Orlando winger Gastón González whipped in a hopeful ball looking to create an equalizing goal for the Lions late in the match against Charlotte. His effort was easily defended away, and Orlando had to recycle possession.
The failed attack was a microcosm of a frustrating even for the Lions in a winnable Eastern Conference showdown.
Orlando City fell at home 2-1 to Charlotte FC in Exploria Stadium Saturday night. The visitors earned their first win of the season, and the Lions lost their first match of the 2023 season.
"We lost a game we assumed we should win," Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja said post game. "Seeing the two halves and the way the game turned I’ve decided I’m very proud of these players."
Orlando was playing its second game of the week after failling to advance against Tigres in the Concacaf Champions League. Pareja said the team hasn't used that as an excuse for Saturday's loss, though.
“No excuses at all," Pareja said. "We were prepared. We are professionals."
Orlando City scored the first goal of the game, but it was ruled offside. Midfielder Mauricio Pereyra took the ball down gracefully and found rookie striker Duncan McGuire who sprayed the ball wide to right back Michael Halliday.
Halliday whipped in the ball and Designated Player Martín Ojeda placed the ball into the back of the net. The flag went up for offsides, however, and play continued.
The opening ten minutes of action were wide open. Charlotte midfielder Brandt Bronico nearly scored for the visitors after Ojeda's offside goal, but his shot fell well wide.
Facundo Torres nearly opened the game up for the Lions in the eighth minute. The Uruguayan winger got into space on the left side and whipped in a ball that Charlotte goalkeeper George Marks had to punch away.
Orlando almost broke though again in the 20th minute. Robin Jansson sprayed the ball out wide to Halliday, and the Homegrown defender found Icelandic midfielder Dagur Dan Thórhallsson. The midfielder lashed a long range effort over the bar.
Charlotte put significant pressure on the Lions and nearly scored the opener when star striker Enzo Copetti dominated Rodrigo Schlegel in the box and cut the ball back into the danger area. Jansson was able to clear the danger, but the Crown came back two minutes later.
The visitors played a hopeful long ball in behind, and Copetti beat the defense to the ball in Orlando's penalty box. The Argentine finished past Gallese to get the Crown on the board first.
Orlando pushed for an equalizer but couldn't break through Charlotte's defense and seriously test Marks. Halliday whipped in another dangerous cross that deflected off a defender, but the young shot-stopper parried it away.
Despite the Lions having the better of the play, the visitors scored a second goal in the first half. Winger Kerwin Vargas beat Halliday 1 v. 1 in the box and slotted a deflected shot past Gallese in the bottom left corner to give the Crown a 2-0 lead at the halftime break.
Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja made a pair of halftime substitutions. He brought on Colombian wide man Iván Angulo and reliable fullback Kyle Smith to help shake up the squad after a dissapointing first '45.
McGuire hassled Charlotte's backline in the second half, and his effort led to the best chance for Orlando all night. The Nebraskan striker won the ball in a dangerous area for the Lions and had a chance to beat Marks 1 v. 1.
The 'keeper stopped the first shot, but the ball fell to McGuire again and the rookie squared it across to Ojeda who slotted home his first Orlando City goal.
Orlando's possession play was sloppy throughout the game, but the Lions still had the bulk of the chances in the second half. Torres chipped in a dangerous cross for Ojeda, but the Argentine was unable to get his shot on frame.
U22 signing Ramiro Enrique replaced McGuire in the 67th minute, and the diminutive attacker immediately had a headed chance that went wide of the goal. Pareja brought in his other U22 signing González, and he beat his man 1 v. 1 and whipped in a cross that Charlotte defended away.
The visitors weren't able to do much with the ball, and turned to physicality and a low-block defense to see out the victory. Bronico and second-half substitute Kamil Jóźwiak picked up yellow cards within minutes of each other.
Enrique nearly tied the game for Orlando in the 79th minute. The skillful attacker received a slipped ball in the box and finished with a little chipped finish beat the 'keeper. The flag for offside was up, however, and the goal didn't stand.
Substitute striker Jack Lynn, who came on late in the 82nd minute, almost scored his first Orlando City goal. The Notre Dame product slipped in behind the back line after a strong bit of possession, but his shot wasn't able to get past Marks.
Orlando dominated the ball for the final period of the game, but a bevy of crosses amounted to little real damage and the Lions fell for the first time in 2023.
The Lions will travel to Philadelphia next Saturday to face the Union in a pivotal early season clash between two teams looking to compete for trophies this year. Philly is coming off its first defeat of the season. The Union lost 3-2 to CF Montreal Saturday.
Kickoff for next Saturday's match is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The match will be streamed for free on Apple TV.