MELBOURNE, FL -- Orlando City B defeated Toronto FC II, 2-1, Saturday night in a thrilling game at Titan Soccer Complex. After taking the lead early the second half, it looked as though the young Lions had once again dropped points late after allowing a 90th-minute goal, but a last-second strike allowed the Lions to leave with all three points.
The first 10 minutes were all Toronto, as the Reds forced OCB goalkeeper Mark Ridgers into a pair of catches. But after that early spell, the Lions took control of the game and dominated large parts of it.
The Lions were able to create some good chances in the first half through their outside backs, Zach Ellis-Hayden and Tyler Turner. However, the home side was unable to convert on any of those crosses. Their best chance came in the 39th minute. As striker Keegan Smith made his way into the box, he laid it off for Lewis Neal, who had followed in behind. With eyes set on goal, Neal lifted the ball well high of the bar and out for a Toronto goal kick.
OCB started the second half the way it ended the first by threatening to break the deadlock. The Lions nearly opened the scoring within the first 10 minutes through Neal and Richie Laryea. But in the 57th minute, they finally converted.
As striker Michael Cox received the ball near midfield from the back, he quickly turned Toronto FC II's Marko Maletic and raced toward the end line. Outrunning the defender, Cox centered the ball through the six, connecting with the oncoming Neal, who slid to reach the ball and put in the back of the net.
GOOOOOOALLLLLL LEWIS NEAL! A beautiful ball from Cox and Neal puts it away! First goal from OCB's captain. pic.twitter.com/P8GEYOk8un— Orlando City B (@OrlandoCityB) August 7, 2016
Up a goal, OCB was looking to put the game away, continuing to control much of the possession. The Lions nearly doubled their lead in the 76th minute, when a corner kick found the head of center back Conor Donovan. But the header by Donovan went just wide of goal.
Shortly into injury time, it looked as though OCB squandered two points again when Toronto FC II equalized. Aiden Daniels sent a cross in toward the back post, which looked to be going out harmlessly for an OCB goal kick. But from the far side came defender Mitchel Taintor, who connected on a dramatic diving header, beating Ridgers to his far post and evening the score at 1-1.
As Toronto FC II celebrated having scratched out a difficult draw on the road, substitute Pierre Da Silva -- playing in front of his U-19 national team coach, Brad Friedel, who was in attendance -- raced down the left side, looking to once again give the Lions the lead. Looking into the box, he found Cox who took a touch, turned around the defender and slipped the ball past goalkeeper Angelo Cavalluzzo to his near post. Just seconds after the visitors had equalized, OCB had regained the lead and secured the win.
90+' Not 30 seconds after TFCII scores, Cox finds the back of the net for OCB! The boys in purple lead 2-1! pic.twitter.com/qmId2EiCHK— Orlando City B (@OrlandoCityB) August 7, 2016
This was the second week that OCB changed from its well-known 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-4-2 formation following the hiring of Jason Kreis for the senior team. Additionally, the team saw the inclusion of regular first-team players Tommy Redding and Cristian Higuita.
"It's not easy when you've had six changes and guys that really haven't played together before," OCB Head Coach Anthony Pulis said following the game. "You throw a group of guys together and hope that they can mesh and hope they can get the game plan. It's not easy."
Pulis said he understand the difficulty, not just of the OCB regulars, but also for Redding and Higuita.
"I've been in Cristian's position before," Pulis said. "Where you're playing with the first team and then you're down playing with the B team in front of not many people. I thought Cristian was excellent in the second half but I thought it took him a while to get into the game. I thought Tommy Redding was very good tonight. I like Tommy a lot. I think he's going to be a top class center back."
Like many in the crowd, Pulis thought his team had dropped two points in the dying minutes but was pleased with their resolve.
"The reaction was fantastic," Pulis stated. "You feel like it's deja vu from the Wilmington game a few weeks ago and you fear the worst and you think you've dropped two points. Straight from the kickoff, Pierre does fantastic, takes the space that was in front of him, and then he slides the ball in for Coxy, who finsihes it off."
The victory by OCB moves the young Lions up to 31 points out of their first 21 games this season. That keeps the team in eighth in the USL's Eastern Conference and in the final playoff spot, with a six-point cushion on Bethlehem Steel -- just a point behind seventh-place Charlotte Independence, who have a game in hand. The Lions will take the field again Friday night when they travel to New Jersey to take on New York Red Bulls II at 7 p.m.
Starting XI: Ridgers; Turner, Redding (McFadden, 60'), Donovan, Hayden; Laryea (Loera, 72'), D. Garcia (Da Silva, 60'), Higuita, Neal (c); Smith (Mendoza, 72'), Cox
Unused Subs: Fenlason, Matarazzo, Ribeiro
Goals: ORL - Neal (57'), Cox (90' +2) TOR - Taintor (90')
Yellow Cards: ORL - Redding (24'), McFadden (68') TOR - Osorio (48'), Edwards (54')