Rivalry matches always have a little added spice to them and Friday’s match against Atlanta United was no different.
After going down in the first minute and again later in the second half, it was a late Nani header that completed the comeback and secured Orlando City a 3-2 victory over rivals Atlanta during Friday night action in front of 18,910 at Exploria Stadium.
“Happy to see the players celebrate with our fans in a difficult victory but at the end, a victory that means a lot for us,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja told reporters after the game. “[It] has been a difficult week. It’s well known that the performance we had last week, we needed to just erase and then learn from it and bounce back and many things needed to happen.”
“The players were incredible today, and also the game was kind of the same, just trying to get through some hurdles,” Pareja added. “The first goal that they scored on the first 30 or 45 seconds and then we needed to overcome that and then also that second goal there was another difficult moment. But I think we showed what we’re made of, what this team is, the players need all the recognition and seriously today they won a very important match.”
Josef Martinez opened the scoring moments into the start of the game after slicing through the midfield, finding Brooks Lennon down the right flank. The fullback returned the ball back to the Atlanta forward to hit the one-time strike from outside the box, hitting off the post and into the net for the 1-0 Atlanta lead.
Orlando chased the game from that point on, creating five chances to equalize the match in the first half, including an attempt from Benji Michel in the 39th minute who struck the ball off a cross from Ruan, but goalkeeper Alec Kann stopped the chance.
The Lions did manage to equalize the match in the 43rd minute, when a corner kick from Nani connected with Kyle Smith‘s head, knocking it past Kann to make it 1-1 before the break.
But Atlanta managed to retake the lead in the second half. Following a turnover in the 66th minute by Orlando, Marcelino Moreno unleashed a long-distance strike, hitting the top-right corner to beat Mason Stajduhar.
A key second half substitution, however, may have been the key factor for the Lions.
Silvester van der Water, who entered the match in the 74th minute for Chris Mueller, equalized the match at 2-2 for Orlando when Michel plated a ball for the Dutch winger to head it past Kann.
Van der Water would play another big part, this time finding Nani in the 87th minute to nod the ball past Kann for the late 3-2 go-ahead goal.
Friday also marked 23-year-old Mason Stajduhar’s first ever MLS appearance since signing a homegrown contract with Orlando on Nov. 9, 2015.
The match also saw Tesho Akindele see some playing time — a night prior, the forward was playing for the Canadian national team against Mexico in the Gold Cup semifinals in Houston, Texas.
With the win, Orlando improves to 8-4-4 in the season with 28 points as the Lions battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Lions are back at it again on Wednesday when they host Inter Miami at Exploria Stadium at 7:30 p.m. The match will be televised locally on FOX 35 Plus and LionNation TV.
1′ – Josef Martinez, assisted by Brooks Lennon (ATL)
43′ – Kyle Smith, assisted by Nani (ORL)
66′ – Marcelino Moreno, assisted by Anton Walkes (ATL)
79′ – Silvester van der Water, assisted by Benji Michel, Mauricio Pereyra (ORL)
87′ – Nani, assisted by Silvester van der Water (ORL)
How the Lions lined up
Orlando City XI: Mason Stajduhar; Kyle Smith (Emmanuel Mas, 83′); Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Ruan; Oriol Rosell (Tesho Akindele, 74′), Andres Perea, Mauricio Pereyra (Junior Urso, 90′), Chris Mueller (Silvester van der Water, 74′), Benji Michel; Nani – c (Joey DeZart, 90′).
Substitutes: Brandon Austin, Rodrigo Schlegel, Alexander Alvarado, Michael Halliday.
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