Brian White’s spinning shot trickled just inside the far post in the 95th minute to steal two points from Orlando City in a 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena. Nani had put Orlando City (8-2-8, 32 points) ahead on a penalty kick in the second half, and the Lions had only seconds left to see out. They had just cleared a corner kick when the ball found its way to exactly the wrong spot at the wrong time, allowing the New York Red Bulls (7-8-4, 25 points) to equalize.
Orlando was able to clinch its first-ever MLS playoff spot, however, as Toronto FC scored late to beat Atlanta United, giving the Lions enough points to finish above the line in 2020.
Despite now going winless in three games, Orlando is unbeaten in 12 (6-0-6), but a lack of goal scoring and tired legs — without the ability to rotate players — is starting to catch up with the Lions. Orlando finishes the season series 1-0-1 against the Red Bulls and 5-6-2 in the all-time series.
“Well, we can talk about the frustration with what happened in the last minute — the moment when we dropped the points,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “I have to calm down and see all the positive things that the boys did today. Again, they dominated in the first half. The second half was normal, especially at the end, when New York was throwing bodies up front and trying to cross balls and all those things. We tried to settle the game and we couldn’t, but we keep going.”
Pareja used the same lineup as Wednesday’s match vs. New York City FC, with Brian Rowe in goal behind a back line of Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Joey DeZart and Junior Urso manned the central midfield behind an attacking midfield line of Nani, Andres Perea, and Chris Mueller, with Daryl Dike up top.
The Red Bulls controlled about the first nine minutes of the match, keeping Orlando hemmed in its own half of the pitch. But the Lions did well to defend and break up play, allowing no real chances during that time.
Orlando’s first sustained foray into the attacking third resulted in a half chance, with Nani looping a cross in for Mueller but the ball was played too close to goalkeeper Ryan Meara. Mueller and Meara collided and a foul was given New York’s way.
Caden Clark sent a rocket shot over Rowe’s bar in the 16th minute after he was given too much time and space outside the area. After the Lions couldn’t capitalize on a couple of decent crosses, the Red Bulls worked a corner kick in for Tom Barlow but his header was weakly hit and right at Rowe in the 23rd minute. Daniel Royer fired a weak shot from the top of the box at Rowe three minutes later.
The Lions had a great chance in the 29th after Ruan won a free kick near the right sideline. Nani sent in a gorgeous cross that Mueller was lining up for a free header but Dike came from the other side and tried to get onto it and his presence threw off the shot. Mueller’s header ended up well off target.
A minute later Nani lined up a shot at the top of the area but didn’t get all of it and Meara made a comfortable save.
In the 34th minute, Mueller crossed at the top of the area and Urso corralled it and fired a shot. Unfortunately, the Brazilian didn’t get it all and it skipped weakly wide of goal.
The best chance came in the 41st minute when Jansson launched a perfect long ball for Nani to run onto. The captain broke in alone down the left and blasted a shot but Meara fought it off with a big save.
The Red Bulls got the last shot of the half in the 44th when Ruan’s throw-in was turned over in the Orlando half. Florian Valot tried his luck from outside the area but hit his shot wide, and the teams went to the break locked in a scoreless draw.
Orlando City had more shot attempts (5-4), with each team getting two on target in the opening half. The Lions had more corners (3-1), more possession (54.7%-45.3%), and more accurate passing (78%-72%). But, as the passing rates indicate, it was a sloppy, and defensive-minded first half.
The Lions grabbed the lead 10 minutes after the restart. Dike shredded New York’s defense, slicing through multiple defenders and into the penalty area. Once he got there, he tried to move around former Lion Amro Tarek, who made heavy contact with the rookie striker. Referee Drew Fischer pointed to the spot immediately. Nani stepped up, stutter stepped, then slotted the spot kick home in the 56th minute to put Orlando ahead.
“I turned and I saw that I had some space,” Dike said. “So I kind of decided I wanted to go toward the [end line] to try to get in a cross and fortunately I got fouled. Nani came in, calm, cool, and collected, and had a good penalty and he scored.”
It was the first penalty in league play this season for Orlando City and Nani’s fifth goal of the season, but the rookie’s incisive run set it up.
“What Dike did today is another demonstration of the way he’s progressed as a forward,” Pareja said. “He looked great today. I’m happy for him.”
The Red Bulls turned up the heat after that and threw numbers forward. Center backs Tarek and Tim Parker continually joined in the attack, keeping Orlando from breaking out of its own end. Still, most of the time the Lions were able to turn back New York’s attack without facing a shot.
The Red Bulls got a good opportunity in the 62nd minute when Perea conceded a free kick straight out from goal, but Valot sent his free kick well over the crossbar.
Orlando went looking for a second goal on the counter in the 67th minute with a good buildup on an excellent passing sequence from Dike to Perea to Mueller. Unfortunately, Cash needed a touch to settle the ball and by the time he fired his shot, the defense had recovered in time to block it.
New York kept coming, but Orlando did well to defend crosses and push the Red Bulls into wide areas. There weren’t many dangerous opportunities, but with so much New York possession, it sometimes seemed like it. A chance appeared in the 72nd minute but substitute Samuel Tetteh hit his shot wide.
The Red Bulls then got two more set pieces in good spots on a legit foul on Perea and an extremely soft one on Urso. Nothing happened on the first, but Rowe made a good save on the second in the 77th minute to protect the lead.
Still, the Lions looked to counter when they could and substitute Kyle Smith — who came on for Ruan after the Brazilian took a heavy challenge from Tarek — sent in a cross for Nani, but the captain’s header was off target in the 81st minute.
DeZart joined the parade of injuries just before the end of regular time, leaving the game while holding his hamstring. Alex De John came on for him to try to see out six minutes of stoppage time, which seemed a bit much.
The Lions got the first good scoring opportunity in the added time, with Nani laying off for Urso at the top of the box but the shot was blocked by Parker.
New York got a couple of late corners and Orlando dealt with them, but the last one only protected the lead for a moment. The ball was knocked to the top of the area where a shot was blocked by Urso and bounced out about halfway between the top of the box and midfield, where Jason Pendant tried a desperation long-range shot. Pendant hit the ball poorly, but it ended up at the feet of White, who turned and fired through traffic and the ball slipped through the bodies and inside the back post for the heartbreaking equalizer.
“It was a corner, where we cleared them,” Pareja said. “The guy who hit the ball — he missed the ball. He just kicked it somewhere and it arrived with the forward.”
The Red Bulls immediately pushed for a game winner after the restart, but Orlando turned them over and the Lions were starting a possibly dangerous transition attack when Fischer blew the final whistle at just a few seconds beyond the original six.
Behind all of the pressure they could muster over the final 40 minutes, the Red Bulls turned the box score completely around, finishing with more shots (14-9), shots on target (4-3), corners (6-5), and possession (58.8%-41.2%), and the better passing accuracy (77%-72%).
“New York is not an easy place to come and play on the road,” Miller said. “They really turn up the intensity and it’s really a dogfight here, so for us to come in here and take them all the way to the dying seconds of the game shows how invested we are as a team defensively, everyone working hard, and that’s just football. Sometimes the ball bounces their way and that’s what happened.
“We clinched playoffs but we’re still not happy with the way we clinched playoffs. We feel like we need to start turning these draws into three points.”
Orlando City will be on the road again for its next match as the Lions head south to face Inter Miami on Saturday.