The Lions fell behind 1-0 off a set piece but roared back behind a Chris Mueller goal and a brace by Daryl Dike to beat Nashville SC 3-1 at Exploria Stadium. Orlando City (3-2-2, 11 points) started a bit out of sync but settled in and handed Nashville (1-4-1, 4 points) its second straight loss in the first meeting between the two teams.
Dike has three goals in his first two starts in back-to-back matches, and Mueller added to his team-leading total (5), equaling his career high for a season, set last year in 29 appearances.
The Lions climbed into the top four in the Eastern Conference on a night when the rest of the league took the night off in protest of the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, WI, earlier this week. Unlike some of the other matches scheduled, Orlando had sold tickets to the match, so fans were in the stands. But the Orlando-Nashville match was also the earliest match and it wasn’t clear to the players or Oscar Pareja what was really happening before phones were already off and the team was preparing to play.
Nani said that the team had “heard some things” but weren’t completely aware of what was going on at other sporting events around the country, as they were in their pregame mode. He said the players heard “nothing concrete” and weren’t aware that the other MLS games had been postponed until afterwards.
Pareja’s lineup for the second match out of five in a 15-day stretch included a few changes. Pedro Gallese started in goal per usual, but Rodrigo Schlegel slotted into the back line in place of Antonio Carlos alongside Robin Jansson, with Ruan, and Joao Moutinho outside. Dike got his second straight start up top with Tesho Akindele not in the lineup at all. Mueller returned to the starting XI, along with Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, Uri Rosell, and Sebas Mendez.
Orlando City wasn’t sharp to start the match with some errant touches and lost dribbles but credit Nashville for getting into passing lanes, closing down quickly, and reading the play well. The first good chance of the game came just four minutes in when Abu Danladi got around Schlegel and fired over the bar. Danladi and Gallese collided in the ninth minute on a ball over the top and the play went to a quick VAR check for a possible penalty but none was awarded.
After a couple of near misses on a corner kick sequence, Orlando got a look in the 12th minute. Pereyra sent Ruan down the right side and the Brazilian speedster centered for Dike, who should have scored but he missed just wide.
Nashville opened the scoring at the quarter-hour mark. Mendez gave up an unnecessary free kick from distance and Hany Mukhtar sent in a ball that found Dave Romney, who nodded home to make it 1-0. The play was reminiscent of the Larrys Mabiala goal in the MLS is Back final against Portland but this time it was in the middle and the ball bounced just in front of Gallese, which kept it just out of his reach.
Orlando nearly pulled that goal back a minute later. Moutinho got forward and found Nani in the box. The captain shot it with his first touch but Joe Willis was there to make the save. But the Lions broke through two minutes later.
Pereyra switched play to Moutinho on the left and the fullback made a sick move to free himself and pick out a cross. Mueller had slipped on the play but was in perfect position to head home Moutinho’s low cross, making it 1-1 in the 21st minute.
The Lions were the better team for much of the remainder of the opening half. Nashville tried to play long balls for Danladi to run onto, including one in the 29th that he got to and crossed for Daniel Rios, but the forward couldn’t get into position to make good contact for the shot.
But Orlando patiently built up its attacks and had some decent looks at goal. Moutinho should have found the Lions’ second goal in the 30th. After making a good hustle play to win the ball back in midfield, Joao continued his run forward. Pereyra sent a pass forward to Dike, who flicked it on for Moutinho, breaking into the area. Unfortunately, the left back fired his shot at Willis, who made the save.
Nani sent Ruan down the right in the 32nd minute, all the way to the end line. The cross back found Pereyra but the Uruguayan took a touch and that allowed Nashville’s defense to close and block the shot attempt. That was the last good attack of the half, though Moutinho was nearly in behind again but was called for a handball in the buildup just before the break.
Shots were 8-8 (3-3 on target), with Orlando City holding 69.6% of the possession and being the sharper passing club (89%-70%).
The Lions took the lead just seven minutes after the restart. Mueller sent Pereyra down the left and the Uruguayan picked out Dike on the run. The rookie smashed home his second goal in two matches to make it 2-1 in the 52nd minute.
Nashville just about pulled that goal right back 10 minutes later. Randall Leal was allowed too much space above the area and knocked a shot off the right post.
Orlando continued to hold the ball and build attacks. A cross came within inches of making it to Moutinho at the back post but Willis stretched out and was just able to grab it in the 66th minute. Dike won a foul at midfield shortly after that but was caught in the head and had to get checked out by trainers and have his head wrapped up before returning to play.
Dike responded by scoring his second of the night in the 72nd minute. Ruan made a good cross into the area to second-half sub Junior Urso but Willis made a point-blank save on the midfielder’s header. Dike swooped in and cleaned up the scraps to complete his brace.
“We love to see Daryl scoring today,” Pareja said. “We are trying to add some things to his game. Just be more comfortable with the ball, just come in and have a presence where we are creating sequences. I think he’s connecting all these things slowly. I think he’s doing incredible. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities.”
“He’s been improving so fast and everyone sees he has talent,” Nani added about the rookie.
The rookie had an opportunity to complete a hat trick three minutes later when Nani sent him a cross but a defender stuck in a toe at the last second to deny the shot right in front of the net.
Nashville started to see a lot more of the ball after the second Dike goal and turned that possession into a few shots. Substitute Alex Muyl headed over the bar in the 76th minute after getting onto a nice ball over the top.
Urso got a second point-blank opportunity off a corner kick in the 81st minute but again Willis turned him away. After Dominique Badji volleyed a shot over Gallese’s crossbar on the last decent scoring opportunity for either side, the Lions saw out the remaining time and captured all three points.
Orlando led in shots (17-16), shots on goal (8-4), possession (66.1%), corners (5-4), and passing accuracy (88%-80%).
“This evening was was amazing for all of us to see our families, you know, in the stands watching us doing what we love most. It was a great evening,” Nani said. “We had so many fans support. Great opportunity to give a win for them and we feel like things are getting to normal. And as players, that is what we want. And it was a great feeling.”
The Lions have another quick turnaround, with a trip to Atlanta coming up on Saturday. If the current wave of player protests across all sports comes to an end by then, it will be a huge advantage for the hosts, as Atlanta and Miami postponed their match tonight.