Orlando City once again thrills in opener with stoppage time equalizer


Since their first game in 2015, Orlando City has had a flair for the dramatic in their home openers.

Their first year saw a late Kaká equalizer, 2016 saw two goals in stoppage time to draw Real Salt Lake, and 2017 saw late defensive heroics from goalkeeper Joe Bendik.

Now Stefano Pinho adds his name to the history books as the substitute scored a 93rd minute goal to bring a 10-man Orlando City team back from the brink to draw with D.C. United 1-1 Saturday night at Orlando City Stadium.

“Really pleased with the performance,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “Really pleased with the effort level, the commitment level and togetherness the team showed. The never giving up, the true grit that was shown today by our squad was second to none and I couldn’t be happier.”

The prelude to the match consisted of a multitude of storylines. Orlando City was battling injuries and suspensions, missing Dom Dwyer, Sacha Kljestan and Oriol Rosell, to name a few. D.C. meanwhile had travel issues getting to Orlando, only arriving late Saturday morning after dealing with the extreme weather conditions farther up north.

Throughout the first half of the match, it was clear both teams were still shaking off the rust from preseason. Sloppy passes, off target shots, miscommunications with teammates were all seen from both teams as they pushed through the match.

Orlando looked to be on the back foot the more of the two teams, and just 15 minutes in, disaster struck for the home side. United’s Darren Mattocks managed to get past Lions defender Amro Tarek and put a ball into the box, which deflected off Will Johnson’s hand.

After a lengthy discussion with the officials, the head referee Fotis Bazakos went to Video Review and awarded a penalty to DCU. Mattocks, who caused the handball, stepped up to take the penalty, but Bendik guessed the right way and was able to get a palm onto the ball, sending it onto the crossbar and out of goal. Jonathan Spector came in to clear the bouncing ball out of play and Orlando avoided disaster for the time being.

10 minutes later came the next chance for the visiting team. Orlando rookie Cam Lindley, who had a decent overall match, committed a silly foul in the attacking third on United’s Yamil Asad, putting D.C. in excellent free kick range. On that free kick, Asad bent the ball over everyone, just missing the head of Tarek and the hand of Bendik, and snuck the ball into the back of the net, giving D.C. the 1-0 lead on the road.

The team’s response after the goal was a bit frantic, as it seemed the team was trying to find a response too quickly, rather than letting the game work its way out. They seemed to be playing too aggressively, which came back to bite them in the 36th minute. After going for a header in midfield, Orlando City midfielder PC swung an elbow at Yamil Asad, who went down clutching his face. After originally being shown a yellow card, VAR once again played a part in the decision as PC was shown a straight red after review. This left the Lions down to 10 men and in a really big hole as they went to the locker rooms at halftime.

As the team came out for the second half, the Lions looked like the team with the man advantage. They controlled most of the final 45 minutes in their play and created the most chances going forward. D.C. United seemed content to sit back and defend, despite being up a player and a goal.

This led to chances upon chances for the Lions as they pushed for that elusive equalizer. Midfielder Yoshi Yotun had the closest chance for the Lions to equalize in the 57th minute, after a cross from Justin Meram fell kindly to Yotun’s feet, but the ensuing shot was just barely cleared off the line by D.C.’s Fredric Brillant, saving United for the moment.

With all the numbers being pushed forward as the game wore on, the game was almost put to bed by D.C. in the 79th minute. After a poor cross by Will Johnson, United was able to clear the ball down field to a waiting Darren Mattocks on the run. With no one in front of him but Bendik, it looked like he would surely put the game away with a second goal. However, Mohamed El-Munir was able to track down the speedy Mattocks and slide in for a game-saving challenge.

This would be a huge point in the match, still leaving the door open for Orlando to equalize in dramatic fashion, which they have become so well known for.

The 90 minutes came and went and the game went into the third of five minutes of stoppage time, still with Orlando searching for a goal. Justin Meram, who was everywhere for Orlando in the attack, picked out a run from Jonathan Spector, who just happened to bomb forward from defense. Spector took the momentum of the pass and pulled it back for Stefano Pinho, who was in the perfect position in front of goal, to finish off the late chance and give the Lions a much deserved equalizer.

The Lions will now hope to get a few players back from injury as they head into a week two matchup with former Head Coach Adrian Heath and Minnesota United FC at home in Orlando.

(Photo Courtesy of Orlando City SC)

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