It's been a surreal season for Orlando City supporters. After struggling for a fifth season in a row in 2019, the front office decided to part ways with former head coach James O'Connor. It was a decision that was met with a lot of criticism from the fans, most claiming that O'Connor wasn't given enough time. While this argument might have some merit, there isn't a single Orlando City fan regretting the decision made by the front office after seeing what Oscar Pareja (O'Connor's replacement) has been able to do with his squad.
At the end of last season, Orlando City ended with an eight-game winless streak. Fast forward to today, they have just extended their current unbeaten streak to nine and currently sit in 2nd place in the East (and the Supporters Shield). They achieved this by overcoming an in-form New York Red Bulls side 3-1 at Exploria Stadium.
The game started slowly with RBNY doing a good job of stopping Orlando from keeping possession in the midfield, something that most teams in MLS haven't been able to do. The Lions were forced into many searching long balls that amounted to nothing. However, Orlando City grew into the game and started to stamp their authority. A few decent chances were created before the breakthrough came in the 24th minute, courtesy of a Daryl Dike header.
It was a familiar pattern of play from Orlando City which saw their Uruguayan playmaker Mauricio Pereyra play the ball out wide to right-back Kyle Smith. The 28-year-old fired in a gorgeous cross that was powerfully headed home by rookie of the year candidate Daryl Dike.
After the goal, Orlando City instantly had another big chance, but right-winger Chris Mueller held onto the ball too long and his shot was saved well by RBNY's David Jensen. Both teams created chances but Orlando City looked the better side going into halftime.
Heading into the second half, Oscar Pareja was forced into a halftime substitution after Mauricio Pereyra went into the locker room holding his hamstring. In-form winger Benji Michel came on for him and Chris Mueller was moved inside into the number 10 position. That move by Pareja paid off after Mueller played a crucial role in the second goal of the match.
Mueller was given the ball deep in his own half by Daryl Dike with RBNY midfielder Florian Valot closely behind him. After shrugging off the challenge from Valot, Mueller played a perfectly weighted through-ball to Junior Urso. Urso also had to shrug off a challenge of his own before calmly lifting his shot over the RBNY goalkeeper.
Although they were down 2-0, RBNY bounced back quickly, scoring just four minutes later. The Red Bulls pressed high and forced Kamal Miller into a tough pass, which didn't connect to its intended target. Valot intercepted the pass and played a one-two with Daniel Royer that had a bit of fortune to it. The ball deflected off Royer's knee and landed perfectly in the path of Valot to cut the lead down to just one.
After the RBNY goal, both sides created chances but neither found the back of the net. Orlando City created the better chances, but as the game got to the closing stages, the home team retreated and tried to hold onto their one-goal lead. RBNY were pushing bodies forward to get the equalizer but instead left too much space in behind and gave up a third.
Portuguese star Luis Nani picked up the ball on the left side and played a great ball into space for Benji Michel to run onto. Michel then played the ball across to an adventurous Antonio Carlos who tapped it into the open net.
Pretty sweet for your first goal as a Lion.— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) October 3, 2020
Well done, Antonio Carlos 👏 pic.twitter.com/Ltu7okBors
Overall, both teams played pretty well but Orlando City just edged past RBNY to get an important 3 points. The MOTM was Andres Perea. He was extremely solid in the midfield and didn't put a foot wrong all game. He did all the dirty work so the other players could impact the scoreline.