Daryl Dike saved his best moment for last with a perfect header off a Chris Mueller cross to lift Orlando City to a 2-1 win over D.C. United at Exploria Stadium. The Lions (11-8-9, 42 points) snapped a five-game winless streak when Mueller’s corner kick delivery found Dike’s head and the ball skipped off the underside of the crossbar and in for the winner to beat D.C. (12-12-4, 40 points).
Robin Jansson’s goal off an earlier corner kick scramble had canceled out a Julian Gressel cannon shot in the first half and the teams seemed destined to split the points until Dike’s goal. It was the forward’s third straight game with a goal and lifted the Lions back over United in the tight Eastern Conference standings. Orlando swept the season series from D.C. (2-0-0) — the first time the Lions have done that to United since 2017.
“I think it was a very important night for us,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “And it was emotional for us, of course, because we have seen how hard (the players) worked to get over this hurdle, this period of three weeks where we couldn’t get results. Our players were very united.”
Pareja had just about his pick of the roster for this match as everyone was available except the injured Alexandre Pato and Uri Rosell and the suspended Rodrigo Schlegel. Pedro Gallese started behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Sebas Mendez and Junior Urso took their spots in the central midfield, with Benji Michel and Mauricio Pereyra connecting with Nani and Dike up top.
There wasn’t much going on for the first five minutes of the game except 22 guys kicking the ball around, but that changed in the sixth minute. A ball forward for Dike was won by D.C. and sent to the right side. Gressel smashed a shot from distance that caught Gallese a bit off guard and it had the power to beat him to make it 1-0.
The first look for Orlando came in the 14th minute when a corner kick found Nani who fired a shot that was deflected. The ball pinged around in traffic and found Dike, who hit a shot over the bar. Two minutes later, Ruan got down the right and sent in a good low cross that Steve Birnbaum deflected just inches wide of his own left post. But the ensuing corner led to the Lions’ equalizer.
A good service into the area was headed on goal by Urso and Bill Hamid made a sprawling save. Jansson was there to smash the rebound into the roof of the net to tie the game at 1-1 in the 17th minute.
“I went to the second post and I saw the guys were in the middle there,” Jansson said. “I think it was Antonio, Dike, and maybe Urso or someone else. They got a touch to the goalkeeper, who put the rebound off on the second post and I was there to grab that rebound up and hit it in the net. I’m happy about the goal and happy for the team that we broke the bad momentum we have had. Hopefully this is something we can keep building now the last couple of games.”
Orlando looked vulnerable after scoring, with Carlos doing some emergency defending a couple of times to break up play but conceding dangerous corners. But the Lions settled back down and held some possession to calm the game back down.
Michel should have put Orlando on top in the 35th minute. Nani made a ridiculous pass to send Michel into the box on the left side. The winger made a good move to cut inside on his right foot but then sent his shot just inches wide of the far post.
That was the last good opportunity for either side in the first half and the teams went into the break all even. Orlando dominated possession in the first half (64.7%-35.3%) but often couldn’t decide what to do with it in the final third. The Lions had more shots (7-4) and shots on goal (2-1), and was more accurate with the ball when passing (87.1%-76.7%).
Emmanuel Mas came on for Moutinho to start the second half and D.C. pressed to try to find a goal early in the half, keeping Orlando penned in its own end for the half’s opening minutes. The Lions helped them with that by being loose with the ball, turning it over and playing into D.C.’s hands.
The first good chance came when Paul Arriola fired over the bar in the 48th minute. A minute later, Gallese spilled a seemingly routine ball and allowed D.C. to recycle an attack into the area, ending in a weak header on goal. Moments after that, Urso gave the ball away cheaply and ended up having to clean up the ball just in front of his own goal line.
Shortly after that, Orlando started to settle down and pass the ball better. D.C. began to drop into a defensive formation, content to earn a point on the road at worst and to ideally score on the counter, if possible. The Lions were able to get into some good positions but couldn’t quite find that final pass to unlock the defense.
In the 88th minute, the Lions created some danger in transition. Second-half sub Silvester van der Water did well to deflect a ball and Dike got onto it. The big forward passed up a shooting opportunity to slip between defenders but lost his balance after contact with a defender and he could only slide the ball to the right. Tesho Akindele made a sliding effort to direct the ball toward goal but Hamid made a huge initial save and then it was cleared off the line before van der Water could tap it home.
That looked like it was going to be the last good chance of the match but the Lions won a late free kick and made the most of it. Mueller sent in a fantastic cross and Dike flicked it on, sneaking it just under the bar for the late winner in the 97th minute. For Mueller, it was his first direct goal contribution since July 3, when he scored in a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls.
“Chris had just served a good ball near post, and so I decided to go near post this time and flicked it on to the goal and the ball went in and emotion just came over me,” Dike said. “I’m just so happy we got a win in front of the fans.”
Dike celebrated and somehow ended up with a pair of sunglasses on his face. He said that Andres Perea brought them to him.
“I don’t know where he got them from but they ended up on my face,” Dike said.
“It seems like one point was not enough for them in front of our fans,” Pareja said of his team. “They brought that energy at the end that was what we were looking for to change the road now.”
With D.C. content to look for counter opportunities, the Lions led in most statistical categories, leading in shots (12-11), shots on target (4-2), corners (9-5), possession (64.8%-35.2%), and passing accuracy (86%-75.3%).
“I think we were the best team on the field,” Pareja said. “I think we got the three points because we always were constant on our intentions in trying to hurt United, which is a very good team also, who have strong transitions. But today our heart was bigger and that’s why we’re very proud.”
The win, combined with other results, lifted Orlando from seventh back into third place in the Eastern Conference.
“At this time of the year, every single point matters,” Dike said. “We tell each other every single second of the game matters, every play matters, whether it be the first minute, whether it be the 90th minute. You saw it from last game, you saw it from this game, that we’re going to keep fighting until the whistle is blown in order to get the points that we need.”
Orlando City now gets a rare rest with the international break, resuming play on Oct. 16 at FC Cincinnati.