Orlando City forward Chris Mueller (17), Toronto FC defender Gregory van der Wiel, center, and Orlando City forward Justin Meram (9) for for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Friday, May 18. 2018, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Orlando City dropped a second match in a row Friday night against Toronto FC. Here are three things we learned from the Lions’ 2-1 loss to TFC at BMO Field:
1. Match against Chicago is critical
Players won’t call next week’s home match against the Chicago Fire a “must-win,” but it’s certainly one the Lions can’t afford to lose.
The argument could be made Orlando City (6-4-1, 19 points) can’t afford a draw against the Fire, either.
Orlando City has playoff aspirations, which means the losses against Atlanta United and Toronto FC can’t be the start of another summer swoon. Last season’s fall from grace started in May. The Lions went a dismal 1-4-2 in that month after winning six of their first seven matches.
The slump continued into the summer months. Orlando City won just one match during June, July and August.
“We have to be mentally very strong,” said midfielder Cristian Higuita after Orlando City’s match against TFC. “We have a great team and I felt like today, for the first time in four seasons that I’ve been here, we were superior to Toronto here at BMO Field. Unfortunately, they won, but I think that we showed we’re a very mentally strong team. I think we’re going to be able to prevent [another slump].”
Coach Jason Kreis stuck with his “not too high, not too low” message after Friday’s loss. He’s right, because Orlando City certainly can’t afford to let doubts or desperation color how they play.
“We’ll just continue to chug along, continue to stay focused on improving,” Kreis said.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan echoed his coach.
“Every time you lose a game, you just want to win the next one to try to get yourself back on the right foot,” Kljestan said. “I think the mentality of the team will stay strong. We’ve got just to keep plugging away.”
2. Let’s talk about El-Munir
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Mohamed El-Munir made a mistake defending Toronto FC’s Auro when Auro assisted on the Reds’ match-winning goal. Instead of – literally – just standing there and taking away Auro’s options, El-Munir decided to gamble in an attempt to poke the ball away for what likely would have been a throw-in.
Auro blew by him, sent a cross in for Ryan Telfer and the Lions lost their second match in a row.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 19, 2018
That happened, and it wasn’t a good look. But El-Munir’s value lies in more than what happened in that final moment. El-Munir is – more often than not – a wing-back on the left side more than he is a true full-back. He’s consistently involved in the attack. Friday night, he beat several Toronto FC defenders on multiple occasions and has the speed to recover and get back in defense.
Is he perfect? No. But make no mistake: Orlando City wouldn’t have had a chance against the Reds if it wasn’t for El-Munir’s hustle in the penalty area that kept what looked like a turnover alive. He didn’t give up on the play. Higuita doesn’t get a chance to score his goal without El-Munir.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) May 19, 2018
Most of the goals given up by Orlando City this season have come from A) set pieces or B) mental lapses, like El-Munir’s mistake.
3. Colmán is a difference maker
Young designated player Josué Colmán adds a different dimension to Orlando City’s attack. He came off the bench in the 64th minute of Friday’s match assisted on Higuita’s goal in the 73rd minute. It was his first MLS assist.
A minute after Colmán came on, he found Kljestan in the penalty area and sent in a great cross. Kljestan’s header went right into the hands of Alexander Bono, but it was an example of how the Paraguayan midfielder unlocks Orlando City’s attack.
Before Colmán came on, Orlando City didn’t put a single shot on frame.
“He made a difference,” Kljestan said. “I think he did well by being very mobile, coming off the back line to make them make decisions while also trying to run in behind. Yeah, I think a good night for him and a positive step in the right direction for him to get himself going and hopefully get more minutes to help the team.”
Kreis said he’s waiting for Colmán to become a more “all-around player,” but it’s likely Colmán’s minutes will keep increasing in the near future.