ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) — Orlando City got their first taste at international football in this Leagues Cup quarterfinal encounter, hosting Santos Laguna at Exploria Stadium Thursday. Both teams earned their position at Leagues Cup after strong domestic performances last year. Orlando City have continued that strong of domestic form as they sit second in the Eastern Conference MLS standings. Their record of (8-4-6) sees them at the top of MLS, but can that dominance carry over intercostal waters?
A Different Beast
Santos Laguna are no strangers to international football and domestic success. Last season, Santos enjoyed a 5th place finish in the Liga MX Clausura. This year, Santos remain unbeaten in 2021-22 with a (1-2-0) record in the early going. As promising as Orlando City have looked in their MLS campaign, US teams don’t often fair well in international encounters. In the CONCACAF Champions League, MLS teams have never lifted the trophy since their introduction to the tournament in 2008-09.
Orlando City came into the game with a pulse, but lacked creativity in the attacking third. From the opening minutes Akindele, Nani and Mueller were finding chances at goal.
However, a lack of cohesion in the midfield caused many issues before attacking could even take place. In turn, the quality of Santos Laguna showed in short spurts. The dynamic pressing of Garriaran and Carrillo did plenty to suffocate Orlando out of possession.
The pressure became too much to bear as Juan Ferney Otero launched a right-footed shot from outside the box. The ball took a wicked bounce right before bouncing into Mason Stajduhar’s gloves. The resulting bounce gave way to Santos first goal of the evening. Although both teams took the same amount of shots on goal, Santos Laguna were more accurate with three shots on goal at halftime in comparison to Orlando’s one.
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
In the end, the second half continued as a reflection of what happened in the first. Santos Laguna seemed fresher on or off the ball as the prolonged season for the MLS side showed over the course of 90 minutes. Junior Urso ended the game with a red card AFTER the final whistle for protesting to officials.
Despite the anger and bitterness in defeat, taking experience like this is extremely important for an emerging Orlando City side that have never competed in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Oscar Pareja’s men must go back to the drawing board and adjust to life without a main striker. Tesho Akindele has provided goals in short bursts, Benji Michel performs best as a super-sub in long ball scenarios. But success for Orlando City will not be consistent until they manage to secure the services of Pato and Dike on a regular basis.
Sylvester van der Water continues to be a revelation off the bench for Orlando despite their shortcomings. The Dutch winger has impressed in each outing off the right side. It’s only a matter of time before he secures regular starting football in Orlando with the departure of Chris Mueller imminent. When asked what went behind the emotion post-game for Orlando City, Antonio Carlos had a few thoughts on the tone of the match:
“I believe the emotion felt after the whistle were centered around how we controlled this game. We felt like we had control of the game for a majority of the game but we couldn’t see out the result. So our frustration got the better of us after the whistle.”
— Antonio Carlos, Orlando City CB
Nicolas Vera is a sports reporter for Florida National News, part of the FNN News Network. | firstname.lastname@example.org