Orlando City B (4-1-1, 14 points) kept its unbeaten home record with a thrilling 3-2 win over Toronto FC II (0-4-1, 1 point) tonight at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee. The visitors took a third-minute lead through Jesus Batiz and an early second-half lead from a Hugo Mbongue goal. But OCB responded each time, first from Alex Freeman and then Abdi Salim, before Moises Tablante won it at the death.
OCB Head Coach Martin Perelman only made one change to the team that drew NYCFC II 2-2 last weekend. Imanol Almaguer wasn’t in the team, replaced by Alejandro Granados in the starting lineup. Javier Otero was back in goal, in front of Tablante, Nabi Kibunguchy, Salim, and Freeman. Granados, Cristian Medina, Juninho, Cristofer Acuna and Jhon Solis were in the midfield with Favian Loyola up top.
Perelman has said he wants his Young Lions to start fast and score inside the first minute. While OCB has gotten off to good starts this year, it was the visitors that scored early in this one. The goal came in the third minute from a long clearance by Toronto goalkeeper Luka Gavran, who sent the ball far up field. Aided by a strong wind, the ball sailed over the head of Salim, sending Batiz into the OCB box. The forward opened up and aimed for the far post, putting it in off the woodwork to give the visitors an early 1-0 lead.
In the fifth minute, Themi Antonoglou was given space about 30 yards out and dribbled into the OCB box. He beat multiple defenders, including a nice cut that put Kibunguchy on the ground, before Tablante got between the attacker and the ball, allowing Otero to collect it.
OCB almost had a chance to equalize in the seventh minute when Tablante entered the box and lifted the ball towards the near post. Acuna attempted an acrobatic attempt to put the ball on target but missed, allowing Gavran to fall on the ball.
Toronto had another opportunity in the 17th minute when a Medina handball gave the visitors a free kick. Antonoglou’s set piece was off the wall, providing Toronto with a corner. It eventually ended up with Adamo Pantaleo who shot from the top corner of the box, but it was high and wide of the target.
In the 23rd minute, Lucas Olguin sent a good ball forward for Mbongue, who shielded Kibunguchy to create a short breakaway. However, Otero came off his line to cut down the angle and blocked the shot away.
Two minutes later, Salim blocked a Batiz shot out for a Toronto corner that almost resulted in a second Toronto goal. The corner was too long, but Olguin laid the ball back for Pantaleo who fired from long distance. It was a good shot that appeared to be on target, but Otero stretched out in a diving attempt, tipping it wide of the goal for his second big save in three minutes.
In the 30th minute, Batiz did well to beat Freeman, but the OCB right back recovered well and blocked Batiz’s cross attempt out of play. The ensuing corner landed in the six-yard box, but no Toronto players could get on the end of it, allowing OCB to clear.
The Young Lions had their best first-half chance in the 32nd minute, when a quick give-and-go between Tablante and Solis enabled the former to send a low cross into the box. Acuna redirected the shot on target, but it was right at Gavran, who blocked it away. The rebound went to Loyola near the penalty spot, but he skied his shot over the goal.
OCB almost had another chance in the 36th minute, when Loyola’s pass out wide was knocked behind the end line by Olguin. The short corner was crossed into the box by Tablante with Kibunguchy charging in. Gavran’s punch didn’t leave the box, but nobody in purple could get on the end of it and Toronto cleared.
In the 40th minute, Granados fouled Antony Curic just outside of the OCB box, giving Toronto a good opportunity for a strike on goal. Markus Cimermancic took the set piece, curling it over the wall and on target. Otero’s view seemed to be slightly obstructed by several players, forcing him to dive and block it away.
Perelman made a somewhat surprising change in the 44th minute, bringing on Zakaria Taifi for his captain, Juninho. OCB had a late corner kick, but couldn’t make anything out of it and the Young Lions went into the break down 1-0.
OCB had more first-half possession (51.8%-48.2%), but Toronto had more shots (7-4), shots on target (4-1), and corners (5-3). The Young Lions had more crosses (7-3) and passing accuracy (86.1%-85.6%).
The fact that OCB was only down a goal at halftime was a positive as the Young Lions were thoroughly outplayed in the first 45 minutes. Without some fantastic goalkeeping by Otero, the scoreline could’ve been much worse.
While Toronto got off to the fast first-half start, it was the hosts that put on pressure to start the second 45 minutes. Less than two minutes in, Solis found Tablante out wide and the academy product sent a low cross into the box. It was to Loyola near the penalty spot, but he shot at Gavran, who blocked it away. The rebound went to Taifi, but Gavran stormed off his line to block the second attempt.
OCB kept possession after the block and it turned into the equalizing goal. Receiving the ball from Kibunguchy, Tablante raced towards the end line and sent a nearly identical pass to Loyola, who was standing in the same spot as his earlier attempt. Once again, Gavran made the stop, but this time it went to Freeman, who put it in to tie the game at 1-1.
Gavran made another big save in the 50th minute when Granados took a shot from just outside of the box. The Toronto goalkeeper did well to get down and block it out for a corner kick and caught the ensuing set piece to clear the danger.
