BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - Orlando City snuck out of Toyota Park with a 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday night, proving they don't need Kaká in order to succeed. They didn't even need their 11 starters, with substitutes Brek Shea, Darwin Cerén and Bryan Róchez combining for the winning goal in the 86th minute.
"Makes it look like I know what I'm doing huh?" Adrian Heath said. "We all thought of starting with Bryan Róchez because he gave us a lift last week. Brek's the same, [because] he's working really hard in the week. We don't know how far we can go with him, but obviously in the end it was good that all three subs were involved in the goal."
Despite the end result, this was a match the Lions (9-13-8, 35 points) were very lucky to win.
David Accam was active for Chicago (7-16-6, 27 points) in the early going, creating several scoring opportunities that tested Orlando City's back line. He was defended well by David Mateos and Aurélien Collin, who prevented the Ghanaian striker from producing anything Tally Hall couldn't deal with.
It was a particularly strong outing for Mateos, who showed signs of becoming the defensive stopper Orlando hoped they were getting during the summer transfer window. Whether he was the last man back on Fire counter-attacks or roaming in the box off corners, his potential to succeed in MLS was obvious in the early going.
But with most of Orlando's back line focused on stopping Accam, several other Fire players were allowed to roam freely in the final third. Kennedy Igboananike managed a nice header midway through the first that forced Hall to make a diving save (though the flag was up), while minutes later, Hall had to make a nearly identical stop on a Harry Shipp rocket from just inside the box.
The first-half offense for Orlando was provided by Carlos Rivas, who made a case for more minutes down the stretch this season in a very strong performance. His 19th-minute opportunity rattled the crossbar, as he kept Jeff Larentowicz and friends busy in front of the Fire goal. While not playing the central attacking role that he's occupied at times this season, Rivas was certainly Orlando's most active offense player, as even Cyle Larin seemed content to play a facilitating role.
The first half ended without a goal and both of Orlando's shots on target coming from their Colombian midfielder.
Chicago continued to pressure the Lions in the second half, as Shipp made a nice run to find Accam for a shot that trickled just past the left post. Neither team dominated possession, but it was the Fire who managed to string together passes and dictate the tempo of the match. Still though, the Lions failed to produce anything dangerous.
Kaká's creativity was desperately missed at times in the central midfield, as Orlando's offensive strategy consisted mainly of long balls to Larin or Rivas. Any attempt by the Lions to establish some kind of build-up play led to midfield turnovers, as Accam or Igboananike seemed always ready to pounce.
Heath said he believes Orlando City's captain will be back on the field soon.
"We think that Ricky will be available next week," he said. "He's been working really, really hard the last two or three days but we just felt there was no point risking it. Obviously, he'll be available for selection next week as will Corey Ashe."
With the game still deadlocked late in the second half, Heath brought on Bryan Róchez and Brek Shea in an attempt to jump-start the Orlando City attack. It began to pay immediate dividends, as Rafael Ramos found a streaking Róchez on the right post, only for his close-range header to be turned away by Jon Busch.
But just minutes later, the Honduran international would make good.
The play began on a cheeky pass from Brek Shea into the box, where both Darwin Cerén and Róchez had snuck behind the Fire defense. Cerén controlled, then found Róchez for the 20-year old's second goal as a Lion.
It was Shea's second assist in as many games since returning from injury.
"I turned around and all of a sudden the ball popped back to me," Shea said. "I was going to cross it, but didn't see many options in the box so I pulled it back and started dribbling in. I laid it off and they scored."
There wasn't much time for the Fire to work with after the Róchez goal, as the momentum had been sucked right out of Toyota Park. When the game went final a few minutes later, Orlando City had stolen more than just three points from their trip to the Windy City.
They also kept a most unlikely playoff bid alive for one more week, giving fans reason to believe this season might hold something more than just the four games left on the schedule.
"It's getting to that stage in the season where we've got to step up," Heath said. "We've got another huge game for us next week, but I'm confident in this group. When we play well, we can give anybody in the league a game."