A Pierre Da Silva goal looked like it would be enough to give Orlando City B (8-6-12, 36 points) a win. However, Bethlehem Steel (10-11-4, 34 points) responded in the 87th minute as OCB and the Steel played to a 1-1 draw in front of 856 fans in Orlando City Stadium.
“I thought a draw was a fair result,” said Anthony Pulis. “I don’t think either team did enough to win the game tonight. It was cagey, it was slow at times. It was hot and really humid, and I think that had an effect on the game.”
MLS call-ups and injuries forced a different starting XI from Pulis. Five new starters were inserted into the lineup from OCB’s 3-0 win against Louisville. Jake Fenlason got his home debut in net and Kevin Alston went 45 minutes in return from injury. Zach Carroll, Ben Polk, and Albert Dikwa all got the nod, as well. The captain, Lewis Neal, moved to the right midfield, instead of the center, and Timbo got another chance as a midfielder. Last week’s hero Michael Cox was sidelined with a tweaked hamstring.
There was not much going on in the first half, and each team’s attack seemed to stall in the final third. Steel FC controlled most of the first 45, but the young Lions were better in the air and Bethlehem had difficulty connecting any crosses. With Orlando’s 11-game unbeaten streak on the line, most of the focus was on the defense.
The first real chance of the game came in the 20th minute. Cory Burke had the ball on the right side of the field, and hesitated just enough for Marcus Epps to make a perfect run through the OCB defense. One-on-one with Fenlason, Epps’ shot went over the crossbar and the home side survived.
The next minute, the visitors had a corner. They sent three balls into the young Lions’ area, and OCB watched the ball go harmlessly away three times.
OCB got lucky in the 26th minute on what could have been called a penalty. Alston’s sliding tackle got Epps from behind, resulting in the ball going out of bounds. However, the referee clearly thought Alston got the ball as he awarded a goal kick. Four minutes later Alston was given a yellow card for a tactical foul.
The Steel’s MLS talent was visible and Bethlehem stayed organized and compact. OCB struggled to break through, and the two center backs, Conor Donovan and Carroll, spent a lot of time on the ball. The only way that the young Lions could get any sort of attack going was on the counter. Zach Ellis-Hayden spent much of the game running up and down the right wing, using his speed to beat the opposition, as Lewis Neal pushed in the middle of the field some.
“I thought we handled [the Steel’s MLS players] well,” said Donovan. “Obviously we gave up a goal at the end, it sucks, but besides a couple other chances I thought that was all they had. They’re a good team, but I thought our organization has been good from this game and our whole run.”
The half ended with shots even at four apiece, but only Fenlason was forced to make a save. The Steel narrowly edged out in possession (55%), but not much happened in either team’s final third.
OCB made two subs at halftime. Alston and Polk made way for Danny Deakin and Austin Martz. Martz slotted in at right back, pushing Ellis-Hayden out to the left.
In the second half, while OCB had more of an attack going than the first 45, the story was much of the same. Both teams got down into the final third and then poor balls or good defending ended the attack.
In the 64th minute, Da Silva nearly put his team ahead. Some nifty footwork gave the academy product some space. He fired a shot towards the back post, had the goalkeeper beat, but the ball went inches wide. Epps then went down the other end and ripped a shot, as the game opened up a little bit.
In the 75th minute, Da Silva made amends for his earlier miss with a powerful one timer to put OCB up 1-0. Dikwa held the ball up perfectly, before playing it back to Da Silva, who shot. The ball hit the inside post before flying into the back of the net.
After the goal, the young Lions played more defensively in an attempt to hold onto the lead. Only Dikwa and Deakin went on the attack, with Da Silva trailing behind the forwards. On the other end, Steel FC threw players forward to get back into it. Marcus Epps ended up finding the back of the net off a shot Fenlason had no chance of saving. The game then changed completely and it was OCB’s turn to throw players forwards.
Statistically, the game was as even as it looked on the field. Both teams had 456 passes, possession was an even 50-50, Bethlehem achieved just one percent more in pass completion, OCB was out-shot by one, and the draw was an appropriate result.
After the 1-1 draw, OCB remains in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and Steel FC moves up to a tie for seventh. This draw also makes it 12 games unbeaten for the young Lions (4-0-8).
“That looked like our seventh game in a month,” said Pulis. “We didn’t move the ball quickly enough. We didn’t have enough energy as we normally do. Having said that, we had some decent passages of play, we looked really solid defensively. I can’t really remember too many chances at either end, and then you look at two fantastic finishes.”
OCB is back in action again on Sept. 7 as the young Lions host the Richmond Kickers.
Starting XI: Jake Fenlason; Zachary Ellis-Hayden, Conor Donovan, Zach Carroll, Kevin Alston (Austin Martz — 46’); Jordan Schweitzer, Lewis Neal, Fernando Timbo (Paul Clowes — 76’), Pierre Da Silva; Ben Polk (Danny Deakin — 46’), Albert Dikwa.
Unused Subs: Aaron Smith, Ryley Kraft, Youmeni Jules, Scott Thomsen.
Goals: ORL - Da Silva (75’); BST - Epps (86’).
Yellow Cards: ORL - Alston (30’), Da Silva (45’); BST - Chambers (90’).