Yet despite a loss that keeps the Lions firmly on the wrong side of the playoff red line, head coach Jason Kreis insisted there were still positives and still reasons to believe they can finish the season with a flourish.
Not for the first time this year, it was the little things that added up to lot in the final result, and it was the 82nd-minute injury to center back Seb Hines, tweaking his knee in a harmless-looking tackle with Sebastian Giovinco that had Kreis counting the cost.
“That’s the third game in a row where I have had to replace a central defender,” Kreis said. “That’s tough on a coach, especially when you want your substitutions to impact the game positively.
“And not having Seb, who’d played well up to that point, was a small part in things. Their second goal then came from that quick free-kick and we got caught out. We ought to have had someone standing on top of the ball, so that’s something we need to do better.”
Orlando also didn’t take full advantage of their first-half dominance, especially early on, when several chances went begging, notably to Cyle Larin, who eventually equalized in the 56th minute with a trademark header. And that didn’t go unnoticed by the coach, too.
“That’s a goalscorer’s life for you,” Kreis said. “On a different night he probably scores more than just one. The one he scored was quite special but it could certainly have been different.”
Kreis also challenged his team to pick themselves up ahead of Sunday’s showdown with his former team, New York City FC. A second successive home defeat is a major blow and, with four of their five games in September coming on the road, he is aware their task is becoming a steep one.
“It was still a night where we did some good things against a quality team,” Kreis said. “I am still seeing positive signs we are heading in the right direction, and I thought we did enough in this game [to get something from it].
“The decision now is do we think we are not good enough and start feeling sorry for ourselves? I choose to believe we are still moving in a positive direction and I ask the players and everyone else here to believe that as well.”
Goalkeeper Joe Bendik had another stellar night and looked like he had earned his team a point until substitute Jozy Altidore’s 86th-minute winner. He made five outstanding saves, including a stunner at point-blank range to deny Altidore, but he was still not happy with his evening.
“To be honest, I get sick of it,” he insisted. “I would rather stand there and not make a single save. If I need to make saves, I will make saves, but I would rather win. It is a bit of consolation to play well against a good team like that. They are one of the best teams in the league by far. But we need to regroup and get three points against New York.”