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Orlando City coach James O’Connor searches for answers to defensive woes

Orlando City on Saturday earned its second draw of the season thanks to a stoppage-time goal from right back Scott Sutter. The draw stopped a three-match losing skid, but Orlando City still has a lot of work to do to make up ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Here are three takeaways from the match:

Perplexing defensive mistakes

Orlando City coach James O’Connor seemed truly confused about why Orlando City can’t stop leaking easy goals.

“I just find it difficult to understand the goals that we’re conceding,” he said.

It’s probably because for every head-scratching – and likely infuriating for O’Connor – goal the Lions conceded, there were flashes of solid defensive play.

For example, consider the first goal Orlando City conceded on Saturday. Brandon Bye throws the ball in for the Revs. Midfielder Tony Rocha ducks and allows Juan Agudelo to get his head on the ball and flick it toward the goal. Centerback Amro Tarek makes a half-hearted attempt to get his head on the ball. Goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. dives underneath the ball. Ball goes in.

That’s just bad.

“We have to stop conceding goals that we’re conceding,” O’Connor said. “I’m repeating myself, but the goals we’re giving away are really, really soft goals. We need to stop. We make it really difficult to go win the game when we’re 2-nil down after whatever it is, 20 minutes. It’s not like they’re fantastic goals. The goals we’re giving are, from our standpoint, they’re really cheap. We put ourselves in a hole, 2-nil down.”

New England’s second game came thanks to a bad giveaway and goal No. 3 came after Tarek got obliterated by Teal Bunbury.

But, on the flip side, Tarek had a brilliant goal-line clearance to deny a goal. Edwards made some great saves to keep New England from putting the match out of reach early. There were moments when Orlando City’s back line worked as a unit and turned away chances.

Orlando City has given up seven goals in its last two games, negating a great attack.

Strong attack

Orlando City has scored six goals in its last two matches.

The Lions have come away with just one point.

O’Connor said the team’s movement has been good, and Yoshi Yotún – who will miss the Lions’ next match due to a red card suspension – has been an engine in the club’s attack.

Under O’Connor, scoring goals hasn’t been the issue. Orlando City has scored the first goal in three of the six league matches he’s coached. In those games, the Lions have scored 11 goals. The team had three goals in the six matches prior to O’Connor taking over.

“We’re investing a lot and not getting much out of it,” right back Scott Sutter said. “We just need to keep working. It’s difficult to say or difficult for fans to hear but I think we are turning the corner. We’ve now got the ability to score the first goal and put ourselves in good positions and I think if you look at the last few games [we’re] definitely a different team.”

Scoring goals isn’t this club’s problem. The Lions can create opportunities, though it’ll interesting to see what the attack looks like next with without Yotún (six chances created) and potentially without Kljestan, who suffered a right ankle injury during the match.

“We do some really good things, really positive things,” O’Connor said. “We did great, now we need more of that. There’s areas of our game where we look great, we look really good. There’s other areas of the game you look, ‘Okay we need more work. A lot more work.’ But the guys are fighting hard. “

The big picture

Not much changed for Orlando City in the grand scheme of things, other than the Lions have one less match to make up points in the Eastern Conference table.

Philadelphia lost, Toronto and Montreal earned draws and the Chicago Fire lost. So, Orlando City (7-14-2, 23 points) is in eighth place, six points away from a playoff spot. The Union (27 points) are four points ahead of Orlando City with a game in hand, but Orlando City has a game in hand over fifth place Montreal (29 points).

The Lions needed a win Saturday night. Avoiding a fourth consecutive loss was good for the club, but splitting points with the team you’re chasing isn’t how you make up ground in the playoff race.

Orlando City’s next three games are against D.C. United, Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union. Three matches against Eastern Conference opponents, and the Union are in the playoff hunt.

It’s redundant to call any match Orlando City plays for the remainder of the season a “must-win.” The Lions can’t afford to drop points anywhere in this stretch and certainly can’t afford another loss. Coming away with at least seven points during the next three matches might be the only way the Lions gets themselves back into the thick of the playoff race.

Relying on other clubs to drop points, which, admittedly, happened Saturday, isn’t an effective method of making up ground.

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