Orlando City scored early through Ercan Kara, but gave up a late equalizer to draw New York City FC 1-1 at Exploria Stadium. The draw left the Lions (4-4-4, 16 points) winless in their last four league matches (0-2-2) and in five straight in all competitions (0-3-2) in what should have been an utterly winnable game against the reeling Pigeons (4-5-4, 16 points), dropping two valuable points.
The Lions simply seemed to lose all energy about a half hour into the match and allowed NYCFC to hang around. The Pigeons left it until late, but accepted the invitation to take something from the match in what was another disappointing home result in a season full of them so far. Gabriel Segal scored for NYCFC — his first career goal.
“It’s a difficult thing to swallow right now,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “But a lot of things happened as well that make us feel that we’re just getting back to that team that we are. The players made a big effort today.”
Pareja’s starting lineup featured Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Michael Halliday. Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena played central midfield behind an attacking line of Gaston Gonzalez, Facundo Torres, and Ivan Angulo, with Kara up top. Both Felipe (lower leg) and Mauricio Pereyra (thigh) returned to the matchday squad on the bench.
It didn’t take Orlando City long to break the scoreless deadlock. Jansson switched play from the back and found Gonzalez down the left wing on a great long pass. Gonzalez nodded the ball down to Torres, who passed it back to the winger for the cross in. The cross from Gonzalez was inch perfect, finding Kara at the near post in the seventh minute and he nodded home his third goal in the last four games to make it 1-0.
“It was something that we continue to work on constantly, and it’s something that we really worked on in training this week,” Gonzalez said through a club translator about the play. “To have the ball played from Robin out to the left, and to have that combination work with Facu out on the left wing, and then have it end in a cross, and thankfully, it came off well from my foot, and Kara was able to finish in the best manner.”
“An early goal’s always big,” Halliday said. “Just as a team, we just need to learn to capitalize on that and just get another goal and shut the game down without letting them have the ball too much.”
Torres picked up a secondary assist on the goal, giving him assists in back-to-back games.
Orlando City looked likely to get a second goal for about the next 20 minutes, winning several set pieces in the attacking third but doing nothing with them.
Eventually the visitors started getting longer spells of possession and that led to some opportunities. Talles Magno, who came on unexpectely for Matias Pellegrini in the eighth minute turned at the top of the area and shot through traffic in the 34th minute. Gallese seemed to not see it initially and had to scramble over to make the save.
A couple minutes later, it was Gabriel Pereira sending in a deflected shot that Gallese palmed away at the last second. The goalkeeper needed a few minutes after the second save and the trainers came on to attend to him, but he was able to continue.
Orlando City was a bit lifeless and passed sloppily in the middle stages of the first half. There was a brief jolt of energy in the 41st minute that led to an attack down the right. Angulo got into the box but opted not to shoot. He instead cut back toward the middle and was dispossessed without even getting an attempt away.
A couple of minutes later, Halliday sent a cross right to goalkeeper Luis Barraza to thwart a promising attack but his effort may have taken a slight deflection toward the keeper.
That was about it for a mostly dull half after Kara’s goal and the Lions took their slim advantage into the break.
The Lions held a slim advantage in possession (50.9%-49.1%) and had more corners (2-0) but the visitors had more shots (4-3), shots on target (2-1), and passing accuracy (92.3%-90.5%).
“The first 20 minutes, where we imposed our freedom, I think we played very well,” Pareja said. “But the humidity, the heat, the proximity of the games just tells us that we needed to keep the ball and let them run. If we turned the ball over to them very quick, they were going to do the same. So, it was the demand of the game — who can keep it longer and create sequences longer.”
The quality of play in the second half didn’t get any better after the break. The game still seemed dull and lifeless. Orlando kept giving the ball away and New York City kept building chances, although they were infrequent. Gallese had to make an early save against Maxime Chanot at the back post off a set piece just a few minutes after the restart.
In the 53rd minute, Angulo got into the area and smashed a shot on target but it was stopped by Barraza. Three minutes later, Angulo tried cutting across the top of the area from the right and hit a shot with his left but he scuffed it and popped it out of play.
Carlos nearly scored in the 60th minute when a corner kick fell to his feet. He stabbed a shot on target but Barraza made the save.
The Lions looked to kill the game off but there was too much hero ball being played. Gonzalez made a good run up the pitch in the 74th minute and got into the area but he ignored his teammates, including an open Duncan McGuire on his left, and tried to beat multiple defenders, but lost the ball without a shot attempt instead.
A minute later, Gallese had to make a diving save to deny Pereira’s blast from outside the area.
Shorly thereafter, Cartagena committed his seventh foul of the match, which was significant because that set a new club single-game record. Cartagena’s seven fouls broke the mark of six previously jointly held by Cristian Higuita and Darwin Ceren, who both set that mark in the same game on Oct. 25, 2015 at Philadelphia.
The insertion of second-half subs did nothing to improve the energy of the team on the field and the chances were few for Orlando down the stretch. McGuire tried to take on multiple defenders as Gonzalez had done earlier and it had the same outcome.
The equalizer came in the 89th minute. Magno got down the left side and sent a simple ball across the top of the six. Segal was the first to it and just got a toe on it to redirect it inside the right post for the tying goal.
Orlando tried to regain some energy in stoppage time. There was a decent buildup that ended with Pereyra centering a ball for Martin Ojeda, who rushed his shot on the half volley and failed to get it on target. In the dying moments, the Lions won a corner and the cross went through the box to Araujo, who hesitated, lined up his shot, and promptly had it blocked.
That was it and the purple-clad crowd of 17,012 went home unsatisfied for the fifth time in seven home matches in MLS play this season.
New York City FC finished with more possession (52.8%-47.2%), shots (14-10), shots on target (6-4), and passing accuracy (90.7%-86.7%). The Lions won more corners (5-3) but played a fairly lifeless 94 minutes of soccer, aside from the goal.
The game was was there, and I think for moments we let them have it too long, and that’s why we ended up just being in a very low block — not because we wanted, but because we gave the ball away and they used it,” Pareja said.
“I feel like we’re there, like tonight we should win this game 100%. Me and all my teammates would agree with that,” Halliday said. “We have the quality. We have the people to do it. We just…we’ll get there.”
The Lions have another quick turnaround with a trip to Ft. Lauderdale Saturday to face Inter Miami.