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Orlando City coach James O’Connor laments Lions’ lack of effort during loss at Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic, right, and Orlando City's Jonathan Spector react after Nikolic scored against the Lions Sunday at Bridgeview Stadium. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

New Orlando City coach James O’Connor has repeatedly said he’s been intentional about giving players looks with the season winding down. 

He wants to know what he has going into next season. 

He got an eyeful Sunday night. And he saw a team that lacked commitment. 

With the Lions playing on national television, hoping to avoid a drop to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, O’Connor’s side completely crumbled. The Fire dominated Orlando City from the first kick, crushing the Lions 4-0 at Toyota Park. 

“There’s individuals that I think are trying,” O’Connor said. “I think there’s other individuals that maybe believe that they’re trying, but I think overall, when you look at the commitment today, I think it leaves you with a lot of questions asking around the level of commitment, the level of motivation and the character of individuals.” 

During the FS1 broadcast, commentator Stu Holden said Orlando City has quit on the season. 

“I think on today’s performances, that’s what I’m speaking about when you have a lack of commitment, a lack of energy,” O’Connor said in response to Holden’s assessment. “Our supporters and our ownership don’t deserve that level of commitment. We expect to have much more commitment and we expect to have way more energy than that. 

“It’s hard to come out and say we played with a lot of energy today or we played with a lot of commitment because everyone can see that we haven’t. It’s completely wrong and it’s something that should never happen.” 

Orlando City managed just two shots on target, including one curler from young designated player Josué Colmán that was easily saved by Fire goalkeeper Richard Sánchez. The other was a one-on-one opportunity from Dom Dwyer when the match was already in hand for the Fire, and that was saved, too.

Throughout the match, the Lions failed to put significant pressure on the Fire.

“For us, as a coaching staff, I think these are the moments that you actually learn more about people than you do when you’re winning,” O’Connor said. “For us, it’s a really painful experience to have to go through, but we’re starting to learn more in a situation that we’re in currently than you do when you’re winning every week. 

“For us, it’s being very intentional about trying to pick through as much as we can and learn as much as we can. But when you’ve got that level of commitment and that level of energy, it makes it impossible to win any game.”  

Both of the Fire’s first half goals came off turnovers. 

The match got off to a nightmarish start for the Lions. The Fire dominated possession early – and throughout the first half – and broke through in the third minute. Young designated player Josué Colmán coughed up the ball in the middle of the pitch while under pressure from Fire midfielder Dax McCarty. 

McCarty played the ball to Michael de Leeuw on the left side, and De Leeuw sent the ball in to the six-yard box. Serbian forward Nemanja Nikolić got his foot on the ball and put it in the back of the net. 

The Fire’s second goal in the first 45 minutes came after goalkeeper Joe Bendik failed to handle a back pass from centerback Shane O’Neill. Bendik’s first touch was poor and the ball bounced to De Leeuw. He played the ball to 19-year-old midfielder Djordje Mihailović, who sent in a cross for Aleksandar Katai near the six-yard box. 

He took advantage of the empty net and doubled Chicago’s lead with a tap-in in the 28th minute.  

It was more of the same in the second half. De Leeuw scored in 56th minute off an assist from Johan Kappelhof, who flicked a corner kick from Djordje Mihailovic toward the back post. 

Another costly turnover in the middle of the pitch gave the Fire their fourth goal. 

Young attacking midfielder Pierre Da Silva was subbed on in the 70th minute and immediately turned the ball over. His slow pass was pounced on by Raheem Edwards, who took the ball up the pitch with Nikolić at his side and centerback Jonathan Spector between the two. Edwards played the ball to Nikolić and Nikolić got his brace. 

Orlando City has just one win in its last 19 matches. The Lions return home to take on the Houston Dynamo at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. 

“I think we’re disappointed – and that’s probably an understatement – with where we’re at in the table,” Spector said. “I think that disappointment is starting to show. With that said, I don’t think that’s acceptable. We’re professionals and we’re getting paid to do a job and at the moment, we’re not doing it well enough or to the best of our ability.” 

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