For the second time this season, Orlando City both won and lost, as the team picked up a 3-1 win over Premier League side West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday in front of a sparse crowd of 15,172 at the Orlando Citrus Bowl, while potentially losing midfielder Harrison Heath to an apparent knee injury.
Orlando fell behind just 14 minutes into the match, but three unanswered goals from Kaká, Carlos Rivas, and Bryan Rochez helped the reserve-heavy lineup to its second international friendly win this season, after defeating Brazilian club Ponte Preta 3-2 back in May — a match that ended Kevin Molino’s season due to a knee injury.
“I’m delighted, I thought we were excellent. I look at the team at the end, I thought we had five guys under 21 on the field, and they were special,” Head Coach Adrian Heath said after the match. “Kaká had a great goal that was reminiscent of 2007, to the bottom corner.”
The evening was marred, however, by the potentially serious injury suffered by Heath, who went down to the Citrus Bowl turf in what looked like a non-contact injury. He had to be carried off of the field, and looked to be in a considerable amount of pain.
While that was certainly not good to see, the game itself went considerably better for the Lions after a rocky start. Early on, Heath set up Róchez, playing in his first game in over two months, with a nice ball through the middle of the field, but the young Honduran wasn’t able to put much on his shot, as it was cleared away by a defender.
Kaká had another opportunity for Orlando City moments later, in the sixth minute, with a free kick just outside of the box, but his attempt was sent straight into the wall.
The Baggies struck first in the 14th minute on a goal from Callum McManaman. McManaman was found in open space down the left side, before moving into the box and sliding a slightly wide-angle shot that softly flew low to the left of goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and into the back of the net.
Orlando City responded with a fantastic goal just before halftime. Kaká, back from his one-game suspension for the red card against Real Salt Lake, bolted up the field almost 45 yards by himself with the ball, taking on several defenders on his way to firing a shot past West Brom’s goalkeeper to level the score at 1-1.
Four minutes into the second half, Rivas scored one of the best goals from Orlando City this season. Standing over a free kick about 23 yards from goal, the young Colombian bent a kick over the wall to the top right corner of the goal, putting the Lions ahead and prompting a loud roar from the Citrus Bowl crowd.
Orlando City slugged together a couple more close chances before Rivas was eventually subbed off for Eric Avila in the 60th minute.
West Brom wasn’t done yet. The Baggies continued to battle and build up chances. They challenged goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. on a shot from distance that was slapped away minutes after a free kick in a dangerous area that was blocked by the wall.
The final tally of the night came from Róchez, who spent weeks stuck in Honduras and New Zealand waiting to get back to the United States. On a great service into the box from Pedro Ribeiro, Róchez knocked a low shot into the back of the net, extending Orlando’s lead to 3-1, essentially closing the deal.
The Lions held on to that 3-1 score, finishing off the game with three great goals and a win over a Premier League club.
“It’s been a good night’s work for us because we got many minutes to the players that needed it, and it looks like we’ve come through pretty unscathed.” Heath said.
Orlando City will now turn its attention back to MLS play, where the Lions will be facing off with the New York Red Bulls Saturday at the Orlando Citrus Bowl. Kickoff for the match is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.