Orlando City B came from behind on Albert Dikwa’s first professional goal to close its three-game home stand with a 1-1 draw against the Charlotte Independence in front of an announced crowd of 1,512 at Orlando City Stadium. Dikwa’s goal leveled after Lewis Hilton had put the Independence (0-1-1, 1 point) up in the second half to close the home stand with 1-1-1 split.
After playing midweek, Head Coach Anthony Pulis made six changes to his starting XI. In place of Lewis Neal, Zach Carroll was honored with the captain’s band.
“It’s big pride for me [wearing the captain’s band],” Carroll said. “It was the first time in my professional career and as a player you work towards things like this, and it’s about going out there and trying to lead the team.”
The game started out shaky for the young Lions (1-2-1, 4 points). In the fourth minute, Carroll’s poor clearance led to the first chance of the game. Yann Ekra took control of ball and got into the box before winning a corner. On the ensuing corner, the ball fell to Luke Waechter’s head but his attempt went harmlessly out for an OCB goal kick.
OCB immediately went on the attack. Richie Laryea took control and tried to spearhead the attack before being taken out hard by Callum Ross. Referee Esteban Rosano gave Ross a talking to and gave a free kick to OCB.
The first chance for Orlando came in the eighth minute. Joe Gallardo got into the box before being covered by two Charlotte defenders. Gallardo was able to dribble around some and win the first corner of the game for OCB. The set piece was taken short and Gallardo ended up with the ball on the corner of the box but Charlotte defended it easily.
The Independence tried to immediately go on the counter but Ryley Kraft broke up the attack with a hard foul, earning the first card of the game in the process.
The Lions’ first big opportunity came in the 11th minute from Laryea, but his shot went wide of the goal. Four minutes later, the Charlotte defense deflected a pass from the young Lions and the ball fell at Dikwa’s feet. He made a great run into the box before passing ball back to Austin Martz. Martz took the shot but Joel Johnson was there for Charlotte to make the block.
In the 20th minute, Laryea once again had the ball as he took it across midfield before Ross’s viscous foul stopped him and drew the second card of the game.
Charlotte nearly went ahead five minutes later. Johnson put a cross in to Casey Townsend, who chested it down and vollied it to Ekra in the box. Ekra’s attempt was poor though, and the header did not threaten Earl Edwards, Jr.
The game was back and forth for the remainder of the first half, with both teams getting chances but unable to find that last touch to break the deadlock. Right before halftime came the closest moment to breaking the tie. Zach Ellis-Hayden put the ball into the box, finding Kraft. The midfielder took the shot on the volley, which was destined for goal, if not for Henry Kalungi. Kalungi was lucky though, as his header nearly found the back of his own net, just narrowly missing.
The game was deadlocked at half. Zero goals, possession nearly even, Charlotte with one more shot than OCB, and one yellow card each. Neither team played particularly well, but both the Lions and Independence improved in the second forty-five minutes.
“I thought it was a tale of two halves to be honest,” Pulis said after the match. “I thought the first half we started sluggish, our press was a little bit too disorganized for my liking, a little bit too far off them, and in possession I don’t think we were as crisp and our passing was as fluid as we’d want it to be. But second half we upped it. We were crisper, we were sharper, we had a little bit more purpose to our play.”
To try to change it up, Charlotte made the first substitution of the game to start the second half, as Hilton came on for Ross.
The substitution could not have gone better for the Independence, as Hilton scored the go-ahead goal in the 60th minute. Alex Martinez played a perfect through ball to the Englishman, who powered it into the top of the net from close range.
After going a goal down, the young Lions immediately picked themselves up and looked like a completely different team. Laryea and Dikwa had multiple chances up top, but it was not until the 69th minute that OCB found the equalizer. Leo Pereira provided a great through ball to Scott Thomsen down the left hand side. Thomsen then put the ball on a platter for Dikwa, who touched the ball into the far corner.
Four minutes later, Laryea almost found the game winner. After Edwards made a finger-tip save on a point-blank shot attempt to keep OCB level, he started the counter attack, which led to Laryea all alone up top, with only the keeper to beat. Laryea hesitated for just a moment, but it was long enough for Cody Mizell to come off his line. Laryea may have had a chance to round Mizell but he took the shot early and the Independence goalkeeper made a game-saving stop.
“I was able to get by the two defenders, and I rushed the shot,” Laryea said. “I should have taken it around him but I didn’t realize how much time I had.”
Moussa Sane got his first professional minutes, coming in for Martz in the 72nd minute. Although he got some important minutes, he ultimately did not create much of an impact on the match.
It looked like Charlotte would scrap out a victory in the dying minutes as OCB gave up a bad foul in its own end. The free kick came to no harm, however, as the cross was headed right at Edwards, and the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
“All-in-all a point it’s probably a fair result,” said Pulis. “If you look at the chances, Richie Laryea’s chance [in the 73rd minute] was a massive chance that you could probably go on and win it, but then they had two or three and Earl [Edwards] kept us in the game again.”
The referee had much work to do tonight, as he gave seven yellow cards, five of which came to the home side. Both Laryea and Pulis were frustrated by the officiating after the game. Laryea laughed when asked about it saying, “I don’t want to comment on it.”
“Some of [the cards] were a little harsh, some of them probably deserved it,” Pulis added.
The young Lions are back in action again on Friday when they travel north to take on defending champion New York Red Bulls II at 7 p.m.