Orlando City’s 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Fire caused coach James O’Connor to question the character of his team.
It caused national broadcasters to say the Lions quit on the 2018 season.
So, for Saturday’s match against the Houston Dynamo, O’Connor wanted to see some effort. Something to prove the Lions are still fighting, despite the season being all but lost.
At the very least, he got that much. It wasn’t enough for a win, but Orlando City (7-18-4, 25 points) managed to grind out a 0-0 draw – it’s first scoreless draw of the season – against the Dynamo (8-13-8, 32 points) in front of an announced home crowd of 23,723.
“I think it was a lot better tonight,” O’Connor said. “I think you leave the field tonight where you think, ‘OK, that’s much more like it.’ But again, I think for all of us and what we want, I think the players can be proud of their performance tonight.”
It was the first time since a 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union on April 13 the Lions managed to hold an opponent scoreless. The Lions still have just one win in their last 20 matches.
“I think we showed that we are still determined and we want to fight for one another,” said Orlando City captain Jonathan Spector. “I think today was a bit of a statement. We didn’t get the win, which we obviously wanted. But overall, I think we played really, really good soccer, at times. Created a lot. We just weren’t able to put it away in front of goal.”
Orlando City created opportunities to score in the first half.
The Lions controlled the majority of the possession in the first 45 minutes and put three shots on goal, two of which required diving saves from Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis.
Things almost unraveled early for Orlando City.
Goalkeeper Adam Grinwis, who was making the first start of his MLS career, had trouble handling a ball played from the Dynamo. He tried to kick it into the penalty area and pick the ball up while under pressure from Dynamo forward Romell Quioto. Grinwis dove on the ball and got his hands on it, and Quioto kicked it free and scored on an empty net.
The sequence went to video review and the goal was disallowed. The goal would have opened the scoring in the 15th minute and put the Lions in a hole early.
Grinwis, smiling and breathless after the match, said he knew the goal would be disallowed.
“It felt I got on top of it and then all of the sudden it squeaked out and I was confused because I thought I had control of it,” he said. “I really wasn’t concerned. Obviously, it’s a nervy moment and I’m sorry to everybody else that had to go through that with me. That would have been a big black eye on the debut so I was really thankful that justice was served on that one.”
Grinwis preserved the clean sheet with a save on a one-on-one with Quinto in the 57th minute.
“Took a touch off his chest or head maybe and I thought it was a bad touch and then his second touch wasn’t very good either,” Grinwis said. “For a brief moment, I thought it was just going to be able to slide in and make a play and kind of 50/50 challenge with him. Last minute I decided to hold up and just stand my ground and play it honest.”
The Lions created more opportunities in the second half, but the final touch wasn’t there. In the 90th minute, midfielder Yoshi Yotún led a break and played the ball to Stéfano Pinho, but the Brazilian striker couldn’t get a shot off. It was an accurate representation of the evening for the Lions, who created chances but didn’t finish them.
“I think the positive is the clean sheet,” O’Connor said.
“I think the final third, the movement in the midfield was good. I think we created some openings. It’s just, on another night, I think we get maybe a few decisions that, maybe… there were a couple of decisions that I thought were… well, I won’t say too much, but I think on another night we maybe could get a little bit more luck with that.
“Then, equally, the decision-making in the final third. Can we just get the last bit of quality to go and finish it off?”
O’Connor only used one of his substitutions in the match, subbing off midfielder Sacha Kljestan for striker Pinho in the 79th minute.
Orlando City has off next weekend and returns to action against FC Dallas on Oct. 6 in Frisco, Texas.