I’m sitting here typing and don’t really know how to put into words what I saw over the final minutes in Orlando City’s 3-2 loss to the Columbus Crew at Mapfre Stadium. Leading 2-1 with just a few minutes to see out, the Lions (7-12-1, 22 points) saw referee Silviu Petrescu call the softest of penalties to allow Gyasi Zardes to level the game in the 88th minute, then the Crew (9-7-6, 33 points) rode that momentum to score on a sure a Goal-of-the-Week candidate by Wil Trapp in stoppage time to steal all three points.
Sacha Kljestan and Stefano Pinho saw their goals go to waste as Zardes completed his brace from the spot and Trapp found the winner.
Instead of jumping Chicago and Philadelphia into seventh place, just two points behind the Montreal Impact, the Lions have lost their 10th game in their last 11 league matches and it shouldn’t have happened. Take nothing away from Trapp’s unstoppable rocket from distance. It was maddeningly good. But the fragile Crew, who had struggled to score goals of late were frustrated time and again until getting their late lifeline from Petrescu.
Not only was the penalty soft on the most minor of midair jostles between RJ Allen and Patrick Mullins, but then Petrescu relied entirely on the word of VAR Jon Freemon to stick with his initial call rather than looking at it himself at such a crucial moment.
Anyway, let’s get to the recap because I need to drink several strong alcoholic beverages to wash the taste of this one away.
Facing a third game in eight days — and second on the road — James O’Connor chose to rotate some of his squad after Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup loss to the Philadelphia Union, replacing several starters and inserting Cristian Higuita back into the starting lineup upon his return from an adductor injury.
Orlando City wasted no time getting involved in the attack and Yoshimar Yotún came within inches of putting the Lions ahead in just the second minute, smashing one off the right post.
The Crew put the first of what seemed like a hundred dangerous crosses into the box four minutes in, but it skipped too far in front of Zardes and went out of play. Columbus spent quite a bit of time in Orlando’s end in the first half, getting up the wings and spraying balls in from both flanks. This helped the hosts win 10 first-half corner kicks.
Orlando nearly caught a break in the 10th minute when Allen’s ball into the area arrived at the same time as Higuita and the Crew’s Jonathan Mensah and Zack Steffen. Everyone collided and Steffen reacted first to collect the ball.
Six minutes later, the Lions grabbed the lead. Allen beat Milton Valenzuela and skipped a cross through the area that found Kljestan. The captain didn’t hit the wet ball cleanly, but he got it up and over Steffen to make it 1-0 on his fifth goal of the season.
In the 23rd, Columbus nearly equalized when Pedro Santos was left all alone on the left and a cross found him in the area. Chris Mueller sprinted back to help break up the play but he also got a piece of Earl Edwards Jr., and the Lions’ goalkeeper rolled his ankle. After trying to play through it for about 10 minutes, Edwards was subbed out for Joe Bendik.
Orlando worked the ball well to the top of the box in the 38th minute but Kljestan passed up an opportunity for a shot and passed the ball to a defender, thinking he had a runner coming up from behind his left, wasting the chance.
A minute later, the Crew finally got a shot on target when Zardes cut inside on his right foot and fired a weak shot that Bendik scooped up. Much of the final 15 minutes of the first half were spent in Orlando territory as the Crew pinged the ball around to each other, connecting around the perimeter, but they couldn’t break into good scoring positions, nor could they take advantage of numerous set pieces.
Columbus held 54% of the first-half possession and fired seven shots to Orlando’s three (1-1 on target). The Crew completed an impressive 88% of their passes compared to the Lions’ 78% but the lads in purple still held the advantage at halftime.
It took just six minutes for the Crew to level after the restart. Left back Tony Rocha got roasted by Niko Hansen, who got to the end line and crossed for Zardes to slot home off of the left post. It was disappointing to see nobody marking Zardes, as he was the only attacker in a dangerous spot and it was one of the first mistakes we’ve seen from new center back Shane O’Neill, making just his second start.
The Lions responded well to the Columbus goal. Pinho fired a shot right at Steffen in the 52nd minute as he had trouble digging Higuita’s pass out of his feet in the penalty area. Two minutes later, Mueller crossed a ball in for a wide-open Pinho who only needed to get a touch on it to send it home but the Brazilian couldn’t quite get onto it.
Despite those missed chances, Pinho restored Orlando’s lead in the 58th minute on a fantastic buildup that started with Yotún’s brilliant ball that released Kljestan into the area. The captain — with Jonathan Spector still out — beat his man and slid the ball over for Pinho’s easy tap-in to make it 2-1 in the 58th minute.
O’Connor replaced Kljestan with Mohamed-El Munir in the 60th minute and then got Will Johnson on for Higuita, who was gassed and cramping up, to try to see the game out. El-Munir had an opportunity to give the Lions some insurance off a counter attack in the 62nd minute when he got into the box but Steffen made a phenomenal one-handed save to keep it a one-goal game.
From that point on, the traffic was all one way, as the Crew sent waves of attack into the Orlando end, while the Lions tried to hold on. It looked like Orlando City’s night when Bendik made a fantastic save to deny Mullins’ headed shot in the 76th minute.
Then, disaster struck in the 86th minute, when a routine ball in the area ended up giving Columbus life. Mullins and Allen went up for a ball and the Crew striker went down easily looking for a call. Petrescu obliged. After going to his earpiece Petrescu didn’t go take a look for himself. He just pointed to the spot again.
If this is a penalty, both teams should have been shooting from the spot all night.
After the match, the pool reporter in Columbus asked for an explanation on why a penalty was given. Here is the response:
Official response per the late PK: “As the Columbus player was about to head the ball in the Orlando penalty area, the Orlando player charged him from behind. Therefore a penalty kick was called.” #CLBvORL— Jordan Culver (@JordanCulver) July 22, 2018
I’m not a physicist, but look at the play again. If Allen “charged him from behind,” why did Mullins fall backward and land on his back, rather than falling forward onto his stomach? I just can’t even.
Bendik guessed correctly on Zardes’ effort, but it was well placed and had a lot of steam on it, giving the Lions’ keeper no chance. The game was tied at 2-2 in the 88th minute.
The Lions nearly got an opportunity after the restart to retake the lead, but couldn’t quite connect with Mueller in the box.
With just a few minutes to see out, the Lions packed in tightly and looked to hold onto their road point, but the Crew were now riding the wave of momentum and found the late winner on the kind of shot that only happens against Orlando City late in games. From about 30 yards out, Trapp tried his luck and fired a missile into the upper 90.
A last-gasp Orlando set piece was flicked right at Steffen and the game ended in about as much of a gut-punch fashion as we’ve seen in the team’s four-year MLS existence.
The Lions held only 43% of the possession, as they tried to absorb pressure for much of the second half, nursing the lead and looking to counter. Columbus out-shot Orlando City, 15-9 (6-5 on target) and connected on 87% of its passes, compared to Orlando’s 79%.
The Lions were just minutes from their first-ever win at Mapfre Stadium and took nothing away from the game.
The Lions return to action Thursday at home when New York City FC comes to Orlando in search of a three-game season sweep.