BRADENTON, FL -- Carlos Rivas' free kick goal in the 67th minute erased a 1-0 deficit and earned Orlando City SC a 1-1 draw against D.C. United at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. Rivas' left-footed effort set up by a foul drawn by Tyler Turner, just to the right of the box, curled in and handcuffed United goalie Diego Restrepo, skipping in off the keeper.
A draw against the defending Eastern Conference regular season champions isn't a bad result for the Lions in their first game as an MLS team. As expected, especially with a few bodies missing, the team started the game a bit disorganized, leading to Chris Pontius's headed goal in the 14th minute.
"I thought the first 20 minutes, I don't think we put three passes together at any one stage," said Head Coach Adrian Heath. "But hey, the most important thing is that most of the players have had a good 45 (minutes) underneath them and they'll be better for that."
"That was a good header," goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts said with a smile about Pontius's opening strike. "As I said, first game. Hopefully the next game I can get that one."
Orlando City settled down from there and from the 30th minute through halftime actually had the better of the run of play. The game opened up in the second half, with fewer starters on the pitch for both clubs. Turner was able to make a run toward the box and was taken down hard by a United defender to set up Rivas's tying kick.
Both teams had chances down the stretch, particularly United, but neither could break the deadlock.
Jairo Arrieta, who Orlando City drafted in the MLS Expansion Draft from Columbus, then traded to DC for an international slot, had two of the best chances to decide the game. He shook free of Tyler Turner and fired a shot at Lions keeper Earl Edwards Jr. in the 57th minute. Pedro Ribeiro did likewise for Orlando City moments later.
In the 76th minute, Arrieta pounced on a loose ball in the City box but his strike was denied by a diving Matt Cardone, a goalkeeper on trial with the Lions. It was easily the save of the match, keeping the game tied. Eight minutes later, Arrieta slipped behind the back line but his shot sailed high. A final United chance was headed just wide in the 89th minute.
Heath said his players now know what they're going to be up against this season.
"Now, you know you're playing against a team that won the East last year," Heath said. "We've got an idea of what we're (up) against. We've got an little idea of the size of the people we're going to play against, the pace of the people we're going to play against, so we'll be a lot better. I thought there was some good stuff tonight and I thought there was a lot to learn."
The important takeaway was that Orlando City looked like a team that belongs in MLS and the team made it through without any major knocks, although Harrison Heath and Gustavo both had to leave the field momentarily after hard challenges. Both returned.
Now that there's a game under their belt, Heath knows exactly what his club needs to work on.
"One thing it does show me is we've got a lot of work to do in the next four or five weeks," Heath said.
Orlando City's Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Goalkeeper - Donovan Ricketts
Defender - Luke Boden, Aurelien Collin, Gustavo, Rafael Ramos
Defensive MF - Amobi Okugo, Estrela
Attacking MF - Kevin Molino, Lewis Neal, Tony Cascio
Forward - Martin Paterson
D.C. United: Chris Pontius (14')
Orlando City: Carlos Rivas (67')
DC. United: Jared Jeffrey (33')
Orlando City: Cristian Higuita (89')