Orlando City is on the board. The Lions got a brace from Dom Dwyer in his season debut in a chippy 4-3 win over the New York Red Bulls (2-2-0, 6 points). The disappointing Easter weekend crowd of 23,257 was treated to an edgy game with plenty of offense, as Orlando (1-2-1, 4 points) fought back from two deficits and overcame a late equalizer.
Will Johnson and Josué Colmán also scored for the Lions, although the latter was originally credited to Scott Sutter. It was the Paraguayan’s first MLS goal even though he knew little about it, as Sutter’s blast hit Colmán on the way toward the net. The Lions improved to 3-4-1 in the all-time series, and 2-1-1 at home (2-0-0 at Orlando City Stadium).
“Really pleased from an effort and commitment point of view, no doubt,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the game.
“They came out hot and they came to play,” said Sacha Kljestan, who faced his old team for the first time. “I think we started a little bit slow and it took us some time to grow into the game but I’m really happy we got the win.”
Here’s the lineup Kreis started:
The visitors used a lineup filled with familiar faces, including center backs Tommy Redding and Aurelien Collin, and striker Carlos Rivas — all former Lions.
The game started poorly for the hosts, with Florian Valot scoring his first MLS goal in just the seventh minute, nodding home a perfectly placed cross from Kaku that just cleared Mohamed El-Munir’s head. The Lions were on the back foot already.
Orlando settled down and got back into the game, equalizing eight minutes later. Kljestan unlocked the defense with a ball that sent Justin Meram to the end line. The Iraqi international slipped his pass by Collin to a waiting Johnson, who tapped it in to make it 1-1.
Kljestan nearly helped the Lions take a lead in the 23rd minute with a set piece delivery that cleared Lamine Sané’s head by just inches. Just a touch would have made it 2-1. Instead, it was New York regaining the lead a minute later.
A turnover by rookie Cam Lindley in the midfield gave the ball to Valot, who slotted a through ball for Derrick Etienne. Sané didn’t quite have the pace to get there first, and Etienne fired a shot that nutmegged Joe Bendik and deflected in off his leg — a shot he’ll want back.
Orlando came right back at New York, quickly earning a corner in the 26th minute. A minute later, after Meram won a second corner in quick succession, the Lions leveled the score again. Yoshimar Yotun sent in a dangerous near-post ball that Dwyer got the side of his head onto and it was suddenly 2-2. Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles wanted a foul, as Dwyer had a hold of his shirt and muscled his way to his first goal of the year. Orlando City Stadium was treated to its first Dom flip of the year as well.
“I managed to get myself in front of Robles, and I don’t really know what part of my body it went off — the back of my head — but a goal’s a goal,” Dwyer said.
The game was already physical, but it got even more chippy from that point, with the biggest battle being waged between Dwyer and Collin. The two former teammates at Sporting Kansas City were in in each other’s face all day, with Collin getting booked once and perhaps lucky not to have received a second yellow moments later after sending Dom sprawling.
As much as the game was physical, it didn’t keep the match from being a wide-open affair. Sané made a vital 1-v-1 challenge to win the ball in his own penalty area, and when the Lions countered, Robles had to be quick off his line to keep Yotun from reaching it first and having a clear chance at goal. Yotun, for his part, seemed a bit off his game, misplaying a cross right onto his feet in the box in the 42nd minute. El-Munir then sent the ball over the net upon regaining possession.
Just before the half, the Red Bulls got a set piece, which Collin weakly nodded wide of goal. Lindley also was shaken up after an altercation with Red Bulls midfielder Kaku, who took exception to some jawing and light pushing with the rookie and swept his legs out from beneath him. None of the officials saw the play.
The teams went to the locker room tied at 2-2, with nearly exactly 50/50 possession and seven shots apiece (3-3 on target).
Just three minutes after the restart, the Lions took their first lead of the season. Dwyer made a heads-up run on a throw-in and El-Munir delivered a great throw to spring him into the box. Dwyer smashed it with his left and beat Robles to make it 3-2.
“Super to have [Dwyer] back,” Kreis said. “Tactically he gives us a little bit more of a true number nine and we’ve been kind of playing without one for the first three matches. So to have a true target there — a player there who is going to finish things — is real nice for us. Big, big credit to him for taking his goals.”
Rivas nearly pulled that goal back in the 51st when he rocketed one just wide of the far post.
Once the second half settled in a bit more, Orlando switched up to a 4-2-3-1 formation. With Lindley out at halftime for Colmán, Johnson and Yotun played in the defensive midfield behind Meram, Kljestan, and the Paraguayan teenager, with Dwyer up top alone.
Orlando got a set piece and Johnson’s shot was saved in the 59th minute. Kljestan poked the ball to Yotun, who stopped it and teed it up for Johnson, whose shot took a deflection. The ricochet took enough steam off the ball for Robles to correct his positioning and collect it. Yotun got down the left in the 61st and fired a shot but it was right at the Red Bulls keeper.
Chris Mueller came on for a cramping Dwyer in the 65th minute. Moments later, Amro Tarek pulled up with an injury and was eventually subbed out for RJ Allen, so the Lions were suddenly down to their emergency center back as Bradley Wright-Phillips checked in for New York.
Mueller nearly gave the Lions some insurance in the 73rd minute. Robles made a diving fingertip save to prevent the rookie’s first MLS goal after he nodded down a perfect Kljestan cross. A minute later, Meram headed the ball into the net but the flag was up. Orlando continued to press for insurance. Kemar Lawrence broke up a 3-v-2 Orlando break in the 77th minute.
An ill-advised foul on Johnson provided the Red Bulls with a chance to equalize and the visitors did. The free kick to the back post was nodded home by Aaron Long, who beat Sané with a tug and a shove and left the defender on the ground, asking why no foul was given.
But the Lions didn’t hang their heads after Long’s 82nd-minute goal. Orlando came right back on the attack and Mueller found himself in the box, trying to split two defenders. As he cut between the two, Valot swept at the ball and got Mueller’s right leg but no penalty was given. Still, Orlando kept fighting.
Off a throw-in, Kljestan found a wide-open Sutter on the far side of the field. Sutter took a touch and blasted a shot from outside the box that deflected off Colmán and beat Robles to make it 4-3 in the 86th minute.
From that point on, Orlando did well to hold possession, with Mueller, Yotun, and Colmán working well to keep the ball in the right corner to use up much of the remaining clock.
Finally, the whistle blew on City’s first win of the season. It was a deserved three points, with the Lions holding 54.4% of the possession, out-shooting the Red Bulls, 14-10 (8-4 on target), and passing at 71% compared to New York’s 66%.
“I wasn’t expecting a 4-3 game. Those don’t come around very often,” said Kljestan. “I’m glad we came out on the winning side.”
“Hard-fought win,” Kreis said. “Really, really difficult to get that result today for a lot of reasons. Big, big credit to all the players that participated in that match and put their absolute best foot forward, because I think without 100 percent commitment, we don’t walk out of there with all three points.”
Orlando City will host the Portland Timbers next Sunday.