With tensions boiling between Orlando City and Colorado on a hot Central Florida day, the first rocket was fired from Colombia.
Carlos Rivas’ blast past Zac MacMath in the 70th minute turned out to be the difference maker for Orlando City (6-1-0, 18 points), which extended its home win streak to five games to begin the Orlando City Stadium era after a 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids (1-5-1, 2 points).
Kaká, who returned to action off of the bench for the first time since the 11th minute of the season, also found the net for the first time in 2017 in front of an announced crowd of 25,527 with a goal in stoppage time. The Lions are now 2-0-1 in three meetings with the Rapids and have yet to concede a goal to Colorado in MLS play.
“We have a very happy locker room and happy coaching staff. Everybody, I think, feels good about where we sit right now,” Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “From my point of view, it’s great to talk about the wins but I want to talk about the performance, because I think this is a game where we improved. It was a difficult game with the conditions and with the heat, and it took us a while to kind of get there, but at the end of the day we were playing some pretty good soccer.”
As expected against a Colorado side that came into the match as the lowest scoring offense in the league, it was Orlando City that dominated most of the possession early on, forcing the Rapids to defend tightly in the scorching Florida sun.
It took only two minutes into the match for Antonio Nocerino to put the Rapids on edge. Giles Barnes found the Italian midfielder wide open at the top of the penalty area, and Nocerino sent a low speeding bullet that forced Zac MacMath to his left to make the diving save, just narrowly denying Nocerino his first goal in purple. Cyle Larin’s rebound attempt across the face of goal found nobody, as the ball was eventually cleared out of danger.
The Rapids are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fun team to watch play week in and week out, and they brought that same pace of defending and counter attacking to Orlando, making things tough for City in the final third. While the heat may have played a factor (4 p.m. kickoff in Orlando was not a great idea), sloppy touches and poor quality of shots made the first 45 minutes a half to forget.
The first 15 minutes of the second half pretty much picked up where things were left off in the first 45, right up until Kaká and Rivas entered the match in the 60th minute, coming on for Barnes and Matias Perez Garcia, respectively.
And the double substitution changed the game immediately.
Hardly 60 seconds in, the Brazilian found Rivas with a ball forward, but nobody was there in the box to take the cross from Rivas. Five minutes later, in the 66th, the ball found Kaká up the pitch on the left hand side, and the captain dribbled inside around a couple of defenders and ripped a shot off on goal that curled just around the post for a goal kick.
Add in another two minutes, and Larin found himself on the receiving end of a cross six yards out, putting the header right on frame but directly into MacMath.
With chances mounting and the energy in the stadium reaching peak, Rivas finally broke through for the Lions in the 70th minute with a pure laser from the top left corner of the box, giving MacMath no real chance to react in time. They say the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a major league fastball. Well...
That had some pop behind it. Dirty, dirty, dirty.— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) April 29, 2017
What a golazo from pic.twitter.com/dqECCov0qZ
Kreis called it a coaches’ decision to leave Rivas out of the lineup, and planned on waiting for the right moment to bring in the dangerous forward.
“I think often times players that are strikers occasionally need to take a little bit of a different picture from the game and relieve a little bit of the pressure from starting the game, and then come in and contribute and he made a massive [contribution] today,” Kreis said of Rivas.
And for the first time this season, the Lions finished a game with a win by more than one goal thanks to Kaká, who returned to the pitch and made a statement with his play, and added a tap-in after Larin worked hard in the box to free himself up for a shot. The Canadian’s effort deflected off MacMath and trickled to the far post before bouncing out to the captain for the put-back.
They don't come any easier than that! #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/Hi8XWEtp0L— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) April 29, 2017
“I cannot put into words what I’m feeling, what is the emotion to play, to score, and win another game at home,” Kaká said after his return. “The feeling that when I came on the field and all of the supporters clapping and saying my name was unbelievable. So thank you to everybody that was here today to make this day so special for me.”
After that, it was just a matter of seeing out the final three minutes of injury time, which Orlando did with good team defending, including Rivas coming all the way back to his own end line to steal the ball in the final seconds.
Orlando City held 55% of the possession and out-shot the Rapids, 14-3 (6-1 on target) in a dominant performance.
The Lions will have a short turn-around and a pair of road matches in the season’s first double-game week. Orlando City will visit Toronto FC on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and then head to Houston to face the Dynamo next Saturday at 8:30 p.m.