Ercan Kara scored another goal and assisted on the winner as Orlando City got back in the win column with a 3-1 victory over Inter Miami at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. The Lions (5-4-4, 19 points) conceded a second-half equalizer to Leonardo Campana, but Martin Ojeda and Rafael Santos added goals to lead Orlando past its intrastate rival, Miami (5-8-0, 15 points).
The win turned a four-match winless skid (0-2-2) in all competitions into a modest three-game unbeaten run (1-0-2). The Lions improved to 5-3-2 in the all-time, regular-season series, 5-3-3 in all competitions against Miami, and 2-3-0 at DRV PNK Stadium.
“We’re very happy to just have such a performance here on this field against a main rival, so we’re very proud,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “Also I want to congratulate the players with the way they played tonight. I think it was until minute 60 until there was a first shot against. So, we had a very solid structure and the character for them, the initiative to play the game and be protagonists in an away game, it was super.”
Pareja’s lineup offered a few surprises. Without Michael Halliday (international duty), the prevailing thought was that the Lions would return to a back line with three center backs, as has been used primarily in road games this year. Instead, Pedro Gallese started in goal behind a four-man back line of Santos, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith — starting just one yellow card short of suspension for accumulation. Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena continued to log miles in central midfield during a busy May schedule behind an attacking line of Gaston Gonzalez, Facundo Torres, and Ivan Angulo, with Kara up top.
Orlando City dominated the first half in terms of chances and creating threatening situations. That started just five minutes in when Gonzalez got down the left channel on a nice pass from Torres, but the Argentine’s cross was too close to goalkeeper Drake Callender, who caught it. Two minutes later, it was Torres spoiling a nice buildup with a heavy touch in traffic. He caught back up to the ball but then sent too heavy a through ball forward for Gonzalez, and it went out of play.
At the 10-minute mark, Kara rattled the goal frame when Angulo’s cross found him in transition, and the big Austrian escaped from the marking of former Lion Kamal Miller and headed off the left post. Kara was sent in behind in the 12th minute but the flag came up and Callender made a fantastic reaction save against him anyway.
In the 13th minute, it was Angulo getting to the end line and having his cross deflect high. It may have gone in, but Callender leaped up and tipped it to himself to keep it out.
Orlando finally cashed in at minute 19. The Lions won a throw-in on their right side and Araujo went over to take it. The Uruguayan’s long throw found Kara at the near post. The striker was able to fend off a great deal of grabbing and tugging and nodded the ball behind himself. Callender couldn’t react in time and the ball went in to make it 1-0. It was Kara’s third consecutive game with a goal and his fourth in five league games.
Referee Ramy Touchan then started to give out some weird cards. Antonio Carlos was booked for his first foul, which was a rather mundane-looking one against Campana. Angulo got one later for kicking the ball back to the spot of an innocuous-looking foul on Kara.
But the bigger issue for Orlando was a lack of killing off the half. Torres and Angulo fired wide of goal in the 28th and 30th minutes, respectively, despite having plenty of space at the top of the area. A minute after Angulo’s miss, Gonzalez did well to get around his defender inside the left side of the box, but then he sent his cross into the middle of several Miami players instead of anywhere near a teammate.
Inter Miami made a sub at minute 33, sacrificing Sergii Kryvstov for Nicolas Stefanelli, and changed to a four-man back line look. That helped the hosts win more possession — Orlando had most of the ball to that point — but they didn’t create much with it, although they started keeping the ball for much longer spells and snuffing out Orlando counters more successfully.
Angulo got caught between two minds at the top of the area in the 45th minute and fired a shot about 15 or 20 yards wide right of goal.
The Lions saw out an unexpected six minutes of stoppage time and took their 1-0 lead into the break.
The Herons had more possession in the opening half (58.9%-41.1%), due in large part to holding most of the ball after their shape change, and they passed more accurately (83.7%-75.9%). The Lions fired more shots (5-0) and more shots on target (1-0), and won the lone corner of the opening period. However, a lack of precision continued to plague the team and kept the lead from growing.
Holding the hosts without a shot showed how the first half went, despite the teams only being separated by one goal at the break.
“In the first half, I thought we all had a great game,” Araujo said. “And being able to maintain that zero (shots against) in the first half was very important to set up ourselves in the second half. I think we hit all together in a great moment, and we were able to take home three points.”
“I think we played one of our best 35 minutes in the first half,” Pareja said. “We dominated the game. We had personality to dominate the possession and create chances. And then Miami changed their model. They took one of the center backs off the field and they brought one of their midfielders who started getting in behind our two midfielders. That made us drop 10-15 yards that we didn’t want (to do). The problem was that we lost possession of the ball because we started giving the ball away again.”
Not much changed to start the second half. Miami kept the ball more and worked it around, but after halftime the Herons were able to start finding enough space to attempt shots.
