These late-game comebacks are fun, but how many of these can our hearts take? Orlando City scored three times in a span of seven minutes to erase a 2-0 deficit and beat the Portland Timbers, 3-2. The smallest MLS crowd so far at Orlando City Stadium (22,337) was treated to a wild finish with goals from Chris Mueller, Sacha Kljestan, and Dom Dwyer in the 80th, 82nd, and 87th minutes, respectively.
Those three markers allowed the Lions to overcome strikes by Diego Valeri (pen.) and Bill Tuiloma.
The Lions (2-2-1) won consecutive games for the first time in 2018 and, indeed, in about a year, improving to 3-1-0 all-time in MLS play against the visiting Timbers (0-3-2, 2 points). And even though Orlando City out-passed, out-possessed, and out-shot Portland, Head Coach Jason Kreis said he was pleased with the result and effort but not the overall performance.
“I kind of feel like this week is very similar to last week in many ways,” Kreis said. “Incredible work rate by the guys, incredible that they stick together, incredible that they come back from two goals down. The effort and all those things are fantastic. I still think we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of improvement to make. So we cannot kind of let this result take us to a place where we start to feel comfortable. We have to improve.”
With nearly everyone available, Kreis started a 4-2-3-1 lineup full of expected starters. Only Oriol Rosell was not in the lineup.
Orlando City started on the front foot, with lots of possession in the attacking half and great movement in building up from the midfield. The Lions earned a corner in the first minute and Kljestan’s service fell to Lamine Sané, whose header flew just a foot or so wide of the back post.
Portland got the next good opportunity, as Scott Sutter was caught upfield on the attack. Will Johnson tried to cover for him but Andy Polo blew past him with a burst of speed and fired a shot that Joe Bendik got a piece of but the ball still went through his legs. Jonathan Spector was there to clear it off the line for a corner in the fourth minute.
Kljestan went for goal in the seventh minute on a free kick and got his shot through the wall, but it was straight at goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. Four minutes later, Justin Meram found Josué Colmán in the penalty area, but the Paraguayan’s shot was blocked by a defender. Seconds after that, Kljestan passed up a good opportunity to shoot and instead tried to find Colmán, but the pass didn’t get through.
Disaster struck in the 19th minute, when an initial call for embellishment and what would have been a second yellow card to Sebastian Blanco was overturned by video review and instead Portland was awarded a penalty due to a foul in the area on Mohamed El-Munir. Valeri stepped up and put the visitors ahead, 1-0, even though Bendik guessed the correct direction of the kick.
After the goal, it took Orlando City about 10 minutes to settle down again, with a period of sloppy play keeping the Lions from getting anything going.
Dwyer went just wide with a free kick that took a deflection in the 31st as Orlando looked to get back into rhythm. Kljestan’s shot in the 41st was tough for Gleeson to handle but he did just enough to make the save and concede a corner.
The last good opportunity came in first-half stoppage time, when a corner kick delivery from Kljestan was headed on by Spector and fell for Meram at the back post, but his shot was saved by a diving Gleeson.
Portland took its 1-0 lead to the break.
The Lions held 57% of the first half possession, passed at an 83% rate compared to Portland’s 78%, and out-shot the Timbers (14-4) in the opening period (but only 3-2 on target). The Lions had nine first-half corners compared to just one for Portland. Aside from an inability to finish off a play, it was a mostly dominant half, but the visitors led on the Valeri penalty.
If the Timbers were fending off most of the attack in the first half, they came out of the locker room looking in the mood to score again. Portland twice hit the woodwork in the first five minutes through Blanco and Valeri, and had another shot blocked by the defense that surely would have doubled the lead.
Orlando started to settle down and earn some set pieces, and Kljestan nearly tied the game in the 56th when he went for goal on a free kick to the left of the penalty area. However, his shot fizzed just wide of the back post. But it was a set piece at the other end three minutes later that allowed Portland to double its lead.
Sané was whistled for bundling over Blanco in the 59th minute, and Valeri’s cross found defender Tuiloma, who went over two Lions to head home his first goal and double the visitors’ lead.
The Lions brought on offensive reinforcements in Mueller and Stefano Pinho and pressed numbers into the attack. That allowed the Timbers a few half chances on the counter, but good recovery runs from El-Munir, Spector, and Sané preserved the score as it stood.
Mueller looked dangerous from the time he stepped onto the pitch for Colmán in the 67th minute, and he freed himself up for a shot in the 78th that went inches wide and found the outside netting. Three minutes later, the rookie finally found his first MLS goal. Dwyer earned a corner kick and Yoshimar Yotun delivered a perfect near-post ball for Mueller to flick home with his head to throw the Lions a lifeline.
“You dream about your first goal but most importantly we got the three points,” Mueller said. “I’m happy to have gotten the goal that kind of catapulted us forward. Just a great day.”
Just one minute after Mueller’s goal, Orlando came on the attack again and Dwyer was fouled in the box by Alvas Powell, who threw a shoulder into Dwyer and knocked him down, prompting referee Baldomero Toledo to point to the spot.
Kljestan, not Yotun, stepped up and sent Gleeson the wrong way to level the score. It was Kljestan’s first goal as a Lion and it was a new game for the final eight minutes plus stoppage time.
In the 85th minute, there was a delay as both Powell and Gleeson needed treatment, possibly both for cramping issues. During the stoppage, Dwyer was screaming encouragement to his teammates. They responded, and so did he.
Second-half sub RJ Allen read Dwyer’s timed run and floated a perfect long ball over the back line. Dwyer looked to be in alone but the Portland center backs recovered and converged on the Orlando City striker. Dwyer slipped and went to ground, but maintained possession, got up, switched feet and blasted home the eventual game-winning goal with his right foot in the 87th minute.
“Tremendous character from the boys to come back from two down,” Dwyer said.
Portland nearly pulled the goal right back. Dairon Asprilla managed to get in behind the defense on the right side, but he fired his shot right at Bendik. After four tense minutes of stoppage time, the Lions had their second win of the season and second on the bounce.
City ended up with more possession (58.2%-41.8%), better passing (84.5%-78.1%), more corners (12-1), and more shots (24-13, 7-6 on target), but there were still moments of missed opportunities, as players like Kljestan, Meram, and Colmán continue to figure out where the others are about to go while in transition or in the final third.
“I think we need to bundle up all the positivity from the performance — again, just the effort and the commitment and the work rate — and we need to remember that and put that in our pocket, because that could be really useful as the season goes along,” Kreis said. “But then we also have to be humble and know that we need to make some improvements from front to back. A lot of work to be done.”
Orlando City’s next match will be Friday at Philadelphia against the Union at 8 p.m.