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Three things we learned from Orlando City’s 2-2 draw with LAFC

The return of Ruan offered a burst of intensity for Orlando City, but several decisions by the referees left the Lions disappointed in the result.

Orlando City SC head coach James O'Connor, left, speaks with the referee during the Lions' 2-2 draw with Los Angeles FC at Exploria Stadium Saturday. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City battled for a 2-2 draw against a short-handed LAFC squad on Saturday night, earning a bittersweet point off the top Major League Soccer team. Here are three takeaways from the match:

Ruan rumbles back from injury

After spending four games sidelined by a hamstring injury, Ruan returned to the starting lineup with intensity on Saturday. The defender earned the team’s Man of the Match distinction after more than 90 minutes of aggressive play.

In the 20th minute, he provided earned an assist on Benji Michel’s goal that pushed the Lions ahead 2-1. But Ruan’s presence ran deeper than just one play.

Against LAFC — which brings high-octane pace — Ruan gave Orlando City some much-needed quickness of its own. Starting at right back, the defender didn’t limit himself to his side of the pitch.

Ruan carved up the LAFC midfield, flying with the ball up the gut of the field and tracking down long lobs in both corners. His presence stretched LAFC on both ends. He tracked back to lock down streaky players like Diego Rossi on defense, but he also prevented the visitors from countering quickly by pressuring in the opposite direction.

After the game, Ruan said he didn’t quite feel at 100% yet, attributing his ability to make it through a full game to his mentality as “a warrior.”

“I feel good, I feel very good actually,” Ruan said. “I was very happy that I got the opportunity to get an assist tonight on a very good play, but it’s not over yet.”

Lions frustrated by referees

Orlando City coach James O’Connor didn’t hold back after the game, laying into the referees for what he believed to be the mishandling of two key plays, both of which went against Orlando City.

Both teams were whistled for penalties throughout a chippy night of play, with the Lions picking up 11 fouls and LAFC earning nine. Three Orlando City players earned yellow cards — Nani, Cristian Higuita and Uri Rosell — while Latif Blessing earned one for LAFC for simulation.

O’Connor was upset with two plays in the second half. The first occurred in the 55th minute, when a ball deflected by LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller bounced to the feet of Rosell, who immediately knocked it into the net.

The supporters section released several canisters of purple smoke before realizing the referee nullified the goal due to a foul before the shot. The Lions questioned whether it was a foul — Michel was whistled for colliding with Miller, but both were making an equal play on the ball.

The second controversial call came in the final minutes of the game, when Miller appeared to stutter step out of the box while throwing the ball to a teammate. With the game tied 2-2, the call would have afforded Orlando City a free kick directly at the top of the box.

O’Connor said he felt disappointed “beyond words” following both calls, which could have swung the game from a draw to a win.

Lions eye league standings

The draw was tougher to accept because Orlando City needs every point it can get late in the season. With the draw, the team earned one point and retained the No. 9 spot in the Eastern Conference table.

With 35 points, Orlando City edged closer to Montreal, which sits in the No. 8 slot just below the cutoff line with 37 points. The Lions still remain four points behind New England, however, which holds the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

For Orlando City, earning even one point off of LAFC — which has absolutely dominated MLS this season on its way to a seemingly inevitable Supporters Shield victory — is a small win. But with only four matches left in the season, Orlando City has limited chances to make up ground.

The next step will come against New England Saturday, a match that offers the Lions a direct opportunity to claw closer to that No. 7 spot.

“Right now, we have four games left, four games that are four finals,” Higuita said. “We had five [games] and now we got a point out of the first one and we have to keep adding points because we need them.”

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