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Throwback Thursday: The Grittiest Point Ever

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Orlando City fought hard while two men down to get a result.

SOCCER: JUN 04 MLS - Chicago Fire at Orlando City SC Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Three years ago today, one of the most ridiculous, most riveting, and most inspired matches in Orlando City history took place. It was a match that first made you frustrated, then livid, and then unbelievably proud. All of that in only 90 minutes plus stoppage time.

I am, of course, referring to the June 4, 2017, match against the Chicago Fire. It was a match where not one but two Lions were shown off, and Orlando City gave one of its grittiest performances ever to earn a point at home.

This was the Jason Kreis era, and the Lions were coming off a really bad month of May that saw the club go 1-4-2. In case you’ve forgotten who was on the team at that point, here is the lineup from our How To Watch feature for the match.

Goalkeeper: Joe Bendik.

Defenders: PC, Leo Pereira, Jonathan Spector, Rafael Ramos.

Midfielders: Cristian Higuita, Giles Barnes, Antonio Nocerino, Will Johnson.

Forwards: Carlos Rivas, Cyle Larin.

Bench: Josh Saunders, Scott Sutter, Jose Aja, Luis Gil, Kaká Servando Carrasco, Matias Perez Garcia.

Even more important than which players took the pitch for Orlando City is the referee who was tasked by PRO to officiate the match. His name is Ted Unkel. I’ll give you a minute to calm down after reading his name. This is a guy that has earned the ire of many a supporter from nearly every club in Major League Soccer. The amount of posts this guy has inspired is legendary, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

A mere 26 minutes into the match, Unkel sent off Ramos for violent conduct. If you go back and look at the play, Ramos was putting a foot out to try and clear a ball but it was right as Brandon Vincent arrived. I doubt Ramos knew Vincent was even there, but Unkel saw it differently. Now, the Lions were playing with 10 men.

Kreis moved Johnson to right back and kept his offensive players on hoping for a goal off a counter attack. Bendik denied Chicago in the net, and the Lions went in 0-0 at the half. Orlando City took five shots, with two on target in the first half. It was all the offense the Lions would muster.

In the second half, Chicago had 70% of the possession. Things were tough, but Orlando was playing good defense against a speedy Chicago lineup. Then, tragedy struck in the 67th minute as Antonio Nocerino was sent off as well. Nocerino had no fouls in the match up until this point and, like Ramos, stuck his foot out to meet an incoming airborne ball, only to have Matt Polster move in front of him. Nocerino’s cleats found Polster’s rear end rather than the ball, and Unkel dropped the Lions to nine men.

This is the point at which any normal supporter would be justified in assuming that the match not only won’t be won on some lucky counter attack, but that a loss is all but assured. Orlando City had other ideas. For the next 23 minutes — plus stoppage time — the Lions dove, slid, and threw themselves in front of every ball Chicago sent forward. Bendik did his part, handling everything that came his way. Even the crossbar got into the act, denying both Polster’s and David Arshakyan’s chances in stoppage time.

Finally, after 64 minutes down a man, and then more than 23 minutes plus down two men, the final whistle blew. Orlando City all but collapsed following the 0-0 draw. The supporters gave the Lions a well-deserved ovation, thanking the players for what is most certainly the hardest-won point in club history.

Unkel had his fingerprints all over this match, and despite that Orlando City was able to earn a point. I remember this match so very well, and my feelings during and after are something to be cherished. Hopefully, you can now relive that feeling as well.