While Major League Soccer seems to be inching closer and closer to some sort of restart, we still don’t have it back quite yet. That means that I’ll be continuing my little Flashback Friday series since I quite enjoy digging around in the vault and reliving old games. This week takes us back four years to May 29, 2016. Orlando City SC was on the road playing New York City FC at Yankee Stadium and looking to string together a three-game unbeaten run after a win and a draw in its last two games.
The Lions trotted out a 4-2-3-1 lineup with Joe Bendik in goal; Luke Boden, Seb Hines, Tommy Redding, and Kevin Alston at the back; Servando Carrasco and Harrison Heath in the holding midfield; Brek Shea, Kevin Molino, and Adrian Winter occupying the three attacking midfield slots; and Cyle Larin leading the line. The hosts, meanwhile, came out in a 4-3-3 that had Josh Saunders at goalkeeper; Ethan White, Frederic Brillant, Jason Hernandez, and RJ Allen at the back; Mix Diskerud, Andoni Iraola, and Andrea Pirlo in midfield; and Khiry Shelton, David Villa, and Tommy McNamara up front.
Unlike Orlando teams of recent years, the good guys started the game off fairly well. The men in purple were energetic and playing with purpose and precision, and just a few minutes into the game it nearly paid off. Winter received the ball on the right wing and crossed at the back post for a temporarily unmarked Larin. The striker headed goalward from a tight angle but Saunders was able to make an excellent save on the line and prevent Orlando from taking an early lead.
OCSC was unable to maintain its quick start, however. Like so many teams before and after them, the Lions had a tough time maintaining possession and doing meaningful things with the ball on the sardine can-esque confines of the Yankee Stadium pitch. The Pigeons fired a warning shot after a quarter of an hour when McNamara hit the outside of the post following a well-worked corner routine, but Orlando couldn’t prevent the hosts from continuing to grow into the game. That failure would loom large after 42 minutes had been played. Pirlo played in an extremely deep corner which found its way to Allen. In the time it took to close him down, Allen picked up his head and played a very good ball to the back post for Brillant to head down and in, giving NYCFC a 1-0 lead going into halftime.
Things were scarcely any better for Orlando after the restart. The team was missing both Cristian Higuita and David Mateos due to suspension, while the presence of Darwin Ceren and Rafa Ramos were missed due to injury, the absence of Kaká — by way of international duty — was perhaps the most keenly felt. OCSC was sorely lacking in creativity,and the confined spaces weren’t exactly making things any easier.
The team had a few shots blocked in the opening portions of the second half but wasn’t particularly threatening, and Julio Baptista was subbed on for Winter on 59 minutes to try to provide a spark offensively. It very nearly worked too, as scarcely a minute later Shea sent Larin through on goal, only for him to again be denied by Saunders. Orlando was made to pay for the missed opportunity several minutes later when Pirlo sent an excellent diagonal ball over the top for Villa. The Spanish striker chested it down and chipped Bendik from just inside the 18-yard box with his first touch to double NYCFC’s lead.
Things nearly went from very bad to much worse for the Lions just three minutes later when Hines was judged to have handled the ball in the box. Fortunately for the visitors, Villa slipped during his run-up and the ball ballooned harmlessly into the stands. Boden was withdrawn for Carlos Rivas, and shortly after that OCSC got one back.
Molino picked up the ball just outside the final third and played an excellent pass into the box for Baptista. The Beast chested it down, took a touch, and placed the ball beyond Saunders at his near post. Just like that, Orlando was back in the game.
As the game moved past 80 minutes both sides had some decent chances, but nothing especially clear cut. Once things neared the 90th minute, Orlando found it increasingly difficult to get the ball, and NYCFC did a good job of protecting possession and drawing fouls. As the clock hit 90 Frank Lampard had an excellent chance to volley home from inside the box, but could only put his shot a few feet left of the goal.
The fourth official called for three minutes of added time and it was not looking too promising for the Lions. With about 30 seconds remaining, the ball came to Rivas on the left wing. The Colombian evaded his man and put in a high hanging cross to the back post where Larin headed it back towards the penalty spot. Baptista contorted himself for a spectacular scissor kick attempt, but Molino arrived and put in an absolutely thumping header that sent the ball in off the underside of the crossbar and brought Orlando level at the death.
That proved to be the last action of the game, and Orlando ran out of the Empire State with a hard-fought, last-gasp point. We here at The Mane Land awarded Kevin Molino the Man of the Match award in our Player Grades piece with an 8/10. Other high performers were Larin and Baptista, who were both given a 7/10.
That’ll do it for this week’s Flashback Friday. Do you have any particular memories of this game? If so, be sure to drop them in the comments, and I’ll see you next week.