Orlando City ran its MLS regular-season unbeaten streak to seven games after Saturday night’s 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew at Exploria Stadium. Despite a lack of continuity on the pitch in terms of personnel, the Lions keep finding ways to gain points and move through the schedule toward the place they really want to be — the playoffs.
But what did we learn from the team’s fifth consecutive win over the defending MLS Cup champions? I have raised my degree of difficulty for this column by using only Loverboy song titles as my section headers.
“The Kid is Hot Tonite”
Daryl Dike’s return to the lineup last weekend against Inter Miami was an uneventful one. With only 11 touches on the ball, the big striker couldn’t impact the match. And it looked like more of the same early on Saturday night. Dike managed about three touches in the first 20 or so minutes against the Crew and two of those came on a play in the 16th minute when he flicked a Ruan pass toward goal and then had the ricochet of his blocked attempt come back and hit him in the foot, bouncing back toward goal.
But Dike found his rhythm in the game and became a problem for Columbus. He overpowered Aboubacar Keita in the 26th minute, threw a couple of fakes at Vito Wormgoor to keep him off balance, then smashed a shot into the top of the net to open the scoring. He was active the rest of the night, including getting the fans to make some noise during a video review of the Crew’s second goal, helping his team get over the shock of the sudden turnaround in momentum. His layoff to Junior Urso became his second assist of the season when the Bear sent his seeing-eye shot through traffic and inside the left post for the winner. It was an all-around solid night for Dike, who looked more like himself against the Crew.
“It’s Never Easy”
For a brief, shining moment, it looked like Orlando City might win a match comfortably. That hasn’t happened since a 5-0 shellacking of San Jose back on June 22. In fact, the Lions have only won by more than one goal twice all season. Last night’s victory was more difficult than it had to be and that started with the bizarre own goal in the 52nd minute. Robin Jansson kicked the ball up in the air trying to prevent Alexandru Matan from having a scoring chance. The ball sailed high and slightly back toward the Orlando net. With Antonio Carlos and Ruan to deal with Miguel Berry, the Lions should have been in good shape and, as such, Adam Grinwis stayed on his line. But Carlos’ header unfortunately found its way inside the right post to throw Columbus a lifeline in a game it had no business being in. Two minutes later, the Crew tied it.
After Urso scored to restore Orlando’s lead, the Lions continued to look for insurance but could never get it. Chris Mueller sliced a shot just wide in the 77th minute, but that was a difficult chance from outside the area. The game should have been put away by Tesho Akindele a few minutes later. Mauricio Pereyra sent a diagonal pass behind Wormgoor that set up a breakaway down the left side of the box. Akindele’s chance to put the game to bed went just inches wide of the far post. The Crew didn’t have any clear-cut chances the rest of the way anyway, but Orlando missed another opportunity to take the late-game drama out of a match and just couldn’t do it. The game shouldn’t have been close with Columbus getting only two shots on target all evening.
“Queen of the Broken Hearts” (or...King in this case)
Mueller couldn’t buy a break right now if he won the Powerball jackpot. It’s been a rough season for the Money Badger and Saturday night was one of the roughest. If it weren’t for bad luck, Cash would seemingly have no luck at all. Mueller still works hard, does a lot of the little things Oscar Pareja needs him to do, and gets into dangerous positions, but then...something goes wrong and opportunities seem to melt away. On his first good chance Saturday, Mueller cut in from left to right, got into space, and tried to drive a shot toward goal. But he struck the ball oddly and it flew high into the air and ended up somewhere in The Wall. On his best opportunity, he found space on the left, let loose a shot from just inside the box, and it was heading toward goal...and then it hit Dike, who had somehow strayed into the ball’s flight path. That’s just terrible luck! Then there was the rocket he sent wide in the 77th minute mentioned above. One of these nights, something’s going to go in off his neck or his rear end and maybe that’ll open the floodgates.
Oh, and then to make matters worse, he took a shot in the back late in the game and needed the trainers to come on and attend to him. Hopefully it’s nothing serious, but he did sub out shortly after that.
Orlando had to feel good about seeing Grinwis get a start and a win in MLS for the first time since 2018. Grinwis was a fan favorite with his heroics in City’s 2019 U.S. Open Cup run and many were sad to see his option declined after that season ended. Then the Grinch tore his ACL after becoming the Sacramento Republic’s starter the next season. It was a long road back and although it’s tough to see Mason Stajduhar suffer an injury now that he’s finally getting some games, it was great to see Grinwis come back from his ACL, make a big save in the match, and win a game with Orlando City.
Grinwis looked excited during warmups. He made a stellar save on Lucas Zelarayan for his best stop of the night in the 36th minute. He had command of his box and perhaps his only miscue was hitting Robin Jansson in the back of the head with his follow-through of a punch in the game’s early moments. After the match, Grinwis had trouble putting his thoughts into words when discussing his road back from the injury.
Coincidentally, Grinwis’ last win in an Orlando City uniform came on Oct. 21, 2018 — also against the Columbus Crew. That 2-1 victory was his first MLS win and all of his team’s offense came from the penalty spot that night. Yoshimar Yotun and Sacha Kljestan each buried a penalty to lead Orlando back after Federico Higuain had given the Crew a 1-0 lead.
“Lovin’ Every Minute of It”
There was a lot to love for Orlando City fans on Saturday. The Lions beat the Crew for the fifth consecutive time and that win gave the club its seventh straight game in league play with either a win or a draw, dating back to a 3-2 win over Atlanta United on July 30. That win jumped Orlando back over Nashville for second in the Eastern Conference by virtue of the games won tiebreaker. All of this is very good for the Lions.
Getting back to beating Columbus on Saturday...the Crew were one of the first thorns in Orlando’s side when the Lions joined MLS. Columbus was 5-2-3 against Orlando City in the team’s first four seasons in Major League Soccer. Now the Lions have the Crew’s number, and Orlando beating them feels normal somehow. Orlando seemed the likelier team to get a third goal after Miguel Berry scored and eventually did. That’s a new thing for fans who suffered through 2015 through 2019. We’ll see if that continues when the teams meet in Columbus on Oct. 27.
One other thing to love about the win over Columbus: with his 23rd victory in all competitions, Oscar Pareja passed Jason Kreis as the club’s all-time winningest coach (in 16 fewer matches — the U.S. Open Cup hasn’t been played since Pareja has been with Orlando City). Papi also tied Kreis for another club record with 21 regular-season MLS wins with Orlando (in 18 fewer matches).
That’s what caught my attention during Orlando’s victory over the Crew. What stood out to you? Do you even like any of the Loverboy songs namechecked above? Let me know in the comments.