Orlando City became the first team in MLS history to open up a stadium 4-0-0 with a dramatic 2-1 victory, thanks to goals from Will Johnson in the first half and a stunning 91st-minute winner from Cyle Larin off Johnson’s corner cross.
The LA Galaxy (2-4-0, 6 points) struggled through the first half with Orlando’s (4-1-0, 12 points) defense holding strong. The second half saw a much more open game between the two teams, but Orlando was able to pull away at the very end to salvage three points at home.
“It’s a lot of the same stuff,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “Really really good, lot of positive things. Then some negative stuff that we have to improve on. I think we’re still a team that’s not quite figuring out how to manage a match and we need to do better with that. For me, a lot of that just comes with time together, a collective understanding, a little bit more communication, a little more urgency when we’re starting to give away chances, to recognize we’re in a bad moment and we need to do something to fix it.”
Orlando City once again came out in a 4-4-2 diamond after switching up the formation last match against New York. Antonio Nocerino was back from injury after straining a calf in the last match, while Giles Barnes came in for the suspended Matias Perez Garcia up top, beneath strikers Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas.
The formation looked a bit more fluid in the early parts of the match, resulting in multiple chances for Orlando.
It began in the seventh minute, when Larin won a free kick from about 28 yards, Carlos Rivas whipped a ball into the box, taking a bounce and hitting the left post, then the right. The ball then leaked out to Giles Barnes in the box, but his shot was deflected away by the LA defense and out for a corner.
Just seconds later, off the ensuing cleared corner, Scott Sutter punted the ball back into the area while everyone was tracking back — all except Johnson. The captain worked hard to get back onside, managed to control Sutter’s long ball in the box off his chest and volleyed it into the back post corner of the net, for a beauty of a goal.
“When you take the set piece and the ball gets knocked out, a lot of time the guy who takes the set pieces isn’t accounted for,” Johnson said about his goal, “I just tried to time my run, stay onside and once it sat up on me from my first touch, I knew I could try to get it over him on the back post.”
Another good chance for Orlando to extend the lead came in the 14th minute, when Donny Toia played a ball down the line for Carlos Rivas, who crossed in a low ball for Larin in the box. Unfortunately, LA defender Jelle Van Damme was equal to it and managed to touch it out of play, almost putting it into his own net.
In the 18th minute, Rivas — celebrating his 23rd birthday — had the ball on the right wing. Cutting inside and on his preferred left foot, he curled a shot towards goal. LA keeper Clement Diop managed to get a fingertip to it and push it onto the post, where it pinged back out and away from goal.
The Galaxy had their best chance on goal in the first half in the 38th minute, when Ashley Cole served a ball into the box and met the head of Romain Alessandrini, but the ball sailed over Joe Bendik and out of play.
LA battled hard to get back into it, but always seemed just out of reach from equalizing. A lot of that comes due to Orlando’s defensive shape, shutting down passing lanes that the Galaxy like to utilize.
At the half, Orlando held 52% possession to LA’s 48%. The Galaxy had eight shots on goal in the first half to the Lions three, but out of those eight, only two were on target. Orlando also managed two shots on target, with one obviously going in.
The game opened up to start the second half, with both teams getting some chances in the early part of the second period. Within two minutes of the restart, Rivas ran down a ball that looked to be going out of play, and crossed the ball in to a waiting Barnes, but the ensuing cross he put in was knocked out of play by the Galaxy defense.
One minute later, Rivas sent another cross into the box, but it was knocked out for a corner, which eventually was cleared away by Diop. Just a minute after that chance, Rivas was played in on goal by Nocerino and had a shot on target, but the shot was low and Diop was equal to it.
The game then calmed down a bit until the 52nd minute. Larin was sent by Sutter down the right wing and Van Damme came in with a challenge from behind, earning the Galaxy defender a yellow card.
In the 58th minute, an excellent individual effort from Rivas found him shrugging off four different defenders en route to a cross into the box, which was just out of reach for Larin to get a foot on.
Just two minutes later, LA had a chance of its own, with Alessandrini getting a deflection on his shot from just outside the box, which Bendik had to adjust to but was still able to get down to the ground and save it. On the ensuing attack on the other end, Rivas once again got into space and caused problems, meandering his way into the box and crossing a low ball into Larin, which LA defender Daniel Steres was able to intercept and knock away.
Chance after chance came for Orlando but their best opportunity of the half came in the 67th minute, when Rivas out-muscled Van Damme and broke with Barnes in front. A perfectly weighted through ball to Barnes found him one-on-one with Diop, who came up big with a save and also came away injured, staying down for a few minutes.
Subs then began to come into the game as Higuita made way for Luis Gil in the 72nd minute. Three minutes later, Rivas was subbed out after a fantastic outing, making way for Servando Carrasco and a more defensive mentality to close out the game.
After that, over the next six minutes, LA came knocking on the door a few times. In the 77th minute, LA earned a free kick as Donny Toia stepped on Alessandrini’s foot. Gio Dos Santos took the free kick, trying to score it on the near post. The shot was palmed away for a moment by Bendik, then cleared off the line and out for a corner kick by Spector, after a secondary effort from Steres.
After coming so close, LA began to smell the equalizer. First, Alessandrini found himself free on the back post and 1v1 with Bendik, but he skied his effort over the bar. Then, Bradford Jamieson tried a volley off a cross, but his effort was just wide.
Then, in the 83rd minute, the dam finally broke. A through ball from Jermaine Jones to Alessandrini found him in the middle of the pitch, just at the top of the 18-yard box. He faked a shot, sending Spector past him, and drilled a goal with his right foot, barely beating Bendik and glancing off the near post and in for the equalizer.
Orlando then tried to fight back into the lead. Off a throw-in with three minutes left, the ball got loose in the box and found Johnson’s foot, but his shot was weak and easily saved by Diop.
In the 89th minute, Barnes was subbed out for Hadji Barry to try to push for the winner.
As they pushed and pushed, the Lions finally found their winning goal in dramatic fashion. Off a corner in the 90th minute, Johnson served a ball into the box and Larin, who had struggled a lot of the game to make an impact, out-muscled Jones in the box and volleyed the ball into the top of the net to give Orlando the lead.
“I’ve been working the whole game and I was just waiting for my chance, for the ball to come to me and, I had a tough game,” Larin said. “Van Damme played very well against me and he’s a great defender and he was cutting a lot of passes and Carlos was trying to get me the ball. I was just happy. Happy I scored.”
With the goal, Larin has now become the all-time leading scorer in MLS history for a player under the age of 22, with his 35th goal in his career. His 22nd birthday is Monday.
Over the last few minutes of the game, LA pushed numbers forward to try for a last-gasp equalizer and, despite Orlando giving away some silly balls in the midfield, the Lions managed to hold on defensively for their fourth win at home.
“I think, for me, there are moments, tactical moments and things that you want to have happen to your team as you go through a season,” Kreis said, “One of them is to allow a goal late and see what the reaction is like. So, I’m really, really pleased, because if you went back and looked at it, immediately after they scored, we had a goal chance against them. So, that shows to me a really positive reaction and a belief within the team.”
LA finished with 50.9% possession and more shots on goal (18-12), although Orlando had more shots on target (8-7). The Galaxy attempted 361 total passes to Orlando’s 345.
The Lions are back in action for their second away game on Sunday, April 23, in the Bronx against New York City FC at 1:30 p.m.