ORLANDO, Fla. — Throughout the second half of Orlando City’s match against the New York Red Bulls Sunday, the ball seemed to fall everywhere except the back of the net for the Lions.
Shots bounced off the post, ricocheted off defenders, pinballed from the crossbar to the keeper’s heel and out of bounds. But despite firing off 18 shots and commanding over 60 percent of possession, Orlando City couldn’t find a finish against the Red Bulls.
After falling behind during a sluggish start, Orlando City rumbled into offensive rhythm but couldn’t overcome an early goal and lost 1-0.
“I don’t think we could’ve done much more to win the game,” Orlando City coach James O’Connor said. “I think when you look at the chances, there was only one team in the second half that was really trying to go and get after it. We easily could’ve won the game by three or four goals. It’s really frustrating.”
The Red Bulls (10-8-4, 34 points) pressed early and often, forcing Orlando City back on its heels as the team allowed five corner kicks in the first 14 minutes of play. The Lions (7-10-5, 26 points) didn’t place the ball on frame until the second half, when forward Tesho Akindele turned into space in the 52nd minute and fired a long-shot to force the keeper to make a leaping save.
“The Red Bulls are notorious for their press, that’s their whole team identity,” Akindele said. “We didn’t believe in ourselves enough to pass the ball out of it. We didn’t do that in the first half and it cost us.”
The dam finally broke for the Red Bulls in the 32nd minute. Former Orlando City player Amro Tarek picked off a pass and dumped it off to Kaku, who turned and paused before slopping a ball to drop into the box for Brian White. The forward blazed past defender Robin Jansson, sliding to chip a shot with his first touch. Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe slid into the ball, but it skipped up and over the keeper and bounced into the goal.
The Red Bulls’ press slowed almost immediately after the goal, however, and Orlando City broke out of it completely in the second half. After taking three shots — only two of which were on frame — in the past two games, Orlando City reignited its shooting by the final third of the game.
Orlando City took four corners in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, possessing the ball deep into New York territory, but the Lions couldn’t convert possession into finishing opportunities.
The Lions were out-shot nine to five in the first half, but the team roared back, taking 13 shots and placing four of them on frame in the second. Still, the team’s increased offensive pressure wasn’t enough to overcome the early deficit.
“We need to be sharper coming out,” O’Connor said. “We got hurt the first 30 minutes, and then after that we completely pinned them in.”
The frame became the team’s enemy in the second half, deterring Orlando twice. Carlos Ascues came only inches away from leveling the score in the 60th minute, flying onto a cross from João Moutinho and drilling his first touch, only to have the ball deflect off the crossbar and into the supporters section.
Ten minutes later, Akindele spun around a defender and took a shot of his own from the top of the box, but once again the ball kissed off the bar.
In the 78th minute, Sacha Kljestan ran onto a cross from Akindele and slammed an open shot, but the ball ricocheted off the left post.
As the game wore on, Orlando City shifted its 10 field players across midfield, bludgeoning the Red Bulls with a series of corners and crosses. But New York bunkered and withstood the flurry, riding the early goal to a 1-0 victory.
“Sometimes you get unlucky,” Akindele said. “Sometimes you get lucky, too. I’ve scored lucky goals. So I guess today we just got unlucky. Hopefully next time it goes our way.”
After missing games against Portland and Columbus, designated player Nani returned to the starting lineup for the Lions Sunday, but the forward struggled to finish on the offensive end.
In the 71st minute, he coughed up a pair of passes before dropping to the ground, clutching his left calf. He exited the game with three shots, none of which fell on target. After the game, a team official reported that he suffered a stinger to the calf and will be ready to return to training this week.
Now midway through the season, the Lions have yet to string together consecutive wins in MLS regular season play. The team has struggled to defend its home field, falling to 6-1-6 after the loss. Although the loss didn’t drop the team from the No. 9 slot in the Eastern Conference, the team is now four points below the playoff cut line.
“If we don’t get to the playoffs, I think it would be a failure with the group we have,” Akindele said. “We’re very conscious of that. We’re right there. It’s not like we’re at the bottom of the table scrapping, we’re right there close to the playoff line.”
After weeks featuring multiple games, Orlando City finally faces a more traditional schedule, playing at New England Saturday and returning home seven days later to play FC Dallas on Aug. 3.