Chances at the other end were few to start the second period, but Kara did get to a corner cross that was a bit behind him and headed it over the bar in the 50th minute. Two minutes later, the Lions stole the ball in the attacking third and broke in transition, but Angulo took too many touches at the top of the box trying to figure out what to do with it and ultimately lost control of it.
The Herons made Orlando pay for not extending the lead — and for a bad turnover — in the 57th minute. A poor — and very much telegraphed — outlet pass from Santos to Torres was easily won by DeAndre Yedlin in the attacking third, and the ball was quickly given to Josef Martinez. Araujo came to close him down and then ran with the former Atlanta striker when he dropped it off for Campana. The Miami Designated Player made a move to cut back against an aggressive close-out by Cartagena, and then had time and space to blast a shot high past Gallese to tie the match. Cartagena nearly recovered to block it but couldn’t make contact and the game was level.
Gallese kept things from getting worse in the 63rd minute when Dixon Arroyo had time outside the area and drove a hard shot on frame. El Pulpo got down to make the save on a difficult ball that bounced right in front of him.
Seconds later, Gonzalez pulled up and went down in apparent pain. He was subbed off along with Smith. Rodrigo Schlegel and Ojeda came on and Orlando went to a three-center-back system. That helped the team regain some control of the match, as the Lions were again able to get into transition opportunities and find outlets that they couldn’t in the middle third of the game.
Pareja said he wanted to see if his team could re-establish itself to start the second half, but that not only didn’t happen but the hosts also equalized.
“The goal came and made me decide to change the model,” he said. “We knew Miami was going to give us spaces in behind and at some point we were going to bring fresh players and we thought of exploiting those spaces. And that happened. That was a very good job from the players who made us look much better.”
It only took a few minutes for the changes to pay off. Schlegel sent a long ball forward in the 68th minute that Kara deftly flicked on, sending Ojeda in behind the defense. The Argentine calmly slotted his shot past Callender to restore Orlando City’s lead.
Five minutes later, the Lions had an opportunity to put the game away as Torres was sent into the left side of the box. Before the Young Designated Player could square himself to shoot or pass, he slipped and the ball trickled out of play for a goal kick.
Pareja sent Duncan McGuire and Mauricio Pereyra on moments later, providing fresh legs for the attack, and again it paid off.
Just seconds after entering, Pereyra got the ball and threaded it between two defenders to McGuire in the box. The rookie tried to turn and shoot but the ball was deflected away. In the 79th minute, Santos ran onto a ball that was knocked out of the Miami area and hit a shot just wide of the right post. That served as a warning shot for later and Inter Miami did not heed the warning.
Orlando got forward more often and Miami’s buildups started to look less threatening as the extra OCSC defenders had the desired effect. On one foray up the field, Araujo had a go from distance. He struck the shot well but put it right in Callender’s breadbasket in the 84th minute.
Two minutes later, the Lions put the game to bed. Araujo and late substitute Dagur Dan Thorhallsson played the ball back and forth in the Orlando end, before Araujo came forward and picked out Pereyra with a pass. The captain’s first touch sent Ojeda down the right flank. Ojeda crossed the ball in for McGuire’s run, and when the defense arrived to shut down the rookie, he laid it off for Santos. This time, the left back didn’t miss, sending a shot through a defender’s legs and inside the right post for the insurance goal in the 86th minute.
It was Santos’ first MLS goal and it provided Orlando a third goal in a match for the first time all season. The Lions hadn’t scored more than two goals in a match since last season, when they beat Toronto FC, 4-0, on Sept. 17.
Miami’s frustrations spilled over a bit after that and there were some ugly fouls and some jawing between the teams, but not much came of it. McGuire bore the brunt of those fouls. Orlando saw out the rest of the game with only one major scare, but Jansson did well to make a vital slide tackle to not only prevent Martinez from getting a scoring chance, but also winning a goal kick in the process.
Inter Miami ended up with a lopsided advantage in possession (61.1%-38.9%), but failed to threaten much with it, although constantly working the ball left to right, backwards and then back the other way also enabled the Herons to finish with a higher passing accuracy (86.4%-77%) and more corners (3-2). The Lions had more shots (11-6) and more shots on target (4-2).
“It was a great game, and thankfully, we were able to take all three points, which is something that we try to do whether we’re playing at home or we’re playing on the road,” Araujo said. “I thought we played well today.”
“Just thrilled for our fans. Obviously it’s a derby. It was very emotional for us to see that corner dressed in purple,” Pareja said. “Many trusting the team, supporting us. They deserve this and I promise that we won’t stop working to see if we can get this better and better.”
The Lions will get an honest-to-goodness normal work week ahead of next Saturday’s match against Atlanta United at Exploria Stadium.