The city of Orlando experienced its worst drought since 1907 at the beginning of May, but on Wednesday night Mother Nature decided to give back some of the water that she had apparently been holding back from the City Beautiful. Orlando City hosted D.C. United in the midst of a downpour for much of the evening, and, just as Central Florida’s drought seemed to end, so did City’s six-game winless run, thanks to a 2-0 win over D.C. led by goals from Cyle Larin and Giles Barnes.
The win came in front of the first non-sellout in OCS history, but still a good crowd of 24,112.
“Really, really pleased with the guys’ efforts and commitment level tonight,” Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis said. “I think they got what they deserved, they got the three points.”
Orlando (7-5-2, 23 points) controlled the possession for most of the first half, claiming 59% of the ball, but the Lions never looked particularly dangerous despite that advantage. City totaled nine shots in the first 45 minutes, but only three came inside the box and none were particularly challenging for United keeper Bill Hamid to corral.
Orlando’s best chance came in the waning moments of the first half, when Luis Gil played Cyle Larin forward on the break following a D.C. turnover, but the Canadian was unable to steer his shot far enough across the face of goal from the left side of the box, and MLS save leader Hamid safely claimed it. After a no-call on a Scott Sutter penalty shout, the half ended at an appropriate 0-0, with little to no creativity in the center of the pitch for OCSC and 10 D.C. fouls illustrating the sloppiness of the first 45 on a rain-soaked pitch.
The only bit of flash for City came when Matias Perez Garcia skillfully chipped a ball to play Carlos Rivas into the box, but the Colombian was unable to make anything of the cross he played afterward.
The rain subsided at the break, but the second half continued in much the same fashion until the substitution of Giles Barnes injected some much-needed energy into Orlando City. The Jamaican brought fire to the side immediately, sliding in vigorously on a tackle seconds after entering the match and taking off from there.
Just six minutes later, Barnes won a free kick outside the left side of the box by drawing contact with a winding run through three defenders. Barnes rose to his feet and urged the supporters’ section to get loud, and that set the stage for Orlando’s first goal of the night on the ensuing free kick. Will Johnson sent an in-swinging ball off his right foot that barely missed the rising head of Jose Aja before finding the dome of Larin, who had powered his way inside of Steve Birnbaum to nod home and give City a 1-0 advantage.
“It’s nothing short of amazing that he continues to score those types of goals,” Kreis said following the match when asked about Larin’s ability to continually use his physicality to generate goals. “I think every opponent is keen on being very physical with him. It’s a credit to Cyle that he can continue to score through those types of challenges.”
The goal was Larin’s eighth of the year and ended a 266-minute goal drought for Orlando.
The energy that Barnes ignited continued to pulsate, as City stayed on the front foot and created a few more chances, one of which could’ve resulted in another Larin goal had it not been blocked at the edge of the box after Barnes pulled a ball back to set him up.
Things almost came crumbling down in the 74th minute, however, when Aja sent an errant back pass toward Joe Bendik that was badly under-hit, leaving the keeper alone with a charging Lamar Neagle. Bendik’s attempt to sweep the ball away failed, and Neagle found himself 1-v-1 with only center back Jonathan Spector to beat, but Spector channeled 2015 Brek Shea and blocked the shot into the air with his knee, allowing Bendik to rush back and punch it away off the line and preserve the lead. Go ahead and mark it down as the MLS Save of the Week, with Spector and Bendik sharing honors on what was a spectacular effort to stop what appeared to be a certain goal for D.C. (4-7-2, 14 points).
Orlando proceeded to try and ride out the remainder of the match and cling to the one-goal advantage, when it got a nice break to cap things off. Barnes was rewarded for his high-energy shift with a bit of fortune when the usually reliable Hamid turned in a howler and completely whiffed on a 25-yard effort from Barnes, deflecting a soft goal across the line to seal the victory for the Lions after it hit him directly in the gloves.
While the goal was certainly one that Hamid will be embarrassed to have allowed, it was emblematic that Barnes’ relentless energy paid off for him and the team, regardless of the fashion the goal came in.
“That’s your prototypical ‘why you make a substitution,’” Kreis said of Barnes’ game-changing performance. “You want a substitute to change the game and lift the energy, and I think that’s exactly what Giles did.”
Kreis even noted that he told Barnes that he thought his first Orlando goal would come in a strange way just this week, noting that the forward had been pressing and trying to do too much at times to make it happen. Those words proved prophetic Wednesday evening when Barnes locked up the three points for the Lions.
It wasn’t the prettiest of matches, but it was exactly what Orlando City needed to get off the schneid and back into the win column for its first win in May on its final match of the month.
It was Orlando’s second straight win over D.C. and it evens the all-time series since the Lions began MLS play in 2015 at three wins apiece. Orlando ended the night with 57% of the possession and 19 shots, seemingly breaking through after failing to score on 20 shots vs. Minnesota last weekend.
The Lions are back in action Sunday night against the Chicago Fire, once again inside the friendly confines of Orlando City Stadium.