On a bitterly cold Friday evening in Chester, Pennsylvania, Orlando City's defense played with fire all night.
And in the 89th minute, they finally got burned.
Tranquillo Barnetta nailed a free kick from just outside the box as the Philadelphia Union (3-2-0, 9 points) handed Orlando City (2-1-2, 8 points) its first loss of the 2016 season, a 2-1 defeat that's going to sting for a while. Barnetta's heroics erased a mixed performance from the Lions and turned an impressive goal from Adrian Winter into merely a talking point.
It didn't take long for disaster to strike in Philly, as Rafael Ramos horribly misplayed a Union cross right to the the feet of C.J. Sapong inside the first two minutes. The 27-year-old might not score an easier goal in his career, as his flick past Joe Bendik put the home team up 1-0 in the second minute.
Philadelphia controlled possession in the early going, as the Orlando City midfield looked out of sorts with Cristian Higuita missing the start with a groin injury and Kaká forced to play higher up the pitch in place of the injured Cyle Larin. The Lions did manage a few probing runs forward, and in the 13th minute, Kaká ripped a shot from the same position he scored against Portland, only for it to trickle just wide of the post.
As the first half wore on, Orlando began to inch closer to an equalizer and earned a handful of corners that kept Union goalkeeper Andre Blake honest. But nothing materialized for the Lions in the final third, as their midfield continued to be victimized by the Philadelphia attack.
In one problematic sequence, MLS veteran Chris Pontius won the ball from Darwin Cerén and Servando Carrasco, managing to hold up play long enough for his teammates to get forward. Even as Orlando looked increasingly dangerous on the counter, it felt like everything else was one play away from falling apart.
Kevin Molino was a bright spot in the first 45 minutes, as he managed to find space in the Union defense and provide plenty of attacking support. And it was Molino who finally helped jumpstart the Orlando City attack just before halftime.
After Antonio Nocerino swiped a back pass in the Union midfield, Molino played a perfect pass to Winter just outside the box. Winter did the rest, shaking his defender and beating Blake to the far post to give Orlando City its first-ever goal against Philadelphia.
More importantly, it tied the match at 1-1 as both teams headed to the locker room.
The Lions picked right up where they left off in the second half, as Kaká found a wide open Winter in the Union box, but his booming shot was tipped over the crossbar by Blake. Winter nearly returned the favor a few minutes later, playing Kaká in, only for the captain's shot to find the seats.
Orlando City got the better of the chances early in the second half, but the teams played just about even down the stretch, although the Union got a boost from the introduction of Barnetta and Fabian Herbers in the 63rd minute. After a few minutes to get into the game, the duo helped flip the field in Philly's favor and were especially troublesome in the final five minutes of regulation.
The club's patchwork back line -- with Aurélien Collin subbing for the injured Tommy Redding and Luke Boden in for the suspended Brek Shea -- continued to flirt with disaster, as a Union corner in the 66th minute was misplayed by Collin and knocked around a bit before Ramos was finally able to clear. A free kick skipped just in front of goal minutes later, deflecting off the head of Joe Bendik and giving Orlando another break.
But just a minute before stoppage time, Orlando's defensive struggles cost them the match.
Philly earned a free kick from just outside the box, and Barnetta nailed a perfect, swerving free kick that banked off the cross bar and into the Orlando City net. There was nothing Joe Bendik could do.
A blast from Winter minutes later in stoppage time nearly bailed out the Lions, but Blake was up to it with a diving save, and kept Philadelphia ahead. That would be Orlando's final opportunity in a 2-1 defeat to the Union.
Soccer is a cruel sport.
Orlando City is back in action next Sunday, as they welcome the New England Revolution to the Citrus Bowl for a 3:30 p.m. match that will be televised nationally on ESPN.