Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Final Score 2-2 as Cardiac Cats Fight Back for Road Point

Lions fall behind by two before the break but rally back to earn a hard-fought road point in Columbus.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

It looked like Orlando City was about to absorb another loss on its three-game road trip, but the Lions rallied for two second-half goals, erasing a 2-0 deficit and earning a 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field in Columbus, OH. Ercan Kara and Duncan McGuire brought Orlando City (4-4-3, 15 points) back after first-half goals by Darlington Nagbe and Jacen Russell-Rowe had given Columbus (4-4-3, 15 points) a two-goal advantage in the opening period.

The draw snapped Orlando’s two-game losing streak in all competitions but extended the Lions’ winless streak to three matches.

“A really hard game today against this rival with a lot of dynamic,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I think they showed that potential in the first half and confused us and went up the sides of the field and overloades us there. We couldn’t control it right away. We had moments that first half when we probably could have scored a goal and take that pressure off, but it was hard and even harder when they scored the first goal.

“I really liked the reaction of our players. I think they showed our braveness and character one more time.”

Pareja returned to the three-man back line, with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese behind a defensive line of Rodrigo Schlegel, Robin Jansson, and Antonio Carlos. Gaston Gonzalez and Ivan Angulo deployed as wingbacks outside of central midfielders Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena. Facundo Torres and Martin Ojeda played beneath striker Kara.

Orlando City controlled much of the game’s first eight minutes but the remainder of the first half was all Columbus.

Before the Crew took control of the match, Orlando did a better job of keeping the ball when they had it, but still couldn’t hit the target with anything. Cartagena and Ojeda both tried to chip Crew goalkeeper Patrick Schulte but both found out that doesn’t work when you can’t hit the goal frame. Kara also had a couple of shot attempts that went over the bar. That was it for Orlando’s offense in the opening 45 minutes.

After Ojeda made a bad back pass to ignite the break the other way, the Crew took over the match. Cucho Hernandez just barely missed the net on a few opportunities and those warning shots went unheeded by the Orlando defense, which gave everyone far too much room.

Columbus broke the scoreless deadlock by taking advantage of Orlando’s inability to execute a throw-in. The Lions threw the ball in, quickly turned it over, and then it was a cavalcade of being late to the next pass recipient before the ball ended up on the right side with Alexandru Matan. Once the ball was on the right, every available defender followed Hernandez’s diagonal run through the box, so once Matan’s pass trickled across the top of the six, it was just a matter of which Crew player would tap it in. Nagbe took charge of that in the 39th minute.

Just before the half, things got worse. Mohamed Farsi got the ball on the right and sent a simple cross into the box that no one was in position to cut out. It found Russell-Rowe in front and the 20-year-old completely dominated Orlando’s best center back, overpowering Carlos to double the lead in the second minute of first-half injury time.

Orlando was fortunate not to concede a third as the Crew quickly got back into the attacking third in the closing minutes of the half.

The Crew dominated the stat sheet, holding a commanding 65.5%-34.5% lead in possession and also finishing the half with more shots (9-4), shots on target (2-0), corners (3-1), and passing accuracy (85.4%-70.4%).

Pareja made no changes at halftime and his team responded quickly. The Lions pulled one back through Kara’s strike just four minutes after the restart. Torres played the Austrian in with a beautiful through ball that Kara played deftly with his feet to place the ball out in front for himself. He was 1-v-1 with Schulte and calmly slotted past the goalkeeper to make it 2-1 with his second goal of the regular season and third in all competitions.

The goal came on Orlando’s first shot on target in more than a game and a half.

“It was a little bit behind me,” Kara said of the Torres through ball. “But the first touch was okay and the finish was one on one against the goalkeeper. He decided to move a little bit earlier, before I shoot, and he (went) in the wrong direction.”

The Crew nearly pulled that goal back immediately. Hernandez fired a shot that missed the post by inches, skipping harmlessly wide in the 51st minute. Moments later, after Orlando won a corner, the Lions played it short but made such a mess of it that Hernandez broke the other way. Fortunately for Orlando City, several Lions were in good position to cut off the Crew striker.

