MELBOURNE, FL — After a rough road trip that saw Orlando City B outscored 9-1 in a pair of lopsided losses, the young Lions fought out a 1-1 draw tonight against the Richmond Kickers at Titan Soccer Complex. Despite being outplayed for much of the game, OCB took a lead into the half but an early second-half goal allowed the Kickers to take a point back to Virginia.
Richmond had most of the possession and most of the chances in the first half. However, OCB's often shaky defense was able to hold strong. Richmond's best chance of the first half came in the 25th minute, when a strong run by Sunny Jane into the middle allowed him to find Yudai Imura in on goal. With Mark Ridgers moving to his right, Imura attempted to beat him to the opposite side but the Scotsman was able to drag his trailing leg and make the save.
As the first half wound to a close, it looked as though Richmond might take the lead before the break. The Kickers had some dangerous crosses which just couldn't find the intended target. But in the 43rd minute, one rash tackle changed the look of the game.
OCB had yet to put together one dangerous chance, but Pierre Da Silva sent the ball over the top for Richie Laryea, who shielded the defender and carried it into the box. Holding it up, defender Alex Lee made a challenge, sending Laryea to the ground. While it looked as though it may have been outside the box, referee Christina Unkel, wife of MLS referee Ted Unkel, pointed to the spot. Striker Michael Cox stepped up and sent Kickers goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra the wrong way, giving the Lions a 1-0 lead right before the half.
Early in the second half, Richmond struck back. In the 53rd minute, Sunny Jane made a run toward the OCB end line and centered the ball. Fighting off center back Craig Nitti, Anthony Grant was able to get his foot on the ball and touch it past Ridgers for the equalizer.
The goal gave the visitors a renewed sense of energy, largely through the play of Jane and Grant. However, with about 20 minutes remaining, OCB saw its first extended attacking spell of the game. In the 79th minute, a Cox shot from outside the box nearly saw the Lions recapture the lead but Dykstra made a diving save to keep the game at 1-1.
The game seemed to change in favor the home side again in the 85th minute when Richmond's Michael Callahan was issued his second yellow for taking down Da Silva and given his marching orders.
OCB nearly made the Kickers pay with the last play of the game. Nitti played the ball long into the box, which was flicked on by Keegan Smith. Racing toward the end line, Tyler Turner was able to keep it in and played it back for Cox at the top of the six. Cox was able to beat the defender to the ball and shoot on goal but it was right at Dykstra, cementing the draw.
“Really proud of the players tonight. The work rate, the attitude, the character, the togetherness that they showed was fantastic,” OCB Head Coach Anthony Pulis said about his team after the game. “I thought they showed a lot of strength in adversity to night and I'm proud of them.”
A notable appearance in the game was that of right back Rafael Ramos. The first-team defender has struggled with injuries this season and tonight was his first appearance in a game since June 29 in a U.S. Open Cup loss to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Ramos played the first half, as he looks to regain his match fitness allowing him to rejoin the first team.
“Delighted with Rafa,” Pulis said about the right back. “I thought he put a good 45-minute shift in. That was always going to be the plan his first game back after a while out. Get 45 minute out and I was pleased with him.”
The point for OCB gives the team 32 points after 24 games and places the young Lions in eighth in the USL's Eastern Conference for the final playoff spot. The Lions and Kickers will meet again in Richmond next Saturday night for a rematch.
Starting XI: Ridgers; Ramos (Turner, 46'), Hayden, Nitti, McFadden; Mendoza (A. Garcia, 78'), Laryea (Smith, 86'), Heath (Neal, 66'), Ribeiro (c), Da Silva; Cox
Unused Subs: Fenlason, Donovan, Matarazzo
Goals: ORL – Cox (44') RIC – Grant (53')
Yellow Cards: ORL – Laryea (52') RIC – Callahan (66', 85')
Red Cards: RIC – Callahan (85')
Michael Cox Gives Young Cancer Patient His Wish
Ricky is a 7-year-old who was diagnosed with T cell lymphoblastic lympohny. On Jan. 8, 2016, a mass was found in Ricky's chest. He spent two weeks in a coma. When he came out, he learned that it was cancer.
Ricky's older sister plays high school soccer as a striker. Ricky's family contacted Orlando City to inform them that he wanted to meet OCB striker Michael Cox. Tonight, Ricky walked out with Cox hand-in-hand as the team took the field.
Before the game, Ricky asked Cox for one request; to score a goal for him. In the 43rd minute, Cox obliged burying a penalty that gave the Lions a 1-0 lead. Following the game, Cox had an emotional meeting with the young fan as he gave him his game worn jersey.
While Cox didn't know much about the kid prior to tonight's game, the two now can share a special bond.
“It's always a good feeling when kids look up to you,” Cox said after the game. “It's great when they're interested in a player like me.”
As young Ricky continues to fight to be cancer free, he now knows he has a strong Canadian striker standing by him.