In the 54th minute, Toronto took advantage of some more poor OCB defending. After Acuna’s shot missed the near post, Gavran played the goal kick short to Matthew Medeiros inside the Toronto box. Medeiros sent a long ball into the OCB half of the field and Kibunguchy appeared to have it under control. But he misplayed the long ball, allowing Mbongue to get in free on goal. He slipped the ball through Otero’s legs, regaining the lead for the visitors.
OCB had some chances to equalize around the 69th minute when the Young Lions had three consecutive corner kicks. The first came when a ball forward for Acuna was cleared out by Antonoglou, but it was cleared out of play by Alec Diaz. Solis connected with the second attempt, but it was blocked out by Mbongue. The third was headed on goal by Kibunguchy, and ended up in the arms of Gavran.
The OCB players felt that the Kibunguchy shot went off the arm of a defender and appealed to referee Natalie Simon for a handball in the box. But she didn’t agree and, with no video review in MLS NEXT Pro, play continued.
The Young Lions made their second substitution of the game in the 70th minute when Wilfredo Rivera came on for Granados. While it was a like-for-like change, Rivera is a first-team player coming on for a 16-year-old, so it was an aggressive move by Perelman.
OCB came close to an equalizer in the 74th minute when Solis chipped the ball into the box for Rivera. Pantaleo got to it first, but his clearance attempt sent the ball to the top of the six-yard box instead. Acuna beat center back Lazar Stefanovic to the ball and flicked it over Gavran, but the attempt was just over the crossbar.
After a miss by Kibunguchy and a Solis shot that went right to Gavran, the Young Lions found their second equalizer in the 84th minute. Pressure by Tablante forced Toronto into a turnover and Acuna shot from just outside of the box. Curic got his foot in the way, clearing it out for a corner kick. The ensuing corner by Rivera was into the mixer, but over the hand of Gavran. It landed on the head of Salim, who put it in to tie the game back up at 2-2.
“Today we played with heart, the second half especially. We made it happen,” Perelman said about his team coming back from two deficits. “But that was the players. They were inside, they pushed, they believed, they fought until the last second and they achieved it.”
OCB wasn’t resting with a draw and pushed hard for the win. In the 89th minute, Curic fouled Freeman, creating a chance for Loyola. The forward went for goal from just outside of the box, but Gavran punched it away.
Less than a minute later, they nearly gave it away when a pass by Medina was blocked by Olguin, allowing Julian Altobelli to take over. He played it wide for Antonoglou who sprinted into the OCB box and shot. Fortunately, Salim got back and blocked the attempt for a corner kick.
A minute into injury time, the hosts found the winner. Quickly pushing up field, Taifi found Loyola on the left, who played the ball towards the top of the box for Tablante. Starting at left back, Tablante had moved forward throughout the game and received the ball just outside of the box. The pass was a little behind him, but Tablante spun to maintain control and fired with his left foot. Gavran never had a chance, not even reaching out, and the Young Lions took their first lead with seconds remaining.
“The coach, he told me that it was going to happen. Actually, he told me that it was going to be me because I was having a great game,” Tablante said about his goal. “That was the only thing that I had left. I grabbed the ball there and shot it and thank God it went in.”
“I’m really proud of him,” Perelman said about Tablante. “I’m really happy for him. He’s a great boy. He fights a lot. He deserves it.”
Toronto led most statistical categories at halftime, but OCB dominated the second half. They ended up with more possession (55.7%-44.3%), shots (21-10), shots on target (12-5), corners (12-6), crosses (16-3), and passing accuracy (86.6%-81.9%).
“It was a crazy game,” Perelman said after the win. “We knew that the games against Toronto are like that. Last year, in all the games we analyzed from them, we know that they’re always crazy games. So we were there. We’re doing a great job. It’s not easy for our boys. A new team fighting every second, every meter. I’m proud of the boys. I’m really proud, especially in the second half.”
“It was a game for the team because we knew we were going to do it,” Tablante added. “We tied it and they scored another one. And thank God we are a strong team and we never went down mentally. And thank God we scored two more and we got the three points.”
The Young Lions are now 3-0-1 at Osceola County Stadium with a penalty shootout win. They also moved to the top of the Eastern Conference — at least temporarily — with 14 points, one ahead of their next opponent, Crown Legacy FC. However, they’ve played a game more than Crown Legacy and Columbus Crew 2 just behind. Crown Legacy plays New York City FC II tonight.
After Orlando City beat the LA Galaxy 2-0 and the Pride stunned San Diego Wave FC 3-1 last night, all three of the club’s teams won this weekend. It’s the first time that all three teams have won on the same weekend since August 12-14, 2022, when OCB beat NYCFC II, City beat the New York Red Bulls, and the Pride beat San Diego. However, while last time all three games were away, two of the games this weekend were at home.
Following a stretch of games that saw OCB play four of its last five at home, the Young Lions will now head out on a two-game road trip. It starts Friday night when they face Crown Legacy FC in North Carolina.