Orlando City overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat the Seattle Sounders 3-2 at Exploria Stadium. The Lions (12-10-6, 42 points) created plenty of chances but fell behind by two before the shots started going in. It was Orlando’s first-ever win against Seattle (10-15-3, 33 points) and the team’s fourth victory in a row — with the last three game-winning goals coming in the 89th minute or later.
Facundo Torres, Ercan Kara, and Kyle Smith provided the goals in the comeback after Albert Rusnak and Raul Ruidiaz had staked the Sounders to a 2-0 lead.
“I’m very proud of this group of players,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We understand that the best teams in the world are not the ones who don’t have difficult moments, but are the ones who overcome. This gives us today a lot of optimism of what we are and how things are coming (together).”
Pareja’s lineup was heavily rotated apart from goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and the back line of Joao Moutinho, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Mauricio Pereyra returned from yellow card suspension and played deep alongside Cesar Araujo in central midfield. From there it was almost all new faces. Joining Junior Urso in the attacking line was Ivan Angulo and Niko Gioacchini, who both made their first Orlando City starts. Tesho Akindele started, rather than coming off the bench as a super sub.
The game started almost two hours late due to lightning in the area. When play got underway, the first half was a bit back-and-forth, with Seattle having more possession in the opening 20 minutes and Orlando coming into the game after the visitors scored.
The Lions got a look in the first half when Gioacchini headed wide off a good cross by Moutinho 10 minutes in.
The visitors had their first decent chance in the 22nd minute when Ruidiaz got down the right but fired wide. But moments later, the Sounders scored.
Carlos was called for a foul about 25 yards out from the goal line and the Lions were incensed with the call, with three players surrounding referee Alex Chilowicz. Orlando was perhaps fortunate not to pick up a yellow card for dissent. Rusnak sent the free kick into the upper left corner where Gallese couldn’t reach it, putting Seattle up 1-0 in the 26th minute.
The Lions seemed to wake up after the goal and fashioned a chance in the 27th minute off a nifty set piece from distance. The ball was sent from left to right across the field and a diagonal ball came to Schlegel to the left of goal. Whether the defender meant to head on target or back across the box is unknown, but he ended up sending his effort at goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
The Lions had a golden opportunity to tie the match moments later. Gioacchini cut back to free himself for a shot and was taken down in the box by Jimmy Medranda. Chilowicz immediately signaled for a penalty kick. Pereyra took the spot kick after a lengthy discussion — for some reason — but sent his kick way too close to the middle and Frei made the save. Moutinho got to the ball and his follow-up shot was deflected out for a corner by a sliding save by Jackson Ragen.
In the 36th minute, Frei made a huge save to preserve Seattle’s lead. Pereyra sent a ball from the left to Gioacchini on the right. The forward headed across the box to Angulo to head toward goal but Frei got his hand on it.
Orlando couldn’t do much with a late corner kick and trailed 1-0 entering halftime.
Seattle held a slight edge in possession (52.1%-47.9%) and was more accurate in the passing game (85.1%-84%). Orlando had far more shot attempts (9-3), more shots on target (3-1), and corners (4-2).
Pareja sent Torres onto the pitch to start the second half in order to get a left-footed player on that side, withdrawing Gioacchini — a move he said he didn’t want to make because of the USMNT forward’s play, but felt he had to.
The visitors doubled their lead in the 52nd minute when they broke in transition and Ruan ended up isolated on Ruidiaz. Although the Brazilian tracked Ruidiaz across the front of goal, he was unable to prevent the Designated Player from scoring to make it 2-0.
Orlando’s reaction was immediate. Torres took a pass from Moutinho in the middle and found himself in space. The Uruguayan smashed a shot into the corner to pull the Ruidiaz goal right back and get the Lions back in it.
“I think he’s understanding much better the league and not just his role in the team, but I have seen too what this league is demanding,” Pareja said of Torres’ recent run of form. “I think he’s great and a fantastic moment for us that he stepped up and carried our team.”
The Lions continued attacking and looked dangerous. Angulo fired a shot but hit it right at Frei in the 62nd minute and seconds later Akindele got onto a Ruan cross but Yeimar blocked his header from point-blank range.
Second-half sub Kara tried an audacious shot from a tight angle in the 66th minute and got it on target, forcing Frei to be alert to make the save. A minute later, the Lions got their second penalty of the game when the ball hit Morris’ arm in the box. Kara took the spot kick and fired home his ninth goal of the year to tie the match at 2-2 in the 68th minute.
Orlando had two golden chances to take the lead in the 70th minute. Kara and Michel each got headers in front but Frei made a good save to deny the Austrian and the Homegrown couldn’t get much power on his and it fell into the goalkeeper’s arms.
Kara got his head to Torres’ corner kick cross in the 77th minute but his shot was just wide of the left post as the Lions continued to seek the game winner.
But the Sounders started to control the match over the final minutes, taking the ball away, keeping possession, and looking for a winner of their own. Lodeiro shook free from long range in the 82nd minute and forced a great diving save from Gallese.
Two minutes later, second-half substitute Andres Perea turned the ball over and the counter ended up with Morris, who fired wide. Lodeiro then baited Chilowicz into a soft foul call to set up a dangerous free kick but nothing came of it when Ragen popped his header over the bar and onto the roof of the net in the 86th minute.
Momentum flipped again as the end of the game approached. Smith sent a good cross to Perea at the back post but the midfielder headed his shot right at Frei in the 89th minute. Two minutes later, the Lions put the ball in the net but it initially didn’t seem to count.
Smith took a pass from Torres on the right and got into the box. He smashed a left-footed shot across the front of goal that deflected in but the flag came up as Kara was caught offside. Chilowicz went to the monitor and saw that the ball had hit Ragen and deflected past Frei and judged that Kara did not interfere with play, so the goal stood in the 91st minute and Smith had the game winner.
“ I was originally trying to get cross off,” Smith said. “But then I thought it was crowded in the box. So I chopped it back and then, at that point, I just wanted to put it on target as hard as I could. And then I hit it off the defender, I believe in the stomach and, you know, fortunately it went in.”
Smith said he originally thought he was being called for offside on the play.
After seeing out the last couple of minutes of stoppage time, the Lions had their initial win over the Sounders.
Seattle finished with more possession (54.1%-45.9%) and passing accuracy (84.2%-83.9%). The Lions had more shots (17-8), shots on target (8-3), and corners (7-3).
“We all know how good of a team we are,” Smith said of the current run of late game-winning goals. “And we all know that even if the goals don’t come in the first 60, 70 minutes, that they they still can come and very quickly. And we scored tonight three goals I think in like the last 30 minutes, maybe. So yeah, I think it’s just having confidence in ourselves to score goals.”
“One thing I like about the boys is they have their feet on the ground. They know where they are,” Pareja said of his team’s run of success with the upcoming cup final looming. “The league is still hard and we know we have a big challenge in front of us with our schedule and need to get points to qualify into the playoffs. We’re trying to live in the present today with Seattle. We didn’t want to touch the topic of playing in the final the last week or so. And after the game, I saw their faces and they said, ‘OK Oscar, we’re ready for the cup.’ Those things make you think that the team is getting mature. That’s important unity. But one day at a time. We’ll rest tomorrow. We’ll do anything that we have in our heart and in our bodies to give this trophy to Orlando in the next step — and without forgetting the commitment that we have in the league.”
The Lions will take a break from league play now as the Inter Miami game originally scheduled for this weekend was pushed into October. Orlando City’s next match will be the U.S. Open Cup final against Sacramento Republic FC next Wednesday at Exploria Stadium.