Striker Benji Michel smashed home a goal to salvage a 1-1 draw on the road in Cincinnati, but Orlando City’s playoff hopes came to an end Sunday night.
Even if the Lions had clinched a win, the team’s playoff dreams were extinguished at a different stadium. The New England Revolution beat New York City FC 2-0 on Sunday, eliminating Orlando City from the postseason contention.
“We’re absolutely frustrated,” Orlando City coach James O’Connor said. “We’ve had multiple opportunities to try to get over the line. What’s really drawn the frustration for everyone tonight is the level of the first half. That’s the bit that catches everybody.”
From the start, FC Cincinnati (6-22-5, 23 points) played with an edge of desperation. The team peppered the Orlando City’s (9-14-10, 37 points) backline with shots, with Lions goalkeeper Brian Rowe making a series of diving saves. The home team finally broke through in the 39th minute when Cincinnati midfielder Allan Cruz floated in the box completely unmarked and hammered home a cutback pass.
Defender João Moutinho returned after an eight-game absence due to quad and hamstring injuries, but the excitement was short lived. The defender suffered a calf injury and he was replaced by Kyle Smith in the 14th minute.
Moutinho’s substitution only added to a sluggish start for the Lions, who struggled to connect in the attacking third. The Lions lacked any bite to start the game, fumbling passes in the midfield and failing to connect on chances in and around the box.
“We just felt as if the guys had let themselves down with the energy in the first half,” O’Connor said. “When you look at the first half, that’s what’s so frustrating for everybody. The second half is a different game.”
With tempers flaring, the team played a physical style of football that led to unforced errors and fouls. By the end of the half, Orlando City had committed nine fouls while taking only four shots.
After regrouping in the locker room at the half, the Lions came out with a stronger first step to start the second half. Striker Dom Dwyer hunted for a goal throughout the half, placing two shots on frame that forced the Cincinnati keeper to make a highlight reel save.
The chemistry between the team’s attacking front continued to lack cohesion, as passes between Nani, Dwyer and Mauricio Pereyra skipped wide and behind their marks. Orlando City pressured the Cincinnati backline, taking nine shots in the second half, but couldn’t finish off close-range opportunities.
“It’s something that’s happened really, not just in this game,” O’Connor said. “In multiple games, we’ve had really good opportunities, but we haven’t been able to capitalize. We had some big chances second half, and we just weren’t able to take them. You can’t do that. You need to take your chances.”
The game opened up in the final minutes of play, with both teams taking full-field fast breaks to try for shots on goal. In this chaos, Michel finally broke through in the 91st minute, leveling the score to avoid a loss on the road.
The draw, however, marked the team’s seventh straight game without a win, the longest winless streak of the season for the Lions.
The Lions will return home to close out the season against the Chicago Fire next Sunday.