Orlando City SC's first-ever experience of international competition came to an early end Thursday, as the Lions were defeated 1-0 by Liga MX's Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals of the Leagues Cup. But Orlando were left feeling the result might have been very different had they taken advantage of early chances to take the lead at Exploria Stadium.
Orlando had a clear opening in just the first 30 seconds, but Chris Mueller saw his effort desperately cleared off the line by the visiting defense. Further chances came the hosts' way in the early going, yet each time Orlando failed to capitalize.
"I think that, first of all, we felt lucky to be a part of this competition," said forward Tesho Akindele in the postgame press conference. "It's always great to be fighting for an international competition, fighting for a trophy, so it's something that we took seriously as a group. I thought that we came out, we obviously tried to win it and it didn't go our way. But it was just one of those things. I thought we played pretty well overall and maybe we just need to score a goal, early in the game when we had the momentum with us."
The misses proved to be costly. On the 30-minute mark Juan Ferney Otero shot from outside the box, Orlando goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar failed to deal with the bounce and could only help it into the net. From that moment on, Orlando never truly threatened a Santos Laguna side that was happy to sit back and hold what they had.
"That's a major frustration, obviously. We want to advance. It's a great opportunity to showcase the team, the club in an official international competition. Advancing is the objective," said head coach Oscar Pareja. "But you all saw the game, and in the first half we create those options that needed to at least one or two put it back in the back of the net and make the difference, and they got one in the 30th minute that I consider not even an option and then we walk off in the first half losing 1-0.
"After that, we couldn't have that clarity to get in behind them. But we dominated. And we've got to get over that, we have to be effective, we have to recover our efficiency in the last third and score goals. It's the only way you win games. You can play well, you can play better than the other team but if you don't score goals then it's not going to happen."
Orlando were also left frustrated by some familiar delaying tactics from the Liga MX outfit, which perhaps led to midfielder Junior Urso being shown a red card following the final whistle after angrily confronting the referee. For Orlando, playing their first official international match since joining MLS in 2015, it was all part of the learning experience.
"The Mexican team Santos, they scored a goal and then afterwards, they control the game with delaying the play," commented defender Antonio Carlos. "So yeah, that is something that we can – that's one of the lessons that we learned and we just got to be smarter, we got to be better. But we move on. It was very important to play against an international team. And now we're going to focus on what we have next."