A brace by striker Ercan Kara saw Orlando City (7-5-4, 25 points) defeat the Houston Dynamo (5-7-3, 18 points) 2-1 at Exploria Stadium. The Dynamo got one back right after the Lions’ second goal through Sebastian Ferreira and thought they’d equalized just before full time. But the hosts were able to hold on for the win.
The Lions were missing a key player for this game as center back Rodrigo Schlegel was suspended for yellow card accumulation. Ruan returned to the lineup after being an unused sub in New England on Wednesday night and Kyle Smith, who started on the right for Ruan earlier this week, moved over to center back to replace Schlegel.
As a result, the back four in front of starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese consisted of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Kyle Smith, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo and Junior Urso played behind Facundo Torres, Mauricio Pereyra, and Jake Mulraney, just as they did Wednesday night. Additionally, Kara re-entered the lineup in place of Alexandre Pato, who started on the bench.
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The Lions got off to a good start in this game. In the second minute, the hosts got their first chance when Moutinho sent in a cross looking for Mulraney. The Irishman attempted an acrobatic attempt on goal, but it was blocked and cleared. A minute leader, Kara had his first chance when he got his head to a Pereyra cross. However, the ball was right at Clark, who made the easy save.
The first chance for Houston came in the seventh minute when Ferreira received a low cross at the top of the box. With his back to goal, the striker immediately dropped the ball back to Corey Baird, who was approaching the box. Baird sent a hard shot on target but it was right at Gallese.
The Lions lost a key player for their next game after Jansson was booked for disagreeing with a foul called on Pereyra. Rosendo Mendoza was quick to issue Jansson the yellow, which results in the center back being suspended for the team’s game Friday night in Cincinnati. It will be the second consecutive game that the Lions will be without one of either Schlegel or Jansson.
Orlando City controlled most of the first half, holding more possession and chances. It finally broke through in the 25th minute. Mulraney collected the ball on the left and played it back for Moutinho. The Portuguese defender played it across for Pereyra whose first touch was a flick over the defense for Torres making a run. Torres quickly played it across for Kara in front of goal for the Austrian to tap it in.
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“It’s great,” Kara said about playing with Pereyra and Torres. “We all train together and we are connecting together. They are really good players. And I see also in the training we are getting connected and I’m very happy that the guys play with me, behind me, and they help you to score.”
With a one-goal lead, Orlando City continued its attack and had another good chance in the 36th minute. It started when Mulraney set up Torres on the left, but the shot was blocked by Tim Parker. The Lions kept the ball in the opposing half, allowing Pereyra to find Mulraney for a shot. However, Parker was there again to block it away.
In the 44th minute, Moutinho saw Pereyra making a long run down the middle of the field. Nearing the Houston penalty area, the defender sent the ball to Pereyra, placing him behind the defense. The Orlando City captain got a shot off before the defense could catch him, but it was right at Clark.
A minute later, the Lions came very close to doubling their lead. Receiving the ball outside the box, Moutinho attempted to send it back in. The ball bounced off the arm of Beto Avila, clearly not in a natural position. Mendoza pointed to the spot, awarding the Lions a penalty.
However, replays showed that Avila was clearly outside the box when the ball hit his arm. As a result, VAR requested a replay and the call was changed to a free kick just outside the box.
The change almost didn’t matter as Kara stepped up to take the set piece. He sent a low, bending ball around the wall that looked to be heading just inside the far post. But Clark made an excellent diving save, tipping it around the post and keeping the game at 1-0.
After drawing with most of the first team against the Revolution on Wednesday night, it was questionable how the team would come out in this game. But Orlando was without question the better team in the first 45 minutes. It ended the half with more possession (52.9%-47.1%), shots (9-3), shots on goal (4-1), and duels won (28-22).
The Lions tried to start the second half the way they ended the first, on the attack. They got their first second-half opportunity in the 48th minute when a counter attack saw Torres find Urso on his left. The midfielder found enough space to get a shot off, but it was right at Clark.
The early moments of the second half were subdued as both teams looked to gain control of the game. But the 57th minute started a flurry of action that changed the game multiple times.
It started when Houston did well to work the ball across the field. A combination of passes allowed Matias Vera to find Memo Rodriguez open on the left side of the box. The midfielder took a shot at the far post but it was just wide.
The Lions immediately went the other way. Moutinho received the ball on the left and sent a cross into the box. It was aiming for Kara, but went to Mulraney, who flicked it on with his head. The flick went right to Teenage Hodebe, who tried to clear it away only for it to land in front of Pereyra.
The Uruguayan fired a shot and the ball ended up in the back of the net, giving the Lions a 2-0 lead. It initially appeared as though the goal was scored by Pereyra, but Kara got the slightest deflection on it, resulting in his second goal of the game.
“For me, it was more Mauricio’s than mine,” Kara said. “But he say in the celebration, he say, it’s your goal and I say alright. And also these goals is great because it’s important that the team win. I’m happy that the goal is mine because it’s always good for a striker to have goals.”
