Orlando City dominated the play but was beaten on the scoreboard, losing 2-1 to the Chicago Fire on a rainy night in front of 25,288 at Orlando City Stadium. Alan Gordon’s blast from distance in the 82nd minute gave Joe Bendik no chance to stop it and the Fire will leave Florida after a smash-and-grab job to keep all the points.
Cristian Higuita scored for the second consecutive game — this time pulling the Lions level after an early free kick goal by Aleksander Katai. Orlando City (6-5-1, 19 points) is now just 0-1-3 at home against the Fire (4-6-2, 14 points).
“I think the players know in their hearts that we were by far the better team,” said Orlando Head Coach Jason Kreis after the match. “And you won’t hear me say that very often but tonight I will tell you there was only one team that was pushing things and the other one was just trying to pick up the draw or catch something on the break.”
“At the end of the day, we left them hanging around and we got punished for it,” RJ Allen said. “We definitely need to learn from it and move forward.”
Due to players already missing with injuries or off on international duty, coupled with the unexpected absences of center back Lamine Sané (leg injury) and midfielder/right back Will Johnson (illness), Kreis was forced into a makeshift lineup. He started Allen at right back and slotted Tony Rocha next to Chris Schuler in central defense. Josué Colmán started up top in place of the injured Dom Dwyer, with Stefano Pinho returning to the bench. The squad was so thin that both backup goalkeepers made the 18.
Orlando City started the game more or less holding possession but taking shots from outside the penalty area. Unfortunately, the Lions couldn’t get any of them on target, shooting way wide or over the bar. That inability to threaten goalkeeper Patrick McLain allowed the Fire to get on the board first.
Chicago struck in the 13th minute off a set piece. Mohamed El-Munir was booked after contact with Diego Campos above the penalty area, setting the Fire up with a free kick in a dangerous spot. Katai stepped into the set piece and beat Bendik with a shot into the upper 90 on the left side. Bendik appeared to be caught mid-hop as he prepared, possibly thinking Bastian Schweinsteiger would take the kick after a Katai dummy. Bendik was so off-balance on the save attempt that he reached across his body with his trailing hand to try to stop the shot.
“Very disappointing. The first decision that awards them the free kick they score off of was ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous. Never a foul,” Kreis said. “And so we shouldn’t be behind in that game.”
Orlando City responded well to the Fire’s early goal.
The Lions’ first good opportunity came in the 18th minute on the counterattack after a Fire free kick. The Lions broke and Chris Mueller ended up with the ball but he was forced onto his weaker left foot by the defense and he fired over the bar. Two minutes later, Colmán fired over the bar from the left side.
Orlando continued to push forward. Sacha Kljestan’s header went over the bar in the 25th minute off a great back-post ball by Allen. A minute later, Justin Meram was nearly sent in but McLain came off his line to smother the shot right off his foot.
But the Lions scored soon after that. Mueller took a pass from Colmán and sent Higuita in on the right side. The Colombian fired his third goal of the season into the net to tie things up at 1-1.
“For me it’s been important to score the goals [the last two games] but I would have liked a lot better to have scored and to win,” a dejected Higuita said through a translator after the match. “For me, I prefer the group objectives instead of my personal objectives.”
The rest of the first half was a probing affair, with both teams playing a bit more cautiously as the rain increased. The Fire nearly regained the lead on another dangerous set piece opportunity, but this time Schweinsteiger did take the kick after a Katai dummy run, and his low drive was just wide of the left post.
As time wound down in the first half, Colmán earned a free kick just wide of the penalty area. The delivery from Kljestan found Uri Rosell, who nodded it on frame, but McLain made a big reaction save to keep the game level.
Orlando City held 59% of the possession in the first period, out-shooting the Fire, 10-5, but the teams were even at 2-2 getting them on frame. The Lions passed at a 90% rate in the opening 45 minutes, compared to Chicago’s 84%.
Somewhere along the way, Schuler broke his arm in the first half. However, he came out of the locker room with a sleeve on and played through it.
