Orlando City’s unbeaten streak is up to nine straight matches (6-0-3) after dispatching the New York Red Bulls, 3-1 at Exploria Stadium. Daryl Dike, Junior Urso, and Antonio Carlos provided the offense as the Lions (8-2-5, 29 points) kept up their torrid pace by beating the red-hot Red Bulls (6-7-2), who had dispatched their last two opponents by 8-2 on aggregate.
The Lions improved to 5-6-1 in the all-time series with the win and climbed to within a point of league-leading Columbus, but will now be without Pedro Gallese and Sebas Medez for the next several games due to international duty, and may be without Mauricio Pereyra, who subbed off at halftime with an injury. Urso also sustained an injury late.
“It’s another important victory against a team who has had recently very good results and has showed a lot of verticality and dynamic in the way they attack,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “Today we did a great job in controlling that part for most of the game. We beat a good team. It was a very hard game but I like the performance and we should be proud.”
Pareja was without both starting fullbacks, as well as two starting-caliber defensive midfielders, while starting center back Carlos returned to the game day roster on the bench. Lining up in front of goalkeeper Gallese on the back line were Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Kyle Smith. Andres Perea slotted into the central midfield with Urso, with Nani, Pereyra, and Chris Mueller as attackers behind Dike.
Neither team did much in the opening few minutes but the Red Bulls fashioned the first great scoring chance just eight minutes in. Brian White got in behind the back line but fired wide.
Pareja said the Red Bulls surprised them a bit with their shape and tactics, and it took his team a few minutes to settle in and show some patience. Orlando didn’t spend much time in the attacking half until after the first 10 minutes had expired, but then the Lions started to settle into the match. Nani won a set piece with a slick move in the 14th minute past Mandela Egbo, who pulled him down and took the yellow card rather than concede a transition opportunity. However, the Lions didn’t do anything with the ensuing set piece.
Urso sent in a good cross in the 21st minute but Aaron Long cleared it out as Orlando City pressed forward and grew more comfortable on the ball. Two minutes later, Orlando had a 2-v-1, but Mueller opted not to play in Pereyra and instead tried to beat his man 1-v-1 but ended up losing possession.
The Lions broke through a minute later, however. Pereyra switched the field from left to right, finding Smith outside on the flank. Smith crossed into the area and Dike finished it with a powerful header to make it 1-0 in the 24th minute.
It was the rookie’s first goal since Aug. 27, after seven matches without one, giving him four on the year. The play also provided Smith’s first MLS assist.
Two minutes later, Mueller should have made it 2-0. Pereyra sent him in behind the defense and he had only goalkeeper David Jensen to beat, but he couldn’t do it. With the defense closing from behind, he opted to take the shot instead of rounding the keeper, and the save kept it a one-goal game.
Urso had a go from the top of the area in the 33rd and Jensen made a diving stop going to his left.
Gallese made a save in the 36th when White bumped Jansson and then got in front of him, sending a header on target. That was it for the chances in the first half and the Lions took their one-goal lead to the locker room.
Both teams fired three shots in the first half, but Orlando got more on target (3-1). The Lions had more corners (3-1), more possession (61.3%-38.7%), and more passing accuracy (83%-74%). Pereyra left with tightness in his hamstring, which Pareja said after the match was “preventative,” and Benji Michel came on to replace the midfield maestro.
New York pushed more players higher up the pitch in the second half to try to get more of the game. It resulted in more possession and shots but not too many more dangerous opportunities in front of goal, as Orlando’s back line and midfield played well.
In fact, it was Orlando doubling the lead five minutes after the restart. Mueller sent Urso racing down the right with only Jason Pendant to beat. Urso shrugged off Pendant like a backpack, took the ball in on goal and beat Jensen to make it 2-0 in the 50th minute.
The Red Bulls pulled one back just four minutes later. Miller made a great play in the corner to break up a New York attack, but then he gave the ball away with a poor pass and the Red Bulls took advantage. Florian Valot played a give-and-go with Daniel Royer and slipped in behind the defense, receiving the return pass and beating Gallese in the 54th minute to make it 2-1.
The game opened up for a few minutes after that with more end-to-end action but the Red Bulls were forced to try a couple of longer shots as they weren’t having any success breaking down the Lions’ defense.
Dike turned and tried to get in behind Tim Parker in the 67th minute, but he was called for a foul. Pareja, who was standing five yards away, was incensed at the call and got booked arguing about it as the Lions should have had another breakaway.
Michel got a partial breakaway in the 70th minute but slipped as he took his shot and sent it way wide of the target. A minute later, Smith sent in a cross but Dike couldn’t quite get onto it. Mueller had a partial break in the 76th and he cut to his right to clear himself for a shot but sent it over the bar as the Lions continued looking for the knockout punch.
New York had an opportunity in the 80th on a set piece with Marc Rzatkowski forcing Gallese into a diving save and Valot then sending a shot wide of goal but the tying goal wouldn’t come.
Smith then made a great open-field play in the 83rd after the Red Bulls tried to counter off an Orlando corner kick.
As time wound down, Urso was hit while trying to win an aerial ball and went down holding his head. Referee Fotis Bazakos did not stop play for the apparent head injury and New York sent a few shots and dangerous crosses into the area. Urso was finally seen to and had to sub off, handing David Loera his MLS debut appearance.
The Lions put it away in stoppage time. Jensen cleared the ball down the field but second-half sub Carlos won it in the air and passed to Nani. The captain appeared to consider trying the long shot to catch Jensen out of the net but instead kept it and played Michel down the left. Michel crossed to Carlos for the goal but the flag came up as the ball went in, cutting the celebration short. Bazakos reviewed the play and overturned the offside call, confirming Carlos’ first MLS goal.
The final whistle came just after the restart and the Lions had all three points.
Orlando was out-shot 11-8 but put more on target (5-3). The Red Bulls took over the lead in corners (5-4), with the Lions holding the final advantage in possession (53.8%-46.2%) and passing accuracy (81%-77%).
“Anyone on our team can play at any time in my opinion,” Smith said of the team’s success despite injuries and rotation over the past nine games. “I have confidence in every single one of our players, and it shows, you know, because if one person isn’t available, the next man steps up, and I think we’ve proven that all year.”
“The opposition wanted to try to press higher or put more numbers forward,” Dike said. “I think we each kind of, no matter what, no matter what they kind of threw at us, we just kind of wanted to be the dominant factor in the game.”
The Lions will go on the road to face Atlanta United on Wednesday and they’ll need to get some bodies healthy with Gallese and Mendez off to play for their countries in FIFA qualifiers.