Orlando City had its back against the wall. With Toronto's 3-1 win over Philadelphia earlier in the evening, the Lions could not afford a loss against Montreal Impact on Saturday night if they wanted to keep their postseason hopes alive for yet another week.
And not only did they stave off elimination, but the Lions took all three points from their Eastern Conference rivals with a 2-1 win on the strength of goals from Cyle Larin and defender Seb Hines.
"Huge win," Orlando City manager Adrian Heath remarked following the win. "It's never easy winning football games that you have to win -- it comes with extra pressure."
Even through the press box glass, the tension that the 35,421 in attendance were experiencing because of that pressure was palpable throughout the evening.
The match got off to an ominous start to the Lions when right back Rafael Ramos and center back Tommy Redding collided head-to-head as both elevated to try to play an aerial ball. Both players remained on the pitch for several minutes before being taken off on stretchers, with Ramos visibly bleeding from his forehead. The team said both players were being monitored, and that Ramos had been transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center, presumably to receive stitches for what looked to be a rather large gash.
After the medical staff had left the field, left back Luke Boden came on for Ramos and Brek Shea, who had started at LB, moved over to the right side to fill the spot vacated by the Portuguese. Hines came on to relieve Redding in the center of defense.
After the teams kicked it around for a while between the boxes, Orlando received a break in minute 33, when Montreal midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker misplayed a back pass directly into the path of a charging Larin. The rookie striker, continuing his scintillating form from last week's win at New York Red Bulls, took advantage of the gift and slotted home with a left-footed strike from just outside the box that Evan Bush got a hand on but could not keep out of the net.
After chants of Larin's name rang out across the Citrus Bowl and 11 more minutes of play had elapsed, Montreal got a break of its own in the form of Dominic Oduro's controversial equalizer.
A low cross was played into the 6-yard box by one of Montreal's wide players, which OCSC goalkeeper Tally Hall went to the ground to handle. With one hand on top of the ball securing it to the ground, the Ghanaian slyly tapped the ball out of Hall's grasp and finished past a sliding Aurélien Collin for a goal that should have been disallowed but was not, and we went to half in a 1-1 deadlock.
The second half didn't begin at a burning pace, with the best chance of the early stages coming in the form of a 35-yard, left-footed curler by Shea that banged off the crossbar; a reminder of the Texan's stellar potential as an attacking winger.
Things got real in minute 59 when Didier Drogba came on for Montreal in favor of the goal-scorer Oduro. Montreal enjoyed a nice spell of possession after the Ivorian's introduction, but no truly dangerous chances came out of it for Impact. Drogba played a nice through ball after a step-over move, but a charging Hall kept it from reaching its intended target, Andrés Romero.
The match would truly change in the 80th minute when Hines scored his first goal for OCSC, connecting on a volley following a mishit clearance of a cross by Boden. The center half got a good enough connection with the ball with his right shin to send it across the face of goal and past Bush for what turned out to be the match-clincher.
Heath commended both of his first-half substitutes for their play off the bench, and was particularly happy to see Hines net the winner after handling the disappointment of not getting much action recently.
"Sometimes you get rewards in life for being a good professional," Inchy said in relation to Hines.
Although Drogba had been a terror since his arrival in MLS, the Lions handled his second-half substitution very well overall. Boden had a particularly good defensive play in minute 72, when he made a sliding interception on a pass that would have found Drogba inside the box, denying the legend a potential shot at goal.
Orlando did not allow Drogba to alter the complexion of the game drastically and Collin, in particular, seemed to relish the opportunity to go up against the strong, physical striker, and made it a point to battle toe-to-toe with the big Ivorian throughout his half-hour spell.
With the win, the Lions (11-13-8, 41 points) pull to within one point of Montreal (12-12-6, 42 points) in the standings, although the Impact still has one game remaining in hand. Orlando's next ultra-important match will be at the Citrus Bowl on Oct. 16 against New York City FC. The Lions will have to play without Kaká and Shea, who both picked up bookings on the night and will be on yellow card suspension.