The large traveling contingent of Orlando City fans were treated to another Cardiac Cats performance with the Lions coming back to win 2-1 over the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The announced crowd of 15,702 saw the Rapids take a first-half lead on Dominique Badji’s goal, but Cristian Higuita’s rocket and Yoshimar Yotún’s penalty-kick goal turned the game around and the Lions held on after some nervy late moments.
Orlando City (5-2-1, 16 points) has won its fifth straight game for just the second time in its MLS existence — the league’s longest such streak this season. The Lions handed Colorado (2-3-2, 8 points) its first home loss and improved to 3-0-1 in the series, while winning consecutive road matches for the first time since September of 2015.
Jason Kreis made only one change from last weekend against San Jose, moving Justin Meram into the starting lineup for Stefano Pinho. On the bench, he swapped out former Rapids midfielder Dillon Powers for Richie Laryea.
The Lions started the match sluggishly, spending the first five minutes in their own end, as Colorado pressed high and Orlando failed to string accurate passes together. The Rapids worked for five corner kicks between the 16th and 25th minutes, and there were some nervy minutes as the Lions tried to clear the ball cleanly, but Colorado was unable to find the net with any of them, although Tommy Smith did head one off the post.
Enzo Martinez blasted one from 30 yards out that forced Joe Bendik to parry over the bar.
But the breakthrough started in Colorado’s own end. Badji made a run off the two center backs and Martinez found him over the top as both Lamine Sané and Amro Tarek raised their hands to appeal for offside. The flag stayed down and Bendik got himself caught in between, as he didn’t have enough time to come out but he tried to anyway. Meanwhile, Sané loafed back expecting the call that never came and Badji slotted the ball into the lower right corner. Badji’s score was the first for the Rapids in four meetings with Orlando City.
Whether the play was offside or not, referee José Carlos Rivero never went over to the monitor to review it.
The goal seemed to wake Orlando up, however. After Sané made a good 1-v-1 stop in his own penalty area on Joe Mason at the 32-minute mark, the Lions started to see more and more of the possession.
Chris Mueller started seeing more of the ball and his run forward in the 35th minute broke down when his give-and-go pass attempt to Dom Dwyer was just a tad off line. Two minutes later, Dwyer had a 2-v-1 but his cross for Justin Meram was blocked and Mueller subsequently won a corner. The Lions took it short and got no scoring chance out of their first set piece opportunity of the game. Sigh. #BanShortCorners
In the 39th minute, Meram took a pass at the top of the box and blasted a shot that Jack Price blocked. Yotún followed with a try from at least 35 yards out, but it was well off target. A minute later, Meram centered the ball for Sacha Kljestan, who missed the Lions’ best chance of the half, smashing the ball straight at goalkeeper Zac MacMath, when either side would have produced an equalizer.
Two minutes after that, Kljestan found Dwyer, but the ball wouldn’t settle for him as he tried to cut inside the defender on to his left foot. The ball deflected to Kljestan while bouncing and he couldn’t keep his half-volley attempt on frame. Orlando’s final opportunity of the half came in the 45th minute, when Mueller made a superb turn and crossed in for Dwyer. The ball cleared MacMath, but Dwyer was undercut by Deklan Wynne and he couldn’t get on top of the cross to head it on frame. No foul was given, but then no foul for handball was given on the other end when the ball inadvertently hit Sané’s hand.
The teams went to the break with Colorado leading. Each team had six shots (4-1 on target for the Rapids), Orlando held 56% possession.
Orlando City was the more aggressive and comfortable side through most of the second half. Will Johnson came forward and blasted a shot on goal four minutes after the restart but MacMath was able to save it off the bounce without spilling it. Two minutes later, Meram destroyed a ball that MacMath fought off the goal post to keep the snakebitten City winger off the score sheet.
But just one minute after that, the Lions equalized. Kljestan intercepted a clearance in space at the top of the area and dished off for Higuita, who blasted one into the upper right corner to knot the game at 1-1 in the 52nd minute. Higuita’s goal was Orlando’s first in Colorado since joining MLS, albeit in only two trips there.
Orlando nearly found a break to take the lead in the 55th minute when Mueller unlocked the defense with a pass for Dwyer, but it had just a bit too much mustard on it and Dom couldn’t run it down. Meram fired over the bar two minutes later, and Mueller’s ball for Dwyer was too high off the ground to be controlled in the 61st minute. By the time Dom settled it, the defense had made a sliding tackle to dispossess him as the striker was winding up for the shot.
From that point on, Colorado made a series of fouls in what had already been a physical game, with several Rapids booked. In the midst of that, Sané nearly gifted the Rapids a goal when he ignored an open Johnson and instead made an awful back pass intended for Bendik that was intercepted by Yannick Boli, forcing Joe to make a point-blank save.
In the 76th minute, it was one foul too many for Colorado as Dillon Serna clipped Yotún as Meram played him in with a back heel pass to set up a possible 2-v-1 with Dwyer. Before Yoshi could reach the ball, Serna clipped his leg and sent him to the turf for a penalty.
Yotún took the spot kick himself and sent MacMath the wrong way, but it’s doubtful the Rapids’ keeper could have stopped it if he guessed correctly, as the Peruvian blasted it confidently into the inside netting just inside the right post. The 77th-minute strike pushed Orlando into the lead for the first time.
Yotún’s goal served as a wake-up for Colorado, as the Rapids started threading in passes, finding heads with crosses, and just generally being extremely dangerous for the remainder of the match. Serna ripped a laser shot wide in the 80th minute and a minute later Bendik had to get off his line quickly to beat Boli to a ball over the top.
Mueller could have put the game out of reach in the 82nd, as Meram slipped him down the right side of the penalty area. The rookie’s first touch took him a bit wider and then he fired wide of the near post on what could have been the insurance marker.
The Rapids got the ball in behind in the 87th minute but it was knocked wide for a goal kick, then Serna sent another rocket over the bar on a Tarek turnover in the 88th. In the 92nd minute, Serna thought he’d tied the game when he slipped through the defense but Mohamed El-Munir came out of nowhere to make a sliding block of the shot with Bendik well beaten.
Two more glancing headers went wide in the 93rd and 96th minutes, and the whistle finally blew on Orlando City’s fifth consecutive victory.
The late flurry allowed the Rapids to out-shoot the Lions, 16-12 (and 6-5 on target). Orlando held 56% of the possession and completed 82% of its passes compared to Colorado’s 79%. The concerning thing would be the 11-1 advantage the Rapids enjoyed on corner kicks.
Still, it’s a road win in a difficult environment, and not a game previous Orlando City teams would have likely won. With tougher opponents on the horizon, any away win is a good one, and Orlando will need to continue to work on dead ball situations and fix a few things the Rapids were able to do before more talented teams start doing those things.
The Lions return to action next Sunday at home against Real Salt Lake at 5 p.m. ET.