An important era of Orlando City history has come to an end. The club said goodbye to its long-time home on Sunday, winning 4-2 over D.C. United in its final game at Camping World Stadium, formerly known as the Citrus Bowl. With the victory, the Lions (9-11-14, 41 points) end the season on a two-game winning streak after a 2-0 win in Philadelphia last weekend.
The four-goal output tied Orlando’s highest goal total at home this season, equaling the four goals scored against the Portland Timbers back in April.
“I’m obviously very, very pleased with the performance,” Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “Not easy to do as players to not have an objective in front of you with the opportunity to make the playoffs for two games in a row now.”
Possibly with an aim at resting players for the playoffs, D.C. Head Coach Ben Olsen fielded a rather weak lineup against Orlando, who United (11-10-13, 46 points) beat 4-1 in Washington just a few weeks ago. Several key faces such as Bill Hamid, Steve Birnbaum, and Lloyd Sam were on the bench, and Patrick Mullins did not even dress.
For Orlando City, it was a golden opportunity to send the fans home happy one last time in 2016.
Matias Perez Garcia got the electric crowd of 30,022 to their feet early with a well-taken opportunity in the ninth minute. MPG fired an angled shot on frame at Travis Worra, who made a diving save to his left, then Kevin Molino followed up on the rebound with a diving header that sent the ball just wide of the goal.
Molino buried his next attempt four minutes later, getting on the end of a low cross from Rafael Ramos on the right wing, tapping in his 11th goal of the season. Kaká began the play with a perfectly timed long ball to the right.
Kaká doubled the Lions’ lead not long after in the 21st minute. The Brazilian midfielder brought in a pass from Molino on the left side then hustled his way into the box before shooting past Worra to make it a 2-0 game and push his goal total to nine this season, tying his 2015 total.
“What I really liked was that I believe for the first time since I’ve been here, there was really a sense of urgency about how we approached the first 15-20 minutes of the game, and I think that’s something that needs to become a trademark of Orlando City,” Kreis said.
While Orlando City controlled both the majority of possession and the better chances throughout the first half, D.C. stayed right on the Lions’ tails. Seb Hines gifted United a goal in the 41st minute when a bad back pass to Joe Bendik was intercepted by Julian Buescher and finished by Alvaro Saborio into the empty net.
The second half continued on right where the first left off. Orlando pushed, D.C. resisted, and both sides replicated the first half scoreline with Orlando scoring twice more and United kicking back with a goal.
Cristian Higuita finished a beauty of a shot in the 50th minute for his first goal of the season, and — after Kennedy Igboananike pulled D.C. to within one again on a 78th-minute goal — Julio Baptista, who entered as a sub midway through the half, knocked in Orlando City’s final goal of the season to make it a 4-2 game.
“We saw snapshots tonight of what we’ve been looking for and what we’ll be looking for next year,” Kreis said. “I think it leaves a great visual image in the fans’ minds for what they can expect to see next year.”
Orlando City finishes the season in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, a point behind the New England Revolution and playoff-bound Union, and five points clear of ninth-place Columbus Crew SC.
What comes next for the Lions is largely unknown. Jason Kreis now has the next four months to prepare his team for 2017, when the club will also be kicking off its third season in its brand new downtown soccer-specific stadium. Some of the players in today’s game may have seen their last appearance for the club, but as for who, only time will tell.