A season that began with so much promise for Orlando City is coming to an end with a thud.
Even in the confines of Orlando City Stadium, the struggling Lions couldn’t find an answer for what’s ailing them.
Playing at home for the first time since Sept. 22, Orlando City lost its third consecutive match and extended its MLS winless streak to 13 games, falling 2-1 to the visiting Seattle Sounders in front of an announced crowd of 22,344.
Orlando City wasted no time getting on the wrong side of history. The Sounders spent most of the early part of the match on the front foot, and in the third minute, Sounders right back Kelvin Leerdam sent an inch-perfect ball in for midfielder Victor Rodriguez.
Rodriguez volleyed the ball over Orlando City goalkeeper Adam Grinwis, who started to come off his line but backed off, and the Sounders were up 1-0 early.
It was the third time Orlando City has conceded a goal in the third minute this season and the 71st goal the Lions have conceded in league play this year, which is an MLS record for goals conceded in a single season. The previous record was 70, set last season by Minnesota United.
“That’s a hard badge to carry as a club,” Grinwis said. “It’s never one that you want to have as a goalkeeper. No goalkeeper wants to be making a lot of saves or wants to be really busy. The goal is to, as a team, keep the ball away from the goal. It’s an unfortunate reality of our season.”
Seattle doubled its advantage and padded Orlando City’s new record in the 13th minute. Midfielder Handwalla Bwana easily got around Orlando City right back Scott Sutter and fired a shot from the left side of the penalty area that deflected off centerback Shane O’Neill and put the Sounders up 2-0.
“We need to stop defending the way we’re defending,” Orlando City coach James O’Connor said. “I think, when you look at the games, we’re chasing the game. We put ourselves in a position where we’re 1-nil down after two-and-half minutes and three minutes. I think that’s something that we continually do. I think it becomes very difficult to go and win games when we’re defending like we’re defending.
“It affects confidence, it affects play going forward and then it becomes a test of character and a test of mentality. I think the important piece is to have a much better shape when we don’t have the ball and then when we are getting forward and having some pressure in their half, good decisions on the ball, more penetrating runs. Too often the balls are in front of their back four or in front of their midfield.”
The Lions battled back in the second half.
“We felt if we could get a goal, with the supporters that we have, that we could really try to go on and maybe get something out of the game,” O’Connor said.
Orlando City came out of the break with a three-man back line (Carlos Ascues, Lamine Sané and O’Neill). With a new shape, the Lions generated an attack and managed to cut into the Sounders lead in the 57th minute thanks to Dom Dwyer, who provided a finish from inside the six-yard box off a cross from right back Scott Sutter.
The goal broke a 507-minute scoreless streak for Orlando City and was the Lions’ first goal since Sept. 1.
“We need a bit of hunger from the guys,” Dwyer said. “Hunger to score goals, hunger to get into the box and want to get on the end of things. I think we had a couple of opportunities tonight. We were close, but just couldn’t get back in the game.”
The surge didn’t last. Orlando City couldn’t find an equalizer, despite two quality chances from midfielder Sacha Kljestan. With the loss, Orlando City (7-21-4, 25 points) is 1-11-3 under O’Connor, who was hired midseason.
Orlando City plays the Columbus Crew on Sunday. It’s the Lions’ third match in the last nine days, and it’ll mark Justin Meram’s return to central Florida after the winger was traded back to the Crew at the start of August after a rocky six months with Orlando City.
“We want to give the fans something that they can celebrate,” Sutter said. “And we’ll give it our all on Sunday so we can at least go into the offseason with a little bit of a good feeling, with a couple of good results or good performances.
“Like I said before, we’ve definitely under-performed this season and there’s not really much I can say. Just I’m sorry to everyone.”