Orlando City seemed to be in pretty good shape after Nani’s second-half golazo put the Lions ahead on Saturday night. New York City FC was chasing the game, leaving some gaps at the back, and it seemed to be only a matter of time before the Lions broke the visitors on the counter. Instead, something else happened and Orlando had to settle for a point.
Joao Moutinho is an important part of the roster and he’s been out for a while. Oscar Pareja didn’t want to play him a full 45 minutes, although he’d have liked to get his starting fullback some more game minutes. But when Ruan picked up a knock late in the first half, it forced a change of plans. Moutinho went on to start the second half and perhaps it was the fatigue of playing in an intense rivalry match (after only playing 15 competitive minutes since last August) that caused him to be a split second late when trying to dispossess Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and instead stepping on his foot.
Valentin Castellanos converted the penalty and allowed New York City FC to escape Exploria Stadium with a point. That could even have been a three-point smash-and-grab if not for Pedro Gallese’s heroic save in the 94th minute on Jesus Medina’s breakaway.
The Lions and Pigeons have drawn three straight times and four of the last five meetings in a rivalry series that could hardly be more competitive. NYCFC is a good team in the Eastern Conference — currently sitting on top of the conference standings — so the result, while not optimal, was a decent one. Orlando continues to play without both Daryl Dike and Alexandre Pato up top and Chris Mueller has yet to get on track in 2021.
But Nani has had no such issues. The captain scored another wondergoal — his third in three games — and Mauricio Pereyra picked up the assist in just his second appearance this season. The whole move began with Junior Urso nutmegging a defender. At the end of the season, that sequence might stand as the best team goal of the year.
We hope you enjoy these photos from another evenly matched battle with New York City FC.
Words: Michael Citro
Photos: Dan MacDonald