D.C. United came in as one of the league’s most disappointing teams and was streaking the wrong way with no wins in six games, but that all changed in a 5-3 win over Orlando City at Exploria Stadium. United (5-9-2, 17 points) won for the first time since May 7, and got only its second road win of the season, while Orlando (7-7-4, 25 points) fell back below .500 at home (4-5-0) despite trying to stage a dramatic comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
Taxi Fountas scored a hat trick in the first 51 minutes of the game to put his team comfortably ahead and although the Lions rallied twice to get within a goal, continued mistakes in transition allowed D.C. to just keep scoring. Kimarni Smith and Nigel Robertha each scored their first goal of the season to offset the comeback attempt started by Facundo Torres, which also saw Ercan Kara and Alexandre Pato get on the scoresheet.
“Difficult result,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “Today in the first half we looked disconnected and I really gotta take that responsibility. Obviously we didn’t like that 25 minutes. I think this is the moment where I have to take responsibility. I think today they showed the spirit that they have as a group, just trying to bounce back and I have to review it well. I have to help them.”
Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan. Sebas Mendez joined Junior Urso in central midfield behind an attacking line of Jake Mulraney, Mauricio Pereyra, and Pato, with Kara up top.
The Lions played the first half like they thought the game started at 7:30 rather than 7 p.m., falling down two goals inside of the game’s first eight minutes. Fountas scored both goals easily, taking crosses in from D.C.’s right flank as United players abused Smith, beating him repeatedly.
Ruan sent in an early cross that a defender got a piece of, which unfortunately sent it to goalkeeper Rafael Romo and kept it away from Kara, who was crashing the net in the second minute. Shortly after that, D.C. seized control.
Drew Skundrich discarded Smith and fed a pass to Chris Durkin on the right side of the box. Durkin picked out Fountas, who was unattended and he picked, and hit, his spot, to make it 1-0 in the fifth minute.
Three minutes later, a simple ball over the top found Michael Estrada, who received only token resistance from Smith on his way into the box. He picked out Fountas, who shrugged off Schlegel and tapped home to make it 2-0.
The Lions didn’t exactly respond but they did get a shot off in the 11th minute, as Urso fired an effort that was blocked. Three minutes later, Smith got forward into space and had a go from distance but he scuffed his shot badly and it dribbled in meekly on goal.
The best chance came in the 21st minute when Urso got an open look in the box but Romo made a good save. The Lions put the ball in the net in the 24th minute off a set piece but it was waved off on an obvious foul on Kara, who made contact with the keeper, preventing him from making the easy catch.
Orlando had a couple more chances before halftime. Pato found space just outside the area twice but both times he tried to really smash the ball and got under it, sending it into the stands. Mulraney had a great opportunity in first-half stoppage time but the ball was bouncing and he couldn’t get on top of it, sending another chance into the seats.
The Lions dominated possession (73%-27%), but the early two goals dictated that, as United felt comfortable staying organized on defense and forcing Orlando to earn its way through, which didn’t happen often. Orlando also had more shots (8-4), shots on target (3-2), corners (5-2), and passing accuracy (89.5%-62.7%). Despite the statistical advantages, the scoreboard showed much different story.
Orlando fashioned a scoring chance right after the restart. Pereyra fed Kara into the area on the left and the big Austrian evaded the goalkeeper, but he couldn’t get his shot on frame from the tight angle.
Five minutes later, Fountas put the game away on a set piece. Schlegel fouled Durkin near the left corner of the box and Julian Gressel lined up over it, tapping it to his right at the whistle. Fountas smashed a shot though Orlando’s disorganized wall and inside Gallese’s near post to make it 3-1 in the 51st minute.
It was only after going down three that the Lions started to make a game of it. Pato was sent down the right and had Kara breaking but he hit his cross too softly and Romo caught it. A minute later, Kara smacked a shot off the right post in the 55th minute.
Torres put the Lions on the board two minutes later. Taking a pass from Pereyra to his right, Torres moved to the middle and fired a shot that gave Romo no chance. Orlando had finally broken through in the 57th minute.
“I’m a player that likes to shoot from outside the box, especially when I’ve got a little space,” Torres said through a club translator. “When I got it outside the box, there was space, and I didn’t have any problem shooting.”
Gallese made a huge save on Estrada in the 60th minute to keep Orlando in the match.
Jansson then sent a perfect ball to Torres in the 64th minute down the right and the Uruguayan did well to take it down and send Ruan down the right, but the speedy Brazilian made a mess of his cross. However, the Lions pulled another goal back two minutes later.
Ruan was fouled near the corner flag by Brad Smith and Torres took the set piece. He fizzed a dangerous cross in that Kara met in midair and headed home to make it 3-2 in the 66th minute. It was Kara’s seventh goal of the season.
It seemed it was suddenly game on. Ruan won a corner when his cross attempt was cut out but the Lions could do nothing with it. Just after that, Pato and Benji Michel tried to work a passing sequence that didn’t come off and D.C. recovered, leading to the winning goal. Skundrich sent the ball to Smith, breaking behind the Orlando defense and he slotted it past Gallese to increase the advantage to 4-2.
Tesho Akindele came on for Ruan to add more attacking players to the mix and in the 78th minute, a ball in found Michel on the right. He headed the ball toward goal and it hit the outstretched arm of Brendan Hines-Ike. Referee Allen Chapman immediately pointed to the spot and then went over to look at the replay. After a short review, he came back and confirmed the penalty would be taken. Pato stepped up to the spot and hit it high to the left to pull Orlando to within 4-3 in the 80th minute.
The Lions had a golden opportunity to equalize in the 84th minute just after a corner kick. Jansson ended up picking up a loose ball near the top of the box and firing a shot that Romo blocked. The ball was just sitting in front of goal and Jansson ran toward the rebound but he couldn’t make contact with it and the chance evaporated. Seconds later, Akindele took a pass on the left side of the box. Romo came well off his line and blocked the shot to preserve D.C.’s lead.
Bad luck struck moments later when Pereyra pulled up after jumping up to catch a ball to take a throw-in quickly and he was subbed off for Jack Lynn. Pereyra will be evaluated Tuesday to determine the extent of the injury.
The Lions gave up a series of throw-ins in their own end as the seven minutes of stoppage time wound down and disaster struck on the last one. Cesar Araujo picked up a loose ball in the corner and tried to outlet to a teammate near the middle. Unfortunately, his pass went straight to Robertha, who sent the clinching goal past Gallese in the 96th minute.
Orlando ended up with a huge advantage in possession (72.9%-27.1%), corners (9-2), passing accuracy (88.1%-62.1%), and shots (19-9), and a slim advantage in shots on target (8-6). Nevertheless, a leaky transition defense proved costly. United entered the match with 18 goals scored in 16 games but exploded for five on this night in Orlando. That was plenty to offset the Lions’ biggest offensive output in a match this season — three goals.
“The second half was much better. We looked more like us,” Pareja said. “But the first two goals they took us in bad spots and that’s the price today.”
“It’s something that we need to fix,” Torres said of the team’s slow starts. “It’s frustrating, knowing that that’s been something that’s been hurting us right now. And we’re missing that consistency in our game. We’ve seen it. We need to continue tracking back defensively and make sure that we’re helping out.”
The Lions will try to bounce back this Saturday when Tropic Thunder rival Inter Miami visits Exploria Stadium.