Nani got a late game winner — deflecting Sacha Kljestan’s shot past Zac MacMath — to lead Orlando City to a 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in front of 22,468 at Orlando City Stadium. Nani’s goal in the 88th minute broke up a hard-fought struggle as the Whitecaps sat in deep after playing a game Wednesday and traveling across the continent.
Orlando (3-3-2, 11 points) got its first ever win over the Whitecaps (1-5-2, 5 points) in five tries (1-3-1) and second shutout win of the season. The Lions are also unbeaten (3-0-0) in the special Parley kits to celebrate Earth Day after previous wins over New York City FC and San Jose.
“Really pleased to get the three points,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “I thought Vancouver made it obviously very difficult for us. I think at times we showed some decent passages but I think we can play a little bit cleaner, a little bit crisper. It’s a massive win for us.”
“Great team effort defensively,” said OCSC goalkeeper Brian Rowe. “I think it’s something to build on and a great result.”
O’Connor changed up the lineup from last week’s squad at RSL. He went with a four-man back line of (L-R) Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Lamine Sané, and Ruan. The midfield was defense heavy with Uri Rosell flanked by Sebas Mendez left and Will Johnson right. Nani and Dom Dwyer started up top with Chris Mueller.
Vancouver lined up with a five-man back line and sat deep, forcing Orlando to break through several lines and the Lions struggled to do that. Nani managed to get a free kick from distance on goal early on and Mendez fired wide of MacMath’s goal in the seventh minute.
After Vancouver won a couple of corners off the counterattack, Nani redirected a Moutinho cross toward goal in the 20th minute but again the shot was at MacMath. The Lions got the ball into the area in the 23rd minute but both Dwyer and Johnson had shots blocked.
The game went through a spell where Orlando lacked movement and Nani had trouble breaking down Hwang In-Beom, losing the ball on a couple tries to get past the Vancouver midfielder. Moutinho teed up a shot in the 31st minute but got it nowhere close to the goal frame.
The Lions dodged a bullet a minute later when Ruan made a great play to dispossess Yordy Reyna to prevent him from getting in alone on goal on the break. The Whitecaps got their only shot of the half on target in the 35th minute. Ali Adnan lined up a free kick from about 35 yards away, straight out in front of goal. His shot forced a diving save from Rowe. Derek Cornelius got a head to the ensuing corner but he sent the shot wide.
In the 43rd, the Lions nearly broke through off a corner kick. A header by Cornelius — who was defending Mueller — was sent toward his own goal but cleared off the line by Scott Sutter. Then a shot from distance by Rosell was blocked at the top of the area. A minute later, Sané headed just over the bar off Nani’s corner kick cross.
Moutinho got the last good chance of the half as Mueller sent him down the left but MacMath fought off the shot and Johnson’s header was nowhere close on the ensuing corner.
Orlando City held the advantage in shots (10-3), shots on target (2-1), passing accuracy (84%-78%), and possession (56%-44%). However, the first half went just as Vancouver hoped, with the Lions unable to break down the defense and a few counter opportunities available for the Caps. The 0-0 score was much more favorable to the visitors than Orlando City after the first 45 minutes.
The second half started much like the first, with Orlando struggling to break down the Vancouver lines of defense. The Lions were able to get some crosses in but could do little with them against three center backs defending Dwyer, who finished the match without a shot attempt.
Orlando did manage to get in a counter of its own in the 55th minute, with Nani getting his shot blocked at the end of the attack off a nice pass from Mueller. A minute later, Mueller himself was nearly played in but the ball was just a touch too far in front and MacMath scrambled off his line to get to it first.
At times, the Whitecaps came up a little higher on the pitch and pressed a little near midfield but it was much the same game as the opening 45 minutes.
Vancouver looked to find the breakthrough in the 56th minute when Reyna sent a cross through the area but it was way too far in front of Fredy Montero.
In the 60th minute, Nani fizzed a ball through the six that MacMath deflected out for a corner, and moments later the Vancouver goalkeeper just beat Dwyer to a 50/50 aerial ball. Mueller had a shot slightly deflected that sailed inches over the bar in the 70th minute as it started to look like the game could finish 0-0.
But things nearly went horribly wrong in the 72nd minute as In-Beom got in as the trailing runner on a Vancouver attack and sent his sliding shot over Rowe’s goal on the visitors’ best chance of the game.
Second-half sub Tesho Akindele fired a header just over the bar in the 75th minute after coming on for Dwyer. Kljestan came on for Johnson just a minute later as O’Connor continued to search for a way to unlock the Whitecaps.
Reyna got a half chance in the 85th with a weak shot to the back post that Rowe smothered. The Vancouver forward then fired over the bar two minutes later.
Orlando finally got its goal in the 88th. Ruan took the ball down the right channel and cut it back to the top of the area. Kljestan ran onto it and fired hard but the ball hit Nani and deflected into the net to make it 1-0. Nani now leads the Lions with four goals this season and has a three-game goal-scoring streak going. The Portuguese star also has four assists to go with those four goals in eight games played.
“I secretly just wanted the assist,” Kljestan joked after the game. The assist was his 91st in MLS, tying Cobi Jones for eighth in MLS history in 57 fewer matches.
“Watching from the bench I thought we were playing a little bit too slow with the ball,” he said. “We needed a little bit more action in the box and then fortunately the goal came that way. I think it was a cut-back cross from Ruan and I think we had three guys in the box and so it created a little bit of confusion in front of their back line and fortunately the ball ended up in the back of the net.”
After more than seven minutes of stoppage time, the whistle blew and Orlando City had its second consecutive home victory. The Lions out-shot Vancouver 16-6 (4-2 on target), held more possession (61%-39%) and out-passed the Caps (86%-77%) in a deserved victory that almost didn’t come.
“Today was a difficult game,” Kljestan said. “I think if somebody didn’t watch the game but maybe just looked at the schedule and saw Vancouver played on Wednesday and then flew across the country, you would say Orlando should win easily. But that’s not the case in MLS. They came here and they set up very defensively, tactically. They played behind the ball a lot and tried to hit us on the counter, and they defended very well, so it was hard for us to carve out chances.”
O’Connor said his players deserved enormous credit for going on and winning the game, avoiding the frustration of not being able to break down the bunkering Caps.
“It became pretty apparent that they wanted to sit very deep and make it very, very hard for us and deny space. It’s trying to be patient, it’s trying to make good decisions when we have the ball, and manage the transition moments.”
“In the end to get a 1-0 win, at the end of the year, we’ll look back and think that this was an important game for us to win,” said Kljestan. “To now get our second win in a row in our stadium is big for us, so we’ve got to keep that going.”
Next up for Lions is a trip to Yankee Stadium for the first repeat opponent of 2019. Orlando City will square off against the Pigeons at 1 p.m. ET.