Gallese made a save on Russell-Rowe in the 55th minute and he may not have seen the initial shot, which hit him in the chest and bounced away.

The Lions broke the other way and had a good chance to score but Kara’s back-post shot didn’t have enough curl on it and stayed wide. The Austrian had an open Ojeda on the other side of the box but may not have seen him before attempting the shot, as he was trailing the play.

Pareja sent on fullbacks Kyle Smith and Michael Halliday for Ojeda and Schlegel. It seemed like a shape change was on but the team played the same way with Halliday pushing high and Smith staying deep in what continued to be more or less a three-man back line.

Despite the change, the Crew nearly restored their two-goal lead in the 64th minute. Russell-Rowe sent Hernandez in behind and the Columbus Designated Player beat Gallese. However, Hernandez was just a tad offside and after a short video review by referee Drew Fischer, the goal was waved off.

Araujo found the ball at his feet in the box in the 67th minute off a corner kick, but the Uruguayan scuffed his shot badly.

Three minutes later, Gallese made a comfortable save on Yaw Yeboah, who fired right at the Orlando keeper. Moments after that, Jansson unwisely played a ball to Cartagena with Nagbe lurking. Nagbe won the ball and Cartagena had to concede a dangerous free kick and absorb a yellow card. Hernandez smashed the ensuing free kick into the wall and then sent the rebound well off target in the 75th minute.

The dead ball situation before the goal kick allowed Pareja to send on McGuire and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson into the match for Angulo and Cartagena in an attempt to get more attacking players on the pitch.

It didn’t work right away. Aidan Morris fired a shot right at Gallese moments later and then Jansson made a fantastic play in the open field to dispossess Hernandez to prevent a transition opportunity.

McGuire sent Halliday into the box in the 81st minute and the fullback had time and space. Trying to pick out the far post, the Homegrown Player wastefully skipped his shot wide.

Yeboah smashed a shot off Gallese in the 83rd minute but it took a fortunate bounce and went off to the goalkeeper’s left, where there were no attacking players. It then appeared the Lions’ comeback bid would fall short as the Crew won some corner kicks and kept Orlando pinned in its own end for a few minutes.

The Lions eventually broke out, clearing a corner and getting forward in the attack.

Orlando’s equalizer came a set piece — an area that hasn’t been kind to the club in 2023 so far. Off a cleared Crew corner kick, the ball ended up with Torres, who won a foul just outside the top of the Columbus penalty area. He and Thorhallsson stood over the dead ball before Torres knocked it to the right and two Crew players collided trying to clear it. The ball fell into the path of McGuire, who smashed it off of Schulte and into the net for the equalizer in the 92nd minute. It was his team-leading fourth goal of the season.

Orlando saw out the remaining four minutes of stoppage time but it wasn’t without some scary moments. In the 94th minute, Gallese made the save of the match. A cross came into the box to substitute Isaiah Parente, who sent his first touch toward goal. The ball hit Smith and bounced toward goal but Gallese made a great reaction save to keep the game tied.

A minute later, Yeboah smashed a shot just wide after Araujo turned the ball over trying to send a breakout pass up the pitch.

Eventually, though, the Lions got over the finish line and earned a road point.

The Lions closed the gap in possession but the Crew still had more of it (59.5%-40.5%), along with more shots (22-10), shots on target (7-3), corners (6-5), and passing accuracy (84.7%-72.8%).

“The second half was great,” Pareja said. “The players took the game by the horns and I saw our team playing much more football and having that volume going forward and we tied it up. A deserved game for us and again credit for these players that showed character. Our willingness is intact.”

The Lions will enjoy this draw, as they won a point from a losing position in the second half on the road.

“It feels not like a draw, it feels like a win, because we came back from 2-0,” Kara said. “That gives us energy, motivation for Wednesday that we are able to play better. Now we need to put one step more on it, be all together, go out on Wednesday, and win the game.”

Orlando City’s road trip is over as the Lions head home for a midweek matchup Wednesday night against New York City FC.


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