Orlando City put the MLS world on notice on Friday night, stunning national favorites LAFC in penalties to move into the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament. But this was no fluke victory–the Lions were the better side on the night and deserved to advance.
The basic box score stats make this clear enough. Orlando City out-shot LAFC 17-8 on the night, held a slight advantage in possession, and were the better passing team, completing 77.3% of their passes to LAFC’s 71.9%. This last stat is especially notable, as LAFC is known for their suffocating high press and consistently out-passes their opponents. LAFC were the better passing team in each of their group stage games and their knockout round win over Seattle, and they never had a passing accuracy lower than 78.9% in the tournament before facing Orlando.
But let’s wind back to that shots number. Each one of LAFC’s shots came in the game’s final half hour–in fact, their lone goal came on their first shot of the evening. Orlando City were the first team in history to hold LAFC without a shot in the first half.
Orlando City’s center backs were vital in keeping LAFC from getting any looks at Pedro Gallese’s net. Robin Jansson (four) and Antônio Carlos (six) combined for ten interceptions on the night, one fewer than the entire LAFC team. The pairing consistently baited LAFC’s midfielders and wingers into hitting passes right where they wanted, calmly winning the ball from them and playing their own teammates up the field. LAFC had taken an average of 21.5 shots per game in the tournament coming into Friday night.
Once LAFC finally figured out how to shoot the ball, it was time for Gallese to step up. The Peruvian No. 1 stood on his head yet again for Orlando City, showing LAFC exactly why they call him “El Pulpo.” Gallese made four saves in the game’s final 30 minutes, including a point-black stop of LAFC superstar Diego Rossi and a diving fingertip save to deny Jordan Harvey in the 88th minute just before Orlando’s goal. Gallese has now saved 14 of 18 shots on his goal so far in the MLS is Back tournament, good for a .778 save percentage. That’s second in the tournament behind Philadelphia’s Andre Blake.
Orlando also received another productive night from their DP playmakers. Nani and Mauricio Pereyra each had four key passes in the game, with Nani’s last providing the assist for Joao Moutinho’s equalizer. Nani and Pereyra had more key passes and assists than the entire LAFC team.