It didn’t take long for Houston to respond and it got one back just a minute later. Zeca sent a dangerous ball into the box where Ferreira was able to beat Smith to it. The striker’s header was perfect, landing just inside the far post and out of the reach of Gallese’s outstretched arm. Just like that, it was a 2-1 game.
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“I feel like we got that second goal and maybe we were slacked a little bit because we felt like the game was over and we’re gonna win anyway,” Moutinho said about the immediate response by Houston. “And maybe we got a little bit out of focus in the back and then they ended up scoring because the teams in this league, if you’re not focused, they’re gonna punish you and that’s what they did.”
The disappointing let up could’ve resulted in disaster for the Lions, but instead they nearly got that goal right back. In the 60th minute, Mulraney sent a cross into the box for Kara. Hodebe attempted to clear it but mishit the ball and it went right to Kara at the top of the six-yard box. The striker immediately turned it on goal but it went just wide.
The Lions probably got a little lucky in the 64th minute. With the Dynamo on the break, Gallese came out of his box in an attempt to clear the ball away. However, Ferreira got to it first and Gallese completely missed it. Instead, he got Ferreira’s leg and the striker went down. Fortunately for Orlando City, the referee only issued Gallese a yellow, determining that there was a defender close enough for it not to be a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity.
The ensuing free kick nearly saw the visitors tie the game. The set piece seemed to be from an innocuous position, but it was very well taken and beat a diving Gallese. However, it didn’t beat the post, bouncing off and allowing Orlando City to clear.
While Orlando dominated most of the game, Houston controlled the final 20 minutes as it searched for an equalizer. Closing out games has been a problem for this team and it was desperate to come away with three points.
In the 72nd minute, second-half substitute Tyler Pasher found Rodriguez in the box. The midfielder’s shot was blocked by Jansson, but it went right back to him. Rather than shooting again, he played it back for Pasher. The substitute’s shot was toward the far post, forcing Gallese to make a diving save.
Four minutes later, it was Pasher again causing trouble in the Orlando third. He took a shot from the corner of the box that didn’t seem too dangerous. However, it had some bend to it and appeared to be headed inside the far post. Gallese was up to the challenge again as the Peruvian international made another game-saving stop.
The visitors were desperate to find an equalizer and were willing to do anything to find it. In the 87th minute, Thorleifur Ulfarsson dribbled into the box, defended by Smith. Ulfarsson went down, claiming a foul on Smith. But replays showed Smith didn’t touch him and Mendoza was fully aware. The referee immediately went to his pocket, issuing Ulfarsson a yellow card for simulation.
A minute into injury time, Pasher had another opportunity from outside the box. The ball got through Smith and Sebas Mendez, but Gallese saw it the whole way and made the stop.
Three minutes later, Orlando should’ve put the game away. Pato made an excellent run on a counter attack and found Benji Michel in the box. He played a perfect ball in front of Michel that the forward should’ve put away. But Daniel Steres slid in for a last-ditch attempt and made it tough for Michel. As a result, the shot sailed over the crossbar from right in front of the goal.
In the final minute of injury time, the Dynamo thought they’d equalized it. Tesho Akindele blocked a cross from Adam Lundkvist but the ball rolled back to former Lion Darwin Ceren. The El Salvadorian international sent a ball for Darwin Quintero, who had made a run between Smith and Jansson. The ball was a little behind Quintero so he attempted a bicycle kick. The ball glanced off his shin and past Gallese.
However, Quintero was just behind the back line and the assistant raised the flag to indicate he was offside. It took a few seconds before the Houston bench stopped celebrating, realizing it hadn’t equalized. That was the last chance for the Dynamo as Orlando City took the game 2-1.
While Orlando dominated the first half, Houston was arguably the better team in the second. It had more possession (60.4%-39.6%), shots (10-9), shots on target (4-2), and better passing accuracy (87.4%-79.4%).
In the end, Houston had more possession (53.8%-46.2%) but the Lions had more shots (18-13), shots on target (6-5), and won more duels (52-45).
“An important victory,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “Great first half. We saw a lot of things that are natural in this team, but today I thought we improved our sequences on the quality. And we kept saying that we have to be more polished and finish the game. Second half I have to recognize that Houston pushed and made us defend much lower than we wanted. And then we end up with the emergencies and urgencies in a game that could’ve been defined earlier. So that taste of not having a complete game is probably what we have right now.”
“Obviously tonight we got the win and it’s always good to get the three points ,” Moutinho added. “But I feel like we should have put the game away earlier, given the chances that we had.
“We’ve definitely been creating the chances necessary to put the games away,” he continued. “But something has been missing. The finishing is not quite there yet. And I think we really do need to improve on that because if you don’t put the games away, then the teams are gonna come back and they’re gonna score on you and then you’re gonna suffer until the end, like we did tonight.”
The Lions now have four points from their first two games coming out of the international break. The win pushes the team up to fourth in the Eastern Conference with 25 points on the season.
Orlando City will have a short week as it heads back on the road, taking on FC Cincinnati in Ohio on Friday.