ORLANDO — Orlando City’s habit of surrendering early goals wasn’t an issue Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
For a while, it looked like the Lions’ biggest problem would be their inability to produce a goal against a side working on short rest. After squandering chances throughout the match, however, Orlando City produced some late magic – again – to come away with three points.
And, once again, it came down to an integral substitution.
Right back Ruan sent in a cross for midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who fired a shot that bounced off star winger Nani and in for an 88th-minute goal to deliver a 1-0 victory for Orlando City over the Whitecaps in front of an announced home crowd of 22,468. Saturday’s match marked the first time this season Kljestan appeared as a substitute.
“You know, at the end of the year, points, anyway they come, are important,” Kljestan said. “Today was a difficult game. I think if somebody didn’t watch the game and maybe just looked at the schedule and saw Vancouver played on Wednesday, then flew across the country, you would say Orlando should win easily.
“But, you know, that’s not the case in MLS. They came here and they set up very defensively. Tactically, they played behind the ball a lot and tried to hit us on the counter and they defended really well, so it was hard for us to carve out chances. So, in the end, to get a 1-0 win, I think at the end of the year, we’ll look back and think that this was an important game for us win.”
Kljestan’s shot created the goal, but Ruan and Kljestan both were awarded assists while Nani was credited with his fourth goal with the Lions. It was the 91st assist of Kljestan’s MLS career, which moved him into a tie for eighth all-time with Cobi Jones.
“I secretly just wanted the assist,” Kljestan said with a laugh.
The match was also the second time this season Orlando City kept a clean sheet. The last time was against the New Red Bulls on March 23 when Kljestan scored the match-winning goal in the second half.
“I think it’s a massive win for us,” City head coach James O’Connor said. “I think with games like that, it’s really important that you go and you win the game. So the players deserve enormous credit for doing that: for going and getting the win.”
Orlando City controlled possession throughout the match, especially in the second half, but the Whitecaps never really committed numbers forward. The Lions finished the match with 60.7 percent of the possession.
“It’s difficult for them,” O’Connor said. “They’ve obviously played on a Wednesday. They’ve traveled across the country. It became pretty apparent they wanted to sit very deep and make it very hard for us and deny space. I think when you have sort of two defensive lines that are as deep as that protecting the goal, I think it’s important that you rotate the ball.
“It’s important you try to show some patience, you need to move the ball really quickly. I think that was something that we did at times and then there’s a couple times where we’ve put it in there and we’ve got one man in the box and they’ve got three centerbacks that are protecting the goal.”
Typically, the lone player in the box for Orlando City was star striker Dom Dwyer, who had just seven touches Saturday afternoon.
Orlando City’s best scoring chance of the first half came when a ball off a corner kick was headed down by Chris Mueller in front of Vancouver’s goal. It bounced in front of midfielder Will Johnson before it was cleared by the Whitecaps right back Scott Sutter in the 43rd minute.
A few seconds later, the Lions got another corner opportunity, but Nani’s service was headed over the bar by centerback Lamine Sané.
The Lions generated some other chances during the first 45 minutes but couldn’t break through early. Nani went for a goal on a free kick, but it was saved by Whitecaps keeper Zac MacMath. Nani also put a header on target, but it was right at MacMath.
Orlando City generated another solid chance in the first half during the second minute of stoppage time. Mueller fed the ball to João Moutinho inside the penalty area, but Moutinho’s shot was saved. The Lions didn’t do anything with the ensuing corner.
Vancouver took just six shots, two of which were on target. Both were saved by Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe.
The Lions (3-3-2, 11 points) hit the road for their next match, taking on winless NYCFC (0-1-5, 5 points) Saturday.