Sunday’s game marked the end of an era for Orlando City, with the Lions’ final home match of the season serving as the farewell party for the club’s captain and first ever Designated Player, Kaká. After three seasons with the club, the Brazilian said goodbye against the Columbus Crew, a match that went in favor of the visiting side, 1-0.
“Very difficult to finish the season with a loss at home, to feel like we didn’t live up to the expectation, we didn’t live up to what I think our fans, our club, and our community ultimately deserved,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “... We’ll spend the off-season figuring out when, and where we can improve.”
Following an emotional anthem pregame, when cameras caught the 35-year-old shedding a tear, Kaká, who won’t travel to Philadelphia next weekend for the club’s final game of the season, played the full 90 minutes.
“It was a very emotional game, so hard to play sometimes because when I was on the field a lot of things were in my mind, so it’s difficult to focus on the game,” Kaká said after the match. “It was a really, really special game and of course I wanted to finish with winning, but with this goodbye it’s very good for me because it’s not about the result.”
Both sides came out with a sense of urgency, playing for two completely different reasons, but it was Columbus that showed the most potency out of the gates. The Crew were caught offside five times in this one, including in the eighth minute when Ola Kamara had a goal waved off by the assistant referee. Kamara had another waved off later in the half.
Columbus came close to scoring early again in the 15th when Justin Meram hit a shot just outside the post. Four minutes later, Meram played a ball in to Kamara across the face of goal but it was just out of Kamara’s reach.
Orlando City had its share of chances too, but couldn’t put anything on target. Zero of the Lions’ 13 shots were on goal.
Dom Dwyer fired a shot over the bar in the 19th minute, then Antonio Nocerino volleyed one over moments later. Shortly after, it was Yoshi Yotun sailing one over the crossbar, with Nocerino again sending one high right after that in the 30th minute. The Lions earned a free kick just to the left of the penalty box in the 37th, and if you’re sensing a pattern here you might be on to something, because Kaká sent the kick just over the bar.
Three minutes later, Dwyer, wait for it, sent another shot blazing over the crossbar.
A lackluster 45 minutes of soccer ended with the teams both scoreless, but after play resumed, the visitors scored in the 67th minute, with Hector Jimenez being played through all alone on the left hand side before slipping a ball in towards Kamara, who was free in the middle of the net to tap it home, making it a 1-0 game.
The Lions didn’t do much to make it interesting outside of a Kaká free kick on the edge of the penalty box in the 90th minute that sailed well over the cross bar. Yotun had won the foul just inches away from it being a penalty.
Will Johnson made his return to the pitch with Carlos Rivas in the 57th minute after missing the last five games due to a suspension stemming from a domestic violence incident. He was booked for a foul in the 83rd minute, and because of that will be suspended once again for the Lions’ season finale in Philadelphia next weekend due to yellow card accumulation.
“Often times when you’re in a game when you know the result is gone, you’re looking around at the players to see who’s got life, who’s willing to fight once the scoreline is gone,” Kreis said of what he’ll be looking for in that final game next weekend. “Tonight, being our first game when we knew mathematically the scoreline was gone, that’s what we were looking for, and we’ll continue to look through the week of training, next week’s match against Philadelphia, and then we’ll have a week to prepare for Puerto Rico.”
Orlando City closes the 2017 season next Sunday at the Philadelphia Union at 4 p.m.