ORLANDO, Fla. — For the first time all season, Orlando City was held scoreless.
And coach James O’Connor has a host of questions he needs to answer with the Lions starting a brutal stretch of matches.
The Lions were building some momentum after going unbeaten during back-to-back matches, but Orlando City looked listless during the second half Saturday afternoon against a Jozy Altidore-less Toronto FC side. The Lions ultimately fell 2-0 to TFC in front of an announced crowd of 22,377, opening the always-perilous month of May with a home loss.
“Whether that’s down to mentality,” O’Connor said about the lack of energy over the final 45 minutes. “Whether that’s down to training load. But, I think that’s something that we’re going to have to look at and try to figure out. Is it a mentality thing that, you know, you need to just have more desire and push through? Is it because they genuinely [have had] too much exposure to the sun, they’re fatigued? These are questions that I’m going to sit down and try to look at and try to get some answers from myself.
“The first person I always look to is myself, so I’ll need to sit down and analyze the week’s training and look at how that’s played out.”
It was an inauspicious start to May for the Lions, who year after year have lost momentum as the warmer months hit Central Florida. Centerback Lamine Sané said Saturday’s loss was all the more disappointing because the team earned a road point against NYCFC last week.
“For me, it’s like we tied in New York for nothing if we don’t win at home,” Sané said. “We had a big game in New York and when you lose at home, it’s like you played for nothing over there. We have to win at home. It’s the most important [thing] for going to the playoffs.”
For a while, it looked like neither team would take advantage of chances after a scoreless first half.
Toronto FC broke the deadlock in the 64th minute thanks to Jonathan Osorio, who worked his way into the left side of the penalty area, beat both centerback Lamine Sané and midfielder Uri Rosell and fired a shot by goalkeeper Brian Rowe, who up until that point had done a solid job turning away shots from the Reds.
Rowe finished the match with seven saves and spent most of the second half under siege. Toronto FC put eight shots on target in the second half.
Sané took responsibility for the goal.
“If I won the duels for the first goal, maybe we can tie or something like that,” Sané said.
The Reds got a second goal in the 77th minute. Jay Champan got in behind Orlando City’s back line, received a ball from star designated player Alejandro Pozuelo and fired a shot from a difficult angle. The ball bounced off the back of Rowe’s foot, in between his legs and into the goal.
O’Connor subbed on three attacking players in the second half, but the Lions still struggled to generate much of an attack. Sacha Kljestan, Chris Mueller and Josué Colmán were all brought on in the second half to try to turn the tide.
The Lions finished the match with 18 shots, only two of which were on target. Seven of Orlando City’s shots were blocked.
“That’s part of what we’re speaking about,” O’Connor said. “The first thing when you get tired is your decision making goes. I think when you look at the decision making, whether it’s people are trying to hit too hard, people are giving the ball away cheaply, I think overall when you look at the decision making second half, I think it was definitely affected.
“The question, then, is why was it affected?”
Orlando City’s best chance of the first half came in the 30th minute. Forward Tesho Akindele won the ball in the middle of the pitch and worked his way to the left side of the penalty area. He picked out midfielder Will Johnson near the top of the penalty area and Johnson put a shot on target that required a diving save from TFC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg.
“Certainly, looking at the first half, we felt as if we contained them,” O’Connor said. “We had decent shape. Had a couple of good chances that we needed to score from. Second half, that wasn’t what we were looking for. It was open and they’ve had some decent chances. We have a couple of sort of half chances. But all in all, it was definitely a tale of of two halves that we didn’t want the second half like that or were we expecting to get a second half like that.”
The Lions had a chance to level the match at a goal apiece in the 69th minute. Nani sent in a cross for Dom Dwyer, but Dwyer put his header wide. The Lions’ star striker has been held without a goal in his last five matches for Orlando City.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Lions, who face rival Atlanta United May 12 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.