Orlando City’s first half against the L.A. Galaxy wasn’t an issue.
Scoring goals wasn’t much of a problem for the Lions, either.
Sunday night at the StubHub Center, Orlando City couldn’t contain one of the league’s hottest goal scorers. Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović netted a hat trick in the second half to douse one of Orlando City’s best offensive efforts this season and power the Galaxy to a 4-3 win over the Lions.
“You can’t come to Galaxy and score three goals and not get anything,” coach James O’Connor said in a phone interview after the match.
“The defending was obviously really poor. … When you look at the goals, it’s really frustrating.”
It was Orlando City’s eighth consecutive loss on the road.
For the third time in five matches under O’Connor, Orlando City opened the scoring. A give-and-go between midfielders Sacha Kljestan and Cristian Higuita – with some help from striker Dom Dwyer moving without the ball – ended with a tap-in for Higuita in the 18th minute.
Orlando City scored the first goal just twice in the 17 league matches before O’Connor took over.
It was a sign of things to come for the Lions, who largely controlled the first half, despite a goal from the Galaxy in the 39th minute. Ibrahimović headed a cross down in front of Galaxy midfielder Giovani dos Santos, who put a low shot into the left corner of the goal to level the match.
The Lions answered soon afterward.
Orlando City got out on the counter again in the 44th minute, and again Kljestan made the pass that resulted in a goal for the Lions. He tried to cross the ball in for midfielder Yoshi Yotún, but instead found Galaxy centerback Michaël Ciani.
Ciani backheeled the ball into his own net, which gave Orlando City the lead going into the break.
“When you look at the quality of the goals, the quality of the play … I think everyone can see the quality that’s there,” O’Connor said. “But when you play football like that and you score quality goals like that, you also have to make sure you defend. You can’t come to L.A. Galaxy, score three goals and not get anything. Really, you just can’t do that.”
The Lions played with the same fire in the second half, but Ibrahimović would not be denied.
The Swedish superstar scored three goals in the second half to power the Galaxy’s attack. He had headers in the 47th and 67th minutes, taking advantage of a back line without centerback Shane O’Neill, who had been a pleasant surprise for the Lions until he was sent off on Thursday with a red card.
Striker Dwyer briefly gave Orlando City a 3-2 lead in the 54th minute with a solid header inside the far post off a cross from Mohamed El-Munir.
Ibrahimović, however, smashed home a failed clearance to give L.A. a 4-3 lead in the 71st minute.
When asked what needs to change with Orlando City’s defending, O’Connor said, “A lot, to be honest with you. I don’t want to say too much, but it’s really frustrating.”
It was a lead the Galaxy wouldn’t relinquish.
O’Connor said there’s a trend that’s starting to develop with how Orlando City scores goals, and that trend needs to be “crushed.”
“We’re conceding, obviously, too many goals,” O’Connor said. “Individual errors.”
He added, “When you look at the quality of the chances we can argue and say we should have been more clinical, but equally, we’re having to score that many goals because we’ve kept one clean sheet all year, which, again, that’s something we need to be a lot stronger at.”
The Lions had some chances to get a second goal in the second half to level the match – striker Stéfano Pinho came on as a sub and headed a corner kick high – but couldn’t find an equalizer after Ibrahimović’s goal.
Orlando City’s loss sets up a critical showdown with the New England Revolution on Saturday at Orlando City Stadium. The Lions (7-14-1, 22 points) are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, six points behind the sixth-place Revolution (7-7-7, 28 points). The top six teams advance to the MLS playoffs.
“We’ll sit down, we’ll obviously go through with the players individually,” O’Connor said. “Some really good performances from the attacking players. I thought we had some lovely passages of play.
“To score three goals away from home, especially at Galaxy and not get anything … it just … it can’t happen, really.”