BRONX, N.Y. — The debut of Sacha Kljestan didn’t matter much for Orlando City.
Against NYCFC, the quality in the final third still just wasn’t there. And twice in the second half, the Lions’ quality in their defensive half was just as bad.
The Lions (0-2-1, 1 point) had two bad giveaways in the second half and NYCFC (3-0-0, 9 points) had no trouble punishing the visitors at Yankee Stadium, turning both turnovers into goals to secure a 2-0 home victory over Orlando City in front of an announced crowd of 18,584.
Midfielder Will Johnson said the Lions beat themselves Saturday afternoon in a frustrating match. Orlando City went into halftime tied 0-0 with NYCFC, which was playing without star forward and team captain David Villa.
“We’ve dug ourselves a nice hole to start the season,” Johnson said, calling the mistakes “inexcusable.”
Coach Jason Kreis said he still believes Orlando City has the opportunity to be a good club, especially since more players are set to return soon. He added the players on the pitch for all three games “could have and should have gotten more points.”
“I really felt like we were doing well, right until we gave up the goal,” Kreis said. “Unfortunately for me, I think that’s three matches where I just feel like we’re giving things away.”
NYCFC opened the scoring in the 62nd minute after a poor touch from Lions’ goalkeeper Joe Bendik off an ill-advised back pass from midfielder Yoshimar Yotún. Bendik’s errant kick bounced right to the feet of NYCFC forward Ismael Tajouri, who had no trouble slotting it home.
It was the third game in a row during which Orlando City conceded the first goal of the match, but the first time that first goal wasn’t given up in the first 20 minutes of the match.
“This game, we smashed the ball at our goalkeeper and gave away the first goal,” Kreis said. “If we correct those small errors, I think we’re going to be OK.
“We need something to go our way. One result, one bounce … one something to go our way early in a game and I think we will more forward very quickly from that.”
Mar 17, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Orlando City midfielder Cristian Higuita (7) kicks the ball as New York City defender Rodney Wallace (23) defends during the first half at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
The Pigeons’ second goal was just as easy. After a giveaway in the 74th minute from midfielder Sacha Kljestan — who was otherwise solid in his debut — NYCFC midfielder Maximiliano Morález easily put a shot past Bendik.
“I tried to turn out of pressure when I should have just played the way I faced,” Kljestan said. “We put our goalie under pressure tonight two times and [NYCFC] capitalized on both, so that was poor from us.”
Orlando City spent the rest of the match trying to at least get one goal on the board. Kreis put attacking midfielder Josué Colmán in for the first time this season and subbed off defensive midfielder Cristian Higuita — who was also playing in his first minutes this season for Orlando City — for attacking mid Richie Laryea.
The switches didn’t work, though Colmán had a few flashes of individual brilliance in his MLS debut.
Center back Lamine Sané came on for Jonathan Spector to start the second half after Spector suffered a head injury in the 16th minute of the match. Orlando City’s captain bumped heads with NYCFC defender Maxime Chanot trying to win the ball off a Lions corner.
Kreis said Spector was suffering from dizziness and the club suspects the team captain has a concussion.
Throughout the match, Orlando City struggled not only to maintain possession, but to generate solid chances in the final third. Forward Justin Meram’s passes in and around the penalty area were frequently errant and the Lions only had three shots on target.
“I don’t think were able to get enough numbers into the attack,” Kljestan said. “We were defending pretty deep, so when we did get into to the attack, it felt like Justin Meram, Chris Mueller and myself were the only three up there.
“It was until later, when we got more numbers into the attack, were we able to carve out a few chances.”