BRONX, NY -- It's not an Orlando City match without a crazy late finish, right?
After falling behind 2-0 midway through the second half, Orlando City was able to rally with a pair of goals in the final 20 minutes, including a late equalizer in stoppage time from Kevin Molino, to leave New York City with a point in hand and a 2-2 draw in their back pocket heading into the two-week Copa America break.
The Lions were down five regular starters heading into the match, with David Mateos and Cristian Higuita both suspended for the game, adding to the injuries of Rafael Ramos and Darwin Ceren, and Kaká's call-up to the Brazilian national team. But Orlando was still able to manage a result in front of the announced of 25,039 at Yankee Stadium.
"I was delighted with the effort of the players because it was a tough game on the back of what they had just done here (the 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls). We knew they'd come out firing," Adrian Heath said after the game. "So it was a big game for us, considering it was the third game in (nine) days. I thought the players put a great shift in."
Molino, who scored the second goal for Orlando, also assisted on Julio Baptista's first MLS goal in the 72nd minute.
Orlando City had its fair share of chances early on. Coming off their match just four days ago against the Philadelphia Union at Camping World Stadium, the Lions were quick to jump out of the gate, looking a lot less like a team that traveled 1,000 miles on short rest -- although, I'm sure that will happen when a handful of starters from that lineup against Philly didn't play in this contest.
Cyle Larin nearly replicated what he did here back in March, coming inches away from putting Orlando City on the board just seven minutes into the match, when he headed a cross whipped in by Adrian Winter on goal, where Josh Saunders was waiting to knock it away just off the goal line.
But after the rocket start, NYCFC started to gain control of the match, and Orlando City, like most teams that visit the Bronx, found it tough to hold possession and build any sort of dangerous attacks.
David Villa was front and center for NYCFC in this one. In the 28th minute, he nearly put his side ahead on a 1v1 break past the Orlando City back line, but his shot sailed to the left of Joe Bendik and out of play.
Roughly six minutes later, Larin came up with another good opportunity for Orlando. After catching a through-ball from Molino, the Canadian international broke around an NYCFC defender to clear just enough before his shot was blocked in the end.
Larin struggled to be a real threat in the game for Orlando City. The 21-year-old had a couple of key opportunities thathe couldn't put away, and arguably his biggest moment of the game was the assist on Molino's goal. Heath admitted to almost resting Larin for the match, but because of his goal scoring ability, he had no choice but to give him start up top.
"On a different day, I expect him to put away a couple of chances that he had," Heath said of Larin's tired legs coming into the match.
With the chances coming from both sides, it was New York that broke through first, just minutes before the halftime whistle when Frederic Brillant headed home a great cross into the box from R.J. Allen to put the home side up, 1-0.
Villa and Andrea Pirlo teamed up to double New York City's lead in the 66th minute when the Spanish striker brought down a perfectly placed through ball from Pirlo and chipped it over Bendik on a volley -- a world-class finish from the former World Cup winner -- just a few minutes after Larin was denied on the break by Saunders in a 1-on-1 situation.
Controversy was at the front of NYCFC's chance to put the game away, when Seb Hines was whistled for a handball in the box after he was fouled by Khiry Shelton and fell on top of the ball inside the penalty area. Villa, however, looking for his second goal of the afternoon, slipped on the run-up and sent the ball floating into orbit above the goal, keeping Orlando City in the game.
"I don't think it was a penalty, so I think justice was served there," Heath said of the call on Hines.
Off the heels of Villa's missed opportunity to seal the game, The Lions pulled themselves right back into the match when Baptista took in a delivery from Molino, turned around a defender, and deflected a shot off an NYCFC defender to beat Saunders, making it a one goal game.
And Orlando City wasn't done there.
As things headed into stoppage time and the Lions were running out of opportunities to find a late goal, Carlos Rivas sent a cross to the back post, where Larin floated a header into the middle of the penalty box, finding the head of a charging Molino. The Trinidadian ran right through Baptista's attempt of a bicycle kick to knock in the game-tying goal. The atmosphere at Yankee Stadium, needless to say, changed immediately in the moment from celebration to heart break.
"The players don't quit. They give us everything they've got and they keep going," Heath said of the team's resilience. "They have a belief that they can score late because they've done it so often. I don't know how many times this year we've scored after the 90 minutes, but it's a testament to them that they don't give in and keep going.
"I don't know why, but I thought we deserved something from the game today so I was pleased with the players."
For Orlando City, the draw was huge. The team will head into the two-week break having captured five points from the last nine days, enough to keep the Lions in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race. They will take this time to recoup and rest up for the next match, which will come in the U.S. Open Cup on June 15, with their opponent yet to be determined between Charleston Battery and the Jacksonville Armada.