ATLANTA, GA — Four years after a four-goal performance in his final USL game with Orlando City, Dom Dwyer finally opened his MLS account with the club, bagging a brace in the Lions’ 3-3 draw with Atlanta United FC in front of a recording-setting crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Lions (9-12-8, 35 points), who went nearly three months without scoring more than one goal in a game, now have five goals in their last two matches, with Cyle Larin — off a Dwyer assist — adding his 12th goal of the season into the tally as well.
“Obviously our objective is to get the three points here, as it will be now the rest of the way,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “To settle for a point is a little bit disheartening. But to move past that, I’m really, really proud of the guys.”
Replicating last weekend’s performance in D.C., Orlando jumped on the opposition early to take a 1-0 lead when Dwyer, finally, opened his Orlando City account in the 10th minute, heading home a cross sent in high up the left side of the field by Donny Toia. It was Dwyer’s first goal in MLS with Orlando, and first since May 3.
“I wouldn’t say it’s anything except for finishing opportunities,” Kreis said of Dwyer finally finding the net. “Now we look forward to what’s going to be a very rich spell for him.”
But Atlanta (12-8-7, 43 points) remained unfazed by the score, and continued to push on as it had already been doing up to that point. Even with the lead, it was never Orlando’s game at any point, with the Lions spending the majority of the afternoon on the back foot, absorbing pressure from Atlanta’ quick, lethal attack.
Miguel Almiron hit the post in the 16th minute. In the 29th, Joe Bendik was able to get his paw on a shot to his left and the ball dinked off the post again, dribbling back into play before Jonathan Spector was able to send the ball into the stands for a corner kick. The quick corner by Atlanta nearly caught the Lions’ defense off guard, but it was cleared again.
After Giles Barnes sailed a shot wide across the goal, Atlanta quickly built up a counterattack that resulted in the hosts’ first goal of the afternoon in the 36th minute. Julian Gressel played a ball across the face of goal for Josef Martinez, who was able to swoop in and tap the ball home, tying the score at 1-1.
But Orlando was quick to respond, and it was Dwyer again, heading home goal No. 2 on the afternoon off of a cross from Scott Sutter, giving the Lions a 2-1 lead that they would take into halftime.
Nothing changed in the second half. The fireworks continued from Atlanta, which tied the game in the 55th minute on Martinez’s second goal of the afternoon. slipping between the defenders and heading home a Chris McCann cross.
And boy, do I have a stunning twist for you here, because Orlando City jumped right back into the action when Cyle Larin got in on the goal parade with his second goal in as many games put the Lions back into the lead, 3-2. Dwyer’s cross from the right side set up the Canadian’s 12 goal of the year.
The partnership between Larin and Dwyer is continuing to build. Dwyer has now assisted on both of Larin’s last two goals, and the duo is starting to feel a connection together.
“The more we play together, the harder it is for teams to play against us,” Larin said. “It’s our second full game together. Each time we did something together, we scored, and it’s getting better each game.”
It wasn’t all good news on the goal for Orlando, however, as Spector appeared to aggravate his knee injury and had to come off. Leo Pereira replaced him next to Tommy Redding in central defense.
But just 10 minutes later, Martinez claimed his second hat trick in four days, getting away from Redding and beating Bendik yet again off a Hector Villalba cross to level the score at 3-3.
The last 20 minutes of the match were some of the most intense minutes of the season for Orlando, but the Lions were able to hold on and become the first team to grab a point against Atlanta at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
After the match, Spector wouldn’t talk about the injury, but Kreis did say it was bothering the veteran defender at halftime and eventually got to a point in the second half where he just couldn’t go on it anymore.
After a hectic week of travling around a hurricane, the Lions will head back to Orlando to train for the next handful of days before getting back on a plane to fly out to Portland on Thursday, where they’ll take on the Portland Timbers next Sunday (4 p.m. ET).