ORLANDO - If there’s been one blip on the radar for St. Louis City SC in their inaugural season in Major League Soccer, it’s been their form on the road.
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Coming into Saturday night’s contest at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, City were 5-5-1 in MLS away matches. Not terrible by any means, but a far cry from their 9-3-1 record at CITY PARK.
That record would not improve Saturday night, as St. Louis City fell 2-1 to Orlando City SC.
The first real goalmouth action on either end of the pitch came in the 21st minute. Eduard Lowen fed a pass to City striker Niko Gioacchini just outside of Orlando keeper Pedro Gallese’s goal. Gioacchini’s shot flew over the bar, in what would be City’s best chance of the first half.
“We have to know that chances are going to be limited in this stadium,” said St. Louis City head coach Bradley Carnell on the lack of attacking prowess his side showed in the first half. “I thought the game was tighter, I thought our defensive structure was more intact.”
In the 31st minute, Orlando broke out on the counter with Duncan McGuire, who whipped in a cross for Orlando’s No. 10 Mauricio Pereyra, who flashed a shot just wide of Roman Burki’s goal.
Duncan McGuire would make his presence known again in first-half stoppage time with a small run beyond City’s defensive line to give him space for a shot inside the 18-yard box. Roman Burki, like he has all season in the City goal, kept McGuire off the scoresheet with a quick reaction save to his left.
At the half, Niko Gioacchini was subbed off and was seen making his way back to the bench after halftime with his arm in a sling.
In the 37th minute, Gioacchini was on the wrong end of a tough foul from Orlando defender Robin Jansson, who bowled Gioacchini over running after a loose ball.
“Niko took a knock in training a few days ago,” said City head coach Bradley Carnell in postgame media availability. “I think it was the same shoulder he fell on tonight. We’ll have to wait and see how bad it is.”
Not an encouraging message by any means, but this was also the first match Joao Klauss has been available for St. Louis City. He was an available option on the bench, but at halftime, it was Nökkvi Thórisson who came on for Gioacchini.
The score was goalless at the halftime break, but Orlando was starting to gain a foothold to close out the first half. That foothold turned into a lead within two minutes.
Orlando’s own Icelander Dagur Thórhallsson showcased some fancy footwork in the City box and squared a pass to Facundo Torres, whose shot took a slight deflection that beat Burki to his left.
Orlando would control possession, but City was creating chances, just not big enough chances to change the flow of the game. For the first time in a long time, they could look to their No. 9 for inspiration again.
Joao Klauss made his long-awaited return from a quad injury in the 78th minute, coming on for Sam Adeniran who had a rather quiet evening beyond a yellow card. Rasmus Alm also came on for Aziel Jackson to make it a double-change.
One of those substitutes leveled the score for City almost immediately, but it wasn’t their returning star striker. Rasmus Alm poked the ball home from close range, redirecting a cross from new City defender Anthony Markanich.
In live action, the linesman raised their flag for a goal kick, thinking that Markanich let the ball roll beyond the end line before crossing it to Rasmus Alm at the near post. After a VAR (video assistant referee) review, referee Joe Dickerson pointed at the center circle, awarding City and Alm the equalizing goal.
Alm had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds but showed great awareness of the situation to make an unmarked run towards the near post. A striker’s instinct, even if he wasn’t the No. 9 that came on.
Unfortunately for new City signee Anthony Markanich, his good work with the cross to create the equalizer was undone when a shot caught him in the face and, unfortunately, the arm which he had raised to protect his face from the ball.
Originally called a corner on the field, this too would head to VAR, and in harsh fate for City, Joe Dickerson pointed to the penalty spot. Now in stoppage time, a goal would all but crush City’s hopes.
“Just unfortunate, I think the ball hit him in his nose first, he had a bloody nose,” said Carnell of the penalty call on Markanich. “The ball probably hits his trailing hand… But we saw good things from Anthony (Markanich).”
Facundo Torres coolly converted the penalty to give Orlando the 2-1 lead in the 91st minute. City midfielder Indiana Vassilev unleashed a rocket of a volley in the 94th minute, but the post would come to the rescue of Pedro Gallese in the Orlando goal.
A late red card for Jake Nerwinski, who dragged down Orlando forward Ramiro Enrique before he could go 1-on-1 with Roman Burki, summed up City frustrations on the evening. A game that was there for a result slipped out of their hands in stoppage time.
“We knew that we were playing against a team of some acumen, some caliber, with some difference-makers,” said Carnell following the loss. “Teams are notoriously struggling here, and I thought we did not struggle tonight… I saw a lot of good things, and in those (attacking) moments we do get, can we be a little bit more clinical in those moments?”
Luckily for City, their lead atop the MLS Western Conference stays at four points with LAFC losing their match against Charlotte FC. The Seattle Sounders took over the third spot in the conference behind LAFC with a draw against Minnesota United, and Real Salt Lake dropped a place to fourth with a 3-0 loss to Houston.
It’s a short turnaround for Bradley Carnell and the City crew before their next MLS action, Wednesday night at CITY PARK hosting FC Dallas. Kickoff on Wednesday is set for just after 7:30 p.m.
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