Orlando City looked to have three points secured against Nashville SC, holding on to a 2-1 lead heading into the closing minutes of Sunday’s match at Exploria Stadium, in front of 4,370 fans in attendance.
But two headed goals within the final six minutes of play powered the visitors to a 3-2 victory over the Lions in the MLS regular-season finale.
“It was a game that brought moments where we were frustrated, especially in the way it ended,” said Head Coach Oscar Pareja after the game. “But we can’t forget what the boys have done during this year, they qualified to the playoffs, they qualified in the best four in a tough conference. They’ll be ready for playoffs.”
“Today, obviously, the game did not end the way we wanted it, we need to sharpen things, especially in those key moments of concentration. It has been something that we’ve been working on and we’ll keep doing it.”
Daryl Dike scored the early opener and Nashville’s Daniel Lovitz had the equalizer fifteen minutes later, keeping it even at halftime, but Nani’s free-kick goal in the second half was later negated by two late goals from Hany Mukhtar and Jhonder Cádiz as Nashville pulled out the late win.
With the result, Orlando moves into fourth place and will face New York City FC in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs, which is expected to kick off in two weeks.
Dike opened the scoring in the fourth minute after finishing off a ball from Chris Mueller, slotting the ball towards the bottom-left corner and off the post.
Nashville (8-7-8, 32 points) tied the game in the 20th minute after a long-distance strike from Daniel Lovitz went past Brian Rowe to make it 1-1.
Orlando (11-4-8, 41 points) re-took the lead in the second half when a free-kick from Nani curled past Joe Willis in the 61st minute to make it 2-1 in favor of the Lions.
But as the match approached its ending, Nashville substitute Hany Mukhtar scored the equalizing goal for the visitors in the 88th minute after heading in a cross from Alex Muyl.
The MLS expansion side scored again in the third minute of stoppage time when Mukhtar’s cross was headed by an unmarked Jhonder Cadiz, after Kyle Smith conceded a free kick to set up the goal, to secure the victory in the final moments of the match.
“It’s tough to swallow this game,” said Orlando goalkeeper Brian Rowe. “It’s a tough one at home, last game of the season, finish on a good, strong note. It hurts, but I think we need to reiterate that it doesn’t take away from what we’ve accomplished this year so far and first time in club history make it to the postseason.”
Starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese did not feature in Sunday’s match due to load management, according to a team spokesperson. While Mauricio Pereyra also missed out to serve a one-match suspension for yellow-card accumulation.
Gallese will also most likely miss Orlando’s playoff match due to international duty with Peru.
Homegrown player Jordan Bender made his first MLS start in his second appearance for the Lions.
With the regular-season wrapped up, Orlando will prepare for its first-round match in the MLS Cup playoffs against New York City FC. The official date of the match will be announced at a later date but expected to commence on either Nov. 21, 22 or 24.
4′ – Daryl Dike, assisted by Chris Mueller (ORL)
20′ – Daniel Lovitz (NSH)
61′ – Nani (ORL)
88′ – Hany Mukhtar, assisted by Alex Muyl, Dave Romney (NSH)
90+3′ – Jhonder Cadiz, assisted by Hany Mukhtar (NSH)
Here’s how the Lions lined up
Orlando City XI: Brian Rowe; Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Ruan; Andres Perea (Matheus Aias, 90+1′), Junior Urso (Sebastian Mendez, 72′), Jordan Bender (Tesho Akindele, 46′), Chris Mueller (Benji Michel, 71′); Nani — c — (Joey DeZart, 87′), Daryl Dike.
Substitutes: Mason Stajduhar, Rodrigo Schlegel, Kamal Miller, Alexander Alvarado.
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