Finally the Lions got some luck. Orlando City scored twice from the penalty spot, including one six minutes into stoppage time to defeat the Columbus Crew and snap a 13-game winless streak. Yoshimar Yotún and Sacha Kljestan converted from the spot after Federico Higuain had staked the visitors to a 1-0 lead off a free kick in front of an announced crowd of 23,642 in the home finale at Orlando City Stadium.
The method of victory was ironic given the result the last time these two teams met, when Columbus was erroneously awarded a penalty that allowed the Crew to tie the game late and win it in stoppage time.
“Obviously delighted to get the win,” Head Coach James O’Connor said. “I think it was very important today just to try to win. For the players, especially the supporters, it was important that we give a good performance and get three points. So, pleased that we were able to do that.”
It was just the second win under James O’Connor and the club’s second win in the last 24 matches. The Lions scored more than one goal in a game for the first time since a Sept. 1 draw against Philadelphia, seven games ago.
O’Connor played a similar lineup to Wednesday, bringing Mohamed El-Munir and Yotún into the lineup, pushing Will Johnson into the midfield in place of Tony Rocha, and removing Chris Mueller to make way for Yoshi.
The graphic above aside, the Lions played a three-man back line of Shane O’Neill, Lamine Sané, and Carlos Ascues with Scott Sutter and El-Munir playing as wingbacks in the midfield.
Former Lion Justin Meram did not play in the match due to a gentleman’s agreement made when the winger was sent back to Columbus from Orlando earlier this season.
The game began slowly with a ton of back passes by both teams as they probed for openings in each other’s defense. Uri Rosell launched a shot from distance that fizzed over the net in the second minute and Columbus looked to be in good shape two minutes later on a terrible back pass from Sacha Kljestan that the defense was able to break up before it became a Crew scoring opportunity.
Yotún tried to catch Zack Steffen off his line in the 14th minute but his shot from midfield wasn’t close.
The Crew then fashioned a ton of corner kicks and Adam Grinwis made a terrific save in the 16th minute to deny Jonathan Mensah’s header from point-blank range. That save became necessary only because Grinwis’ punch attempt on the corner cross from Federico Higuain was not effective and popped right back up in the air in the penalty area.
Two minutes later, off another corner, Gyasi Zardes fired a shot that Grinwis saved and Sutter cleared off the line as it trickled toward the goal.
In the 19th minute, a good buildup through midfield led to Kljestan sending Sutter down the right and his shot was just wide of goal. Dom Dwyer did well to hold up play for Kljestan to release Sutter on the play but the shot went awry. Steffen made a great diving save to stop a Johnson shot from outside the area in the 22nd minute.
El-Munir gifted Zardes a scoring chance in the 27th with a poor pass attempt but O’Neill did well to make a sliding block to shield Grinwis from having to make a save.
The game got a bit chippy in the late stages of the first half, starting with a Mensah yellow card for an elbow to Dwyer’s face, which cut the Orlando striker open. The play probably should have gone to review but it didn’t appear and video review took place. A few minutes later, after Dwyer was fouled again, he got a yellow of his own for throwing a shoulder into Mensah as he ran past the Crew defender.
El-Munir forced a Steffen save in the 38th minute on a half-volley shot from the left.
Artur’s weak shot from distance right at Grinwis was the last chance for either side in a scoreless first half. The Crew held a 54%-46% advantage in possession and a 6-5 edge in shots (3-2 on target).
The first good opportunity of the second half came in the 50th minute when El-Munir cut into the area, but instead of shooting he peeled back and the Lions eventually lost the ball. The Lions were ruing that chance moments later when Higuain put the Crew up.
O’Neill committed a foul just above the area and Higuain stepped up to take the free kick. Grinwis set up his wall to defend the near post and defended the back post. The kick sailed just inches over Uri Rosell’s head — the Spaniard didn’t jump on the play — and curled just inside the near post to give the visitors a 1-0 lead in the 54th minute.
Columbus didn’t have the lead long. Johnson headed a cross into the area in the 56th minute and defender Gaston Sauro had his arm out away from his body. The ball hit his hand as he swiped at Dom Dwyer running past him and Kevin Stott immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Yotún stepped up to the ball and chipped a cheeky shot over Steffen to make it 1-1 at the 57-minute mark.
“This was my third PK on the season and I had already done one on each side,” Yotún said after the match through an interpreter. “I know that goalkeepers pay attention ahead of games to the players that do PKs, as well as what sides they tend to go through. So I just made a decision and it went through.”
The Lions then controlled much of the second half, turning the possession around and out-shooting the Crew 11-2 after halftime (5-1 on target).
Amro Tarek replaced Carlos Ascues a minute later as the Peruvian was experiencing some quad tightness by halftime and was struggling in the second half. As well as Ascues was playing, Tarek was just as good, making several vital defensive plays as the Crew — needing points to clinch a playoff spot — pressed to regain the lead.
Yotún made the pass of the game with a long ball in the 63rd minute to El-Munir that completely unlocked the defense. Mo centered the ball for an oncoming Kljestan who saw his shot get partially blocked and roll in on Steffen, who smothered it before any Lions could pounce on the loose ball.
Johnson sent a shot on frame in the 68th that forced a good diving stop from Steffen. It was Johnson’s last involvement as he departed for Chris Mueller in the 72nd minute.
Higuain had a golden opportunity to fire the Crew back into the lead in the 74th minute. A cross from the left side was deflected through the area and fell for the Argentine, who chested it down and fired on the half volley. However, Higuain didn’t hit his shot cleanly and sliced it well over the bar.
Yotún sent a curling effort on goal in the 78th that again required a diving save from Steffen, who saw Orlando take 10 shots from outside the box. El-Munir (wide) and Mueller (right at Steffen) wasted shots in the 81st minute as Orlando controlled play and Columbus looked to counter.
The game seemed destined for a draw when a laser blast from Sutter hit the woodwork in the 90th minute. Steffen may have gotten a touch to it before it found the frame.
Sutter then had a free header in the 93rd off a corner kick but sent his shot wide.
The four minutes of stoppage time indicated by the fourth official had just expired when Mueller — who had a tough game, to be honest — paid off his hard work by drawing a second penalty. The rookie cut drove toward the end line and then cut back, getting caught by Crew and USMNT midfielder Wil Trapp and Stott again immediately signaled to the spot.
Kljestan wanted this one and in the 96th minute he sent Steffen the wrong way and scored the game-winning goal.
“I wanted to take the first one but Yoshi said he wanted it,” Kljestan said of the two penalties. “He’s been successful and I’ve missed one already this season. So, I gave him the ball and he scored a beautiful one. Second one I just stepped up, the goalie went the wrong way and I just passed it in the corner.”
The Lions and Crew finished just about even on possession for the game (Columbus with a slight edge at 50.2% to 49.8%) and Orlando City led in shots (16-8), shots on goal (7-4), and passing accuracy (85.5%-83.1%).
Both O’Connor and Kljestan said after the match that the Lions didn’t make any real second-half adjustments, they just played better.
“I think when you look at the second half we were getting into some areas that were causing them some problems,” O’Connor said.
Orlando City is now 3-1-0 in home finales during the MLS era.
“It was a nice feeling for us to give back to the fans,” Kljestan said. A lot of the fans stuck by us through the whole season. Let’s be honest, it was a pretty miserable year. So, for them to come out, be loud again today, be very supportive and behind the team and for us to win, it just felt good for us to give them back something.”
The Lions will close out their season next Sunday on the road against Kljestan’s old team, the New York Red Bulls.