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Orlando City vs. KR Reykjavik: Final Score 3-1 as Nani’s Brace Leads Lions to Victory

Benji Michel also scored as a mixed Orlando City side beat the Icelandic champions.

Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City got back to scoring goals — and winning — in a 3-1 preseason friendly victory over Icelandic champions KR Reykjavik at Exploria Stadium. Nani scored a first-half brace and Benji Michel also scored in the opening period to lead the Lions.

The Lions improved to 5-1-0 on the preseason, outscoring their opponents 11-3. Orlando has just one preseason match left before the season opener on Feb. 29 against Real Salt Lake.

Oscar Pareja described the match as “a lot of opportunities to keep growing under competition.”

“Every single (game) just exposes something different manners and we’re happy with what we have achieved so far,” he said. “The purpose is to keep growing and jelling together the group, trying to get the most out of the friendly games, the minutes; exposing the whole roster; giving minutes to everyone; recognizing what we’re doing good and also what are the things we need to get better; get some material on video so we can work during the week to prepare for the next rivals — so a lot of things to work. We’re going in a good direction.”

Pareja went with a mixed lineup, playing Brian Rowe in goal behind a back line of João Moutinho, Rodrigo Schlegel, Alex De John, and Kyle Smith. The midfield was Nani flanked by rookie Joey Dezart and Uri Rosell. Chris Mueller and Michel flanked rookie Daryl Dike on the forward line.

It didn’t take long for Orlando City to grab the lead. Barely more than a minute had elapsed when Moutinho sent in an inch-perfect cross right onto Nani’s foot and the captain just redirected it into the net to make it 1-0.

Moutinho nearly got a second assist two minutes later. Schlegel sent him up the left flank and he unleashed another good cross that nearly got Dike a goal. The Reykjavik defense did just enough to deflect it away at the last second.

The Lions doubled the lead in the eighth minute when Michel timed his run perfectly and was sent in alone on goal by (I think) Rosell. Benji made no mistake and beat starting goalkeeper Sindri Jensson to make it 2-0.

A Mueller cross was inches from being knocked in for an own goal in the 15th minute as Orlando continued to slice through the KR Reykjavik defense. Two minutes later, Michel got in alone again and beat Jensson to the ball, touching it past the keeper before being taken down just outside the area. Jensson was sent off for denial of a goal scoring opportunity but in the spirit of the friendly, KR Reykjavik was able to proceed with 11 players, sending on Omar Einarsson to mind the net.

In the 20th minute, Schlegel sent a header just wide off a Nani corner kick cross, but then the visitors got on the board. Good pressure on Orlando’s left led to a turnover and a cross into the box that Vladimir Sævarsson headed past Rowe — who could do nothing about it — in the 22nd minute. The lead was cut to 2-1 but the Icelandic side nearly equalized moments later through a shot just wide of the right post by Ægir Jonarsson.

“We spoke about (Reykjavik’s high pressure) in the half with the players,” Pareja said. “It hurts when the other team has one or two chances and they score. Today those couple of’s something that will come with repetition. The players know. They were mad at themselves and recognize that they needed to do better. But that also just tells us that for the opponents it was a serious game and we’ll take that as a growing pain.”

“Obviously we leaked in a goal today and maybe against D.C.,” De John said. “But you know it’s a very new team with a lot of different backgrounds. We have Spanish, we have Swedish, we have American, so it’s very tough but you have to make do no matter what.”

Orlando settled back into the game and started generating more chances after the near miss. Nani sent a rocket just over the bar in the 31st minute. A minute later, Mueller chipped a defender to himself and then sent a left-footed shot off a defender and out for a corner. Michel set up Rosell for a shot but the Spaniard hit it wide in the 33rd.

Moutinho sent in another great cross for Dike shortly thereafter but the defense again arrived just in time to deny the rookie. Nani scored his second in the 42nd minute to cap a great passing play. He took a diagonal ball, beat a defender and then slipped in Nani, who poked it past Einarsson and it trickled into the net to make it 3-1. That’s how the first half ended.

“It’s great to have Luis Nani on the scoreboard,” Pareja said. “He knows how important it is for our team that his presence and his talent is kept in those moments when we need him the most.”

Robin Jansson and Robinho came on at the half for Schlegel and Mueller, respectively, and 15 minutes later Dike departed for Santiago Patino, but only a few half chances were generated. One sequence nearly saw both teams score early in the half though. Rowe went down to get a piece of a good cross by Finnur Palmason which ignited Orlando’s transition. At the other end, Robinho fed Nani who smashed it on target but Einarsson made a good save to deny the captain his hat trick. KR Reykjavik then tried to break the other way but De John did well to get back to stop the breakaway.

Robinho later had a shot blocked out for a corner kick, but, aside from that, much of the second half was sloppy after both teams had made some substitutions, including Jordan Bender coming on for Michel in the 67th minute and David Loera for Rosell in the 79th.

The Lions saw out the remaining time and held on for the win.

“We have some things that we still need to work on but I think everything’s coming together pretty well so far,” De John said after the match.

“Obviously the competition next week against Salt Lake is the one that’s going to count on points, but for now it just inspires us to keep getting good performances in,” Pareja said.

After the match Pareja spoke positively about his two young starters — Dike and Dezart.

“It’s a positive. Daryl — especially in the first half — showed us what he’s good at. That presence in the box and he got some positive touches too with the players and had connections there. His presence is important. Today I was very happy to see him want so bad to score and get that taste of a first division match.

“Joey looked mature too. He just got a lot of minutes today with Oriol that will help him to grow and for me it’s great to have players available. They did good.”

Orlando City will close out the preseason schedule Friday night against San Antonio FC in a closed-door friendly at Exploria Stadium at 7:30 p.m.