Only three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and Orlando City fighting back in the second half to score an opening-day draw, as the Lions did so, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to split the points with New York City FC in a 2-2 draw on Saturday afternoon at Orlando City Stadium.
“I think when you look at the balance of play and the way the first half went we felt as if we didn’t deserve to be 2-nil down, but we were 2-nil down,” Orlando head coach James O’Connor said after the match. “So you can sit and feel sorry for yourself, but if you get out and keep believing and keep pushing and you keep doing the things that we’ve spoken about, then I think we were very unfortunate not to go on and win the game at the end.”
As has been the case often throughout the years, the Lions were clearly the better team on Saturday, despite falling behind by a pair of goals in the first half. Both sides finished with the same number of shots (13), but Orlando City (0-0-1, 1 point) dominated in possession from the start of the match to the final whistle, finishing at a 58-42 split.
NYCFC (0-0-1, 1 point) struck first when Jonathan Lewis found Ebenezer Ofori in the middle of the field, Ofori brought in the ball, took a step forward, saw nobody in a purple jersey crashing in towards him, and blasted a shot from roughly 25 yards out to beat Brian Rowe.
That made it a 1-0 game just 13 minutes in.
The pressure didn’t stop from Orlando, as the Lions continued to be aggressive on the ball and being patient on the build-up, looking for the right moments to thread a final ball, but those moments rarely came, and the team struggled to connect on a final ball.
Just before the half, NYCFC doubled their lead when Alexandru Mitrita played a ball through to Alexander Ring, who blew right through Orlando’s center backs into a 1-on-1 with Rowe before slipping it right past the veteran goalkeeper.
Orlando’s second half resurgence began in the 59th minute when the Lions drew a free kick on the left wing, outside the penalty area. Chris Mueller sent the ball in, and by chance it went through every play and bounced right past Sean Johnson to put Orlando back in the game, making it 2-1.
Ten minutes later, James O’Connor went to his bench, bringing in both Dom Dwyer and Nani, and immediately added more momentum to the squad, as it only took five minutes for Orlando to level the score with them on the field.
It began with Nani, finding Dwyer with a great ball forward that let Dwyer burst by the defenders before hitting Tesho Akindele across the face of the goal at the last second to tap it in in the 75th minute.
Orlando kept pushing after that, and NYCFC even forced a couple of good chances, but in the end neither side could find the winning goal before the final whistle.
O’Connor after the match talked about his substitute planning and seeing the moments when he would bring on Dwyer and Nani. He said he didn’t see the two getting the amount of minutes that they did, but if the team needed their touch, he wouldn’t hesitate to bring them in.
“They both deserve enormous credit because they’ve not done a lot of training,” said O’Connor. “Dom’s not played a minute of any preseason game, so I think to go on an impact the game the way they did, I think the play of some of the other players and the heart that they showed was really encouraging.”
13′ – Ebenezer Ofori (NYCFC)
45′ – Alexander Ring (NYCFC)
59′ – Chris Mueller (Orlando City)
75′ – Tesho Akindele (Orlando City)
Up Next for Orlando
Away verses Chicago Fire, Saturday, March 9 at 1 p.m. ET.
How the Lions lined up
Orlando City XI: Brian Rowe; Danilo Acosta, Alex De John, Shane O’Neill, Kamal Miller, Kyle Smith; Sebastian Mendez, Will Johnson; Sacha Kljestan; Chris Mueller, Tesho Akindele
Orlando City bench: Greg Ranjitsingh, Nani, Dom Dwyer, Carlos Ascues, Cristian Higuita, Uri Rosell, Josue Colman
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