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Orlando City vs. Sporting Kansas City: Final Score 1-1 as Lions Fight Back for Road Point

The Lions had two goals called back before finally netting Nani’s equalizer.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Sporting Kansas City Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City paid for a late first-half mistake just before halftime but Nani’s cheeky backheel flick helped the Lions salvage a 1-1 draw against Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park. Orlando (0W-0L-2D, 2 points) had two goals waved off for offside after video review and SKC (1-0-1, 4 points) had one called back as well. In the end, the result was probably a fair one but a poor exchange between Pedro Gallese and Antonio Carlos kept the Lions from taking all three points.

City is unbeaten in its last three against Sporting, winning the last two before tonight’s draw. The Lions are now 3-2-2 in the all-time series and 1-2-1 at Children’s Mercy Park.

“I think it was a great performance for our team,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The personality and, and the consistency in our sequences today was very good and was the highlight of our team, so I’m very pleased.”

Pareja made one expected change and one surprise change from Saturday’s lineup, replacing the injured Alexandre Pato (lower body injury) with Andres Perea, and inserting Benji Michel at wing for Chris Mueller, who started on the bench. Pedro Gallese manned the net behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Perea slotted into the midfield with Junior Urso, Sebas Mendez, and Michel, with Nani pushing up into the attack with Tesho Akindele.

The game began rather sloppily with both teams turning it over often in the opening 15 minutes but the Lions nearly scored in the opening seconds. Michel got onto a Nani cross but fired it way off target from in front of goal.

Daniel Salloi got the game’s first shot with a slow roller at Gallese in the sixth minute. Ruan then got down the right a few times but struggled with his crossing accuracy.

Sporting had a good opportunity early when Smith was booked for a foul just outside the area on a ball he felt he won fairly. The hosts appeared to cash in on the training ground set piece as a shot was fired off of Akindele, forcing Gallese to change directions to make a good save. However, he couldn’t control the rebound and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin got there first to slot it home in the 13th minute. After a VAR check, the goal was correctly overturned as Isimat-Mirin was well offside when the initial shot was taken.

Ruan was set up at the top of the box in the 17th minute but his shot was headed way wide of goal when it was deflected out for a corner. Nani played the ensuing corner short for Mendez who shot it way over the bar. Moments later, Perea got in behind and was in the act of shooting when Roger Espinoza stuck a leg in from behind and got both man and ball. The weak shot was easy for John Pulskamp to collect and the tackle was ruled a fair one.

The Lions continued to grow in confidence throughout the half and started controlling play. Nani fizzed a cross through the six in the 26th minute and Michel was inches from giving it the touch it needed to go in.

Michel thought he’d given the Lions the lead in the 36th minute but again the goal was overturned. Nani had smashed a shot in that Pulskamp couldn’t handle and Michel got to the rebound first, finessed it over the goalkeeper and scored calmly, but he was a foot or so offside on the initial shot attempt.

Schlegel got in behind on a set piece in the 40th minute but Pulskamp came off his line and got a piece of it before he could pull the trigger. Minutes later, the game turned in Sporting’s favor.

The hosts took the lead in the 45th minute but didn’t have to put in much work for it. Carlos mishandled a pass from Gallese, allowing Salloi to take it away. The winger fed Gianluca Busio, who fired near side past El Pulpo to give his team a 1-0 advantage.

“Unfortunately we made a mistake in the first half. We conceded a goal and made our game more complicated but I think we reacted very well,” Nani said. “I think we deserve the point and could do better. Could deserve three points but one point is not bad after we conceded that first goal.”

Pareja said the goal Orlando gave up was a product of the way they like to play.

“We made some mistakes due to the risks that we play but we committed with this way to play, and the players came back as a group,” he said.

Sporting Kansas City took its 1-0 lead against the run of play into the locker room at the break. Orlando City had more shots (6-3) but SKC got all three on target to Orlando’s two. The Lions held more possession (60.5%-39.5%), had more corners (1-0) and was the more accurate passing team (85.6%-82.1%).

Shortly after the restart, it appeared that Perea had tied it with his first career goal. But the play again went to review and the goal was disallowed. Nani’s corner kick cross was cleared but Smith picked it up and cycled it left to right for Nani again. The captain’s second cross skipped off a defender and found its way through traffic to Perea, who smashed a shot off the crossbar and in. Perea was onside when Nani delivered the cross but Carlos got a foot on it and that’s what put Perea just offside.

“I was really happy with my goal,” Perea said of that moment before it was ruled off. “I was really unlucky, but maybe the next one counts. I’m going to work to to score again and make opportunities for my team and do whatever the team needs to win. But I was really happy.”

Alan Pulido nearly doubled the lead for SKC in the 54th minute. Ruan gave the ball away in his own defensive corner and it found its way to Sporting’s Designated Player, who fizzed a shot inches wide of the right post.

Moments after Chris Mueller subbed on for Michel, the Money Badger nearly had an assist, heading a cross back across the box. Akindele saw Pulskamp deny him from point-blank range but he was offside on the play anyway.

Gallese made a great save on a long-range effort in the 59th minute when the center back stepped up and no one closed him down.

Urso fired just wide of goal in the 67th minute as the Lions continued to press for an equalizer. Akindele got down the left and earned a corner in the 75th but may have had an opportunity to shoot rather than trying to thread a pass to Perea that was knocked out of play. On the ensuing set piece, the ball was played short to Smith, who had his initial shot blocked and didn’t make good contact on the second, sending an easy one right at Pulskamp.

Johnny Russell forced Gallese into another save at the other end on a set piece in the 78th minute. Then Orlando tied it at the other end.

A long ball from Mendez picked out Smith, who made a great run forward from his left back position. Smith did well to bring the ball quickly under control and tried to cross through the box, but the pass hit the trailing foot of defender Roberto Puncec. Mueller was first to the ball and fired, but his shot was blocked. The rebound bounced to Nani, who had his back to goal, but the captain nonchalantly flicked it softly backward and into the net to tie the match at 1-1 in the 79th minute.

The flag came up after the play but again it went to video review and the replay showed no Orlando players were offside. The goal was awarded. It was Nani’s 19th since joining the Lions in 2019.

“It was good because we deserved to score a goal,” Nani said. “I don’t remember (the last time I) scored a goal like that. It’s always nice to score goals like that because it’s like a release of a lot of stress, you know. We were in a situation in the game where we needed to score.”

The Lions withstood a couple of late corners and held on for the 1-1 draw to stay unbeaten, but also winless. Orlando out-shot the hosts (11-9), but Sporting KC got more on frame (5-4). The Lions held advantages in possession (59.9%-40.1%), corners (4-3), and passing accuracy (84%-83%).

“We had more possession. We controlled the game,” Nani said. “Especially in the first half, we dominated all game. And that’s the key. When you have more of the ball. We have players in the final third who can create chances.”

“Obviously, you wanted to walk (away) with three points after that many chances that we created, especially in the first half when we had the goal in front of us a few times,” Pareja said. “But we’re happy. We’re excited to play and to have this performance and so, we look forward to the next one.”

The Lions return home for their next match against FC Cincinnati at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 1.