I am so angry that I could spit venom for six days. In the words of the late John Hillerman as Jonathan Quayle Higgins, “Oh my God!”
Orlando City found a way to make me hate stoppage time once again. With literally less than five seconds left before the referee blew the final whistle, they allow CJ Sapong to get his head on a ball and squeeze it between the near post and a diving Brian Rowe for an equalizer. And that was after the Fire were down to 10 men. It seems that only Orlando City could find a way to concede a goal at the death to a short-handed opponent that snatches a draw from the jaws of victory. Only Orlando City could be that incompetent.
Of course, the problems for Orlando City went way beyond falling asleep on defense in stoppage time (the leveling goal came in 90+4 of a match with 4 minutes of added time). There were plenty of missed opportunities for the Lions to go up by a 2nd or even 3rd goal much earlier in the game. And the real concern in the medium term is the health of Tesho Akindele, who left the match after only 20 minutes with an injury.
So let’s dig into this one and see if we can find what went so horribly, horribly wrong.
Kamal Miller - For a second match in a row the rookie defender had a good game. He was under pressure for much of the match, but he wasn’t the defender who gave up the goal at the death and he’s starting to look like he could develop into a reliable defender. Of course, we are only two matches in, so let’s not get too excited yet.
We Scored First - It took until the 47th minute, but Orlando City did get a lead in the game and held it almost all the way to the end. Almost doesn’t count, but playing from ahead instead of chasing the game all day does count. It’s something this team didn’t do much last season and couldn’t manage last week. Now they need to learn how to finish with a narrow advantage.
The Refs Were Not Wholly Against Us - I’m not going to comment on the quality of the officiating—partly because I was at a bar and we didn’t have sound on the game and partly because I was suspicious some of the calls were not so good. But most of the bad calls—most of them—seemed to go against the home side. So I’m close to the point of accepting any call the ref makes that doesn’t wind up denying us a goal, doesn’t give the other team a PK, or doesn’t send one of our guys off the pitch. I should demand fair and accurate referees, I know. But I’ll settle for ones who prefer purple over the other color on the pitch.
Dwyer, Nani, and Ruan - From the way James O’Connor talked this week, I was thinking that both Nani and Dom Dwyer were still a couple of games away from starting, but Nani impacted the game from the starting whistle, and both Dwyer and Ruan made their presence known when they stepped on the pitch. Dwyer scored the goal for Orlando City (from an assist by Nani), and Ruan drew the foul that resulted in sending off Chicago’s man, which was on a beautifully threaded pass—again from Nani—between two Chicago defenders. There are glimpses of exciting stuff here, but the team still lacks the killer instinct to go for the jugular against an opponent that is struggling. You just hope that some day this team can cobble all the pieces together into a beautiful masterpiece and not wind up like last year’s team with some sort of Frankenstein creation where priceless relics become worthless steaming pile of junk.
FINISH YOUR DAMN CHANCES - Last week I complained about Chris Mueller not having a killer instinct and we saw other players on the team repeating the same mistakes today. Orlando City was credited with only two shots in the entire 95 minutes. Now Orlando City only had the ball 40.8% of the time, but they got the ball down in front of David Ousted’s goal on at least four or five occasions, and only twice did they ever bother to take a shot. Unacceptable. I hope that James O’Connor started Mueller from the bench today as punishment for not taking the chances he had to shoot last week, and I hope he metes out the same punishment to every lazybones who failed to shoot when they got down inside the penalty area today.
Dwyer’s Final 20 Minutes - I was screaming at Dom Dwyer who had a beautiful chance for a brace but he danced around with the ball at the corner of the 6-yard box until he was gang tackled by six defenders instead of just shooting the damn ball. I don’t care if the goalkeeper was right there, Dwyer should have tried to kick the ball so hard it knocked a few of Ousted’s teeth out for him. If it means my team gets three points, then by all means leave the bloodied and broken corpses of the opponent littered across the pitch by the end of the match. Winning is the only thing that matters. No excuses.
Stoppage Time Defending - Fans who followed the team last year may remember that some time after James O’Connor arrived he held an open practice at Orlando City Stadium where he and the team took the time to meet with fans, talk frankly about the state of the club, sign autographs, and answer questions. During the signing I asked coach who had impressed him the most, and he said the player who showed the kind of work ethic he wanted to see was Shane O’Neill. Now I relay that story to put a little heat and a little shame on the player for his laziness in stoppage time today. O’Neill was marking CJ Sapong as time ran out, and it was O’Neill that Sapong was able to leap past and get a clean head to the ball that scored the equalizer. And as well as Chris Mueller played last week, I find him equally at fault for that equalizing goal. Both O’Neill and Mueller were playing too far off their men. Had Mueller been smothering Przemyslaw Frankowski 35 yards out, beyond the penalty box, Frankowski could not have lifted that lovely crossing pass in to CJ Sapong. And had O’Neill been marked up tighter on Sapong, the Chicago striker would not have had such an easy opportunity to leap up and high point the ball off his head to whip it into goal. It may be unfair to point fingers at specific players for a lack of good team defending in the final minutes, but often it’s the players who are in position to get their jersey shown on TV in the frame with the scoring play that winds up taking the heat. Orlando City has a tendency to switch off during stoppage time of matches, and it often costs us points as it did today. Shane and Chris, I’m very disappointed in you. Don’t let that happen again!
Dropping a Chance for a Road Win - A couple of years ago I did a historic look back at the league and found something like 24% of teams win on the road. I don’t think the stats have changed that much, so when you go into second-half stoppage time with a lead, those are precious points you cannot afford to give away. Three points on the road makes up for that draw at home last week and gets you back on a pace for two points a match, which would be good enough to earn the Supporters Shield in most seasons. Keeping pace at one point per match puts you on a pace for 34, and that’s not been good enough to make the playoffs since MLS went to a 34-match schedule.
The Status of Tesho Akindele - I could not hear the broadcast very well at the bar where I watched the match, and I did not see any posts from Jordan Culver or Jenny Chiu to update anyone on his condition. It seems like it was a bit of a risk to put Dom Dwyer in for 70 minutes when he wasn’t fully match fit if Akindele was really hurt. And Akindele seems to be a key player for the Orlando City attack this season. I am anxious to learn what his status may be.
If you want to take anything good from this match, we can take this: it took only one road match in 2019 to get a draw, which was something Orlando City failed to do all of 2018. Last season the team went 2 - 15 - 0 on the road. Another is that so far Orlando City is perfect in getting results so far in 2019. Certainly we need more wins than we had last year, but if we can take more points from draws this season than we did last year it will be a good thing.
What were your thoughts from the game? Did you take any positives from it? Or will it take seeing the team win a match before you can begin to get over this loss?