The title really says it all. With nothing but pride on the line, New York City delivered an entirely forgettable and infuriatingly frustrating performance against Orlando City tonight.
Let's start with tonight's starting lineup. In the preview, I suggested starting some of New York City's young players. A game like this was for this purpose made. All the pressure would be on Orlando; New York City would be playing with house money.
That's...not what we saw from Jason Kreis. Inexplicably, he trotted out this starting eleven:
Where do we begin? Javier Calle at left back. Raise your hand if you'd forgotten that the Colombian was on the roster. No shame in that; he's played sporadically this season, spending most of it either injured or absent. Originally, Calle was slotted for a left midfield role. That changed during New York City's epic spring injury crisis, where he found playing time as an attacking left back.
But Calle never delivered on whatever vague promise some Blues scout might've seen on a Medellín field. Hence, his absence. His inclusion tonight is all the more bizarre given that New York City has two solid left backs on the roster. So why not start Angelino or Wingert?
Let's get back to Calle later. Another long-absent player made a surprise appearance: Kwame Watson-Siriboe. KWS paired up with Jefferson Mena in the middle of the defense. For the most part, Watson-Siriboe was serviceable. But aside from one opportune moment, Watson-Siriboe didn't give anyone watching reason to think New York City would retain his services.
In midfield, Kreis paired Mix Diskerud and Andrew Jacobson. Diskerud was anonymous. In fairness, he played 45 minutes in Monday's USMNT loss to Costa Rica; having him patrol midfield was asking a lot. But just like earlier in the season when playing in the middle of the field, Diskerud expended a lot of energy and effort with nothing to show for it.
Beyond that: this was a lineup that had little experience playing together. It showed.
In the first half, Orlando ran rampant over New York City. Time after time, the Lions threatened to score, only for shots to sky high, sky wide -- or get saved by New York City's goalkeeper, Josh Saunders. In all candor, Orlando were desperately unlucky not to be leading early, and by a lot. It didn't help that Ned Grabavoy's night ended early; Mehdi Ballouchy replaced him.
We know what happens when chances get squandered; inevitably one doesn't. Except it was New York City that took advantage. Deep into the first half's stoppage time, Kwame Watson-Siriboe slotted home a rebound to give the Blues the unlikeliest of leads. That's how the half ended.
As the second half began, New York City began to grow into the game in fits and starts. They couldn't sustain their efforts, though. Inevitably, Orlando, spurred by over 43,000 fans in a heaving Citrus Bowl, recovered their poise.
In the 62nd minute, Corey Ashe laid a picture-perfect cross for Cyle Larin. When Larin is officially announced as MLS' Rookie of the Year, his performances against New York City will be a big reason why. In their last meeting, he scored a hat-trick. Tonight, he was denied another by dint of Jefferson Mena's posterior and an uncharitable official.
Larin nailed the header. Saunders could do nothing but flail as he fell. The game was tied at one. Orlando's pressure grew. To counter, Kreis subbed in Khiry Shelton for Tommy McNamara in the 66th minute. It helped immediately; Shelton's speed forced Orlando's defense to account for him.
In the 70th minute, Shelton made a barnstorming run down the right touchline, dummying, dancing. He made his way into the Lions' box; expecting Diskerud to be there, he laid the ball off for him at the top of the box.
Except Diskerud wasn't there; he was, instead, moseying up from the midfield. Orlando swiped the ball, setting up a furious counterattack. With most of New York City's players caught upfield, you'd have expected an offsides flag to nip the counter.
The flag never came up. You see, Javier Calle was cramping up in New York City's penalty area. Instead of limping off the field of play, Calle stayed in the box. That meant that Orlando's players stayed onside. Ashe set Adrian Winter up beautifully for the shot. Somehow, Saunders saved the shot.
Winter, however, recovered. Saunders, desperately, could do nothing as Larin tapped home the rebound. Like that, Orlando led 2-1. The Citrus Bowl exploded; the wheels figuratively came off New York City.
Kreis subbed off Calle for Poku shortly thereafter. The damage was done, however. Calle will likely never play another minute for the Blues; he really shouldn't have played the 75 minutes tonight. That's on Kreis.
Then this happened.
Goal line technology pic.twitter.com/LuavOSJ9eU— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) October 17, 2015
Carlos Rivas, who menaced New York City throughout the game, crossed low to the far post. Larin looked for all the world to have scored his third goal of the game. It would've been his second straight against New York City; his third against both New York teams. But thanks to Jefferson Mena's capacious posterior, Larin was denied.
In the end, it didn't matter. The Blues fitfully surged forward, but couldn't get a shot on frame. That's how it ended. Orlando won its fifth straight; New York City lost its second straight.
New York City ends its season against New England at home next Sunday at 5 p.m. One hopes that New York City shows up, as its fans have all season long, lose or win. It's the least they deserve.