The Lions looked better after the break, playing much of the second period in the attacking half. The hosts produced many scoring opportunities but couldn’t seem to break through and penalty shouts from both Higuita and Mueller going down in the box went unheeded by referee Nima Saghafi, although the latter went to video review.
Orlando forced two outstanding saves from McLain in the early minutes of the second half. El-Munir cut in on his right foot and smashed one that forced a diving save in the 49th minute.
Two minutes later, Meram curled one that was headed just inside the far post but McLain got over just in time to keep it out.
In the 55th, a terrific give-and-go play between Kljestan and Colmán sent Sacha in on McLain, but he tried to chip the keeper on the half volley and hit it too hard, sending it over the net. A minute later, Colmán fired over the bar after another good exchange above the box.
Mueller went down after contact in the box in the 60th minute and after about a minute of review, Saghafi determined no foul had occurred. He initially not only didn’t see a foul, but also ran into the box to stare down Mueller in a bizarre moment. There was no yellow for simulation so it’s unclear why he made that run toward the Orlando rookie.
Chicago got a bit more of the game for the next 10 minutes, with Daniel Johnson forcing a Bendik save in the 68th minute and Katai firing over the bar in the 71st.
The Lions then got back on the front foot. Meram volleyed a low drive off a corner kick cross but it hit a defender and deflected out for a corner. Kljestan then nearly got in all alone on a gorgeous ball over the top from Allen, but he couldn’t quite control the wet ball and it skipped away in the 73rd minute. In the 79th, a buildup ended up in front of Higuita, but the Colombian, who seemed to tire late in the game, couldn’t dig it out of his feet to take a shot.
Three minutes later, disaster struck.
Second-half sub Gordon, who came on at the break for Nemanja Nikolic, got the ball in space about 30 yards out and sent a rocket into the upper 90 to Bendik’s left. It was an unstoppable shot and very much against the run of play but that didn’t matter, as it allowed Chicago to win the game. It was the perfect storm, with a wounded and nearly immobile Schuler and the inexperienced Rocha defending, neither stepped up to close down Gordon and he made the Lions pay.
Needing a goal, and with some players tiring, Kreis sent on PC and Richie Laryea for Colmán and Higuita.
Meram nearly got through on goal in the 87th minute but there was too much traffic and he couldn’t get a clean shot away.
Two minutes later came one of the bigger talking points of the match as Kljestan tangled with Mo Adams at the top of the penalty area. It appeared that Sacha dragged Adams down but then the Fire midfielder brought his boot down on Kljestan’s face. Saghafi immediately showed a red card to Adams and after a few moments he booked Kljestan.
Kreis was incensed that no penalty was given, after the initial action resulted in a dead ball and the foul on Adams that earned the red took place in the area. He cited a conversation with the technical committee about a year ago on red card calls.
“Maybe I misremembered but I think it was specifically told to me that any red card that happens during a dead ball situation — where that red card violation is, that’s where the foul is awarded. So in my point of view, if there’s an ejectionable offense that happens in the penalty box, it’s a penalty.
“The explanation was that because Sacha fouled him first and received a yellow card, that was it. The player at that point can do whatever he wants to Sacha, pick up a red card, and then they get the ball back. Seems odd to me.”
Orlando got only one good look at goal in the five minutes of stoppage time, with Schuler playing up and getting a shot but it was blocked by the defense.
The whistle finally blew on Orlando’s third consecutive 2-1 defeat.
The Lions held 60% of the possession, passed at a 90% rate, and out-shot Chicago, 20-10 (5-4 on target) but had nothing to show for the match.
“I certainly can’t remember a night where I felt like we were more dominant with this club and maybe with any club,” said Kreis. “So you walk out of this night thinking how cruel this game can be, how cruel this job can be, and trying to grasp at the positives, for sure.”
“Soccer is about goals,” Higuita said. “We have to be more efficient.”
The Lions will find it difficult to stop the bleeding, as the next match is on the road at New York City FC next Saturday night in the baseball stadium.