New York City FC returns to Orlando, defense shines in 1-1 draw

May 8, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; New York City goalkeeper Sean Johnson (1) saves the ball between defender Maxime Chanot (4) and Orlando City forward Chris Mueller (9) at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports
May 8, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; New York City goalkeeper Sean Johnson (1) saves the ball between defender Maxime Chanot (4) and Orlando City forward Chris Mueller (9) at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports /

New York City FC faced Orlando City SC on Saturday and secured a 1-1 draw thanks to an impressive defensive and gritty performance.

The last time New York City FC played Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium, fans witnessed one of the most insane playoff games in Major League Soccer history.  Unfortunately for the Bronx side, they fell on the wrong side of the match, and lost in a penalty kick shootout.  Once again, NYCFC found themselves out of the playoffs early, and their struggles in Orlando continued.

Therefore, there was no surprise that revenge was on the mind of players, especially Anton TinnerholmHe told reporters the following over a video call earlier in the week:

"“All of us, we’re not really over last year.  It was a brutal game for all of us and how it ended. Especially for me, I was forced to be subbed off in overtime … We don’t have very good memories from that game, but now we’re stepping into the game on Saturday here to do something. We [have] some revenge to take. You’re going to see all the guys, they’re going to really want to win the game from the first minute. I can’t expect anything else.”"

In the end, the ideal form of revenge will have to wait, for the two sides ended their Saturday match in a 1-1 draw.  Indisputably, it was not the Pigeons’ best night out on the pitch, but defensively they were strong, even during shaky moments.  In fact, the first half was a defensive clinic for NYCFC’s back line.

With this game, head coach Ronny Deila went with three players in the back, with the outside-backs playing higher up the field.  But center-backs Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens, along with James Sands, fended off Orlando’s attack.  All three were all over the back line, running to make clearances and decreasing their opponent’s chances on goal.  In total, the Pigeons had one shot blocked and 12 clearances in the first half.

Furthermore, just because Tinnerholm and Gudmundur Thórarinsson were playing higher, and later Malte Amundsen, they still contributed to the defensive efforts.  Often, the three men back line turned into a five men defensive effort, with other players contributing as well.  Every player, even those in the attacking third, put in the effort to prevent Orlando from scoring and regain possession.

Also, the defensive players communicated well with goalkeeper Sean Johnson.  They were on the same page when the United States international player was to gather the ball or move away from goal.  Notably, in stoppage time toward the end of the first half, Orlando star and captain Nani was running toward goal.  NYCFC’s Tinnerholm had a one on one battle with him, and realized he would not be able to stop the former Manchester United player.  So, he called for Johnson to come out of goal, and the keeper swiftly gathered the ball before any damage could be done.

Then, in the second half, the defense was a little messier, but not entirely.  The Pigeons still put in the work, and redeemed themselves mostly on giveaways.  Plus, Orlando was a much stronger side in the second half, and brought this energy that was missing in the first 45 minutes.

With that in mind, the Pigeons held their own defensively.  They kept Orlando to one goal, and it was a goal no one could stop.  Nani had just enough room and kicked a screaming curler into the back of the net.  The goal was so good, that it will undoubtedly be up for goal of the week.  There was nothing Johnson and his defense could do, and no one could stop Nani.  The stars would have to be aligned and a player would have to be in the right position to block a goal like that.  But even then, the likelihood is extremely unlikely.

Even though Orlando was the better side in the end, NYCFC did not back down.  Johnson ended with four saves on the night, including two crucial ones toward the end of the second half.  The Pigeons had 24 clearances as well, and uniformly worked together to grab a point on the road thanks to the penalty kick from Valentín Castellanos.  Plus, they secured the point without Maxi Moralez.

The performance was far from perfect.  Yet, New York City FC held on and are going home with a point.  It was not the revenge the team would have liked, but at least they can leave Orlando with their heads held high, knowing they gave their all, and kept a strong team at bay.