Inter Miami sat its three new big stars but still managed to steal a point from Orlando City in a 1-1 draw in front of a sellout crowd of 25,527 at Exploria Stadium. David Ruiz gave Miami (9-15-5, 32 points) the lead early in the second half, but rookie Duncan McGuire equalized 14 minutes later for Orlando City (14-7-9, 51 points). Neither side could break the stalemate, and the Lions missed a big opportunity to add to their point total.
Orlando City went 1-0-1 in the season series and 1-1-1 in all competitions against the Herons. The Lions remain second in the Eastern Conference with four matches remaining.
“A very competitive match,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “Many times the game became very rocky, and we could have more clarity in the two boxes when we were attacking and being clean to make a decision and not having to suffer that much to score a goal.”
Pareja’s lineup featured Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena manned the central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Duncan McGuire returning to the starting lineup up top.
The opening 12 minutes were mostly played between the penalty areas, with the Lions probing for an opening and pressing high when they didn’t have the ball. Miami was able to create very little and was content to foul whenever there was a danger of someone getting behind. The Herons looked to hit over the top or with long diagonal balls and came close to connecting on a couple. Jansson had a strong first half, winning a number of balls forward that were intended for Miami’s forwards.
A chaotic sequence led to Orlando’s first attempt on goal in the 16th minute, as Angulo ran onto ball from McGuire in the middle of the penalty area, but his shot was blocked. A minute later, Cartagena dispossessed Ruiz and dribbled toward goal but referee Armando Villarreal pulled it back for a foul on the Peruvian, though there didn’t appear to be anything in it.
Miami defender Tomas Aviles picked up four fouls in the first half and three of them were of worthy of yellow cards — the first coming in the opening minutes. He got a talking to from Villarreal on what surely would be a yellow card in most games and then did pick up a yellow in the 23rd minute on his next such tactical foul. He did it again later in the half but Villarreal lacked the courage to send him off and instead merely gave him a second lecture.
Gallese made a comfortable save on a shot from distance by Leonardo Campana in the 26th minute.
Orlando City won several set pieces from the wings throughout the half but couldn’t produce anything from them. Schlegel got onto a cross in the 29th minute but headed well over the bar. Seconds later, the Lions got their best chance of the half when Jansson sent a gorgeous through ball past the defense and found McGuire. The rooke smashed a shot from the top of the area but Drake Callender made the save. Torres picked up the rebound but his follow shot was blocked.
Benjamin Cremaschi went into the book moments later when Cartagena nutmegged him and rounded him. The young midfielder reached out and grabbed his counterpart to earn the yellow card.
In the 38th minute, Thorhallsson tried to hit a shot on the half volley after the defense cleared a long throw from Araujo. The shot bounced harmlessly wide as the Icelandic fullback didn’t hit it cleanly.
Gallese made a terrific save to keep the game scoreless in the 42nd minute. Campana bowled over Cartagena to free himself for a header on a corner kick and nodded on target but Gallese denied him with a clutch save.
Josef Martinez sent a shot sailing into the stands late on the last chance of the half, and the teams went to the break scoreless.
The visitors held more first-half possession (53.7%-46.3%), put more shots on target (2-1), won more corners (3-0), passed more accurately (82.7%-78.9%). The Lions attempted more shots (7-4).
“We knew that they were going to crowd the middle with this defense of five and the three midfielders,” Pareja said of attacking Miami’s system. “Normally, when you have these eight players in front of you, there’s not much space there.”
Pareja subbed Martin Ojeda on for Araujo at halftime, dropping Pereyra to central midfield. Miami made two defensive subs, removing Aviles and Sergii Kryvstov, who was injured late in the half, and brought on Kamal Miller and Ryan Sailor.
The Herons opened the scoring in the 52nd minute off of what appeared to be a foul on Torres, but no call was made and Miami broke in transition. Martinez ended up with the ball on the left and sent a shot on goal that Gallese stopped but Ruiz swooped in to tap in the rebound, making it 1-0.
A couple of minutes after the goal, Ruiz picked up a yellow card that was perhaps fortunate on an ugly looking foul from behind on Pereyra. Pareja referred to the foul as “insane” after the match. DeAndre Yedlin then picked up a yellow during the same stoppage in play for time wasting as Jansson tried to retrieve the ball from him for the restart.
Ojeda sent a good shot through traffic in the 59th minute, but Callender saw it and was able to get over to make the save. A minute later, Schlegel was booked after an aerial challenge as the chippiness of the game continued. The teams combined for 27 fouls, with the visitors picking up 16 of them.
Angulo should have equalized in the 63rd minute. The Lions sprung a good transition and Thorhallsson sent a marvelous through ball that sent the speedy left winger in behind. He tried to fool Callender and sent it toward goal but got it wrong and sent it wide of the target.
Two minutes later, Thorhallsson sent in a wicked cross just in front of goal but McGuire couldn’t get his foot on it and Callender caught it before it could cause any more mischief.
McGuire tied the match moments later. Cartagena sent Ojeda up the right side and the midfielder tried to cut back to his left for a shot but it was poked away. The ball fell kindly for McGuire to run onto and he smashed it through Callender’s legs to tie the match at 1-1 in the 66th minute. It was the rookie’s ninth league goal of the season.
“I saw the guys making a lot of good runs forward, opening up spaces, and I was left one-on-one with the defender,” McGuire said. “Luckily the ball bounced into my path and I saw my chance and took it.”
Robert Taylor cut inside on his right foot and fired a shot in the 70th minute but hit it right at Gallese.
Pareja sacrificed Angulo to send on Ramiro Enrique in the 73rd minute as the Lions looked for a winner.
Santos ended up on the right side after a long-range free kick attempt for Orlando and it nearly paid off. With his weaker right foot, the Brazilian sent in a good cross to Torres, who headed it on frame but the Uruguayan couldn’t get much power on it and that made for an easy save.
Pareja emptied his bench over the next few minutes and sent on Michael Halliday, Gaston Gonzalez, and Junior Urso for a visibly tiring Thorhallsson, McGuire, and Pereyra.
Neither side could find a good look at goal for a potential winner in the final minutes of normal time plus a seemingly short amount of stoppage — just four minutes. The two Tropic Thunder rivals had to settle for splitting the points.
Orlando City’s desire to win the game was reflected in the final statistics. The Lions finished with more possession (51.2%-48.8%), shots (13-9), shots on target (6-5), and passing accuracy (83%-82.6%). The Herons ended up with more corners (7-0), as the Lions failed to earn a single one. The Lions had way more touches inside the opponent’s penalty area (21-10), but failed to produce much in the way of final quality aside from McGuire’s strong finish.
“At the end, I think we pushed. We played well,” Pareja said. “I don’t like to say (we) deserved more because that in soccer is not a good phrase. What I want to say is we have to be clearer in this type of game where there’s not many options, the gaps are closed, and we had our moments to finish it out. But we’ll take the point.”
“We’re definitely not satisfied yet,” McGuire said. “We still want to get more points. We want to keep pushing. And definitely we want to make a deep run in the playoffs and win the entire thing.”
After three matches in nine days, Orlando City has more of a normal week of work before welcoming CF Montreal to Exploria Stadium on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.