Orlando City lost its seventh consecutive road match on Saturday in heartbreaking fashion, falling 3-2 to the Columbus Crew in front of an announced crowd of 14,052 at MAPFRE Stadium. Here are three takeaways from the match:
Orlando City was in position to claim a huge road win
The Lions appeared poised to leave Columbus with three points after a strong start. They scored first – for just the fourth time this season – and answered when the Crew counter-punched in the second half. Throughout the night, the Lions were dangerous with the ball (five of nine shots were on target) despite not controlling possession (42.6 percent).
Defensively, Orlando City stayed compact and turned away 17 corner opportunities. The only real defensive blemish was the Crew’s first goal, when Niko Hansen torched left back Tony Rocha, it looked like both of Orlando City’s centerbacks drifted over to help, leaving striker Gyasi Zardes free.
That was basically Orlando City’s only bad passage of play until a late penalty call changed the game.
The penalty gave the Crew a chance to level the match at two goals apiece. At best, Wil Trapp’s golazo should have been an equalizer, not the match winner.
“I thought it was a really good performance,” Orlando City coach James O’Connor said. “Really strong. That just… we didn’t deserve that.”
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan said the Lions should be encouraged with their performance against the team in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
“I’m very proud of the guys,” he said. “I think everybody put in such a really good effort tonight. You know, Columbus is a good team, especially when they play here. They’re confident. They move the ball well. We had a lot of guys put in some very good performances on tired legs. A lot of guys ran a lot tonight and put a lot of effort into the game.
“I think we deserved maybe a little bit more. It’s really disappointing.”
This match has some pretty tough repercussions for Orlando City. With a win, the Lions would have had 25 points with 14 regular season games remaining. They would have vaulted over the eighth-place Chicago Fire (23 points with 12 games remaining) and the seventh-place Philadelphia Union (24 points with 14 games remaining).
Orlando City, with a win, would have been three points out of a playoff spot with at least a game in hand over both the Montreal Impact and the New England Revolution, who are tied with 28 points.
Instead, Orlando City remains in ninth place, six points out of a playoff spot with a tough week coming up. Soccer is a cruel sport sometimes.
“It’s a tough thing to swallow right now,” Kljestan said. “I think we have a very big week coming and we’ve got to get this out of our minds as soon as possible and be ready for the next game because there’s nothing we can do now.”
Kljestan silences doubters
Kljestan has recently had to deal with some Orlando City fans on social media complaining about his age.
The 32-year-old central attacking midfielder responded to critics with a virtuoso performance Saturday night.
He created three of Orlando City’s six chances, scored a goal and assisted on Stéfano Pinho’s goal in the second half. After opening the scoring in the 16th minute of the match, he pretended to walk with a walker, leaning into the criticism of his age.
“Everybody jokes about my age around the club because I’m the oldest guy around,” he said.
Kljestan was all over the pitch for 60 minutes on Saturday night and got booked after bowling over a Crew player. He didn’t have that many touches (just 25), but he made the most of every time the ball was at his feet.
This was all after he played a full 90 minutes on Wednesday against the Philadelphia Union.
Orlando City must bounce back
The Lions (7-12-1, 22 points) don’t have time to feel bad about Saturday’s match. With NYCFC visiting Thursday, Orlando City must hang on to the positives — there were many — from the loss to the Crew and move forward.
“It was 100 percent effort from everybody,” Pinho said. “The subs came in and gave 100 percent, too. I’m sad because of the result.
“You have to keep on going. That’s all we can do. Improve and keep on going to play better, to win the games and try to make the playoffs.”
Kljestan said the club can draw some confidence from the way it performed.
“It sucks, but like I said, we’ve got a big week coming up,” he said “We’ve got to be ready for it.”
Still, the season is winding down. Positive performances without results won’t be enough to get Orlando City into the playoffs.
This week is critical for the Lions, who can no longer afford to drop points at home and most snap its seven-match road losing streak on Sunday against the LA Galaxy.