Wednesday night took an unexpected turn for Orlando City, which roared out to an early 1-0 lead over Philadelphia before ceding three goals, two red cards and a loss at home. As the team prepares for its second game against the Union on Saturday, here are three things we learned from the teams’ first round of play:
1.Red cards dig a hole too deep to overcome
There’s no way to talk about this game without talking about red cards. Defender Robin Jansson’s red card at the end of the first half set the tone for Philadelphia’s rapid scoring to start the second. Midfielder Sacha Kljestan’s red card threw Orlando into a disaster situation of playing two men down, forcing the team to settle into survival mode to avoid a potential blowout.
Regardless of the outcome of Wednesday’s game, the red cards also take two players out of rotation for an Orlando City team desperate for numbers as it continues to muscle through a brutal midseason schedule. Jansson and Kljestan will miss the game on Saturday, and a league ruling could keep Kljestan out for an additional match due to the severity of his foul.
The loss of Jansson will particularly affect the second round of play against the Union on Saturday. The connection between Jansson and centerback Lamine Sané at the core of the defense has made an impact for Orlando during the past two months and his loss will be a blow to the team’s defending during its rematch with Philadelphia.
2. Weak start to half makes the difference
The red cards changed the entire pace of the game, but the loss pivoted around a disastrous seven minutes of play for Orlando to open the second half. The team let the Union’s leading goal scorer, Kacper Przybyłko, float free in the box to hammer home a volley from captain Alejandro Bedoya in the opening minute of the half. Minutes later, the defense left Fafa Picault similarly free in the box, letting him give Philadelphia a 3-1 lead.
After the game, those opening minutes were all coach James O’Connor could focus on, pointing to the period as the dagger that ended the game. The entire breakdown lasted 20 minutes, with Kljestan’s red card coming in the 67th minute, but by that point Orlando had weathered the worst of the Union attack.
And despite the loss of Jansson at the very end, the first half was a pitched battle during which Orlando City slightly earned the edge. The team possessed and attacked evenly against the Union, getting off eight shots. Without the costly second half 10 minutes, Orlando might have been able to ride out red cards en route to a draw.
3. Return of Dwyer and international players returns some roster depth
After the initial red card, defender Kamal Miller took Nani’s place to start the second half and shifted back to bolster the backline. Miller hadn’t seen the field since May, and he had only just returned from a call-up for Canada in the Gold Cup. He quickly showed up to fend off the relentless attack from the Union throughout the half, and made a highlight stop in the 87th minute, sliding to kick away an open backside shot on goal.
Fellow Canadian Will Johnson also returned after the Gold Cup. During a game riddled with sluggish passes and giveaways in the midfield, Johnson provided consistency for Orlando City. He completed 98.2% of his passes, set up a pair of chances and led the team with four tackles. The team saw the return of several key players, including Johnson and forward Dom Dwyer, who took three of the team’s five second-half shots after entering in the 62nd minute.
As Orlando City continues a packed stretch of games, rotational depth will be vital. Almost all of the players who were forced to work two men down for the second half were also starters in two other games during the past week, and load management will continue to be critical heading into Philadelphia and the next round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Orlando City continues to face two personnel concerns — nagging hamstring injuries for João Moutinho and Cristian Higuita. Although Higuita will remain sidelined for a few weeks, Moutinho is making moves to return to play for Orlando City. He trained alongside the team during practice on Tuesday and Thursday, working with trainers on the sidelines. His condition is described as “day-to-day” and he is unlikely for play on Saturday, but fans can expect to see Moutinho back on the field soon.