If you have been following Orlando City SC for the last four years then you know the club has a flair for the dramatic. Last Sunday's stoppage time goal by Kaká to tie up the inaugural Major League Soccer game against New York City FC was right on script.
While Sunday was the first game of a hopefully long and successful reign in MLS, it was also the culmination of four years of hope and luck, of boldness and passion. In a now familiar narrative, Orlando City dominated the USL, forcing a conversation with MLS where there hadn't been one before. Two epic USL final games, each suspenseful in its own way, and winning seasons every year have created not only a culture of success, but also expectation.
That culture came face to face with a proper villain Sunday. The city's and the club's differences could not be more pronounced. The newly crowned soccer capital of the south vs. the soccer capital of the north. The plucky upstarts who begged, borrowed, and kicked their way into MLS vs. the team that was given a space in MLS before it had owners or a club. Every heroic epic needs a villain. NYCFC fits the role perfectly. They are the antithesis of us.
All heroes must be tested -- cue Mix Diskerud and a perfectly placed ball into the corner beyond Donovan Ricketts' massive frame. With one strike against the run of play, Orlando's heroic moment seemed lost. When Aurélien Collin saw red for his horror tackle on David Villa, it seemed like the faithful in purple were set to go home a disappointed shade of blue.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to end, right? Not after this long, four-year narrative and all the dedicated struggles of the club, the staff, the players, and the supporters to get to this moment.
Familiar with Adrian Heath's clubs always having the never-say-die mindset, the supporters stayed behind the team, pushing them to somehow find the equalizer. As the players adjusted to playing 10 vs. 11, the Orlando attack started to look positive. Right on script, the most humble of superstars, Kaká, steps up for a free kick. It is the 91st minute.
Coincidentally, that free kick is on the south end goal. That's the supporters end, the same one we won our 2011 USL Championship on. Coincidentally, Kaká is staring at a goal with supporters banners honoring OCSC Legends Rob Valentino, Jamie Watson, Miguel Gallardo, and Yordany Álvarez, hanging predominantly in the background. Supporters and legends looked on as the former FIFA World Player of the Year stood composed behind the ball.
A shot, a deflection, a goal, pandemonium.
And like that, Kaká began to write the second chapter. For one game, Orlando City stayed on script, rewarding 62,000+ fans with a goal to celebrate and a satisfying draw.
Two match-ups with NYCFC, and two 1-1 ties; two more match-ups left this season. This inaugural season battle is just getting going. Orlando City will be challenged all season by stiff MLS competition to keep the narrative they have crafted the past four seasons going every step of the way. Kaká's goal this weekend proved it will also be exceptionally exciting to watch.
(Above Photo Credit: Iron Lion Firm Instagram Account)