Orlando City could have easily folded after seeing not one, but two players issued red cards in Sunday’s home clash with the Chicago Fire. Stopping a Fire team on a four-match winning streak was going to be hard enough, doing so down players due to some questionable ejections seemed downright impossible.
The Lions were up to the challenge though. Boosted by the raucous support in a packed Orlando City Stadium, Jason Kreis’ men overcame red cards issued to Rafael Ramos and Antonio Nocerino to battle to a 0-0 draw with the Fire on Sunday night.
Referee Ted Unkel took center stage, issuing a controversial straight red card to Ramos in the 26th minute for what replays showed to be a rather innocuous challenge on Brandon Vincent in the 26th minute. A call that figured to swing the match in favor of the streaking Fire, but all it wound up doing was planting the seeds for a heroic defensive performance.
The Lions responded well to the challenge of playing a man down, defending the Fire well for the remainder of the first half and even creating some half chances of their own. The Fire took control after the red card, forcing a couple nice saves out of Joe Bendik before the halftime whistle, but couldn’t push one of their nine shots across the line.
The Fire kept the pressure on in the second half as Orlando City was content to sit back and defend. Bendik kept making saves to keep the game scoreless, but it looked like the Lions would be done in by another red card, this time to Nocerino for a studs-up challenge on Matt Polster.
The Lions continued their extreme defensive posture down to nine players and it worked. They held onto the 0-0 scoreline despite a barrage of Fire shots. The best of all Chicago’s chances came in the second minute of stoppage time when Polster drilled a shot off the underside of the crossbar.
Orlando City will take this result, considering the circumstances. It was the Lions’ third match in eight days and they spent most of the match down a man, and the last 24 minutes down two. Orlando City will sit out the international break before a U.S. Open Cup showdown with NASL side Miami FC. The Lions return to MLS play on June 17 at home against the Montreal Impact.
The Fire return home to play Atlanta United on Saturday night before opening their U.S. Open Cup campaign agaisnt Saint Louis FC on June 14.
Man of the Match
Joe Bendik deserves most of the credit for keeping the Fire out of the net. He made six saves, most of which came after his team was down a man or two.
Moment of the Match
The Ramos red card was huge, but the Fire were about a half inch away from squeaking through with all three points when Polster blasted a shot off the bottom of the crossbar in second-half stoppage time.
Match to Forget
Referee Ted Unkel’s dubious red card shown to Rafael Ramos in the 26th minute altered the course of this game in all the wrong ways. It took a pretty even game and flipped it in Chicago’s favor without good cause. The second red card wasn’t as bad, but did draw mixed reviews.