Orlando City went into Toyota Park needing a win to propel the team ahead of the New England Revolution and D.C. United and into the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. The Lions (5-6-12, 27 points) had to settle for a 2-2 draw with the last-place Chicago Fire (4-11-7, 19 points) after failing to convert on their opportunities and breaking down on a late Chicago set piece. Orlando is in the midst of a 10-game winless streak on the road (0-5-5) since winning its first away match of the year.
It was a poor start for Orlando. After some nervy passing, Tommy Redding — playing for the suspended David Mateos (yellow card accumulation) — fouled David Accam at the edge of the area to set up a dangerous free kick that Bendik managed to punch free. The rebound landed at the feet of Fire midfielder John Goossens, who let loose a low blast from long distance that pinged off the post and past Bendik just six minutes into the match. For all the highlight saves Bendik has made this season, Goossens’ shot from well outside the area is one he’d no doubt like to have back.
Orlando responded quickly, lobbing passes over the defense until one finally found the foot of Cyle Larin. Kaká chipped a perfectly weighted ball over the top and the Canadian managed to get his left foot to the ball, poking it just out of reach of UCF alum Sean Johnson to level it for the Lions, just three minutes later. The goal brought Larin’s total to 12 for the season and was his fourth in the last five matches.
Orlando almost immediately managed to give a goal away as Servando Carrasco slipped on the turf and the ball dropped fortuitously to Accam, who used his speed to round Seb Hines. Luckily, Bendik managed to parry the attempt and relieve the danger. Bendik was tested constantly by Goossens and Accam during the first half, but managed to hold the Fire to one goal at the break.
The offensive game plan was to feed Kaká on the left, running the offense through the Brazilian even from the wide areas. The captain sent ball after ball into the area but couldn’t quite find Larin or Brek Shea on the other end. Johan Kappelhof did well to keep the Orlando captain at bay for the Fire, closing him down before he could get into dangerous positions.
Kappelhof couldn’t do anything on Orlando’s second goal, though. Matias Perez Garcia, in his first start for Orlando, found Carrasco on the right wing, who sent in a cross that reached Larin, but the Canadian striker’s header glanced off the left post. Kaká was there on the second chance and calmly put the ball in the roof of the net to give Orlando the lead. Kaká now has four goals this year, good enough for third on the team behind Larin and Kevin Molino. The captain managed to get all three of his shots on target and finished with a goal and an assist.
Perez Garcia almost created a third goal just before halftime, sliding in to intercept a Chicago pass from Eric Gehrig. Kaká picked up the loose ball and was through on goal. He crossed for Shea, but it was behind the winger and went across the box harmlessly. The Argentine did well in possession and used his vision to pull the strings in midfield whenever he saw the ball before being taken off for Molino in the second half.
Orlando did not start the second half well, either. The Fire saw the majority of possession and Orlando committed various fouls in dangerous areas. Kaká decided to change that, making a run the length of the field, sending Gehrig to the turf as he reached the end line before sending a cross in to Larin that just missed. Kaká seemed willing to shoulder the majority of the offensive load, testing Johnson from distance a few minutes later and forcing a diving save.
Redding had the unenviable task of keeping Accam in check and was booked for his troubles in the 18th minute. Redding finished with two fouls conceded and the speedy Ghanaian got the best of him a few times, but Orlando’s Homegrown defender managed to keep Accam off the scoreboard before Jason Kreis replaced him with Jose Aja near the hour mark for the Uruguayan’s debut.
Cristian Higuita’s return to the starting lineup didn’t last much longer, as he went down injured and was helped off the field in the 61st. Tony Rocha made his MLS debut after appearing twice with the first team in the U.S. Open Cup.
Larin almost bagged his second shortly after, but Johnson came off his line to stuff the Canadian and managed to keep him away from the ball long enough to collect it. Larin took a hit on the challenge, but referee Mark Geiger decided not to call a penalty. Orlando applied consistent pressure on the Chicago back line for the next 10 minutes with a combination of Molino, Rocha, and Kaká that tested Johnson but couldn’t produce a goal. Orlando commanded possession for the majority of the match with 54.7%, but the Lions couldn’t put the game away.
Chicago found the equalizer in the 79th minute. Fire defender Brandon Vincent found Razvan Cocis on a corner, who beat Bendik with a point-blank header to level the score.
For all of Orlando’s promise on offense, the defense couldn’t keep the Fire off the board. Aja gave the Fire life at the death, committing a foul on the edge of the area and earning a yellow card, but Accam’s ensuing attempt sailed wide of the mark.
The last few minutes of the match were filled with Chicago chances and not many threatening attempts by the Lions. The Fire appealed for a penalty when Boden collided with Arturo Alvarez, but Geiger let play continue. When the final whistle sounded, it was a disappointing result for Kreis’ men against a Chicago side floundering at the bottom of the table. The Lions still find themselves on the wrong side of the red line, behind D.C. United on the total wins tiebreaker.
Next week, Orlando travels to Commerce City, CO, to take on this year’s surprise contenders, the Colorado Rapids. You can catch the match Saturday at 9 p.m.