Looking to keep the momentum going off of the stoppage time victory over Inter Miami this past weekend, Orlando City hit the road pointed west for a midweek matchup against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The Lions jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute thanks to an upper-corner blast from Facundo Torres off a throw-in on the left side. His 4th goal of the season was an unstoppable strike that goalkeeper William Yarbrough couldn’t do much against.
The lead held firm for about the next 40 minutes before Gyasi Zardes, who had been causing problems for Orlando throughout the opening portion of the second half, broke through on a close-range finish, finding the end of a perfectly placed cross from Michael Barrios in the 65th minute to level the score, as the game would go on to finish level at 1-1.
Never a bad thing to grab a point on the road in MLS, but it felt like maybe two more points slipped away from the Lions in this one. While the stats and xG numbers skew heavily towards Colorado, the Lions were a sturdy defensive unit all night, with the return of Antonio Carlos to the starting lineup (more on that later) aiding that effort. In the first half, Orlando looked comfortable on the ball, more organized in the attack than we’ve seen lately, and capable of putting together some quality build-up play, despite the lack of bite on the finishing end of things. And on top of that, Pedro Gallese had another one of his S Tier level performances to at least keep the one point coming back to Orlando.
Let’s dive a little deeper beyond the scoreline for more on this one…
Antonio Carlos makes his return
1 tackle, 2 interceptions, 7 clearances, 2 blocked shots, and 3 ariels won, Carlos’ return to the starting lineup was a return to the reliable centerback play we’re used to seeing from the Brazilian defender in his first start since early April.
The Lions have conceded more than a single goal just one time this season with Carlos in the starting lineup (the 2-1 loss to FC Cincinnati back on March 13), and that stat was hardly in doubt against Colorado with his commanding leadership keeping things steady in the back as the Lions faced a barrage of chances in the second half from a Rapids side desperate to grab all three points at home.
With 74 touches, the most of any player on the field, he was able to effectively defend and be a focal point of the Lions’ play moving from the back, with quality side-to-side passing and the occasional charge up into the midfield to draw on opposing defenders and slip the ball off to a free attacker — a key trait in the style that Oscar Pareja prefers to play.
Rodrigo Schlegel has done a standup job in his own ways over the last few months, but having Carlos back full-time now is an important bit of progress for the Lions moving forward this summer.
A brick wall in goal
If there’s one player you can almost always count on to deliver, it’s Pedro Gallese and deliver he did for Orlando on Wednesday night. Facing 19 shots (seven of them on target), Gallese was brought into the action for six saves, including a few stupid good efforts to deny the Rapids — as evidenced by the 2.3 xG they put up in this game.
While Zardes and Barrios’ combination in the 65th minute got the best of Gallese (a hard low cross, difficult to stop), he single-handily kept Orlando level with an impressive kick save off a deflected shot two minutes later and another shot close-range attack immediately after that had no business doing anything but going into the net, against denied by Gallese’s big frame.
While he wasn’t able to grab what would have been a club-record 8th clean sheet this season, this performance won’t go unnoticed and it’s tough to say whether or not the Lions would even be this far up the table without him in 2022.
- Another game, another one-goal output from Orlando City. Including Open Cup, that’s now a goal or fewer in seven of their last nine games. Without any significant help on the way in this summer transfer window, I’m just struggling to see how things can get much better in that area of the field right now. The vast majority of the offense comes from just a few players (Ercan Kara, Facundo Torres, and Alexander Pato); the Lions either need some help or they need others on the roster to step up.
- Luiz Muzzi‘s comments over the weekend, suggesting that Orlando isn’t in a position to make any big signings this winter due to being maxed out on Designated Players and under-22 players do cause a bit of concern over how far this team can go in 2022. Right now, it’s hard to see a deep playoff run happening with the roster as constructed, and more of an eye on how they want to build this winter and in 2023 — which is totally fine, the long-term planning is good. At the moment though, it’s starting to look like the best-case scenario for this season is to go all-in on the Open Cup, which the Lions are two wins away from claiming now, and see what happens the rest of the way through the regular season and into the playoffs, where really anything can happen once you’re in. And honestly? Most fans would probably be okay with that. Otherwise, this season is a wash.
- Atlanta United on the road this Sunday. It’s the first meeting of the year with Atlanta, should be an entertaining match at the very least. The Lions have been reasonably good on the road this year and the Five Stripes haven’t been very good at all either, so this one sets up to be a close one. First goal wins?