Orlando City outplayed Tropic Thunder rival Inter Miami but couldn’t find the back of the net in an unsatisfying 0-0 draw at Exploria Stadium. Tesho Akindele had an opportunity from the penalty spot, but there were other good chances that went unfulfilled as well in a frustrating night that still saw the Lions (9-4-8, 35 points) finish undefeated against Inter Miami (6-9-5, 23 points) with a mark of 1-0-2 on the season.
The Lions ran their unbeaten streak to six straight matches (2-0-4), equaling their longest of the season, and remain in second place in the Eastern Conference for the time being. Orlando hasn’t allowed a goal in two games, and tonight’s shutout came against a team that had scored six times in its last two outings.
“We think we did enough to (win) it, but humbly we have to accept it, take the point, and understand that’s the game,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “But a great effort by our players. Competitive match. Obviously we needed to score goals. We needed to be more clinical, just missing that PK as well and with the goal that was called off too. Those things make us feel like it was not enough to get a result but we will keep going forward.”
Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese for the first time since July 25. El Pulpo lined up behind a first-choice back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Junior Urso wore the captain’s armband next to Joey DeZart in the central midfield, with Chris Mueller and Benji Michel facilitating the attack to Silvester van der Water and Akindele at the top of the formation. Nani started the match on the bench, as did Daryl Dike.
Orlando outplayed Miami throughout the opening 45 minutes but, as has been the case far too many times in 2021, couldn’t produce that final moment of magic. Mueller and van der Water sent shots well over the bar in the opening minutes and Urso missed a free header wide of the left post off a Mueller corner kick in the fifth minute.
But the biggest wasted opportunity of the first half came after Nicolas Figal was called for a handball in the area. Akindele took the spot kick for Orlando City and fired to his left, but Nick Marsman guessed correctly and made the save in the 12th minute.
Miami’s first good opportunity came off a corner kick in the 22nd minute. The cross bounced around in the box and Rodolfo Pizarro got his foot on it, sending a soft shot toward goal. Gallese was able to get over and swat it off the line.
The Lions thought they’d scored in the 24th minute when a short corner to Robin Jansson was fired toward goal and deflected into the far corner by Akindele. However, the Miami defense had stepped forward just in time to put the forward off and Ismael Elfath waved off the goal after reviewing the play on the video monitor.
“I felt it directly when it left my foot and it touched Tesho that he was standing offside,” Jansson said. “That was my first feeling, but then I haven’t seen it afterwards so I don’t know if it goes on the frame if Tesho doesn’t touch it. But it is what it is. I mean, we tried to do some stuff on the set pieces and this time it was close for me but we have to look forward to next time.”
The last decent look for Orlando in the half came on a header attempt in the 33rd by Michel, but he mistimed his effort and sent a weak dribbler well wide. Moutinho tried recycling it from the end line but could only sky his cross high into the air. Akindele made an attempt for it but was bodied off by the defense and couldn’t get anything on the shot.
Miami got a ball over the top in first-half stoppage time and Gallese was late getting off his line. Gonzalo Higuain put the ball in the net but the flag came up immediately and the video assistant referee confirmed the offside call.
The teams went to the break scoreless and Miami had to feel fortunate that Orlando didn’t take its chances.
Orlando doubled up Miami in shots (8-4) and each team got only one on target. The Lions held a 4-3 edge in corners and had the advantage in both possession (54.6%-45.4%) and passing accuracy (89.8%-84.3%).
Pareja put Dike into the lineup in place of Akindele to start the second half but the big man didn’t have the impact fans might have hoped. He managed one shot attempt that was well off target and only touched the ball 11 times in his 45 minutes on the pitch in his first match since returning from the Gold Cup. Dike last suited up for the Lions on July 3.
The second half was played mostly between the boxes for the first 15 minutes of the second half with each team getting some set pieces but doing nothing with them.
The first decent look of the half came from Mueller in the 64th when he sent a rocket from distance that he couldn’t get to dip enough at the end.
Much of the half was bereft of chances for either side, with Orlando getting six shot attempts off and conceding only one the other way.
Dike’s cross nearly resulted in a Miami own goal in the 83rd minute with a sliding clearance that didn’t miss the net by much. Second-half sub Nani sent in a good corner kick cross in the 85th minute that found Carlos’ shoulder. The ball deflected on target but Marsman did well to get over and make a huge save to keep the game scoreless.
Urso sent a curling effort toward the upper left corner in the 89th minute, but it was just a smidge off target on a good shot from outside the box. Orlando got a couple more corners but couldn’t make them pay off and the game ended all square at 0-0.
The Lions out-shot Miami 14-5, and got marginally more on target (3-2). Orlando held the advantage in corners (10-4), possession (55.4%-44.6%), and passing accuracy (91.1%-83.4%). It was a dominating performance everywhere but on the scoreboard.
Gallese’s shutout was his eighth in an Orlando City uniform, tying Brian Rowe for second on the team’s all-time list, five behind career leader Joe Bendik’s 13.
“Today to get back in goal for my team and to help us achieve our goals and continue advancing forward in this season is just great,” Gallese said through a club interpreter. “We had a very strong defensive game plan today coming into the game. We knew that Miami had a very strong attack with players like Pizarro and Higuain, so we just really needed to stay concentrated together as a unit, and being able to play that way defensively just really helped us have a strong game.”
Orlando’s six-game unbeaten run could have yielded more points with better finishing. The Lions have scored just four times in the last five matches.
“That’s the game,” Pareja said about the team’s missed opportunities. “It’s not easy. Scoring goals is all that we work for. But right now we don’t have that volume or we don’t have that clinical touch to put the ball in the back of the net — not even on a PK. I have to accept it but I have to see the whole thing. We will keep working. The boys have obviously the energy and the commitment to get better.”
Orlando City welcomes the Columbus Crew on Saturday, Sept. 4 in the Lions’ next match.