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Flashback Friday: A Strange First Eastern Conference Victory

The Lions grabbed their first conference win in MLS five years ago in extraordinary fashion.

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

With the Major League Soccer Players Association and Major League Soccer coming to an agreement on terms for restarting league play earlier this week, MLS isn’t back just yet. That means that it’s time for another Flashback Friday. This week we’re going way back in the vault, all the way back to Orlando City’s first year in Major League Soccer.

The day was June 6, 2015 and Orlando had a road match-up with the Chicago Fire. The Lions were on a three-game unbeaten streak but had yet to register a win over an Eastern Conference foe, with all but one of the team’s five losses in the campaign coming to teams from the East.

Adrian Heath lined up his team in a 4-2-3-1 consisting of Tally Hall in net; Luke Boden, Sean St. Ledger, Aurelien Collin, and Rafael Ramos in defense; Darwin Ceren and Cristian Higuita at defensive midfield; Lewis Neal, Kaká, and Eric Avila as attacking midfielders; and Pedro Ribeiro up top. The Fire’s Frank Yallop, meanwhile, deployed his team in a 4-4-1-1 with Jon Busch at goalkeeper; Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz, Adailton, and Lovel Palmer as the back four; David Accam, Matt Polster, Razvan Cocis, and Joevin Jones at midfield; Harry Shipp in the hole; and Kennedy Igboananike at striker.

Things got started pretty quickly, with Tally Hall forced to tip a lofted cross over the bar that was threatening to sneak its way in after just seven and a half minutes played. The action immediately ratcheted up, because from the resulting corner the Fire played one from the training ground that enabled Accam to get loose on the right wing and play a ball across goal for a totally unmarked Igboananike to lash home. Just a little over eight minutes gone and Orlando was in a 1-0 hole.

In a tale quite literally as old as Orlando’s time in MLS, the Lions were playing from behind, but they were fighting back. Just after the restart Collin came close with a header, and on 17 minutes Ribeiro was played in over the top by Boden. The striker chested the ball down and managed to poke a shot towards goal, but it was parried and eventually saved by Bush.

After that bit of excitement things dried up for both teams for most of the remainder of the half. Accam had a couple decent chances but was unable to convert them and Bush made a great save on a swerving drive from Ceren, but other than those flashes it was a fairly disjointed affair.

After the 40th minute though, the Lions got one back. Orlando had a corner that was played high and to the far post where St. Ledger was able to head it back across goal. The ball went into a crowd of bodies and deflected off Adailton’s thigh and in to bring the teams level just before the break and the half ended 1-1.

The second half started brightly for the Lions with Ceren going close with a shot and the team showing more intent and fluidity in the attacking third. That good start was soon undone though, because of sloppiness at the back. After a Fire counterattack to get the ball into the final third, Shipp played a wonderful ball into the box for Accam, who took one touch to settle the ball and then smoothly placed it into the side netting to give the Fire a 2-1 lead with 57 minutes gone.

Following the goal the game then entered another slightly listless spell, with a lot of muddled play in the midfield and Orlando trying to go the route of possession-based attacking play but not having much success. Heath soon opted for some changes and after 66 minutes brought on Cyle Larin to replace Ribeiro and substituted Neal for Carlos Rivas 10 minutes later.

The changes proved to be inspired ones. Rivas played the ball in to Larin roughly 25 yards from goal and, after the young Canadian held off several defenders, he unleashed a fantastic curling shot that went in off the near post to make the game 2-2 in the 82nd minute.

It was certainly a late sucker punch, but Orlando wasn’t finished there. A mere four minutes later the good guys took the lead after a comical play for the Lions and an unfortunate one for Chicago. Rivas was released down the left wing and made to cross for a wide-open Larin to tap home. However, his cross hit poor Adailton’s foot and rolled into the back of the net for the defender’s second own goal of the night.

He very nearly made up for his error on 90 minutes as he forced Hall into a save to preserve Orlando’s lead. The referee signaled for five minutes of stoppage time but it wasn’t too nervy for the Lions as the Fire committed several fouls and picked up some late yellow cards that helped run the time down.

The game finished 3-2 and with two of the team’s goals coming courtesy of the opposition, coupled with the late drama, it was a pretty on-brand win for the Cardiac cats. We here at The Mane Land had Kaká and Aurelien Collin as the team’s best performers on the night, as both received grades of 8/10. Other high performers were Larin, with a 7.5/10, and Rivas with a 7/10, and you can find our full player grades piece here.

That’ll do it for this week’s edition of Flashback Friday. If you have any specific memories of this weird win that you’d like to share be sure to drop them in the comments and I’ll see y’all next week.