Orlando City gave up three first-half goals but fought back twice to draw 3-3 with the New England Revolution at Exploria Stadium. The draw helped Orlando (9-13-9, 36 points) gain a point on Montreal but the Lions lost ground to Chicago and didn’t make up any on the Revs (10-10-10, 40 points) — the holders of the last playoff spot.
Failing to secure all three points makes a playoff appearance even more unlikely for a Orlando team that is winless in its last five (0-2-3). On the other hand, the Revolution have still never won in Orlando in six attempts in MLS play (0-2-4) and seven in all competitions (0-3-4).
The Lions fought back from Tesho Akindele’s early own goal on a Nani strike before Cristian Penilla and Gustavo Bou gave the Revs a seemingly insurmountable halftime lead. But a resilient Orlando side bounced back on goals by Dom Dwyer and Nani and had a couple of opportunities to score a fourth and win the game.
“Incredibly proud of the second-half performance,” Head Coach James O’Connor said after the game. “That was incredible when you look at the guts and you look at the quality. On another night we end up winning it.
“The second half after about 15 minutes, when it went to 3-3, then the game really opens up. They have a couple of chances and we have some chances. I think to be 3-1 down and come back out second half and fight like that, the players deserve enormous credit.”
O’Connor had Mauricio Pereyra available, so he started the Uruguayan in the midfield with Nani left and Akindele right behind Dwyer. The back line remained the three usual starters from right to left with Kyle Smith at left back in front of Brian Rowe. The central midfield consisted of Cristian Higuita and Carlos Ascues.
Orlando had a half chance just two minutes in, as Akindele got the ball on the left but after taking a bit of a heavy touch, the defense recovered and he was forced to try to work around it for a shot, which he eventually did but it was blocked.
New England sent in a couple of warning signs after that with Penilla fizzing a cross through the box that none of his teammates could get onto and then Carles Gil sent one just wide from long distance.
The Revs then grabbed the lead in the 15th minute on a cross. Akindele stuck out a leg to block it and he knocked it off the post and into his own net to make it 1-0 New England.
“Own goal is never easy to judge,” Sané said. “I think it’s unlucky. He tried to do his best.”
Akindele’s own goal made Orlando City’s teams three for three on the weekend, with OCB scoring a game-winning own goal for Toronto FC II yesterday and the Pride’s Kristen Edmonds conceding one at North Carolina earlier tonight. You really can’t make stuff like this up.
The Lions fought back and scored seven minutes later. Pereyra sent in a cross on a corner and Nani headed it into the far corner of the net to make it 1-1 in the 22nd minute.
The Revolution regained the lead in the 35th minute on a play that seemed harmless. A through ball found Penilla but Ruan was in good position to cut him off. However, Rowe had come far off his line, not anticipating his fullback would be in position to close down the forward. Penilla got to the ball just before Ruan and chipped Rowe with his first touch to make it 2-1.
Akindele got down the right side in the 40th minute with a couple of potential targets in the box but his pass was picked off and the chance evaporated. That was costly because the Revs scored their third goal a minute later.
A simple pass to Bou from Gil resulted in a quick shot that Lamine Sané was unable to block and it beat Rowe to the near side to make it 3-1, pretty much putting the game away just before the half.
Ruan was fouled in the corner to set up a late City free kick, which the Lions played short to Higuita, who blasted it off target.
The Lions out-shot the Revs, 8-6, but got only one on target to New England’s two. The Revs held 53% of the possession and out-passed the Lions (84%-78%).
Orlando got right back in the game after the break. Just two minutes after the restart, Dwyer played a ball out wide to Ruan, who dropped off to Nani. The captain had time on the ball, so he looked up and fired a cross to Dwyer, who ducked down and headed it inside the far post to make it 3-2 in the 47th minute. It was Dwyer’s first goal since July 7 at Philadelphia and his sixth of the 2019 season.
Orlando pushed numbers into the attack, which opened the game up and allowed New England the occasional counter but O’Connor said after the game that the team had to play that type of game to get back in it and try to go on and win. The first such dangerous counter saw Penilla hit a sky ball with a gaping net in the 48th minute. The Revs were dangerous down the right side, getting in behind Smith repeatedly and crossing in threateningly for Penilla and Bou.
But it was the Lions who scored the next goal. Nani found some space at the top of the area, cutting the ball right, then left and firing just inside the right post with a left-footed blast in the 54th minute.
“I think (Nani’s) quality is there for everyone to see,” O’Connor said of his captain, who finished with two goals, an assist, seven shots and five chances created. “His performance tonight was outstanding, especially the second half when he went to that central area. His shot from distance, his ability to drop balls in behind. It was great.”
With two goals and an assist in the game, Nani set a new Orlando MLS record for goals and assists in a season, with 12 and nine, respectively. His combined 21 goals plus assists broke the mark shared by Kaká and Kevin Molino, who each had a combined 19 in 2016.
Penilla fired straight at Rowe in the 59th on another Revs counter and then Orlando got three golden opportunities for a fourth goal in the 62nd minute. Nani played a ball over the top that Akindele ran onto but the ball was in the air and he didn’t make good contact, sending a weak shot that Matt Turner knocked down. Dwyer sent a shot back toward the net and Turner again fought it off. The ball fell for second-half sub Sebas Mendez, but the Ecuadorian fired wide of the net.
Sané made several vital challenges throughout the second half to keep the game tied. With Ruan pushing forward and New England knocking long balls over the top for Penilla and Bou to run onto, Sané was forced into several emergency 1-v-1 recovery runs and did outstanding work throughout the second half to prevent breakaways from turning into goals. His work in the 74th minute after Smith again got beat for speed down the right was incredible.
“He’s very, very fast like Ruan,” Sané said of Penilla. “Our fastest one has to go very high and take the risk and I told him ‘OK I’m going to cover your back and take the risk to make the 1-v-1’ and I was lucky tonight to stop him. But I think we have to take more risk like that if we want to do better.”
Ruan sent a cross into the area in the 75th minute that was halfway between Dwyer and Turner. Both players stabbed a foot at it and the ball was sent wide, but a foul was called on Dwyer on the play. The contact momentarily shook up the Orlando striker and he was replaced by Santiago Patino. Three minutes later, Higuita smashed a shot that Turner fought off.
In the 80th minute Nani sent a gorgeous ball to spring Patino behind the defense. The rookie fired but Turner got a toe on the ball and it pinged off the far post.
Rowe made his best save of the night in the 84th minute. Sané got beat for speed by Penilla and could do nothing but watch as the New England attacker fired a ball that Rowe stopped. It wasn’t the best shot by Penilla, but the save was vital.
The Lions could not get anything on target in the seven minutes of stoppage time and the game ended all even at 3-3.
With a big second half, Orlando finished with more shots (19-15), shots on goal (7-6), and possession (53%-47%), and closed the gap on the Revolution’s passing advantage, with New England completing 84% and Orlando rising to 80% overall.
“We wanted to win. We wanted three points,” Nani said. “We knew this was the most important game for us. That was our final. But we are a team who is learning a lot (and) is improving. Tonight we showed our best performance in the second half. We must take all the good things we did tonight.”
“I think we had nothing to lose, so I think that’s why maybe we played better,” Sané said. “I think the second half we gave everything.”
Orlando City dropped to 10th in the standings, one point behind Chicago and Montreal, and still four behind the Revs in the last Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The Lions now go on the road for two games, with the Houston Dynamo first up. That game will be next Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. ET.