Second-half sub Silvester van der Water both gave Orlando City late life and also squandered a chance to draw the Lions level in a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. Van der Water scored in the 84th minute to give Lions’ fans hope, but it’s the hope that kills you, as he also missed a sitter in the 88th, skying it over the bar. That would have erased Orlando’s (3-1-3, 12 points) worst performance in 2021 after Caden Clark and Cristian Casseres Jr. gave New York (3-4-0, 9 points) a 2-0 lead in the game’s first hour.
Orlando City fell to 5-7-2 in the all-time series and 2-5-1 on the road while suffering its first loss of the 2021 season.
“Two different halves for us,” Orlando Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The first one we didn’t feel comfortable with the way we shaped the team and I think the players felt that. They didn’t look organized and New York took the initiative. I think in that part we take the responsibility because the heart of the players was always on the field, especially in the second half when they tried to push in different ways just to have that goal that can level the game.”
Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in his usual spot in goal. He handed a first career start (and appearance) for Michael Halliday at right back on a defense that included Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, and Antonio Carlos. Rodrigo Schlegel got his first day off of the 2021 season and wasn’t even in the game day team. (He had to fly home to attend to a personal matter per a team spokesman.) Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez patrolled the central midfield behind attackers Andres Perea, Mauricio Pereyra, and Chris Mueller, with Tesho Akindele up top again.
The first half was all New York. The Lions created their own issues with the Red Bulls’ press by being too slow to react, too deliberate with the ball, and too predictable with their movement, allowing the counterpress to be effective. Still, that didn’t add up to a lot of chances for the hosts, despite their pressure.
The Red Bulls generated an early set piece when Halliday coughed up the ball in his defensive third and Pereyra exacerbated the situation by committing a foul. Halliday blocked Daniel Royer’s delivery.
A second key set piece nearly created the opening goal moments later. Gallese came way out of his box after a turnover and was second to the ball, committing a foul while trying to knock the ball out of play. The ensuing set piece found the head of Sean Nealis, whose header was met by a great reaction save from El Pulpo in the seventh minute.
Mendez turned the ball over far too often in the opening 45 minutes, and one of those giveaways led to a counter that ended with a weak Frankie Amaya shot that gave Gallese no trouble in the 16th minute. Six minutes later, a good ball from New York’s right side skipped dangerously through the box as both Royer and Patryk Klimala just missed getting the final touch on the ball.
The Lions got their first shot of the game in the 24th minute when Orlando won a corner. Pereyra’s cross found Urso but the Bear nodded wide of goal.
City started getting more comfortable on the ball around that time but struggled to create anything, with movement being too deliberate and easy for New York defenders to read and react to. Heavy touches allowed the Red Bulls to close things down and poorly weighted passes resulted in too many attacks breaking down.
Orlando’s best attack of the half happened in the 32nd with more direct play, as Akindele worked a give-and-go with Urso. Tesho made a good run in behind to win the race to the ball but couldn’t get much on his shot, which he had to take with his left foot, making an easy save for Carlos Coronel.
Three minutes later, Orlando was breaking forward with promise but conceded instead of scoring. A good movement up the right side broke down with a touch that Perea was just a half step slow to reach in time. New York quickly countered and a cross cycled from left to right to Klimala. The forward beat Smith to get a cross in behind the back line for Clark to tap home for a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute.
Orlando withstood a late corner kick despite another turnover trying to break out in transition when Akindele and Pereyra got in each other’s way and the halftime whistle finally came.
New York out-shot the Lions 5-2 in the opening period, with a 3-1 edge in shots on goal. The Red Bulls also led in corners (2-1), while Orlando held more possession (58.7%-41.3%) — doing little with it — and passed more accurately (82.4%-73.6%) due to mostly playing it across the back, looking for a way through.
Benji Michel came on for Pereyra to start the second half. Pareja said after the match that his No. 10 had been battling some tightness this week and he felt he didn’t want to push the Uruguayan too deeply into the match. Michel’s speed did help create some opportunities in the second half.
