Cyle Larin's stoppage time penalty kick snapped a 2-2 deadlock and sent the Citrus Bowl's 20,501 fans home happy as Orlando City defeated Brazil Serie A side Ponte Preta, 3-2.
The 20-year-old Canadian international outraced the Brazilian defense to get to a long ball forward, turned the corner, and was pulled down by defender Pablo on a clear foul. Referee Roberto Sibiga had no choice but to award Orlando a penalty in the game's final moment.
As reward for his effort, Larin took the spot kick and buried it in the right corner to break the tie and ignite the home crowd. Sibiga didn't even allow the ensuing kickoff before blowing full time.
"I always go the same way," Larin said of his penalty. "I might switch it up sometimes, but that's my spot to go at and I just focused on that corner."
Ponte Preta provided a stiff challenge in the friendly, scoring the game's first goal and then getting a second-half equalizer shortly after Orlando City took a 2-1 lead.
Second-half sub Sean St. Ledger provided that one-goal advantage off Luke Boden's corner kick, heading home the go-ahead tally in the 55th minute. But Renato Caja's beautiful free kick knotted the score just four minutes later, setting up the late Larin drama that wouldn't have been possible without a first-half penalty save by rookie goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr.
Head Coach Adrian Heath was visibly happy after the match.
"We're obviously pleased with the result. It's nice to get a few goals at home and give our supporters something to cheer," Heath said. "I really enjoyed the first half because I thought it was strange. They gave us a shape we've not seen in a long time and I thought they were very good. As a coach it was something that we had to try to figure out and I thought we did. The second half I thought we had a lot better shape, competed in the game really well and obviously delighted for the players. I have to be honest. I'm really pleased for the players to get a few goals and even though it's a friendly game, to have won the game at home."
Ponte Preta jumped on the board first, drawing a tactical foul on Cristian Higuita just above the penalty area to Edwards' left. Higuita, who took a yellow card for the team, was injured on the play and missed the free kick. Tiago Alves didn't, heading Renato Caja's free past Edwards -- after a deft flick onward from Rildo -- and into the back of the net for a 1-0 Ponte Preta advantage just 12 minutes into the match.
Three minutes later, Kevin Molino sustained a leg injury while delivering a cross. He was able to continue but took another knock and had to be helped off the field, leaving after just 20 minutes. The injury, combined with the Ponte Preta lead, cast a somber mood over the Citrus Bowl crowd.
Heath said after the game that the extent of Molino's injury won't be known until they give it a chance to calm down and for the doctors to get a look at it, but the Trinidadian didn't appear to be wearing any type of brace after the game in the locker room.
In the 33rd minute, things appeared to get worse for the Lions, when Rildo slipped behind the Orlando defense. Earl Edwards Jr. came off his line but then hesitated before sprawling in the path of the oncoming Brazilian forward. Rildo dragged his leg to get the call and he did. Sibiga pointed to the spot, awarding a Ponte Preta penalty.
Striker Biro Biro stepped up to take the spot kick and delayed his run to get a bead on Edwards, who stood his ground, then guessed correctly, diving to his right and getting his right hand on the shot to deny the penalty. The ball was cleared out for a corner and Orlando fought on.
Bryan Rochez brought Orlando City back off a corner at the end of first half stoppage, rising above the defense to get his head to Eric Avila's corner kick, beating goalkeeper Marcelo Lomba. The late goal not only leveled the score but also foreshadowed the end of the second half.
"I was praying to God that this would happen and I would get an opportunity to get on the field and start," said Rochez through a club interpreter. "It was something we had practiced over and over again over the week with Coach Heath, and I was just happy I actually had the opportunity to make that same play that I had practiced."
With big MLS matches coming up, Heath said it was important to get a result even though it was just a friendly.
"Had we come in this evening and got beat comfortably, that wouldn't have done us any good whatsoever," he said. "But the fact that we played a really good team and I think the second half played well and created some good opportunities and had a good shape tonight -- they'll take a lot of confidence from that moving forward."