For a second year in a row, the Citrus Bowl was filled to the brim in mostly purple-clad supporters. And just like last year's opener, Orlando City needed a last-minute goal -- two of them, in fact -- to draw in the opening match of the season.
Two goals from Cyle Larin and Adrian Winter in the last two minutes of stoppage time leveled the score against Real Salt Lake, after OCSC failed to find the net for the first 94 minutes. RSL got a pair of goals from Joao Plata, including a penalty kick while a man down, but it wasn't enough to hold off the Lions, who were able to fight back for a draw to kick off 2016.
"I actually thought we started the game very well." Heath said of his side. "We looked dangerous. I thought the first goal was going to be hugely important today."
RSL played a man down for about 25 minutes in the first half after Demar Phillips was sent off for receiving two yellow cards in the first 20 minutes. But Orlando City didn't let that advantage last very long, as Darwin Ceren was also sent off just before the end of the first half for what Chris Penso ruled was an intentional arm to the face of Javier Morales -- the player who Kaká was sent off for fouling last year when these teams met.
The Lions -- who had fallen behind in the 26th minute on Plata's penalty, which was set up on a sliding challenge by Seb Hines, who took down Yura Movsisyan in the box -- failed to take advantage of the man-up opportunity. Joe Bendik got a hand on Plata's spot kick but it had enough power to sneak just under the bar.
Orlando struggled throughout the game to find chances to put the ball in the back of the net, looking mostly to generate opportunities from out wide. A good opportunity presented itself to Kevin Molino in the sixth minute. A great ball across the field from Servando Carrasco found Rafael Ramos, who dished to Molino in the box. The Trinidadian midfielder let go of a shot on Nick Rimando, who got an arm on it.
Hardly two minutes later, the announced crowd of over 60,147 thought they had witnessed the Lions' first goal of the season when Cyle Larin tipped in the ball in front of the net, but after a lengthy delay from the officials, he was ruled offside by the referee's assistant, with the argument that Brek Shea got his foot on the ball to Larin first. Replays show that might not be the case, and that the goal may have been incorrectly called off.
With Kaká sidelined with a thigh injury, the Lions struggled to gain any true form on the attacking side, having to catch up with RSL and its possession-based offense throughout the entire match, even when playing a man up.
"When they had the guy sent off, I was confident then we would go on and win the game." Heath said. "I thought we'd make the extra man pay. But obviously Darwin goes and gets sent off and from there I thought it was one of them games where I thought we would just keep battering at the door and never get in."
Brek Shea had a great opportunity to level the score in first-half stoppage, firing a shot into the side netting just wide of the left post.
RSL was able to double its lead in the 66th minute when Plato, who had found his way clear of Rafael Ramos, tapped in a cross from Tony Beltran, adding to an already rough day for the Portuguese defender.
With absolutely nothing going the Lions' way on the afternoon, that case proved to be true twice in the dying moments of the second half, with two very near misses just wide of goal from Hadji Barry, who subbed on for Molino in the 72nd minute, and Adrian Winter in the 80th and 89th.
It took 93 minutes, but Orlando City finally had something go its way in the 94th, when Larin found the top right corner of the net off a cross from Shea. What seemed like too little too late was only the beginning of a comeback that might go down, at least for the next few years, in Orlando City history.
Hardly 30 seconds later, Winter got forward and knocked in the game-tying goal off a Larin assist to level the score at 2-2.
"In the end I can't ask the players of any more." Heath said. "I think the one thing that they've done is give us everything they've got. We have to be better. We will be better than that."
With Darwin Cerén now suspended, and Kaká likely out on Friday, the Lions will still be shorthanded when they return to the Citrus Bowl against the Chicago Fire.