ORLANDO, Fla. — After ceding two red cards, Orlando City fell 3-1 to the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday during the first of two games this week between the two teams.
Orlando attacked early and often to open the game, forcing Philadelphia onto its heels. In the eight minute, forward Chris Mueller collected the ball in midfield and, met with no pressure from the defense, charged onto the goal to take a clean shot from just inside the box.
“We knew we had to impose ourselves on the game, and we did,” forward Tesho Akindele said. “Chris [Mueller] scored an amazing goal and I thought we had control of it.”
The goal put Orlando ahead 1-0 and set the supporters section roaring, but that momentum didn’t last for long. As Philadelphia continued to pressure, Orlando City’s passing broke down in the midfield, leaving the team vulnerable to counters.
In the 33rd minute, Akindele coughed up a pass in the midfield to Philadelphia midfielder Jamiro Monteiro, who played it long to Kacper Przybylko, the leading goalscorer for the Union. Defender Robin Jansson slid past Przybylko, who stutter-stepped and buried the ball in the side netting just past goalkeeper Brian Rowe’s fingertips.
The tide completely turned in the 43rd minute. An arcing, full-field pass to Union midfielder Fafa Picault sent Jansson scrambling in transition once again to prevent a one-on-one with the keeper as the ball bounced past both players. As the two sprinted after the ball, Jansson tugged Medunjanin’s left arm and tackled his legs out from underneath him, sending the midfielder tumbling to the ground.
Jansson earned a yellow card immediately, but after going to the sidelines for VAR, the referee determined that Jansson’s foul denied Picault an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. This delineation overturned the yellow card for a straight red, sending the centerback off the field with a full half left to play.
It didn’t take long for the Union to work their advantage. In the first minute of the second half, Alejandro Bedoya flicked a volley from the goal line and Przybylko hammered it home to take a 2-1 lead. Six minutes later, Fafa Picault floated free along the left side of the box, called for the ball and fired without hesitation to stretch the lead to 3-1.
“Our initial reaction to what happened coming on the second half needed to be better,” Mueller said. “In football, stuff like that happens. You get red cards, a guy might go down injured. … You need to find a way to, no matter the circumstances, try and get points, try and win games no matter what.”
The final dagger for Orlando came in the 67th minute, when midfielder Sacha Kljestan lost the ball in the midfield, then lunged for it and landed cleats down on Monteiro’s ankle. The foul earned a straight red, sending off a second Orlando City player and leaving the team with only nine players for over 20 remaining minutes of play.
Ultimately, the game was a story of two halves, which saw drastically different play from both sides. In the first, the teams played neck-to-neck, with Orlando slightly out-possessing the Union and outshooting with eight goals to Philadelphia’s seven. Despite Przybylko’s equalizer, before Jansson’s red card the two teams were equally weighted.
The two bookings completely changed the game. Battling the vulnerability of playing two men down, the Union peppered Orlando with 15 shots in the second half, forcing Rowe to make a series of acrobatic saves. The team succeeded in fending off Philadelphia’s flurry of attack, and forward Dom Dwyer managed to get off three shots in the final 15 minutes of the game, but the disparity of players on the pitch was too much to overcome.
“I think in a situation like that, if you’re gonna lose you might as well do your damnedest to try and get something back,” coach James O’Connor said. “I think that’s where the players deserve the most credit. They didn’t just accept it, they kept trying.”
Now, O’Connor’s main challenge is tackling a quick turnaround before a road rematch after a physically straining game for his team. After the loss, Orlando City will only have two days to recover before the two teams play in Philadelphia on Saturday.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct an error and more clearly describe the match’s first red card.