Junior Urso’s 84th-minute goal saved Orlando City the embarrassment of having thrown away an early two-goal lead. Tesho Akindele and Nani had staked the Lions (4-1-3, 15 points) to a 2-0 lead in the first eight minutes but Toronto FC (1-5-2, 5 points) — technically the home side in this match due to the COVID-19 situation — rallied to draw level at 2-2 before the first half ended. Ultimately, Orlando played a good second half and won 3-2 over the Reds in Exploria Stadium.
City improved to 2-0-0 against Toronto this season and 4-8-2 in the all-time series. Technically it would be the team’s first road win against the Reds, but obviously it’s not the same as winning at BMO Field. The Lions climbed into second in the Eastern Conference for the moment, pending the result of Sunday’s match between Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Head Coach Oscar Pareja dedicated the win to Rodrigo Schlegel, who lost his father recently.
“It was emotional day for us, and we want to share this joy that we have with Rodigo (and) his family,” Pareja said after the match. “We dedicate this to him and also to people who have been dealing with this COVID.
“Regarding the game, exceptional performance for us. It has been a challenge to be together again. The team has been separated in many ways. Today we played against a good team and especially in the second half we had the personality to resolve the game and we scored three goals today. Great victory. Great three points.”
Without Pedro Gallese and Sebas Mendez — both away with their national teams in Copa America — Pareja gave Brandon Austin his first start in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Andres Perea slotted into central midfield with Junior Urso, while Uri Rosell made the bench for the first time this season. Silvester van der Water and Mauricio Pereyra dropped into the attacking midfield with Nani roaming and Akindele up top.
The Lions wasted no time jumping on top. Pereyra slotted a gorgeous through ball between the Toronto defense to Akindele, who slipped the ball past Quentin Westberg in the first minute to put Orlando City on top.
“A soon as Mauricio gets the ball with space, I know he can make a pass forward, so my idea was just to take off as soon as Mauricio got the ball, I took off into space,” Akindele said. “He was able to turn quickly and find me.”
The team celebrated on the sideline with Schlegel’s jersey to let the defender know that he’s in his teammates’ thoughts.
“We talked a lot this week about Rodrigo, about his family,” Urso said. “So, I said to Nani, tell the guys when we score a goal, let’s keep Rodrigo’s jersey in your hand. Let’s try to (have) some celebration for him. It was an emotional time for all of us.”
Toronto jumped on Orlando after the early goal with a lot of possession in the attacking third. Orlando players were able to get into passing lanes but it seemed like every blocked pass found a random Toronto player anyway. Alejandro Pozuelo fired off target from just outside the box in the third minute.
Despite that, Orlando doubled the lead in the eighth minute. A promising buildup seemed to evaporate when a ball got in a bit too far and made its way to Westberg. Van der Water pressured the goalkeeper and took the ball away, passing back to Akindele. The Orlando striker sent the ball right to left where Nani headed home to make it 2-0.
“The assist — I think that goes to what Oscar has been drilling into me: What’s the right decision,” Akindele said. “Silvester passed me the ball back and the goalie was out, so I could have tried to shoot. But I didn’t because I didn’t think that was the best decision in that moment. I thought it was better for me to try to put in a cross and we scored. I think if I would have shot in that moment, it would have been blocked or gone over or something, but I kind of calmed myself down and sent a cross and Nani was able to score.”
Akindele’s goal and assist continued his great run of form.
“It is a good sign for the depth of the group, the complexion of the team,” Pareja said of Akindele’s form. “When you have some options there and all of them are very valued and natural. It just makes the team stronger. Tesho’s doing a great job of not just scoring goals but working so hard on the field.”
The Reds pulled a goal back almost immediately. A shot from former Lion Richie Laryea from the left was saved by Austin but the rebound went high in the air and Ayo Akinola out-jumped Jansson to head home in the 10th minute.
Van der Water nearly restored the two-goal cushion in the 15th minute, getting his left foot into a shot that Westberg was able to fight off. The Dutchman then served in a dangerous ball on the ensuing corner but no one from Orlando could get onto it and Westberg dove to keep it from sneaking in the back post.
Pereyra and Perea worked a perfect give-and-go in the 25th minute but the young Colombian-American was bodied cleanly off the ball in the box before he could fire a shot.
Three minutes later, Laryea darted in and fired from a tough angle but Austin kicked the shot away.
