as both men reached the ball at about the same time. Melia made a sprawling save and Larin stayed down in pain for several moments.
Meanwhile, Kansas City continued to pressure, and finally broke through with a game-tying goal in the 74th minute from Blessing again. After Bendik saved Benny Feilhaber’s initial shot, Blessing was right there, a couple of feet away, to clean up the rebound and tuck it home, making it a 2-2 scoreline.
Two minutes later, Orlando City thought it had grabbed back the lead when Aja headed home a corner attempt from Johnson, but the goal was waved off. Gil would go on to put a decent shot on goal in the 95th minute, but it wouldn’t be enough for Orlando to grab all three points.
“Honestly, I was really sad,” Aja said of the goal that was waved off. “I thought it was a goal, and it would have been my first goal here with this club, and I can’t express how sorry I am about it.”
Even on the road, Sporting controlled a good deal of possession throughout the half and the match, finishing the night with 61.7% of the possession. Sporting out-shot Orlando, 14-7 (8-4 on target). An odd statistic was fouls. Salazar called eight first-half fouls — all on Orlando City. In the second half, he evened things up by calling seven on SKC to the Lions’ one.
The players, who were visibly exhausted and unhappy after the game, will have another short turnaround as the Lions travel to San Jose Monday after training for a Wednesday night game against the Earthquakes (10:30 p.m. ET).
Lion Links: 3/4/24
Lions lose big, Tigres is up next, the USWNT wins, USMNT news, and more.
Merry Monday morning, Mane Landers. No, I’m not feeling very merry either, but it’s a tradition at this point. The good news is that we don’t have to wait long for Orlando City to get a chance to make us forget about Saturday. In an effort to help with that, let’s get to the links.
Massacre in Miami
If you’re like me, you turned off Saturday’s Orlando City match at some point. It was easily the worst showing by an Oscar Pareja-coached Orlando City team. Typically, these Lions are mentality monsters and do not give up. I’m not saying that any of the coaches or players will say they did, but the results speak for themselves. I think it best to just put it behind us and move on to the Tigres match, but if you want to revisit it — or if you were fortunate enough not to watch but still want the details — you can read our match recap.
Up Next: Tigres
The early part of the season doesn’t get any easier for Orlando City as the Lions are set to face Liga MX giant Tigres UANL in a Round-of-16 match in Concacaf Champions Cup. Our own Nic Josey touched on the upcoming match. Unlike the previous matches against Cavalry FC, the Lions will play the first leg at home. The match is tomorrow night at 9 p.m. at Inter&Co Stadium. Tigres is coming off a 2-1 loss to Toluca in Liga MX competition. Hopefully, the Lions can shake off the Miami result and take it to Tigres.
It couldn’t happen before the Orlando City match, but Inter Miami is reportedly trading DeAndre Yedlin to FC Cincinnati. Good timing, guys.
In happier news, Malik Tillman scored a very nice goal for PSV against Feyenoord in the 2-2 draw. Tillman made a nifty move through the defender and then slotted it inside the left post.
Tillman isn’t alone in scoring for the Eredivisie club, as both Ricardo Pepi and Sergino Dest have also scored goals this season. In all, the three have 24 goal contributions so far. That ties Mexico for the most by players from another country.
Brentford will be looking to replace departing striker Ivan Toney, and Norwich City striker Josh Sargent is a contender to make the move. Sargent has 11 goals for Norwich so far this season. Christian Pulisic received online death threats after he goaded two Lazio players into receiving red cards in AC Milan’s 1-0 win over the Serie A opponent.
USWNT Rebounds, Blanks Colombia 3-0
The USWNT bounced back from a 2-0 loss to Mexico in the group stage to defeat Colombia 3-0 in a quarterfinal match in the Concacaf W Gold Cup. The U.S. started early with a converted penalty kick by Lindsey Horan. Former Orlando Pride player Alex Morgan drew the foul in the box for the USWNT. Jenna Nighswonger and Jaedyn Shaw added two more goals in the first half. There were no second-half goals, nor were any needed. The U.S. will face Canada in the semifinals on Wednesday.
- Xabi Alonso’s Bayern Leverkusen moved 10 points clear atop the Bundesliga after their 2-0 win over Cologne. It’s a little bit funny that Harry Kane made the move to Bayern Munich and the club might not win a trophy because of Leverkusen’s amazing season.
- NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman spoke about the growth of women’s soccer in the U.S. amid the joint bid with Mexico for the 2027 Women’s World Cup.
- In a result that everyone hated other than Manchester City fans, Manchester United wasn’t able to help out the rest of the world, falling 3-1 to City on Sunday.
- Catarina Macario scored a goal in her first match back from injury in Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Leicester City.
- The match between Real Madrid and Valencia ended in a 2-2 draw. It also ended on a controversial call when the referee blew the whistle just as Jude Bellingham was scoring what would have been the winning goal.
That will do it for today. Check back for our coverage of the upcoming Tigres and Minnesota United matches later this week. Vamos Orlando!
Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Five Takeaways
What did we learn from a thoroughly unenjoyable outing in South Florida?
Well. Orlando City’s second league game of the season was a thoroughly unenjoyable one, as the Lions got played clean out of South Florida by Inter Miami. As much as I hate to do it, we need to talk about this one, so what follows are my five thoughts from a horrific showing in SoFlo.
Early Mistakes Seal Orlando’s Fate
The Lions barely had a chance to get their feet underneath them before Pedro Gallese was picking the ball out of his net. Cesar Araujo received the ball in Orlando’s defensive third and immediately tried to play a blind pass backwards, but it went straight to a Miami player. Once the ball made its way from Lionel Messi to Julian Gressel to Luis Suarez, the latter made no mistake and scored to put OCSC into an early hole from which it would never recover.
