Orlando City survived 45 minutes without their captain, who was sent off in the dying moments of the first half, and defended resolutely to earn a 1-1 draw at Real Salt Lake. The Lions scored first and nearly doubled the lead before RSL equalized in the late Independence Day match in front of a Rio Tinto Stadium record crowd of 20,956.
If they were there to see Kaká, they should ask for half their money back.
With the draw, City (6-6-6, 24 points) pulls into a tie with Columbus and New England for second in the Eastern Conference and the Lions now 4-1-2 against Western Conference teams.
Kaká opened the scoring just five minutes into the match on a great bit of build-up play. Pedro Ribeiro fought through a couple of defenders on the right and passed to Eric Avila, who one-touched back to Pedro. The "other" Brazilian's pass allowed Kaká to slip behind the defense and the captain beat Attinella to the wide side.
The goal came just after Tally Hall prevented RSL from striking first. Hall made a diving save on Olmes Garcia just seconds earlier. RSL (5-6-8, 23 points) had gotten three in the box after a long ball had bounced high and over Seb Hines. After the City defense blocked a backheel try, Garcia turned and let one go that was inside the left post, but Hall got a paw on it to keep it out.
Four minutes after Kaká broke the scoreless tie, Seb Hines nearly made it 2-0 off a corner kick, as his free header was tapped off the front of the crossbar by RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
Much of the rest of the first half was one-way traffic, with Real Salt Lake darting and diving into the creases in the Orlando defense. Hall was there when called upon, but many of RSL's attacks either ended up in a frustrated long shot over the bar or being carved out by Hines or Sean St. Ledger.
However, RSL did equalize with their sustained pressure in the 28th minute.
Tony Beltran fired in a cross from the right wing and Sebastian Jaime smashed it home with his head to tie it up. Orlando was scrambling back and Luke Boden came inside. St. Ledger could not get out on Beltran fast enough to challenge the perfectly placed cross and there with one center back out wide, there was possibly some confusion on the coverage, but it felt like that goal was always coming.
The Lions slowed the game down after that and tried to get to the half, but just before that could happen, the game turned on a highly questionable call by referee Sorin Stoica.
Beltran and Eric Avila battled for the ball along the left sideline. Avila clipped Beltran, who fell and then reached out and pulled Avila down. Either of those fouls could have prevented what happened next but strangely, the whistle blew for neither.
Javier Morales beat Kaká to the loose ball and threw an arm out, clipping the Lions captain, who then barreled into the RSL attacking midfielder from behind. Morales fell on the foul and Kaká lost his balance, appearing to accidentally step on his opponent. Stoica pulled out his yellow card but his assistant told him to book the Brazilian -- and he did.
The foul itself could have been worthy of a yellow, but the red flew instead, as the AR clearly believed there was intent in the step. It looked accidental to me, but don't take my word for it.
Looks inadvertent to us, but officiating crew made the call— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) July 5, 2015
As for the play itself, you be the judge:
And from the reverse angle (note the lack of reaction from Morales):
After the break, Orlando came out in a 4-4-1 with Carlos Rivas moving to the top of the formation and Ribeiro dropping back to the left to form a second block of four with midfielders Cristian Higuita, Lewis Neal and Avila.
The tactical change stymied Real Salt Lake's creativity in attack. They tried link-up play, long balls, long shots and crosses from the wings, but Orlando's defending was courageous and Hall was there to scoop up or parry anything that got through.
The Lions also got some chances, despite being numerically challenged. Rivas's shot off a set piece was inches wide at 52' and St. Ledger got a header on frame from four yards out that forced a big save by Attinella at 63'.
Perhaps the best chance was denied in the 63rd minute, when Rivas got a step and was about to burn past Elias Vasquez, who reached out with his left arm and pulled down the Orlando attacker. No foul was given by Stoica, who somehow deemed that was a legal challenge.
As City tired down the last 20 minutes, how RSL saw more and more of the ball. Hall made some big stops down the stretch, including a one-hander against a Sebastian Saucedo blast that got just enough of the ball to send it off the right post in the 84th minute.
For no reason known to man, there were five added minutes but the Lions managed to get through them by earning a series of throw-ins.
The Lions are back in MLS action next Saturday at home against FC Dallas, but will be without Kaká again unless his red card is rescinded.