How ever they are acquired, road points are always valuable. After gaining one in gritty fashion mid-week, Orlando City SC looks to continue its push to get into playoff position Sunday when it hosts the New York Red Bulls.
The Lions (7-5-9) have put themselves in a spot where they can contemplate challenging for a top-seven spot – claiming eight points from their previous five matches (2-2-1) — as they enter this contest three points out of the final two playoff spots. James O’Connor’s team battled its way out of Portland with a point Thursday night after a 1-1 draw, overcoming a scary-looking injury to center back Alex De John in the 12th minute and absorbing pressure from the Timbers all match.
While Orlando City did concede a late equalizer and finished with only one shot on target – Santiago Patino’s goal in the 44th minute – for a second straight match, O’Connor was more than pleased with his team’s fight in a challenging mid-week atmosphere.
“Yeah, I mean look, very proud. The players I think…very difficult for us when you got a centerback who goes off after five minutes or six minutes or whatever it is and then to have to adjust,” O’Connor told the team’s official website. “Great credit to Kyle Smith and Will Johnson, but all the players; I thought we defended really well. I thought there was a great togetherness to the team.”
De John took a cleat to the jaw in the seventh minute when he attempted to head a clearance intended for Portland’s Brian Fernandez. The inadvertent blow knocked De John unconscious, and the medical staff evaluated him for a concussion, which led to his removal. His status for this contest remains to be determined.
Some of Orlando’s struggles the last two matches – despite claiming four of six points – can be directly attributed to the absence of All-Star winger Nani. He missed last weekend’s match due to a bout of food poisoning and was not among the 18 for Thursday’s contest. The former Portugal international leads the Lions with eight goals and seven assists.
The Red Bulls (9-4-8) continue to challenge for the top places in the East as they entered this weekend five points back of conference-leading Philadelphia with a match in hand. New York was unable to build on last Sunday’s derby victory over NYCFC, absorbing a 3-1 loss at Toronto FC on Wednesday night.
Coach Chris Armas rotated a good deal of his XI off the emotionally charged derby win, and the Red Bulls did not play all that badly – they outshot TFC 20-9 and their seven shots on target were a season high in a road game. But after falling behind 2-0 inside the first half-hour, they had little to show for their efforts outside Tom Barlow’s goal in the 63rd minute. A defensive breakdown between keeper Luis Robles and defender Michael Murillo led to a goal nine minutes later that put a potential point out of reach.
“The plan is to win your home games and get a tie or a point on the road, and we felt tonight was a great opportunity for us to do that,” Robles told the team’s official website. “And yet for us to start the way we did, it’s concerning. It’s the second game in a row we’ve given up a goal so early and not play well in the first half.”
The Red Bulls are have taken just one point from their last four road matches and conceded 13 goals in those contests. They have just nine points (2-5-3) in their 10 games outside Red Bull Arena.
Orlando City is going for the double after Sacha Klejstan’s 73rd-minute goal separated the sides in New York on March 23. The Red Bulls have a draw and two losses in their last three trips to Orlando after a 2-0 victory in 2015.
(Aaron Long photo courtesy New York Red Bulls official Twitter account)