Tough Night for Two Lions
Speaking of mistakes, that wasn’t the only one that Araujo made during this game. Miami’s second goal came as a result of Rodridgo Schlegel getting pulled out of position and Araujo failing to track the run of Suarez, who found it all too easy to fire past Gallese and double the deficit for Orlando. Schlegel was also culpable for the third goal, as he was too slow to step up with the rest of the back line, and prevented the tally from being called back for offside as a result. Almost no player in purple had a good game, but it was a particularly rough night for two guys who are normally so good for OCSC.
The Lions didn’t look bad going forward for a lot of this one. They managed to get the ball into some good areas, but just had trouble getting the final ball right that would lead to a chance. The introduction of Luis Muriel and Nico Lodeiro after halftime helped provide a spark early in the second half, but Orlando ultimately couldn’t find a way through and the score only got more and more lopsided as a result. When OCSC finally did fashion a clear-cut chance for Ramiro Enrique, the forward didn’t place his shot far enough in the corner and Drake Callender made a good save as a result.
Lack of Effort Worsens Scoreline
Somewhere around the 53rd minute, things really started to devolve for the Lions. Multiple turnovers in the team’s own half led to chance after chance for the home team, and Miami eventually made Orlando pay. The fifth goal will make for extremely unpleasant viewing, as Dagur Dan Thorhallsson decided to not close down Suarez on the wing, giving him way too much time to put the ball on a plate for Messi to head home, while the rest of the team took their time jogging back as Miami broke forward in transition. Orlando kept coming forward doggedly, but the lack of effort on display at times at the back was shocking and uncharacteristic to see.
I have no idea what happened in this match. As soon as the first goal went in, almost the entire team looked slow, out-of-sorts, and on its heels when Miami had the ball. That sort of thing is unacceptable in any game, but especially in this particular fixture. Yes, the match against Tigres is looming large on Tuesday, but the lineup Oscar Pareja put out was not one that suggested the Lions were punting on this game to throw everything they had at Tigres. Instead, an almost first-choice XI turned in perhaps the worst performance we’ve ever seen from an Orlando team coached by Oscar Pareja. It’s possible that we’ll look back on this game as the moment that this team came together and kicked onto bigger things, but in order for that to happen the Lions need to take a good, hard, brutally honest look in the mirror.
I’m sorry to say that’s the worst Orlando City performance I’ve seen in a very long time. Thankfully, the season is a long one and the Lions have plenty of time to right the ship and get back to playing in the manner we’re used to seeing. I think we’ll learn a lot about what we should expect from this team on Tuesday against Tigres. OCSC has a chance to respond the right way and make a statement, and you can bet I’ll be looking for one. Until then, vamos Orlando.
Strong Early Season Competition an Opportunity for Growth
Schedule congestion and tough opponents present opportunities for growth.
It is hard to imagine a more intense start to the season than the Lions have faced competing in both the regular season and the Concacaf Champions Cup at the same time, yet that is exactly the task that the boys in purple find themselves dealing with only days into the season. With both away and home matches already in the books, let’s examine how strong early season competition can be a key factor in the growth of the squad as the season progresses.
For comparison we can look back to one year ago, as thanks to winning the U.S. Open Cup, the Lions found themselves in the Concacaf Champions League for the first time in club history. During their short foray in the 2023 version of the competition, they were matched up against Mexican powerhouse Tigres UANL in a two-leg competition. Orlando did something that many MLS sides can not boast by coming out of the first leg in Mexico without conceding a goal and only failed to advance because of the competition’s away goals rule.
At the time, and even looking back through rose-colored glasses, those two performances demonstrated the quality that Orlando City was ultimately capable of, and it was a form which Orlando showcased in the later stretches of the 2023 season.
This year, once again Orlando is faced with stiff competition throughout its early season matches, which present a grand opportunity to build team chemistry and fortitude that will only truly manifest itself as the season progresses. While Cavalry FC may have not presented much a challenge on the pitch, the logistics of starting a season off thousands of miles away in the Pacific Northwest were challenges that the Lions had to face before a 48-hour turnaround to open the regular season against a CF Montreal side which some are projecting to be a surprise force in the Eastern Conference. Sandwich in the close-out leg against Cavalry in the CCC at home some 72 hours later, and you once again have a recipe for tired legs but early season growth through adversity.
Up next was Saturday’s forgettable trip to square off against archrival Inter Miami. A year ago, Orlando City was one of the only MLS sides to truly frustrate one of the world’s best and unfortunately for players, coaches and fans alike, the first meeting between the rival sides in 2024 ended with a landslide victory for Messi and friends. Still, despite the frustrating loss, there are lessons to be learned and mistakes to correct which can only help the squad grow as the season progresses.
As if all of the schedule congestion was not enough, Orlando learned that its prize for dispatching Cavalry in the CCC was a rematch against Tigres, once again in a two-match, survive-and-advance format. The first game will be played two and a half days after having been beaten down by Miami and the second will come a week later, with yet another MLS regular-season match crammed in between.
All in all, once Orlando City is done facing off against Tigres, the team will have traveled roughly 9,700 miles for matches in the first 21 days of the season and played a match roughly every 60 hours. These matches and the quality of the opponents present Orlando and its players with numerous chances for individual and squad growth, and the experience, especially for still a somewhat young team, is something OCSC can draw upon once the late season and playoff push portion of the calendar arrive. I truly believe this early in the season the importance of the results of the matches come secondary to the opportunities for growth when faced with so many challenges so quickly.
Let us know in the comments below if you think that the early season match ups against quality opponents will ultimately hurt or benefit Orlando City and, as always, vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 3/4/24
Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Five Takeaways
Strong Early Season Competition an Opportunity for Growth
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