The Lions only had one shot on target, and it came late but proved to be the winner.
Team captain Nani missed Saturday’s match due to food poisoning and the team was playing its third game in a calendar week.
But a breakthrough from Benji Michel in the final minutes pounced Orlando City to a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Crew in front of an announced attendance of 22,397 at Exploria Stadium.
“It’s just a dream come true to score my first MLS goal for this club — a club that I’ve been watching since I was younger,” said Michel shortly after the game. “I just knew right away I had to get there because I know Ruan is a pacey player and I know he’s going to get there to the ball, so I had to make sure I go into the first post and I knew the ball was coming so I got my chance.”
O’Connor called Saturday’s win massive, especially after seeing his team play three games in seven days and with the absence of several key players.
“I think we showed another great side, very positive to be able to show that kind of toughness,” said O’Connor. “I don’t think we played particularly well. I thought we looked very tired, which we knew — we expected that.”
“I think in a game like that, we were always very wary of just what kind of energy we were going to have,” he added. “Someone needed to have some grit. I thought the boys showed tremendous character tonight to be able to defend, put their bodies on the line… great commitment from the players.”
The go-ahead goal came in the 84th minute when a long ball from Lamine Sané found Ruan making a fast-paced run down the right side before turning and crossing the ball into the box, finding Michel to put the ball past goalkeeper Joe Bendik for his first MLS goal.
Saturday’s result was Orlando’s fifth shutout win of the season.
The Crew (5-14-2, 17 points) almost opened the scoring in the fifth minute when a ball from Pedro Santos found Gyasi Zardes, who struck from inside the box, hitting off the crossbar.
After a scoreless first half, Orlando’s first real chance of the game came in the 72nd minute when Tesho Akindele found Santiago Patiño making a run down the center of the box. The Orlando native then took a shot before it got deflected for a corner kick.
Before kickoff, it was announced Portuguese star Nani would miss Orlando’s game against Columbus because of food poisoning, but O’Connor confirmed the designated player was feeling a bit better going into the match, but the team held him off as a precaution.
Orlando went down to 10 players in the third minute of stoppage time when Dwyer was booked with a straight red card for throwing an elbow to the face of Crew defender Josh Williams.
O’Connor didn’t comment much on Dwyer’s red card.
New Orlando player Robinho, who joined the team on Friday from Columbus, did not play on Saturday due to an agreement between both clubs.
The Lions improved to 7-9-4 in the season and moved up to 25 points, sitting outside the playoff line in the Eastern Conference standings. For O’Connor, seeing his team edge closer to a post-season berth relies mostly on a process.
“The biggest thing for us is to focus on our process,” said O’Connor. “And that’s the biggest thing that we can reenforce into the players. When you start to waiver, you start to look at targets, and you start to look at this. Our biggest thing is just to be a laser focus on our process. Over the last few games, a number of games, we feel as if we’ve shown elements that we’re really pleased with.”
Up next for Orlando
The Lions take on the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Thursday, July 18 at 10 p.m. ET.
84′ – Benji Michel, assisted by Ruan (Orlando City)
How the Lions lined up
Orlando City XI: Brian Rowe; Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Lamine Sané (c), Ruan; Will Johnson (Santiago Patiño, 72′), Carlos Ascues, Sebastián Méndez; Benji Michel, Chris Mueller (Dom Dwyer, 58′), Tesho Akindele (Oriol Rosell, 78′).
Orlando City Bench: Adam Grinwis; Kyle Smith, Dillon Powers, Danilo Acosta.
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