SANDY, Utah — Orlando City still hasn’t managed to string wins together under head coach James O’Connor.
The Lions, coming off a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Colorado Rapids, lacked an attacking punch against Real Salt Lake. Orlando City (2-3-2, 8 points) made a game of it late, but it couldn’t level the match and fell 2-1 to RSL (2-4-1, 7 points) in front of an announced crowd of 16,770 on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I think it was a bit of kind of how our season has gone so far,” veteran midfielder Will Johnson said. “Some good qualities, good moments, but going down in games means it’s always going to be difficult to win them. Going down again 2-nothing is frustrating for us. We’re too good of a team to keep doing that. We don’t feel like they broke us down. We feel that we made mistakes that ultimately cost us the opportunity to get points in a game that we really should have come into and got points from.”
RSL’s win snapped a four-match losing streak for the home team.
“It’s critical moments and decision-making,” O’Connor said. “I think we’ve got critical decisions to make and, unfortunately, we made the wrong one. Both occasions, we’ve made two really poor decisions and we get punished for it. At the moment, that’s really going against us. We’re making a bad decision and then it’s finishing with a goal. The decision-making under pressure needs to be sharper and better.”
Saturday’s match was the fourth time this season the Lions have fallen behind 2-0.
“We can’t keep doing it,” O’Connor said. “The quality is there for everyone to see. You look at how the game goes and you look at the way we’re able to play, you see tremendous quality, but we’re having to do that when we’re under pressure because we’re chasing the game. We need to get ourselves, get that first goal and then be in charge of the game, and then be in charge of the game and let the other team chase, let it open up and then go and bang in a couple more goals.”
The game got off to a rough start for a Lions. Orlando City centerback Shane O’Neill fouled RSL midfielder Damir Kreilach in the middle of the pitch in the 16th minute. Kreilach restarted the match quickly and played the ball to Albert Rusnák, who found RSL designated player Sam Johnson.
Johnson fell down receiving the ball in the penalty area, but none of Orlando City’s players managed to clear the ball. Johnson got up, took a touch around Orlando City centerback Kamal Miller and beat goalkeeper Brain Rowe near post to open his MLS scoring account and give Real Salt Lake a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.
“First goal, seems like we felt with the first ball well,” Miller said. “Just a miscommunication. I feel like there’s a number of mistakes that led to that that could have prevented that goal, could have been avoided. It was a tough one to concede that early in the game, especially when we felt we were on top of the game at that point.”
Orlando City had some chances in the first half. The Lions put three shots on target, but all three were weak, making for easy saves for RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
It was more of the same in the second half. The Lions attack lacked teeth during the final 45 minutes, even after O’Connor made a double-substitution to bring on designated players Dom Dwyer and Nani in the 56th minute. They came on for Tesho Akindele and Chris Mueller, respectively.
“I think when you look at Nani, I mean Nani’s, his season started in July [with Sporting CP],” O’Connor said when explaining why Nani and Dwyer were on the bench to start the match. “I think the big thing that we have to have is that we can’t have an expectation of Nani to play every minute of every game, because if we do, he’s going to end up with a 15-, 16-month season. So it’s, physically, it’s not possible. We need to make sure that in a situation like this, when you’re dealing altitude, when you’re dealing with a longer flight, that we’re sensible in our approach.”
On Dwyer, O’Connor said, “We felt that the idea for him of coming, traveling, dealing with attitude, you know, his preseason started a little bit later, we thought it would be important that we managed his situation, as well.”
Orlando City has scored 11 goals so far this season. Only one has been scored with Dwyer and Nani on the bench. Mueller scored off a free kick in the season opener against NYCFC.
“It’s very frustrating because we all want everybody to play every single minute, but the last thing we want is our key players — especially DPs — to get injured,” O’Connor said. “You need to be intentional about how you manage that, manage the situation and make sure you’re on point with what you’re trying to do.”
Dwyer and Nani were waiting to come on when the Lions conceded the second goal of the match. RSL’s Jefferson Savarino nutmegged Miller with ball to near the top of the penalty area and Kreilach provided the finish.
The goal came after Rowe denied Savarino in the 52nd and 53rd minutes.
O’Connor brought on a third attacking sub in the 77th minute. Young designated player Josué Colmán made his first appearance since coming on as a sub in Orlando City’s 3-1 home loss to the Montreal Impact.
The Lions did manage to get a goal back in the 81st minute. Nani put a free kick – which was won by Dwyer – in the back of the net to give Orlando City hope late in the match. Orlando City threw numbers forward and had a chance off a late set piece but couldn’t find an equalizer.
“I thought they both gave us a lift,” O’Connor said about Dwyer and Nani. “Nani’s quality was there for everyone to see, great free kick.”
The Lions return to Orlando City Stadium for a match against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.