A roller coaster. A fair description of Saturday’s win over Chicago.
That is the exact phrasing Head Coach Oscar Pareja used after his side gutted out a 4-1 win over the Fire in front of a limited crowd at Exploria Stadium this past weekend. Gutted might not be a typical descriptor for a three-goal victory, but it certainly applies to this match.
After the Lions took an early two-goal lead with finishes from Chris Mueller and Nani in the 11th and 24th minutes respectively, Chicago was awarded a penalty in the 36th. After some conflict over who would take it for the visitors, Álvaro Medrán’s eventual effort was punched away by El Pulpo.
Prior to that the Fire had already hit the crossbar, the post and had a goal disallowed by VAR for offsides, but remained down two goals to the Lions.
The drama continued after the halftime break, with the Fire awarded yet another penalty three minutes into the second half. This time Robert Beric was able to halve the deficit for the visitors.
Minutes later, it looked as though Chicago had equalized, when Boris Sekulic found the back of the net off a corner. However this one too was disallowed by VAR, this time for a handball.
From then, the Lions took control of the match, continuing with Pareja’s model of being the protagonists on the pitch and finding the back of the net two more times before the final whistle off the feet of Júnior Urso and Benji Michel.
In a match that realistically could have ended in the sides splitting the points or even with Chicago leaving with all three, City scored a season-high four goals and extended its unbeaten-streak to six games to match the previous Club record set in 2018.
“The best thing that I can take out of this night and this match the way it went is that we have the consistency we needed during the game to suffer the tough moments. We didn’t get desperate, we accepted that we had a rival with initiative too and they created chances,” Pareja said of his group’s mentality.
“When that happens and you absorb that pressure and you absorb those difficult moments and then as a team, you overcome them, that means that we’re getting mature. The game had a lot of lessons for us, and we’re proud of this group of guys that are growing and making a case in the league and hopefully we can continue with this.”
Following the weekend slate, the Lions now sit at third in the Eastern Conference and five points out from the Supporters’ Shield heading into a pair of difficult road matches against two of the three top-three sides in the West - Sporting Kansas City and Pareja’s former club, FC Dallas.
With the remainder of the schedule yet to be revealed, three points on Saturday means that much more for this Orlando City side as they work toward qualifying for the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and continuing the form they have been in since the season’s restart.
“We’ve got to keep going in this fashion. We don’t know how many games we’re going to get to play, but whatever games we get we have to take full advantage of them. All-in-all, even with the little bit of holes in our performance tonight, I’m glad that we were able to get the result,” forward Chris Mueller said after the match.
“I think that what shows a good team is a team that can find ways to win. It's not always the prettiest, but you’ve always got to find a way to make sure you’re getting the result to get the three points and continue to climb the table."