Orlando City’s playoff run has come to an end after a 2-0 loss to the Columbus Crew at Exploria Stadium. The Lions were reduced to 10 men in the second half and conceded twice in extra time. It’s Orlando’s second Eastern Conference semifinal loss — both at home — and also the second time it’s had a player sent off in one.
Here are my five takeaways from Orlando’s last match of 2023.
Red Card Dents Orlando’s Chances
Orlando City’s night got much tougher once Rodrigo Schlegel was shown a second yellow card and was sent off in the 77th minute. The center back received his second booking after fouling Diego Rossi on a hopeful counterattack by the Crew, despite having Robin Jansson there to help defend, closing from the other side. His first yellow card wasn’t much better, as he came into the midfield like a freight train and fouled Rossi on an unnecessary challenge. Although Antonio Carlos was able to come off the bench to replace Schlegel, having to play a man down turned the match into a marathon for the Lions. The red card did galvanize the Lions to a degree, but Schlegel’s exit dealt a hefty blow to their chances of reaching the Eastern Conference final.
Heroic Defending Keeps the Lions Kicking
Apart from Schlegel’s bookings, the defense did incredibly well in this match. Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese came up with five saves, bailing the Lions out time and time again. The back line wasn’t perfect while going up against a potent Columbus attack, but the players made great plays to put out fires. The best defensive effort of the day belonged to Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, who chased down Rossi on the break to disrupt his shot without committing a foul. The two goals conceded in extra time while down a man were a brutal way for the Lions to be eliminated, with the first coming from Gallese unluckily deflecting an incoming cross into a sliding Christian Ramirez, and the second coming while Orlando had Gallese up the field to create more desperate chances while trailing.
Lions Fail to Finish Fast Breaks
Orlando City certainly had its chances to score in this one, particularly when on the counter. However, the Lions squandered great opportunity after great opportunity and did not get a shot on target until extra time. Facundo Torres sent a shot just over the crossbar after Ivan Angulo fed him the ball in the box, Angulo couldn’t punish Columbus on a different counter, and there was a disconnect later in the match between Torres and Duncan McGuire that cost the rookie a chance to shoot. The miss that will keep Orlando fans up at night will be Martin Ojeda’s in stoppage time right before extra time. It wasn’t an easy angle and Ojeda still nearly tucked it in the far corner for what likely would’ve been a winner that would’ve etched his name in the club’s history books. Unfortunately, it skipped wide of goal and we’re all left thinking of what could have been. Kyle Smith and Ramiro Enrique also had golden opportunities to tie the match after Ramirez’s goal.
Orlando Didn’t Get Foothold in the Midfield
Part of it was due to the general strategy to withstand Columbus’ strong attack and then spring forward on the counter, but the Lions had a hard time controlling the midfield in this match. It was a bad time for Wilder Cartagena to have an off night after such a strong season and he was subbed off in the 62nd minute while on a yellow card. He committed five fouls and Cesar Araujo had four fouls in what was a chippy match with plenty of stoppages. The Crew limited Torres and Mauricio Pereyra’s effectiveness on the ball, which in turn kept McGuire from getting much service despite some good movement off the ball. The Lions started to see more of the ball after conceding, but they had trouble building possession for a majority of the match.
Substitutes Provide a Spark in Extra Time
Of Orlando’s 13 shots in the match, six came from substitutes and they led the attacking charge in extra time. Enrique, who had a brace in Orlando’s memorable win over Columbus in the previous match between these two, did well to chase down a barrage of long balls and create some chances. His best opportunity came from a header after a nice run in the box, but Crew goalkeeper Patrick Schulte made a great save to deny him. With Ercan Kara in Turkey, it was nice to see Enrique prove effective off the bench, even if his efforts came up short in the end. Smith and Junior Urso also had strong outings in what could be their final matches in purple (the club holds options on both players for 2024). It was always going to be an uphill battle once Schlegel was sent off and the substitutes did well when putting those fresh legs to use.
It’s unfortunate that this is the end of the road for the Lions this year, but they didn’t play particularly poorly. An inability to get the ball in the back of the net has plagued this team often and the Lions paid the price in a single-elimination game. It will be interesting to see how different this team will look when we see it in action next year.