Orlando City did its scoring much earlier this time but got the same result for the third consecutive game. First half goals by Dom Dwyer and Chris Mueller gave the Lions an early lead, and Joe Bendik made those markers stand up with a six-save effort, leading Orlando to a 2-0 win in front of 16,032 at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, PA.
The Lions (3-2-1, 10 points) improved to 3-3-2 (and 2-3-0 on the road) against the Union (1-2-2, 5 points) and picked up their first clean sheet since a 0-0 draw last September against FC Dallas.
In an interesting twist, Jason Kreis did not start Justin Meram for the first time and also sent Josué Colmán to the bench, opting to use the attacking midfield that finished the win over Portland, with forwards Stefano Pinho and Mueller playing wide on the left and right, respectively. We also got the first appearance in the 18 of Oriol “Uri” Rosell this season. With Scott Sutter (lower body injury) and Jonathan Spector (concussion protocol) day-to-day, RJ Allen started wide right, with Amro Tarek stepping back into the starting lineup next to Lamine Sané.
In the early going, Orlando City had trouble getting a hold of the game. Keegan Rosenberry’s weak long shot was really a shot across the bow, as the Union came out strong, while the Lions struggled to find a friendly face in the penalty area among the Philadelphia defenders.
David Accam’s speed gave Orlando its usual trouble, as he used both pace and strength to get around Allen in the fifth minute but he had no teammates in the area and his cross skipped harmlessly through.
Orlando nearly got the first goal against the run of play in the ninth minute. Off a short corner, a cross from Yoshimar Yotun found Tarek in the area. His shot beat Andre Blake but was blocked off the line by Jack Elliott.
Dwyer started to work the Union’s back line in the 10th minute, getting in behind but the flag was up.
Philadelphia tried a few corner kicks to get on the board, but the Lions did just enough to defend those early set pieces, including a clearance over the goal by Mohamed El-Munir. The Union had a great opportunity off a quick restart and Accam got down the left channel to fire a shot. Bendik went low and made a great reaction save to keep the game scoreless in the 16th.
Already down Sutter and Spector, Allen pulled up lame with an apparent hamstring issue in the 21st minute after making a long overlapping run and firing a cross into the box. Allen got his leg wrapped and tried to have a go but he quickly signaled to the bench for a substitution. Before that happened, the Union got the ball to Accam in behind the gimpy Allen but the speedy attacker’s near-post effort went wide of goal.
The reprieve allowed Kreis to send Cristian Higuita on in the 29th minute to occupy Will Johnson’s spot in the midfield and Johnson moved to right back. The Union kept trying to get in behind, with El-Munir making a great tackle to prevent Fafa Picault from doing so in the 33rd minute.
Dwyer made his patented run in the 39th minute, staying level with Matthew Real and taking a beautiful scoop pass from Kljestan, turning toward goal, and beating Blake with his right foot to make it 1-0. It was Dwyer’s fourth goal in his three games this season.
It was the first time in 2018 that the Lions scored the first goal in a game and the 99th goal of Dwyer’s professional career — including USMNT and Orlando City USL action.
Orlando seemed emboldened by the goal. Kljestan ruined a Philadelphia corner by rising above the scrum to head a Borek Dockal cross away. Moments later, Yotun got down the left and fired in a dangerous cross but it was cut out.
Mueller doubled the lead in the 45th minute, after dribbling into traffic at the top of the box. He lost the ball with a heavy touch, but took it back off the foot of Elliott, got in behind, and slotted into the lower left corner past Blake.
The Lions saw out the four minutes of stoppage time and took a 2-0 lead into the break.
Despite a lot of early Philadelphia possession, the Union held just 50.6% of it in the first half. Philadelphia did out-shoot the Lions, 10-6 (3-3 on target), but Orlando City passed better (81%-79%)
The Union tried to get on the front foot early in the second half and managed to maintain a good chunk of the possession while Orlando City sat back and stayed organized, looking for a way to put the game away on the counter. The Lions looked to spring Dwyer quickly when recovering the ball, but between offside calls and fouls on the Union defense, that didn’t really materialize.
Pinho finally got into a good spot in the 53rd minute, but with the defense closing he tried a pass through traffic rather than attempting to spin and get something on net. Two minutes later, Yotun got caught forward and the Union countered, getting Picault down the right channel, but again Bendik made a big one-handed save.
Dwyer’s one-timer in the 59th was blocked by Auston Trusty, keeping the Union in the game, and Philadelphia kept the pressure on. Alejandro Bedoya blasted a shot on target in the 62nd, but Bendik was there again, having his best night of the young season.
Second-half sub Meram got into the box in the 69th, but just as he wound up to shoot, he had the ball nicked from behind at the last second. Meram again nearly was in behind in the 83rd minute, when a ball over the top was pounced on by Blake, who came way off his line just inches ahead of Meram’s arrival. Then, in the 90th, Meram sent in a perfect cross for Dwyer, but Dom couldn’t keep his shot on target.
A final big save by Bendik in the 94th minute on Dockal’s attempt was the last bit of business on the night as the Lions kept the clean sheet and earned the win.
Philadelphia flipped the final possession number to 55.2% and out-shot the Lions, 20-8 (6-3 on target). Orlando’s passing accuracy slipped to 79% with the number of long ball attempts in the second period, and the Union improved to 80%.
But, in the end, the Union were not sharp in the final third — something we’ve often said about Orlando in the past — despite having Lion killers Accam and C.J. Sapong playing together. When Philadelphia did get shots on frame, Bendik was there.
The Lions return home for their next match, hosting the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, April 21. Neither team has won in the previous three meetings, with all ending in draws.