Let’s start with two facts that aren’t mutually exclusive:
First, anytime you can earn a road point in Major League Soccer, where the home advantages can be so forbidding, you take that road point and book it.
Second, anytime you let a lead on the road slip, that road point isn’t going to feel as precious as the two you fumbled away.
Those are probably the conflicting thoughts juggling through the collective minds of every New York City player, coach, and supporter as they leave Orlando this evening. The Pigeons controlled the game from the start, and saw that control rewarded with two goals — one in the 13th minute by midfielder Ebenezer Ofori, the other in the 45th minute by team captain Alexander Ring.
In the 69th minute, things would’ve been nicer still had Maxi Moralez scored on a breakaway to add a third goal, but Orlando’s Brian Rowe made a superlative save to deny the diminutive Argentinean. The Lions scored in the 59th minute off a free kick, and drew level in the 74th minute when Tesho Akindele took advantage of a Sean Johnson positioning error to score on essentially an empty net.
Head coach Domenec Torrent surprised more than a few people with his first starting lineup of the year. The Pigeons lined up in their standard 4-3-3, but there were some changes. James Sands — the team’s first ever Homegrown player — got his first start of the year at defensive midfield, and made no obvious miscues to indicate that he’d only had 516 minutes of professional soccer under his belt. He’ll need roughly about three times that amount of playing time this season to get his development squared away properly, so seeing an assured performance from him should earn him another start.
Another welcome addition was Jonathan Lewis, getting the start over DP Jesus Medina and Valentin Castellanos. Lewis made a sterling contribution early in the game — here you can see him deftly setting up Ebenezer Ofori to piledrive the banger from downtown:
That staked the Pigeons to a 1-0 lead, and quieted the raucous crowd at Orlando City Stadium. While the Lions had their chances to score on occasion, it was clear that New York City were dictating the pace of the game. That control paid off in the 45th minute, when newcomer Alexandru Mitrita helped kickstart this scoring sequence:
Look at how Mitrita’s pass nutmegs one of the Lions’ defenders; and look at how Alex Ring basically strolls through the Orlando defense — there’s five players there! — and basically scores on a one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
The second half, though, was much more even. The upshot was that New York City eased off on the control and pressure they employed in the first half — and that allowed Orlando to claw their way back into the game. Both Orlando goals came on a combination of emergency, scrambling defending and bad positioning by the normally steadfast Sean Johnson
With about 10 minutes to go in the game, disaster nearly struck for New York City.
Let’s be very clear: Maxime Chanot and the Pigeons were extremely lucky there. That should have been a penalty kick. Dom Dwyer receives the ball, heads it down, it’s goal-bound...and Chanot’s arm is right there, extended, interrupting the natural trajectory of the ball. Referee Baldomero Toledo was in front of the play, and then took another look through VAR — and then, somehow, did not award the penalty kick.
Just as Orlando was glad to see halftime, the Pigeons were glad to see the whistle blow for full-time.
Disappointment aside, you can easily see where New York City have the talent to be a contender this season. The question is the same as it was before today’s draw against Orlando — can Torrent mold that talent and shape it in such a way that collectively, their strengths are maximized and weaknesses minimized?
Frustratingly, that question remains unanswered. But a road point will have to serve as answer enough.