Frustration punctuated another match for Orlando City as the Lions dropped their third straight match with a road loss to Philadelphia.
The Sunday night loss dropped the team from its long-standing position as the second overall team in the Eastern Conference to now the fourth spot on the conference table. The Lions have allowed 12 goals in four games as they continue to stumble in the final stretch of the regular season.
The match opened with controversy for the Lions when Kai Wagner scored the opening goal for Philadelphia in the 37th minute.
Even before the ball hit the net, the Lions were protesting the goal from the bench and on the pitch.
Moments before the shot, Union striker Kacper Przybyłko elbowed centerback Rodrigo Schlegel in the face, sending him sprawling in the box. The assistant referee held up a flag on the sideline to signal a potential foul, but head referee Alan Kelly motioned for play to continue as the Lions started a counter attack with advantage.
That transition died immediately, giving the Union a chance in the box. Wagner scored less than five seconds after the flag initially went up, leading the Lions to question why the entire play was never whistled dead.
“The [referee] decisions have to be respected,” coach Oscar Pareja said. “We understand there are different views. It’s a disappointment … but we’ve got to move on. It’s tough for me to make excuses when these moments are happening.”
Several tense moments of video review held up the decision, leaving Pareja visibly in shock on the sidelines. The goal marked the start of another collapse on the pitch for the Lions, who have struggled to score even with the return of striker Daryl Dike.
Przybyłko went on to score two of the Union’s three goals to cement the loss for Orlando despite calls from the Lions for a red card for the foul.
“Sometimes the referee calls for you; sometimes it’s against you,” striker Tesho Akindele said. “But I think at the end, it kind of balances out. I don’t think that they’re the reason that we lost today.”
After allowing nine goals in the last three games, Pareja shifted his team into a defensive formation against Philadelphia.
The team’s third straight loss also marked the third straight game without a goal scored by an offensive player. Defenders have provided the team’s last three goals.
Ruan provided an equalizer in the 57th minute, dodging into the box to head down a pass from Mauricio Pereyra.
The goal — Ruan’s second in two straight games — sparked a brief celebration for the Lions. The defender pulled off his jersey to display a T-shirt decorated with a picture of his mother Monica, who died in March, and the message “Forever in our hearts.”
But the celebration lasted barely four minutes before Philadelphia tallied a goal from Przybyłko. The striker streaked unaccompanied into the box, taking an unguarded shot to clinch the victory for the Union.
The Lions continued a series of disciplinary concerns in the match. Centerback Antonio Carlos earned a red card in the 89th minute for tugging an attacker to the ground in the box. Przybyłko hammered home the ensuing penalty kick.
The defender will be suspended for the Lions’ next match. The team has received three red cards in the last two games.
“We’re trying to first make the playoffs and then win MLS Cup and we know that red cards aren’t going to help us there,” Akindele said. “In these cases where we’ve had a few red cards lately, [players] know that they’ve made a mistake and I don’t expect that it would happen again.”
Just when the Lions appeared to be emerging from a rut of injuries, the team was plunged back into the uncertainty of starter unavailability after Wednesday night’s loss to Montreal.
Winger Chris Mueller stayed home with an ankle injury incurred against Montreal. Captain Luis Nani and midfielder Andrés Perea both were held out with suspensions from the match.
With Sebas Méndez still sidelined due to a lower-body knock, the Lions were short-staffed to begin the game. An injury to Joey DeZart in the first third of play further diminished the team’s depth.
After a promising start to the season, a four-point margin is the only thing separating the Lions from falling out of playoff contention. Their path to the postseason won’t get any easier in the coming week.
The team travels to face the top-ranked New England Revolution on Saturday, then to Nashville the subsequent Wednesday to finish a three-game streak of road matches.
“It’s frustrating right now but we have a good team,” Akindele said. “We have the same players that we did in the beginning of the season when we were playing really well. A lot of teams want to be where we are. … We’re still in a good position and we could still fight and move up the table pretty easily.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at firstname.lastname@example.org.