Orlando City kept it rolling. A sellout crowd of 25,527 watched as the Lions climbed into a second-place tie (for the moment) in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2 win at Orlando City Stadium. Chris Mueller, Sacha Kljestan, and Dom Dwyer each scored, and Yoshimar Yotun added two assists.
It was the first win in the series for either team, as Orlando City (4-2-1, 13 points) improved to 1-0-3 all time against the Earthquakes (1-3-2, 5 points). The win could have been more lopsided, with Orlando missing out on several good opportunities, and Justin Meram missing a penalty. The Lions led 3-0 in the second half before allowing a pair of goals off set pieces to Florian Jungwirth.
“Another night that I think the fans got their money’s worth. Another night that the coach gets a few more gray hairs,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “But really, really pleased. Four wins in a row. Really, really pleased with three wins in a row at home. And I think we’re moving in a very positive direction. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we still have a way to go.”
Kreis stuck with the lineup that finished the Philadelphia game, a 4-2-3-1 with Will Johnson at right back, Cristian Higuita next to Yotun in central midfield, an attacking midfield line of Mueller, Kljestan, and Stefano Pinho, and Dwyer up top.
It took Orlando just over a minute to take the lead. A gorgeous long cross-field pass from Yotun found its way to Mueller and the rookie shrugged off Shea Salinas, took the ball into the penalty area and found the corner to make it 1-0. Mueller’s goal was his third in as many games and it was the fastest goal to start a game for Orlando City since the club joined MLS.
“(Yoshi) gets overlooked a lot, I feel like,” Mueller said. “He’s just unbelievable in the middle of the field. The balls that he’s finding me on is just next level, so my hat goes off to him. He had a great performance and it makes it easy when you’ve got guys like that giving you the ball.
“Chris made a fantastic individual effort,” Dwyer said of Mueller’s goal. “He’s coming on leaps and bounds every week so we’re very happy with him right now and very excited.”
Dwyer tried to double the lead 10 minutes later, getting into the box on the end of a long ball from Joe Bendik. Andrew Tarbell made a one-handed stop and it came off the woodwork. The rebound fell perfectly for Pinho but the Brazilian whiffed on the shot and the chance evaporated.
San Jose started seeing more of the possession for about the next 15 minutes and earning a series of corner kicks but the Lions were able to navigate those set piece opportunities and retain the lead. Dwyer again nearly doubled the lead when he was sent into the box by Kljestan and fired a shot that deflected just inches wide of the far post in the 30th minute. Two minutes later, Pinho turned down a shot opportunity at the top of the box, worked in a bit deeper and got his shot blocked.
But three minutes later, Yotun sent another long ball that resulted in Orlando’s second goal. His ball found Mueller again on the right. The rookie waited until Tarbell committed and fed the ball toward goal, where Kljestan made a sliding effort to tap the ball in, putting the Lions up, 2-0 in the 35th minute. Mueller picked up his first MLS assist on the play.
“I heard (Kljestan),” Mueller said of his unselfish play. “It’s 100% a goal if you pass that ball. Probably could have scored it myself but the chance is slim. If I give that ball to Sacha, it’s a goal every time.”
“The key is Dom is able to bring down the first ball and hold off the center back and then I think he finds Yoshi, who finds Chris,” Kljestan said. “Chris looked up and saw me and I didn’t know if he was going to pass it or not. I think most young guys would take the shot themselves. But he knew if he laid it across in a good pass, it was an easy tap-in. He knows I would do the same for him and, yeah, I probably would have killed him if he would have shot and missed at that point, but unbelievable pass.”
The Quakes nearly pulled that goal right back. Danny Hoesen’s shot smashed off the woodwork a minute later and a second effort on goal was headed away by Amro Tarek. Four minutes later, Bendik made a save on a shot through traffic by Florian Jungwirth. He spilled the save but was able to pounce on the ball before a San Jose player could arrive.
In the final minutes of the first half, the Lions missed out on a few great chances to put the game away. Pinho slipped trying to get onto a cross in front of an open net. Moments later, Yotun went in alone on a defender but tried to make one move too many and lost the ball.
Orlando held just 47% of the first-half possession, with both teams attempting five shots (Orlando had three on target to San Jose’s one). Both teams passed well, with the Lions connecting on 85% and the Quakes on 87%.
Much of the second half was played between the two penalty areas, as Orlando looked to slow play down and take the air out of the ball. Each team squandered some early set pieces after the break.
San Jose got its best opportunity to pull within 2-1 when Danny Hoesen spun inside of Amro Tarek in the 67th minute but fired his shot over the crossbar. It was an expensive miss, as the Lions extended the lead to 3-0 just two minutes later.
Second-half substitute Meram split the defense with a pass for Dwyer, who took a touch to round Tarbell and fire his 100th professional goal into the empty net. It was Dom’s fifth goal in his four games played this season, extending his scoring streak.
“It was a fantastic pass. Justin’s a threat whether it’s scoring goals or setting up goals,” Dwyer said of the play that sent him through. “Once he can get this monkey off his back and get that first one, i think the floodgates will open for him. I think he’s a very, very talented player and there’s a lot more to come from him.”
Yotun unleashed Mueller again in the 74th minute and the rookie got into the box but his cross was cut out by the defense. Shortly after that, San Jose found a way into the game.
A corner kick found Chris Wondolowski, who headed on goal. Joe Bendik got a hand to it to push it off the goal frame but it bounced perfectly for Jungwirth to finish, putting the Earthquakes on the board in the 78th minute.
The Lions kept coming, however. Will Johnson got forward from his right back spot and smashed a shot that Tarbell fought off in the 79th minute to keep his team in the match. Three minutes later, Kljestan sent his set piece attempt over the crossbar.
It looked like City would put the game away when Dwyer was taken down in the box by Anibal Godoy, earning a penalty. Meram was given the opportunity to score his first goal as a Lion and stepped up to the spot. He took a very short approach and fired, but left his shot too close to Tarbell, who got a hand on it to keep it out in the 86th minute.
The Earthquakes, to their credit, kept pressing and eventually got another Jungwirth goal off a corner — this time on a header from Magnus Eriksson’s service in stoppage time.
“For me, defending dead-ball situations is a matter of commitment, organization and focus,” Kreis said. “And I would say to give up the number of dead ball goals we have this year, we’re extremely disappointed with that. But it’s not just the coaches. I just walked out of the locker room and we have some people in there that are very, very disappointed not to have obtained all of our objectives tonight. Clearly a shutout at home is one of the objectives that we’ve had and haven’t accomplished yet.”
That was as close as the Quakes could get and after more than four minutes of injury time, the final whistle blew on Orlando’s fourth straight victory and third consecutive win at home.
Orlando finished with 51% of the possession and both teams fired 11 shots (Orlando with six on target to San Jose’s three). The Lions passed at an 84.4% clip to San Jose’s 85.5%.
“We were a little bit disappointed to concede,” Dwyer said. “It wasn’t quite the complete performance, but we got the job done. We got all three points.”
The Lions will be back in action next Sunday as they face the Rapids in Colorado at 4 p.m. ET.