Hey European teams, please sign Hector Villalba.
The Argentine beat Orlando City last week with a late stunner. This week, he slipped in behind the defense even later — in stoppage time — and beat Joe Bendik to erase a 1-0 Orlando City lead provided by Kaká’s rocket and equalize for a 1-1 draw.
At least Atlanta didn’t win its Bobby Dodd Stadium finale — and snapped Atlanta’s four-game winning streak — but oh, what might have been.
Jason Kreis made only one change from last Friday’s starting lineup, slotting in Dom Dwyer for his Orlando City MLS debut in place of Carlos Rivas at the top of a 4-4-2 with Cyle Larin. Atlanta started the same 11 players that got the win in Orlando last weekend.
The Lions started the game brightly, coming close a number of times in the opening minutes. The second minute saw a flurry of chances by Orlando City, with Kaká and Donny Toia each having shots in the box blocked before the ball deflected out to Scott Sutter. The Orlando right back blasted one from just outside the 18 that beat Brad Guzan but not the crossbar.
Atlanta started coming into the match about five or six minutes into the game, controlling possession (60.5% in the first half) and effectively using the high press to force turnovers in the Orlando midfield. The Lions could do little in the middle of the pitch and long balls ahead to Larin weren’t effective because Allen Chapman allowed Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to be physical with the Canadian international, putting him on the ground repeatedly on aerial balls.
The first warning bell came nine minutes in when a ball over the top found Hector Villalba, who was able to out-pace Jonathan Spector, but a heavy-ish first touch allowed Specs to recover and slide between the Atlanta attacker and the ball. Joe Bendik came off his line to help snuff out the danger. Atlanta got a shot on goal in the 13th with a weak header off a short corner that didn’t trouble Bendik.
Two minutes later, Atlanta found the woodwork. Miguel Almiron fired from about 25 yards out and it hit the outside of the right post but a diving Bendik appeared to have the corner covered.
Yamil Asad tried his luck from a similar spot in the 18th minute but shanked his shot attempt.
The Lions stuck to their plan of trying to build up play. A curling Scott Sutter cross nearly found Larin in the 22nd minute but he pushed it too far in front and Larin was beaten to the ball by Guzan.
Villalba continued the back-and-forth play with a shot well over the bar in the 24th, then a minute later Kaká got in behind off a nice entry pass from Toia but the captain’s cross was cut out for a corner. The Lions got creative with the set piece and Kaká teed up Higuita above the box but the Colombian’s volley was blocked by the defense a few yards in front of Guzan.
Antonio Nocerino had yet another close call in trying to open his Orlando City account in the 29th, nodding a Sutter cross just inches wide of the back post. Then Villalba dispossessed Spector in the open field but the Orlando center back recovered with a sliding block of a cross attempt.
The curious thing in this game is Orlando City’s approach to set pieces. A week after forcing two world-class saves from Guzan from set pieces, the Lions went away from the typical aerial delivery and tried a lot of different looks. In the 36th minute, Kaká tried a low pass for Nocerino running away from goal for some reason. The delivery wasn’t great and Michael Parkhurst was able to shoulder the Italian off the ball, which trickled harmlessly out for a goal kick.
In the 39th minute, Atlanta nearly broke the dealock. Almiron hit the left post and it bounced back across the face of goal to Villalba who got outside netting with his follow-up. Seconds later, the Lions were celebrating.
Joe Bendik’s goal kick was brought down by Larin above the box. The Canadian found Kaká in space and the Brazilian blasted a superb goal into the upper 90, giving Guzan no chance and the Lions a 1-0 lead.
It was the captain’s fourth goal of the season and first since May 13. Orlando saw out the final five minutes plus three additional stoppage minutes and took a 1-0 advantage into the break.
The Lions tried to put the game away just after the restart. Larin got a cross in for Dwyer in the 49th minute, but Larentowicz did just enough to block the attempt. Atlanta came right back the other way and won a free kick just above the box, but Almiron’s delivery was over the bar in the 54th.
Two minutes later came a moment that will certainly not do anything to quench rivalry talk. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez inadvertently caught Larin in the face with his hand and as players milled around, Villalba came running in from behind and knocked down Dwyer. Villalba was shown a yellow card. It was an important decision because a red card would have seen off the man who scored the eventual equalizer.
Two minutes after the dust-up, Kaká took the ball down the right ahead of three defenders and crossed for Dwyer. Dom went down and got a touch but it deflected out off Parkhurst. Dwyer felt he was pulled back but his penalty call went unheeded.
Had us getting up off our seat... so close. pic.twitter.com/kyyTUqbvIf— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) July 29, 2017
Atlanta nearly got a gift at the 62-minute mark when Almiron tried a long shot that Bendik muffed but it deflected out for a corner rather than into the net. Five minutes later Bendik did much better to make a huge save to deny Almiron on a fast-break after a quick free kick, which the hosts utilized all afternoon. Bendik made another vital save in the 74th on Greg Garza, who slipped in behind when Sutter got caught on another quick restart.
Second-half sub Carlos Rivas just about put the game away in the 87th minute when fellow substitute Giles Barnes curled in a cross but it was just inches too far in front of the Colombian. Moments later, Rivas did well to block an Atlanta free kick in a dangerous position.
The Lions saw out normal time but the fourth official put up five minutes on the board. Atlanta only needed two of them. After doing a good job of clogging up the middle throughout the second half, the Lions chose a bad time to give far too much space for a pair of passes that forced Jose Aja to make a split-second decision. His decision turned out to be wrong as he stepped up and allowed Villalba in behind and Spector kept the Atlanta attacker onside. Bendik, for once, failed to deal with the excellent opportunity and the hosts leveled.
While it’s a modest two-game unbeaten streak on the road for City — which improved its away record to 2-5-3, the Lions are winless in three (0-2-1) and have won only twice since winning on April 29 to go top of the table.
Orlando City’s next match will be at Montreal on Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m. They’ll get a third crack at Atlanta United on Sept. 16 in the third different stadium this season. If you believe in omens, the last time the Lions faced a team in three different stadiums in the same season was in 2015, when they went 1-1-1 against the Montreal Impact.