Daryl Dike scored from the penalty spot in his first career attempt and an own goal in stoppage time helped Orlando City come from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Nissan Stadium. The Lions (10-8-9, 39 points) were moments from their fifth consecutive loss but got some of the breaks late that have been going against them in recent weeks to earn a much-needed point at second-place Nashville (11-3-13, 46 points).
After Orlando fell behind on a soft penalty, Nashville could play its preferred style of sitting back, staying organized, and looking for opportunities to transition. Orlando played well but struggled to break down that stingy defense until Dike earned, then converted, the penalty.
Hany Mukhtar scored off his own saved penalty and Randall Leal added a second to seemingly put the Lions away but Orlando showed mental toughness to make it a game and got the break it needed.
Orlando City is now 0-0-3 at Nissan Stadium, 1-1-3 overall against Nashville, and the team scoring first has never won in this series.
“Tonight we saw the heart of our players,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “It is a very important point against a good rival, and we take it very proudly.”
Pareja’s starting lineup included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Carlos returned from his one-game suspension but Jansson’s yellow card accumulation kept him out of this one, leaving Schlegel in the starting XI. Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez patrolled the central midfield, with Alexander Alvarado — his second MLS start — and Mauricio Pereyra facilitating the attack to Silvester van der Water and Dike.
Nashville took the lead early in the aftermath of a penalty that should never have been given. After a Nashville player collided with Gallese on a corner kick cross from the goalkeeper’s left, the ball skipped out to the edge of the box where Anibal Godoy picked it up with his back to goal. Sebas Mendez tried to nick it away, which he didn’t need to do, but there was only minimal contact. Godoy went down, and referee Drew Fischer bought it, giving Nashville a spot kick after a lengthy delay for video review. Fischer never went to look at it himself and the call stood. Gallese made the save on Mukhtar’s penalty, but the striker got to the rebound first and slipped it through to give the hosts a 1-0 lead just 11 minutes in.
The first Orlando City shot came in the 18th minute on a try from distance by Dike, who smashed it on target but right at goalkeeper Joe Wilis, who fought it off and recovered it before any Lions could pounce.
Mukhtar got around Carlos in the 23rd minute on the left but Schlegel came over to force him to shoot from a tough angle and he hit only side netting.
Nashville was content to sit deep, press only at advantageous moments, and gum up the final third for Orlando. The Lions did well to connect some passes together but even the slightest of heavy touches or off-line passes were cut out by the defense.
Dike won a free kick straight out from goal about 25 yards out and Pereyra took the set piece in the 40th minute. Pereyra’s free kick took a slight deflection off the wall and fizzed just wide of the right post.
Urso had a go from distance but didn’t trouble Willis much in the 44th minute on the last look of the half.
Nashville SC led in shots (8-5), shots on goal (3-2), and corners (4-1), while Orlando City held more possession in the first half (61.6%-38.4%) and was the better passing side (85.9%-80.4%).
The first good chance of the second half fell Orlando’s way when Pereyra fired a shot from distance that was heading in but Willis made a good diving save to keep the game at 1-0.
(Note: Look how Fischer moves into the path of the ball, which could easily have distracted Pereyra from taking it cleanly. SMH)
But, unfortunately, a strange bounce allowed Nashville to double the lead just six minutes later. Pereyra sent a pass forward that hit Moutinho in the back and fell perfectly for Nashville to counter-attack. Leal came right down the middle and Moutinho couldn’t recover after being further upfield. Schlegel had to respect the run of CJ Sapong and was late to step up as a result. Leal fired a blast inside the right post to make it 2-0 in the 59th minute.
Things got worse moments later when Schlegel was booked for a foul on Mukhtar and now he’ll be suspended for Saturday’s match.
Walker Zimmerman should have put the game away in the 66th minute when he got free for an uncontested header on a corner kick but he hit his shot wide. Orlando took advantage of the mistake.
Pareja sent on Nani and Benji Michel on the ensuing stoppage and it nearly paid off right away. A ball forward nearly put Dike in and Zimmerman appeared to impede the forward’s progress by throwing an arm out across his chest. Dike stumbled but didn’t go down until he fell over Willis, who was collecting the ball, and it was Dike called for a foul.
Leal was left with too much space a minute later and fired just a little high and wide of the right post on a dangerous chance.
Nani got his first look at goal in the 69th minute, trying his luck from distance but hitting a shot just wide of the left post. Two minutes later, the captain sent an incredible ball over the top that fell perfectly for Ruan. The right back couldn’t get the ball through to a teammate but did win a corner. Just after the set piece, Nani cut in from the right to the top of the area and fired again but his shot was at Willis.
In the 74th minute, the Lions finally caught a break. Dike tried to bring down a ball in the box and Jack Maher was draped all over him. The touch was heavy and in no way was Dike going to get to the ball first, but Maher still didn’t let go and pulled the forward down. Fischer pointed to the spot immediately and after a short check by the VAR, the call stood.
Dike took the penalty himself and powered it just inside the left post to put Orlando City on the board in the 76th minute. It was Dike’s first career penalty kick goal and his fifth of the season.
“When the ref blew the whistle I just went up and grabbed the ball,” Dike said. “I was confident that I wanted to score the goal and help spark the comeback. I just wanted to put it in the back of the net.”
Nashville tried to pounce right after the restart and Mukhtar got in a decent position on the right, smashing a shot on goal that Gallese saved. A minute later, Nani fired just over the bar again on yet another effort that didn’t miss by much.
Moutinho sent in a long cross in the 83rd minute that Michel got his head on but he couldn’t get on top of it, popping it out of play. With that stoppage, Tesho Akindele checked in for Sebas Mendez to add another attacker.
Schlegel directed a harmless shot at Willis on a training ground set piece that ended up on his foot in the 86th as the Lions kept the pressure on. That pressure finally paid off in stoppage time.
Akindele won a corner kick in the 93rd minute and Nani sent a good cross out in front of the six-yard box. Michel was battling with Brian Anunga on the back post and the ball hit the Nashville player and bounced in to tie the match, although it appeared on first look that Benji knocked it in, especially when seeing his celebration.
“After you have the whole initiative just trying to break them down and then in that counter they punished us, and they overcome those two goals,” Pareja said of his team. “It’s amazing to see how important is the heart of the team, and they have a big one. They have a huge heart and I’m happy for the players. They deserve it.”
Akindele won another late corner in the 96th minute but Fischer called Orlando for a foul while the cross was in the air and that was it for the match.
Nashville finished the game with more shot attempts (15-12) but both teams put six on target. The hosts led in corners (5-4) but Orlando held more possession (63.2%-36.8%) and passed more accurately (86.8%-77.7%).
“We’ve left the field (after recent games) with a sour taste in our mouth and then, after the New England game, I think we competed very well,” Dike said. “And we walked out of the game, even though we had not gotten any points, thinking, ‘Okay, this is when we start changing.’ Even after going down, we still knew that we were going to get a result, that we were gonna change things.”
“I thought we had the initiative the whole game,” Pareja said. “We did not want to give it up. This is the way we do it. This is the way we play, and the boys were faithful to their ways. They defend very low and they’re very effective in the counters, and obviously we lost them in the second goal, but the whole game we had that initiative that just made me feel that the players are intact and that we will keep fighting.”
Orlando City returns home to face D.C. United — which has suddenly leapt into third place — Saturday night at Exploria Stadium.