BRONX, NY -- The Pirlo Party was on, but it was David Villa that brought Yankee Stadium to life. A brace from the Spanish forward helped push New York City FC to a 5-3 win over expansion rivals Orlando City on Sunday afternoon in front of a packed Yankee Stadium crowd of 32,041.
The two-goal performance from Villa, however, may have been overshadowed by the Major League Soccer debut of Andrea Pirlo, who entered the game as a sub in the 56th minute, and drew massive roars from the crowd each time he touched the ball.
With Rafael Ramos reportedly picking up a knock in training to his thigh, Orlando came out in an unconventional 3-4-3 formation with center backs Sean St. Ledger, Aurelien Collin and Seb Hines all playing, and Corey Ashe and Eric Avila playing wingback positions. Orlando City Assistant Coach piloted the club with Adrian Heath suspended.
The small width of the pitch put both teams off to a slow start, as Orlando City (6-9-6, 24 points) was forced to adjust to the field metrics and sight lines after playing most of their games this season on the larger Citrus Bowl turf.
Orlando City's biggest chance of the first half happened to also be their first and only, when Cyle Larin battled for a loose ball at the top of the NYFC penalty area, appearing to win the ball cleanly before putting a shot past Josh Saunders. Larin was instead, however, called for a foul, and the goal was waived off.
Trying to get something going, David Villa did his best Carli Lloyd impression, trying to chip a pulled-out Tally Hall from midfield, but had no success recreating the moment.
Villa would, however, work enough magic to put New York City FC (6-9-6, 24 points) on the board in the 45th minute just before the half. Bringing down a pass over his head with a perfect touch, he made Sean St. Ledger spin around, then placed a perfect shot to Hall's right inside the near post.
A game that would go into halftime 1-0, would only get much wilder from there.
After not putting either of their two shots on target in the first half, Larin put Orlando City on the board for the first time in MLS play since Kaká's opening goal against Real Salt Lake on July 4, finishing off a nicely placed shot inside the penalty area after the captain's over-the-head flick from the midfield set up him in a 1-on-1 with an NYCFC defender.
Larin won the battle, but the war wasn't over for the home side.
New York answered back just three minutes later with a wide-open, far-post goal from Javier Calle, putting his team back in control, 2-1. Calle slipped behind City's back line and Thomas McNamara found him for a tap-in.
With Yankee Stadium still surging from Pirlo's entrance into the game, Larin again silenced the large Bronx crowd with another game-tying goal. This time, Carlos Rivas got on the end of a great pass from midfielder Darwin Ceren and sent a ball from the end line across the box that found an open Larin for the score in the 62nd minute.
Rivas nearly put Orlando City in front seconds later, sending a good chance wide of the target.
Villa would go on to score his second goal of the match in the 67th, then Thomas McNamara doubled the lead with an easy score directly in front of goal. Defensive breakdowns all around the field cost Orlando City, most notably here, with McNamara completely unmarked on the left side of the field
The Lions nearly pulled one back on Servando Carrasco's drive that goalkeeper Josh Saunders tapped just wide. Carrasco, making his first start with Orlando City, didn't get a lot of power behind the shot but the placement was on frame and only a diving save prevented the tying goal.
Orlando City was able to fight back one last time when Larin completed his first career hat trick with his ninth goal of the season in the 85th minute, setting a new Lions MLS record for goals in a match.
With a late free kick just outside of the penalty area, Kaká came within inches of leveling the score yet again. His curling free kick bounced off of the right post and was headed out of the box, starting a 3-on-1 NYCFC break. Mix Diskerud officially put the knife in the coffin on the quick counter with a tap-in goal in stoppage time that made it a 5-3 game.
"It's obviously disappointing," Watson said after the match. "We had a chance to make it 4-4 in the 93rd minute. So to come off losing the game 5-3 is disappointing. Defensively, we weren't quite good enough, conceding five goals, but I think the fight back on a couple of occasions was good from our guys, and that's what we'll take out of the game."
For Orlando City, it was the most goals conceded in an MLS game, making it arguably their worst defensive performance of this expansion season. The seven combined goals in the second 45 minutes were the most scored in a half in MLS play this season.
Following Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game, the Lions will return home this weekend, having dropped four straight matches across all competitions, and on a 0-3-1 MLS run. City will look to rebound against a very tough Columbus Crew side at the Citrus Bowl on Saturday.