Toronto’s tying goal came off a quick free kick after Laryea went down far too easily for about the third time in the game. The AR took the bait and awarded a set piece. The Reds took it quickly and Orlando nearly defused a good passing sequence with a poke from behind but it ended up falling right back onto a Toronto foot and Osorio finished to even things up in the 39th minute.
Toronto had a great opportunity to counter off an Orlando corner kick in the 44th minute, breaking in 5-on-3 on the Lions but Smith dispossessed Laryea in space to thwart the chance. A minute later, Pereyra slipped another perfect through ball to van der Water, who scored but the flag came up. He was about half a yard offside so the call was correct, if unsatisfying.
After three minutes of stoppage, that was it for the first half.
Toronto out-shot Orlando 10-6 in the opening half (4-3 on target) and had more corners (6-4). Possession was nearly dead even, with Orlando holding a slim edge (50.2%-49.8%) and the Reds holding a tiny edge in passing accuracy (87.5%-87.2%).
Pareja said the team’s defending block was too low in the first half and made an adjustment to start the second.
“We made a mistake in letting them play in between the lines. I think more as a look of the defense, it was a collective difficulty that we had,” Pareja said. “We gave them a lot of space and then we started defending too low. They’re good. They have good players in that phase of the game. When they put you inside of your box, they have people who have a solution and good passers.”
The adjustments worked well, as the Lions looked the more dangerous team for the most part in the second period. Orlando buzzed around the Toronto penalty area in the opening minutes of the second half but couldn’t quite connect that final ball.
With the defensive block positioned higher, Toronto appeared to get more frustrated. Laryea forced a shot from distance in the 51st minute but the attempt was always going high.
Nani sent several good crosses into the area in the second half but either his teammates couldn’t quite get to them or Toronto did a good job of defending. Chris Mavinga in particular played well for the Reds to break up what could have been several dangerous opportunities. The Lions won a few set pieces but, again, couldn’t quite do anything with them.
Shortly after a decent free kick opportunity for Orlando, the Reds got possession and Laryea again went down easily and it nearly gave Toronto the lead. The free kick went short to Laryea on a darting run toward the end line. The former Lion crossed and the ball deflected toward goal already behind Austin. But Smith swept the ball off the line with a timely defensive play to keep the game level.
Carlos got a header on a corner kick in the 59th minute but his shot hit Omar Gonzalez in the back. Gonzalez was turned and knew nothing about it, and Westberg was fortunate to watch that one go off his defender before eventually being cleared.
Daryl Dike checked in for Akindele in the 64th minute and was a menace. He won a few free kicks in good spots and drew a yellow card on Gonzalez, but he didn’t make the score sheet.
Toronto again nearly made something out of nothing in the 72nd minute when a wayward pass was picked off and sent immediately into the area. Patrick Mullins stuck out a foot and the redirection went just over the bar.
Second-half sub Chris Mueller had a mixed outing, badly missing Dike alone in the box and a couple other passes, but he also showed his typical hustle. He tried a curling shot in the 83rd minute but couldn’t get the bend on it and it went wide. But a minute later he set up the game winner.
Auro Jr. sent a terrible pass across the field in his own half and Urso picked it off. He played a quick one-two with Mueller and slotted home past Westberg to restore Orlando’s lead in the 84th minute.
“The last 15 minutes we tried to push to score the goal because if we score it’s done — the game,” Urso said. “So Oscar put Benji on the field and (we) tried to make some long balls to Benji. We waited for some mistake from Toronto and I want to say thank you to Chris (for giving me) a good ball to score the goal.”
Former Lion Dom Dwyer subbed in late and nearly tied the game in stoppage time. In what appeared to be a miscommunication, Jansson let a cross go and Dwyer came flying in to try to get onto it, but he couldn’t quite get good contact on it.
From there, the Lions saw out the final moments of stoppage, including a key clearance on a late Toronto corner.
Toronto ended up out-shooting Orlando 15-12, but both teams had four on target over the 90-plus minutes. The Reds also held slight advantages in corners (8-6), possession (52.3%-47.7%) and passing accuracy (88.1%-87.6%).
“I thought we showed a lot of mental toughness, just to stay in the game (when Toronto tied it),” Akindele said. “We didn’t just lose our heads. We kept grinding and I thought we grew into the game more and more. Especially in the second half, I thought we looked good and deserved the win.”
The Lions are right back in action at home on Tuesday night as the San Jose Earthquakes come to town.