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Orlando City coach James O’Connor says character a problem for Lions’ defense

Orlando City turned in one of its worst performances of the season in a 4-0 loss to the Chicago Fire on Sunday at Toyota Park.

Orlando City turned in one of its worst performances of the season during a 4-0 loss to the Chicago Fire on Sunday at Toyota Park. The Lions (7-18-3, 24 points) are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table with six matches left in the season. Here are three takeaways from the match:

1. Sacha Kljestan was right

The attacking midfielder said it last week: There are individuals who are just happy to be professional players with Orlando City. Defensive midfielder Will Johnson followed that up by saying there are some players who will be weeded out by coach James O’Connor.

It showed against the Fire. The Lions were listless for most of the match in Toyota Park, never found any sort of rhythm and gifted three of the Fire’s four goals due to careless turnovers.

During the game broadcast on national television, FS1 commentator Stu Holden said Orlando City’s players have quit on this season.

“I’d say the desire today and the commitment from the group in general and as a whole was not there and that wasn’t good enough,” said captain Jonathan Spector in response to Holden’s remark. “Without that, you’re not going to win any soccer games.”

O’Connor himself said the match “leaves you with a lot of questions asking around the level of commitment, the level of motivation and the character of individuals.”

Spector said the team’s disappointment with the way the season has gone has started to show and that’s unacceptable.

“I think we have to continue to work hard as cliché as that sounds,” he said. “I think the guys who want to be here next season, I think that will show through. And that’s up to people above me to make those decisions in terms of who is here next season and who is not.”

2. Record pace

Orlando City has given up 66 goals so far this season. The MLS record for goals conceded in a single season is 70 (Minnesota United, 2017). The Lions concede 2.36 goals per game and have posted just one clean sheet this season.

It’s likely Orlando City will break the record. With this pace, the Lions are on track to give up 80 goals this season.

The defensive issues with this side are legion. Lack of consistency on the back line – though the same four have started in the back for the last three matches – is a problem that’s followed the Lions around all season. There’s a lack of cohesion, a new system in play after the firing of coach Jason Kreis, poor decision making and now, according to O’Connor, players who just don’t have the right character.

“I mean, I think when you look at it defensively, as a unit, when you look at the goals, the decision-making, two of the goals came from our really poor decisions, and then the way we react … one of the goals is a corner,” O’Connor said.

“Again, the understanding of sensing danger and then the overall character. I think we have some individuals that have a good mentality and good character but unfortunately, we have too many that just don’t have the right character. It’s a problem for us.”

3. Goalkeeping issues continue

Every goal conceded this season hasn’t come down to poor goalkeeping, but it’s definitely been an issue for the Lions this year. Bendik’s poor first touch trying to control a back pass gifted Chicago its second goal of the match.

It’s been a rough season for Bendik. Backup Earl Edwards Jr. had his own issues when he took Bendik’s place early in O’Connor’s short tenure with the Lions. Edwards wasn’t even in the 18 against the Fire. A club spokesperson said that was a “coach’s decision.”

“It was perspective, to be honest,” Bendik told Pro Soccer USA before the match when asked what he learned when he was benched. “I’ve never been in that position here, at this club. It was good for me because I was able to see what James was trying to put out through the team and the strategy he wanted through the team.

“See it from the bench, see some different spaces and then when I step back in, try to execute that. It was interesting. Earl and I have a really good relationship, so I was just trying to be supportive of him.”

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