But Pareja also said he thought his midfield could control the match in the first half and it simply didn’t work out that way, so he wanted to take a player out of the midfield and add another player who could get up the wing. Michel had a few chances to do that and the Homegrown’s touch was just a bit off at times, though he turned in an industrious shift.
The opening minutes saw the Red Bulls push for a second goal and hit a couple of opportunities just wide. Orlando looked for transition opportunities but failed to be able to provide quality passes to spring them or guys weren’t on the same page in terms of providing the ball that runners were looking for.
The Red Bulls doubled their lead after a foolish foul by Mendez in one of his last actions in an unusually poor performance by his standards. Casseres Jr. sent the direct free kick into the upper left corner out of Gallese’s reach to make it 2-0 in the 60th minute.
Pareja sent van der Water and Joao Moutinho on for Mendez and Halliday moments later with a lot of offensive work to do. That nearly became a moot point when second-half sub Fabio pushed a header just wide of Gallese’s post in the 64th minute on a shot that would have killed off the game.
A microcosm of the match for Orlando was Moutinho’s excellent cross in the 69th minute, which found the head of Smith. Unfortunately, the fullback nodded his shot off the back of teammate van der Water in the 69th minute. Moments later, van der Water did well to spring Mueller in the attack but his first touch was poor, which allowed New York to regroup and block the ensuing shot attempt.
New York again could have killed off the game as Orlando was sloppy with the ball. Urso’s turnover led to a chip attempt by Dru Yearwood that flashed wide of the near post in the 76th and Fabio forced a good save from Gallese a minute later.
The Lions got on the board in the 84th. Smith sent in a good cross to Akindele and the Canadian laid off smartly for van der Water. The Dutchman did well to fake his way past one defender and sent a shot through Coronel’s legs for his first MLS goal.
“I feel happy with the goal, but I got another chance, and I missed that chance, and then directly the feeling is a little bit not so good,” said van der Water, who brought a connectivity into the match that had been lacking. He and Akindele especially had good chemistry in the attack.
“The assist I got today, the ball came in and I think usually I would have just tried to like awkwardly hit it on goal, and the goalie probably would have easily saved it,” Akindele said. “And instead I gave it to Silvester. He still did a crazy amount of work to score, but I think…just to see what’s the right decision, is someone in a better place than me? And that’s what Oscar’s kind of hammered me on a litle bit.”
Four minutes later, van der Water should have equalized. Michel did well to win the ball on the left before sending it to Akindele in the middle. Again the forward found the winger on his right. Running onto the ball and hitting it with his strong left foot, van der Water somehow got under it and sent the ball high over the net in the 88th minute.
“I think I got my body a little bit far away, more backwards,” van der Water said of the missed chance. “Most times you shoot the ball a little bit over. I think that was the reason and the next time I will score a goal.”
That was Orlando’s best opportunity for an equalizer, and it was a golden one. There were no moments of note in the final two minutes of normal time and five minutes of stoppage that honestly should have been extended due to time wasting and an injury, but the final whistle blew to seal the Lions’ fate.
New York had more shots (14-6), shots on target (7-2), and corners (3-2), but Orlando had more possession (57.5%-42.5%) and more accurate passing (80.2%-70.1%) over 90 minutes.
“Much, much better second half when we started just having better connections and we looked more like us,” Pareja said. “They showed their heart and probably could (have) deserved more at the end, but New York did a good job in the game and I think it’s fair.”
“I just felt like we had more numbers forward maybe in the second half,” Akindele said. “The first half I thought we did a great job of kind of moving the ball around the back, but I don’t think we created enough dangerous chances, and we didn’t hold the ball enough in their half.”
Orlando City is now on an extended break until Saturday, June 19, when the Lions will “travel” to take on Toronto FC at 7:30 p.m.