“Close” isn’t good enough for a club in Orlando City’s position.
The Lions are desperate for points to get back into the playoff hunt, and against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, Orlando City only managed to come close to scoring.
Four times Thursday night, the Lions had shots ding off the woodwork, and for the third time this season, Orlando City failed to score against New York City FC. The Lions dropped precious points at home Thursday night, falling 2-0 against rival NYCFC in front of an announced crowd of 23,790.
“They’re sick of it, I think we all are, to be honest. We want to start winning games,” Orlando City coach James O’Connor said.
“I’m serious. I want to win and this really frustrating for myself, for the staff and for the players. We’re not just saying it. We want to win. So when you don’t win, it’s really frustrating. I think that’s probably the biggest thing.”
O’Connor said the frustration is made worse because the club wants to do well for the raucous crowds the show up at Orlando City Stadium, despite the Lions’ poor run of form.
“I look at the supporters from 2-nil down and the passion that they’re showing, the support, the noise in the stadium — I mean it’s absolutely incredible,” O’Connor said.
“When you actually look at that, midway through the second half, the supporters are absolutely on their feet. Chanting, roaring, really supporting the team, it gets to the point where there’s a desperation to want to do well for those supporters.
“I ask them just to stick with us as a club. We’re going through a difficult time, but I can promise you things will get better.”
The loss gives NYCFC a 3-0-0 record against Orlando City this season.
The Lions started well enough and generated a couple of chances in the final third, but they lost steam after a shot from midfielder Yoshi Yotún went off the crossbar in the 38th minute.
NYCFC pounced on Orlando City after that. The Pigeons opened the scoring in the 40th minute thanks to Maximiliano Morález. He tucked away a rebound after a failed clearance from PC – who was starting at left back – bounced first off NYCFC midfielder Rodney Wallace, then off the post and landed at the feet of Morález.
That goal was followed up by a goal from Anton Tinnerholm about five minutes later. Morález found Tinnerholm running unmarked into the penalty area, and Tinnerholm sent PC to the ground with a move before doubling NYCFC’s advantage in the first minute of first half stoppage time.
Orlando City had its chances it the second half. Another shot from Yotún went off the woodwork and both and centerback Chris Schuler and winger Josué Colmán had shots bounce off NYCFC left back Ben Sweat and then ding off the crossbar.
The Lions controlled 56.7 percent of the possession in the second half and fired 17 second-half shots, five of which were on target.
“For me, there shouldn’t be a disparity between the first and second halves,” O’Connor said. “I think, when you look a the first half, for what we want, I don’t think that’s what we want. Second half, it’s a lot closer to what we’re looking at. We’re starting to get the intensity. We’re starting to do the things we want to do.”
Still, the Lions never cut into NYCFC’s lead. The defense did enough to stop NYCFC from adding to their advantage, but the goals never came for Orlando City.
There were some bright spots for the Lions on defense. Centerback Shane O’Neill continued his solid play and came through with a massive challenge to stop Tinnerholm from netting his second goal of the night on a counterattack. Goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. stopped Morález from taking advantage of a one-on-one showdown in the fifth minute.
Mistakes continued to undo the Lions. O’Neill was solid for most of the night, but his match ended early after he was sent off following a late challenge on Morález.
O’Neill went in studs up and was shown a straight red after video review. He will miss the Lions’ next match unless the call is reversed.
Turnovers created several chances for NYCFC and errant passes in the final third ended chances for Orlando City.
“Not really an effort thing,” midfielder Will Johnson said. “It’s more of a thinking thing in the areas… putting out fires. Kind of what [NYCFC] did well. They bend, they bend, we get them on the ropes, we get them on the ropes, but we can’t deliver that final punch.
“That’s just kind of where we are right now and we’re working toward being a little more like them. A little more clinical.”
With Thursday’s loss, time is running out for Orlando City (7-13-1, 22 points) to make a run at the playoffs. The Lions are six points out of a playoff spot and are still behind seventh place Philadelphia and eighth place Chicago.
The Lions return to action Sunday against the L.A. Galaxy at the StubHub Center.
“To get over this loss, we have another match this weekend,” Yotún said through a translator. “Soccer gives you revenge and we have an upcoming [chance] at revenge this weekend against L.A. We have to work hard, recover and be ready.”