Orlando City played a game at home and did not win. Unfortunately, that was not a typo.
Coming off of a point-less, two-game road trip in the last week, Orlando City couldn’t recapture its winning ways at home in a 2-2 draw with Sporting Kansas City. The Lions dropped their first points at Orlando City Stadium after starting the season a perfect 5-0-0 in their new building in front of yet another sold out crowd of 25,527 — but they remain unbeaten here.
Orlando City fell behind a goal less than 10 minutes into the match, trailing at home for the first time this season on a Latif Blessing goal. The Lions answered later in the first half with a pair of goals from Cyle Larin and Kaká to take over the lead before Blessing scored a second in the second half. Jose Aja controversially had a goal waved off in the 76th minute that would have put the team back ahead but the assistant referee ruled that Will Johnson’s service curled over the end line before returning to the field of play for Aja to nod home.
Instead, Orlando (6-3-1, 19 points) walks away with its first draw of the season.
“Difficult game. Really difficult game against a really quality opponent,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “Really pleased with the guys’ work rate and effort, and their togetherness. I think at the end of the day I have to say that the draw was a fair result, and very pleased to take a point.”
Blessing opened the scoring early for Kansas City (5-2-4, 19 points) with a ninth-minute goal. Ricardo Salazar awarded SKC a free kick just outside Orlando’s penalty area after what appeared to be a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge by Jonathan Spector. After the Lions cleared the initial free kick, KC picked up the ball and recycled in another chance, with Gerso Fernandes centering a cross into the box that hit a slew of sliding bodies in front of Joe Bendik before finding Blessing for his first goal of the season.
After the match, Kreis said he expected Sporting Kansas City to start Soony Saad over Blessing and the speedy forward caught them slightly off guard.
Orlando’s first best chance of the night came in the 16th minute, when Carlos Rivas lofted a cross forward from the left wing, finding Larin running forward into the box. The Canadian timed his run perfectly and put his foot up to poke in the ball past Tim Melia for his seventh of the season after going scoreless for three games for the first time in 2017.
Just 10 minutes later, Rivas again found himself with the ball on the left side and sent in another cross for Larin that sailed over everybody and rolled towards the right sideline, where Scott Sutter was there to pick it up and send the ball back in. This time the only Lion in the box was Kaká, who chested the ball down, took one step forward, then curled a shot around two defenders and the goalkeeper to put the Lions ahead, 2-1. It was a top class goal for the captain, who now has three in five games this season — all since returning from injury four games ago.
“He’s been showing up at the right spots at the right time.” Kreis said of Kaká. “Tonight’s goal was special; to take it down that calmly and around that much traffic to be able to get it to the far post, there are not too many players capable of those types of goals.”
Orlando City came into the second half and put up a good opportunity right away in the 48th minute, when Johnson found Cristian Higuita on a sailing run up top with a great ball forward. Higuita was able to bring the ball down, but was fouled at the top of the box by Graham Zusi, who picked up a yellow card on the play. Kaká took the ensuing free kick, sending it just over the bar.
Moments later, on the other end, as Sporting KC mounted another attack on Orlando’s defense, with Bendik coming up with a big save on Roger Espinoza to preserve the lead for the time being — one of six saves on the night for Bendik, as United States Men’s National Team Head Coach Bruce Arena watched above from the club suites.
Larin was presented with another great opportunity in the 71st minute when Luis Gil, who had come into the game about five minutes earlier for Higuita, sent a nifty through ball forward to the Canadian, who had no one to beat but Melia, as both men reached the ball at about the same time. Melia made a sprawling save and Larin stayed down in pain for several moments.
Meanwhile, Kansas City continued to pressure, and finally broke through with a game-tying goal in the 74th minute from Blessing again. After Bendik saved Benny Feilhaber’s initial shot, Blessing was right there, a couple of feet away, to clean up the rebound and tuck it home, making it a 2-2 scoreline.
Two minutes later, Orlando City thought it had grabbed back the lead when Aja headed home a corner attempt from Johnson, but the goal was waved off. Gil would go on to put a decent shot on goal in the 95th minute, but it wouldn’t be enough for Orlando to grab all three points.
“Honestly, I was really sad,” Aja said of the goal that was waved off. “I thought it was a goal, and it would have been my first goal here with this club, and I can’t express how sorry I am about it.”
Even on the road, Sporting controlled a good deal of possession throughout the half and the match, finishing the night with 61.7% of the possession. Sporting out-shot Orlando, 14-7 (8-4 on target). An odd statistic was fouls. Salazar called eight first-half fouls — all on Orlando City. In the second half, he evened things up by calling seven on SKC to the Lions’ one.
The players, who were visibly exhausted and unhappy after the game, will have another short turnaround as the Lions travel to San Jose Monday after training for a Wednesday night game against the Earthquakes (10:30 p.m. ET).