Just when you think it’s safe to write a game off as a loss, Orlando City reminds you — again — that every single second of stoppage time counts.
Despite falling behind early and playing in one of the tougher environments in MLS, the Lions (7-5-5, 26 points) scraped their way to a second straight point thanks to a goal in the dying moments of the second half. This time it was Scott Sutter getting on the end of a Kaká cross for a near-post header at the death to secure the 1-1 draw in front of 42,333 at CenturyLink Field. It was Orlando City’s first ever point against the Sounders (5-7-5, 20 points) in three tries.
The first half started positively for Orlando, as Kaká threaded a through ball from the center of the pitch to play Carlos Rivas into a 1-v-1 situation with Stefan Frei in the fifth minute, but the Colombian was unable to convert a golden chance with his weaker right foot as Frei got a leg on the low shot and deflected it straight up before collecting. It was the type of opportunity that would’ve set the tone immediately for City, but Rivas couldn’t capitalize.
About 15 minutes later, Seattle got a similarly golden opportunity, and the Sounders pounced. Will Bruin found himself alone with Joe Bendik on the left side of Orlando’s box after Jonathan Spector’s aggressive lunge to intercept the ball just missed and allowed Bruin to get in behind and finish inside the near post. It was an unfortunate moment for Spector, who read the play well but simply failed to get his whole foot on the ball to clear it away.
The American center back would be tested again before the half, and he responded well. He recovered on two occasions to make sliding stops vs. Bruin, one on a breakaway shot just before the halftime whistle and the other to keep a Nicolás Lodeiro ball from reaching Bruin for a potentially dangerous chance.
While the Lions had a good start to the game, the goal shifted the momentum to Seattle’s side swiftly, and the Sounders were on the front foot for much of the rest of the frame. Kaká was doing his best to create chances for Orlando, though, and threaded nice passes down the right and left flanks, respectively, to Scott Sutter and Rivas that didn’t quite materialize into real danger. Neither Ricky nor any of his running mates were creative enough in the final third, and it went to half 1-0 Seattle.
The second half was the Joe Bendik show.
The Orlando City keeper was maligned for a couple of his efforts against Montreal last weekend, but he came up with some heroic saves to keep the Lions in the game, most notably in minute 58 when he made back-to-back-to-back diving efforts to stop a Clint Dempsey shot from close range, followed by a sweeping effort to deflect the ball away from an on-running Osvaldo Alonso, and then again dove to stop Alonso following the second rebound before collecting. It was another Save of the Week-level effort from Bendik, who kept this match from getting out of hand in the second half, making five saves in total — although that number seemed higher in real time as Seattle mounted attack after attack en route to 13 shots.
Seattle’s Frei was up to the challenge, as well, following up his first-half stop vs. Rivas with another short-range save against the Colombian at the hour mark. Rivas got on the end of a Sutter cross in the six-yard box and tapped it toward the net, but Frei stopped the shot after it took a slight deflection off a sliding Román Torres. Ultimately, Rivas got both of Orlando’s best chances on the night and couldn’t convert, although Frei deserves credit for reacting quickly to both, not to mention the assist to Torres that might have given the keeper an easier stop on Rivas’ tap from close range.
Otherwise, the second half was a frustrating series of futile Orlando attempts and Seattle breakaways. Jordan Morris and Dempsey got out on the run repeatedly, with Morris in particular finding his way through Orlando’s back line several times to create danger. A combination of Bendik heroics and Orlando City resilience allowed Orlando to stay in it and steal the point at the last possible chance, alleviating some of that mounting frustration for Lions fans.
The opportunity for the equalizer is credited to substitute fullback PC, who came on late and used his fresh legs and energy to charge at the Seattle defense a few times and create a spark for City. With less than 30 seconds before the end of the four-minute stoppage remaining, the Brazilian made another direct run and, after a one-two with Luis Gil, got past a couple Seattle defenders and was brought down outside the left side of the 18-yard box by Torres. Torres was shown a yellow, and Kaká stepped up for a free kick from an enticing spot for Orlando.
The captain put it right on the dome of Sutter, who used his forehead to ping the ball past Frei’s right side, giving him no chance to react and make a near-post stop.
Head Coach Jason Kreis was going for it in this one, as he started a stronger lineup than he had in previous midweek games this season and played Kaká, Rivas, and other key starters the full length of the match on the field turf surface.
Orlando remains in fourth place in the East with the point, sitting on 26 points and just one point behind NYCFC, which does hold a game in hand. Orlando will be back at it on Saturday night at Chicago at 7:30 p.m., so we’ll see how Kreis reacts after playing a strong lineup in midweek.