Orlando City SC was only able to earn a 1-1 draw in its inaugural MLS match, but the Lions put on quite the show for the 62,510 fans on hand at the Orlando Citrus Bowl.
Orlando was the more dangerous team for much of the match, but New York City FC took the lead in the 76th minute with a curled shot from midfielder Mix Diskerud. Things looked dire in the 84th minute, when Aurelien Collin tackled David Villa high and hard to earn a straight red.
Down a man with five minutes to go, it seemed that all was lost for the Lions. Kaká was not to be denied though, and his 91st minute free kick deflected off New York’s Jeb Brovsky and past keeper Josh Saunders into the net to tie the match.
“I’ve scored many goals in my career but I put this goal in a special place because it was very, very special to me,” said Kaká after the match.
Orlando controlled possession for much of the first half, and generally looked to be the more threatening side. Within the two minutes of the opening whistle, loanee Seb Hines nodded a Kaká free kick just wide of NYCFC’s net. Kaká put Carlos Rivas through on goal in the fourth minute, but the Colombian striker was just offside.
There was a scary moment 14 minutes in, when Hines clattered into New York keeper Josh Saunders and knocked him back into his own goal post. The back of Saunders’ head slammed into the post hard enough to rattle the frame of the goal, but after a lengthy break he was able to stay in the match.
As the half wore on, left back Brek Shea was able to find more and more space down the left wing, and showed off some of the tricks that earned him a call-up with the U.S. National Team in January. He was unable to find the net, but did earn a yellow card for diving when he went down easily in the New York penalty box. Shockingly, it was one of three diving cautions given to Orlando on the night.
Orlando racked up eight shots in the first 45, compared to only three for NYCFC. Their $7 million man Kaká had the best chance of the half in the 37th minute. The captain found space at the top of the box, and launched an absolute rocket that was barely deflected away by Saunders.
New York was stronger to start the second half, though both teams had solid opportunities. Diskerud led a break in the 67th minute and sent rookie Khiry Shelton through on goal, but his low shot missed just wide of the post. A minute later, Adam Nemec found himself wide open in the middle of the box, but he misfired well over the bar.
Diskerud finally capitalized for the visitors at 75 minutes, putting New York up, 1-0. He received a pass from Villa at the top of the box and curled a side-footed shot to the far post past keeper Donovan Ricketts.
Collin’s red card nine minutes later at 84′ looked to be the end for the Lions, but Kaká was having none of it. Kevin Molino earned a free kick at the top of the box, and there was never any doubt who would take it. Kaká bended the ball wide around the wall, but it slammed into the chest of Brovsky and trickled in past a wrong-footed Saunders to tie the match.
“We’ve got something to build on,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “I think it was important that we got something out of this game. Scoring late on, down to 10 men, it seemed like a little bit of a moral victory.”
It wasn’t the three points Orlando fans would have preferred, but the dramatic finish with 10 men made the 1-1 tie feel more like a victory. The Lions have a quick turnaround this week, as they travel to Houston to take on the Dynamo on Friday.