Recap: Union hard done by refs, leave Orlando with a point

In a match that featured a goal that shouldn’t have been amid questionable refereeing throughout, the Union and Orlando City SC drew 2-2.

Union first XI: Blake; Fabinho, Marquez, Yaro, Rosenberry; Carroll, Creavalle; Pontius, Barnetta, Le Toux; Sapong

Orlando City first XI: Bendik; Alston, Redding, Mateos, Shea; Higuita, Carrasco; Winter, Kaka, Rivas; Larin

First half: This was a chippy one from the start. Neither team could truly assert themselves as the teams played mainly in the middle third, trying to figure each other out. Orlando was first to settle in, winning a couple corners and looking the more dangerous of the sides as the Union struggled to find any consistency going forward. Things started to get weird in the 32nd minute when Kaka appeared to slug Sebastien Le Toux from behind, resulting in the first of seven yellows and one straight red issued by referee Sorin Stoica tonight to both teams. Four minutes later, Andre Blake came out to try to take a ball away from Kaka in his box and appeared to brush against Kaka, who went down quite easily to draw a penalty. Kaka’s subsequent penalty was very poorly taken however, hit low to the left with pace, and Blake dove to push it wide and allowed no rebound.

Orlando earned a couple more corners before the Union had their best chance, a Le Toux cutback from the wing into the box which Barnetta hit first time but deflected a couple times and ended up directly in Joe Bendik’s arms.

The half neared its end with Orlando City fans booing Josh Yaro while he was down injured. Yaro could not continue and was subbed off in first-half stoppage with an apparent right shoulder injury for Ken Tribbett. Le Toux picked up a yellow for dissent as the half closed.

Second half:

The Union came out for the second half fired up and taking play to the home side, and it didn’t take long for them to break through. In the 52nd minute, Tribbett took a restart near the middle of the field and hit a beautiful lofted ball to Chris Pontius near the box, who headed it over to Tranquillo Barnetta back post. Barnetta made no mistake, volleying it home past Bendik to put the Union up 1-0. From Tribbett to Pontius to Barnetta, the ball never touched the ground. Moments later, off a restart, the Union almost had a play work where Barnetta slides a free kick into the box to CJ Sapong, but Cyle Larin hustled back and broke up what might have been the pass which lead to a sure second goal.

The Union kept pressing, and in the 61st minute, Warren Creavalle got cleaned out in Orlando’s box by David Mateos (who had been going to ground and given several fouls to this point) in what easily and frankly should have been a penalty awarded and a red card to Mateos. Neither happened. Infuriated, Curtin could be seen yelling on the sideline “how is that not a penalty” over and over at the ref, but the ref was unimpressed. (He later in his post-game press conference said he thought the game turned on that moment). Buoyed by their second gift of the night, Orlando went on to equalize in the 68th minute. Cyle Larin was played into the box with Marquez on one side and Fabinho on the other and as Blake came out to grab the ball, the three bodies collided with Andre. The ref ruled one of the defenders had hit Blake and jarred the ball loose (replay showed it was Larin who hit Blake) and Kevin Molino, fresh off of being substituted in for Adrian Winter, pounded the loose ball home to make it 1-1.

Following the goal, the Union subbed Fabian Herbers on immediately for Chris Pontius. Orlando, suddenly carrying the match, tallied again three minutes later… at least according to the official. Running down the wing, Kaka shoved Keegan Rosenberry out of the way and played a ball into the box that went off of Larin’s chest. Andre Blake got a hand to it and managed to push the ball parallel to the goaline where it was cleared out by Fabinho. However, the ball was ruled to have crossed the line the entire way and the goal was awarded. No angle of TV replay could confirm the ball was over the line the whole way. It appeared Orlando would be handed three points on this night.

The Union team of last year would have folded at some point: maybe after the non-PK or after the first goal by Orlando and almost certainly after the second bogus goal was awarded. But this is a different team. Just four minutes after Orlando went up 2-1, Barnetta played a short corner to Le Toux who smartly played it back to Barnetta. Tranquillo hit the ball across the face of the goal on the ground with pace and Joe Bendik was only able to get a hand to it, and it leaked out to Ken Tribbett for an easy finish to put the Union level again at 2.

With fifteen minutes left, the cards started flying. Rivas was shown a yellow at 64′, followed by Barnetta seeing yellow at 72′. Servando Carrasco of Orlando saw yellow at 76′ as the game got increasingly rough and wild. Higuita followed at 89′ with a yellow for giving Sebastien Le Toux a forearm to the head, and David Mateos finally saw his dangerous tackles punished by seeing straight red in second-half stoppage for a high dangerous kick to Fabian Herbers, who had looked dangerous in a substitute role and who troubled Bendik repeatedly.

Tranquillo Barnetta had a chance to repeat his heroics with a late free kick from nearly the same spot as from where he beat Orlando last time, but the ball went just over the bar, and the game ended 2-2 after an Orlando counterattack was snuffed out.

Impressions: I was searching for something that explained how this game felt and I found myself comparing it to Game 2 of an NBA playoff series in the 1990s. It was written by Sam Smith that Michael Jordan’s Bulls knew if the league wanted a series to stretch out and the Bulls to lose a couple games for better ratings and more ticket sales, they would send a certain referee to do Game 2 of that series if the Bulls had won Game 1. That’s what this felt like, that no matter what the Union did or how much they deserved to, they were not going to win this game. Now, let me be clear: I’m not saying the fix is in, or that anything intentional happened tonight. I’m merely saying that’s what it felt like. The way the game was officiated felt like an apology to the Lions by PRO for how the first Orlando City-Philadelphia match ended, with a free kick golazo by the Union that PRO later said shouldn’t have counted. This match was a precious road point for the Union that could have and if not for the officiating, should have been three.

The Union, unbeaten in six games now, will next face the Colorado Rapids and old goalkeeper Zac MacMath in Denver this weekend in a battle of first in the East and first in the West in MLS.

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