Good riddance, July.
After a nightmare of a month, Orlando City registered a cathartic victory over Columbus Crew SC on the first night of August at the Citrus Bowl with a 5-2 romp over their Eastern Conference rivals.
"Obviously delighted with the performance and the result against a very good team," Orlando City manager Adrian Heath said following the win. "To come away like we did after conceding so early on was an incredible performance by the boys."
Things started quickly out of the gate as Columbus took advantage of an OCSC giveaway to grab a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute of play. Justin Meram was given far too much space to prance through the midfield in the run-up and was easily able to pick out Federico Higuain as the Argentine was streaking toward goal, and Higuain proceeded to finish easily past a helpless Tally Hall.
Less than a week after letting in five goals at NYCFC in the last match of a four-game losing skid, such an early score for the visitors could have spelled disaster for the Lions' back line, but the unit held strong and would not concede again all evening.
The Lions had their share of chances early on, but Columbus keeper Steve Clark was in top form and denied a pair of one-on-one opportunities for Cyle Larin in minutes three and 12, in addition to making an insane diving save on a Kaká rifle from the edge of the box in minute 42.
Orlando would break through in the 18th minute, though, when Kid Fantastic notched his 10th goal of the year on a top-shelf finish from close range. The Lions set up the score with a nice sequence down the left flank as Servando Carrasco hit Corey Ashe moving forward, which allowed the left back to serve in a great low ball directly to the feet of Larin.
The Lions found the back of the net again in the 38th minute when a one-two between Kaká and Larin led to a scorcher of a goal from Darwin Cerén. After Kaká had a low cross blocked, the Brazilian hustled to track the ball down on the end line before playing Cerén into the box from the right side. Cerén had his first shot blocked by a defender, but left no doubt on his second attempt as he blasted one across the face of goal into the upper left corner, giving Clark no chance.
Less than 10 minutes into the second half, the Ashe to Larin combination would cash in again for City, as Ashe was played forward on the left by a beautiful aerial ball and – in familiar fashion – played a low left-footed pass to Larin, who slotted home inside the right post to give the Lions a 3-1 advantage in minute 54.
The goal for Larin was number 11 on the season, matching the 12-year-old MLS rookie scoring record previously set by Chicago's Damani Ralph in 2003. Heath was understandably pleased with his rookie striker following the match, as he has now recorded five goals in his last two outings.
"We all know how important goals are," Heath said. "I think we've got somebody who's on a real hot streak now and obviously his confidence is up. He has all the tools to be a top-line striker – people don't realize how strong and how quick he is. If he keeps working hard and stays injury free, he's got a really bright future."
The dagger came for OCSC in the 77th minute when Luke Boden – who played very well in the left midfield with Ashe behind him at left back – used a well taken corner kick to connect with the bald dome of Aurélien Collin, who redirected the ball past Clark and sent the Citrus Bowl into frenzy as Orlando went 4-1 up on their first goal from a corner all season. The party would escalate further in the 85th minute when Kaká notched his fourth assist of the year by finding Cristian Higuita for another headed goal and a 5-1 advantage for the good guys.
Collin's joy was curtailed a bit in the 90th minute when the French defender scored an own goal, but City had long since run away with this one and still held a three-goal advantage.
In what was a wide open game for almost all 90 minutes, Orlando withstood the attack of the Eastern Conference's highest scoring team, avoiding near goals from the league's leading scorer Kei Kamara on a couple of occasions. The All-Star striker was inches away from connecting on header attempts on several Columbus crosses, and Hall had to make a stunning save in minute 22 by getting a left paw on what appeared to be a sure Kamara score after he out-leaped Seb Hines on a run to the back post.
While Columbus got the ball into space a number of times throughout the evening, they were unable to score following their early opener and were helpless once City's momentum got running downhill in the second half. The work of Higuita and Cerén in the central midfield was fantastic for OCSC on Saturday night and contributed largely to the result.
The Lions came out in a flexible 4-3-3 formation against Columbus, with Boden assisting in defense to contain the potent Crew attack and Kaká being free to move from the center of the pitch out to the right wing when he saw fit.
The gaffer summed it up succinctly following the match.
"A really good night's work."
Orlando returns to action on Wednesday night at Toronto FC.