D.C. United knew all week that their Sunday evening encounter with Orlando City SC wouldn’t be an easy task.
After a lukewarm start to their campaign, Kaká and Co. have recently rounded into form, climbing into playoff position. D.C., on the other hand, came into Sunday’s encounter following a tough loss to Toronto FC and without the services of several regular starters. Add in the prospect of game-time temperatures hovering around the 90 degree mark, a typically boisterous OCSC crowd of over 30,000 and some debatable officiating, and extracting a result out of Sunday’s encounter at the Citrus Bowl seemed like a tall order for the Black-and-Red.
Too tall an order, as it turns out. The two sides labored through the heat all night, neither side seemingly eager to grab the game by its horns. It would take a first-half penalty call in favor of Orlando – one plenty of United players took issue with – to create the game’s only tally of the night, handing D.C. a 1-0 loss in Florida.
In the 28th minute, OCSC striker Pedro Ribeiro collected the ball at the penalty spot and fired a shot at United ‘keeper Bill Hamid. Hamid did well to parry the effort away, but the rebound trickled towards the edge of the penalty area. Ribeiro gave chase, and converged with United defender Taylor Kemp just inside the far edge of the box. Kemp got his boot on the ball, but in the process clumsily made contact with Ribiero, prompting referee Jose Carlos Rivero to point to the spot.
Kaká stepped up to take the ensuing penalty, which Hamid managed to block. The rebound, however, fell directly into the path of the Brazilian legend, who calmly headed it home.
"I had no problem with our effort,” United head coach Ben Olsen said after the match. “There were obviously some spots where we could’ve been better with the ball, a little bit more clinical and cutthroat when we were in the final third. Other than that though I thought it was a good effort, we just didn’t get the goal. They got a PK that, after looking at it, you could call it or you couldn’t. But he called it, so we can’t use that as an excuse.”
"It wasn’t my favorite performance from a ref, tonight, but it’s a good win for Orlando. They earned it.”
"I’m not sure [about the PK call],” added United midfielder Davy Arnaud. “At the time, when I saw it live it seemed soft to me. Situations like that, the refs and linesman are given an opportunity to make the call and it can maybe go either way, I guess. But it was at the corner of the box and he wasn’t going anywhere; he’s a big boy, I felt like he went down a little easy. Sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t."
United may have also had a legitimate gripe on the final play of the first half, when midfielder Perry Kitchen appeared to have been brought down in the box by Orlando defender Sean St. Ledger – the Irish international seemed to pull on Kitchen’s jersey to keep him from breaking free in the area.
As has been the case through most of their campaign, few of United’s players seemed eager to latch onto the PK call – or perceived questionable refereeing in general – as an excuse for their performance. Most seemed pleased with their effort, but seemed to agree that they lacked a finishing instinct in the final third.
"I thought we were organized and we were tough to break down,” said Olsen. "I think we foul up the PK, and the second half was – again, we were pushing the game. The second half, then it starts to get open, they had some looks, we had some looks. I thought we were unlucky not to get a goal out of [the game] and get out of here with a tie. But we didn’t, so now we got to lick our wounds and get back to work.
“[This isn’t] an easy place to play. They scored a goal, and we didn’t."