For Orlando City, the final weeks of the 2018 season will be about the 2019 campaign.
At this point in the season, the Lions are only playing for pride. The Montreal Impact beat the Columbus Crew earlier in the day, mathematically eliminating Orlando City from playoff contention – but their odds were slim for weeks.
And new coach James O’Connor is still searching for signs of good things to come for next season. Orlando City’s run of futility since its six-match win streak earlier this season continued on Saturday, with the Lions falling 2-0 to FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
“I think the morale is obviously difficult when you’re in a situation like that,” O’Connor said. “I think you have two choices: You either feel sorry for yourself or you get out and play like we did first half [against FC Dallas].”
The Lions (7-19-4, 25 points) have won just once in their last 21 MLS matches and O’Connor is 1-9-3 in league play as Orlando City’s head coach. The team is also scoreless in its last four matches.
“I don’t think it’s a case of what’s gone wrong,” O’Connor said after that match about the team’s attack. “I think, first half, we were very unlucky not to score. I thought first half we had some really good opportunities. Had some lovely passages of play. I think we needed to build on that.”
The Lions put together a solid first half. They held FC Dallas to two shots on target and took six shots (three on target). Orlando City had the better of the early first-half chances – including a free kick that was nearly tucked into the upper-left corner by Sacha Kljestan – but after about the 30th minute, FC Dallas started to assert itself.
“We just haven’t been very dangerous,” Kljestan said. “We lack maybe a little bit of personnel to help out Dom in the attacking areas and we haven’t been dangerous. We haven’t been putting teams on their heels or maybe playing more in behind to then create more space underneath. If we’re just continuing to play underneath, underneath, underneath it’s easy to defend. We’ve got to be a little more dynamic.”
A few times in the first half, players on Orlando City’s back line were left throwing their hands in the air looking for an offside call after an FC Dallas player got in behind. Still, the two sides went into the break scoreless after both goalkeepers came up with saves to deny chances.
Both teams also had chances ding off the woodwork – left back Mohamed El-Munir hit the post in the 13th minute and FC Dallas forward Dominique Badji hit the crossbar in the ninth minute.
“We were very unfortunate to go in not leading,” O’Connor said. “I think that was something that seemed to play in our minds [in the] second half. I think, first half, it was a performance that we looked at and thought, ‘Great. We’ve had some lovely passages of play. We’ve caused them a lot of problems. Their keeper’s made some big saves.’ Obviously hit the woodwork as well.
“The expectation from as all then is to build off that and to go out and get it in the second half and that’s something that we haven’t really been able to do is to get a consistent performance, really, for 90 minutes. You look at the second half to the first half and there’s a big difference.”
Dallas carried its momentum into the second half and the Lions came out of the break flat. Orlando City finished the match with 10 shots (five on target).
FC Dallas opened the scoring in the 63rd minute. Midfielder Santiago Mosquera, who came on in the 57th minute for Pablo Aránguiz, settled a cross from Michael Barrios and beat Joe Bendik to give FC Dallas a 1-0 advantage. Six minutes later, FC Dallas doubled its advantage thanks to a header from midfielder Victor Ulloa of a free kick from Maximiliano Urruti.
The match was delayed by inclement weather in the 80th minute while Orlando City was still searching for its first goal against FC Dallas.
Orlando City now needs to get ready for a couple of matches without a few of its regular starters. El-Munir and midfielder Yoshimar Yotún have both been called up to their national teams and will miss next week’s match. Yotún would be serving a yellow card suspension (he was booked in the 35th minute) if he weren’t with Peru’s national team.
Striker Dom Dwyer will miss Orlando City’s next match due to yellow card suspension after he was booked in the seventh minute of the FC Dallas match.
Centerback Amro Tarek, who was in the 18 on Saturday but didn’t play, will also miss Orlando City’s next match due to international duty.
“We have no choice, we have to get on with it,” O’Connor said. “I think, from that standpoint, we can’t control any of that. We just have to deal with it. We’ll get back to Orlando, we’ll reassess who the injured [players] are and we’ll see how everyone is and we’ll come up with a game plan for the next game.”
Midfielders Richie Laryea, Cristian Higuita and Josué Colmán all received minutes as subs. For Laryea, who was brought on in the 76th minute, the match marked his first appearance since June 30.