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Orlando City suffers another tough loss in a season full of heartbreak

Orlando City SC defender Shane O'Neill (12) and Orlando City SC defender Amro Tarek (3) await the VAR ruling on a goal by D.C. United midfielder Luciano Acosta (10) in the final minute of stoppage time in the second half at Audi Field. The goal was upheld and D.C. United won 3-2. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City suffered a 3-2 loss at the hands of D.C. United on Sunday at Audi Field. The Lions played with 10 men after midfielder Cristian Higuita was sent off with a straight red. Here are three takeaways from the match:

Another gut-punch for Orlando City

Sunday night’s 3-2 loss to D.C. United was the fourth time this season Orlando City has given up a goal in the 82nd minute or later to lose a match.

It was the sixth time this season the Lions have conceded the match-winning goal after the 70th minute.

Just another heart-wrenching loss in a season that’s slipping away for Orlando City. Right back Scott Sutter said while the Lions were waiting for the referee to finish another video review, he knew Luciano Acosta’s match-winning goal in stoppage time would stand because he knew “things were going against us.” 

That’s rough.

With 10 matches remaining in the regular season, the Lions (7-15-2) are seven points out of sixth place with 23 points. The club has a bye week – it’s a week of training sessions at IMG Academy in Bradenton – coming up, but after that, Atlanta United comes to Orlando City Stadium.

“It’s a big game coming up,” said goalkeeper Joe Bendik. “You know we’re going to put everything into that bye week. It’s not just a bye week, it’s a time for us to get better and a time for us to improve individually and as a team. We’re going to go to work.”

A look at late goals scored by Orlando City opponents that led to losses:

  • Orlando City vs. Minnesota United: Ethan Finlay (79′), 2-1 loss
  • Orlando City at Toronto FC: Ryan Telfer (87′), 2-1 loss
  • Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire: Alan Gordon (82′), 2-1 loss
  • Orlando City at Columbus Crew SC: Wil Trapp (90+2′), 3-2 loss
  • Orlando City at L.A. Galaxy: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (71’), 4-3 loss
  • Orlando City at D.C. United: Luciano Acosta (90+6′), 3-2 loss

VAR decisions

James O’Connor has been Orlando City’s head coach for seven league matches. He’s gone 1-5-1 as the club’s coach. Against LAFC, O’Connor’s first match at the helm, a video review overturned what would have been a match-tying goal for the Lions.

At this point, everyone knows how a lack of video review turned Orlando City’s match against the Crew. 

In Orlando City’s match against D.C. United, VAR was used five times.

O’Connor, who more or less has avoided talking about officiated decisions, expressed some confusion after Sunday’s loss. Not every decision went against the Lions, though O’Connor brought up when the Video Assistant Referee is supposed to recommend a second look at a play.

According to MLSSoccer.com, “The VAR alerts the head referee to potential clear and obvious errors in four match-changing incidents: (1) goals, (2) penalty kicks, (3) direct red cards and (4) cases of mistaken identity.”

“You don’t get any explanations,” O’Connor said.

“We were told in L.A. that if it was clear and obvious, then that’s the only time to interfere. If the decision is made and it’s clear and obvious and obvious that it’s a mistake, then you get involved. If it’s not clear and obvious, you’re not meant to get involved. That’s what we’ve been told multiple times.

“My expectation is for the game to be refereed like that, having been told that. Again, I’ll have to see, I’ve come straight from the locker room.”

Effort not the issue for Lions

If nothing else, O’Connor is getting effort out of his club.

The Lions played a man down starting in the 55th minute of the match and continued to battle. They created chances and – if Wayne Rooney didn’t make a Play of the Year-caliber tackle – could have scored a late goal to steal the match.

Bendik returned from his benching and came up with a couple of saves after the 80th minute to give Orlando City a chance in the first place. Striker Dom Dwyer was active all night and had a goal to level the match at two goals apiece.

Orlando City kept pushing because Sunday’s match was a must-win that didn’t go its way.

“You look at the intensity and the effort with 10 men and to create the chances and to keep working as hard as we did, the spirt – I mean that, you earn a lot of respect when you perform like that. You really do,” O’Connor said. “I think the guys can be really proud of their effort. That’s the big thing that we ask for.

“I think the effort tonight was very evident for everyone to see.”

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