Orlando City B (12-10-5, 43 points) secured its first playoff appearance in MLS NEXT Pro and second in team history with a 1-1 draw against Chicago Fire II (9-8-10, 41 points) in Illinois. Sergio Oregel gave the hosts the lead in the 17th minute, but Chicago was unable to double the advantage. OCB had a much better second half, and substitute Wilfredo Rivera equalized in the 71st minute. The Young Lions won the ensuing penalty shootout, 4-3, to return home with two points.
OCB Head Coach Martin Perelman made two changes to the team that drew 1-1 with New England Revolution II last weekend. It appears that Abdi Salim and Jack Lynn are both with the first team preparing for the match tomorrow night, replaced in the lineup by Thomas Williams and Jhon Solis, who returned after serving his suspension against New England.
The Young Lions went with their typical 4-4-2 formation in this game. The starting back line in front of goalkeeper Javier Otero was Franco Perez, Williams, Nabi Kibunguchy, and Imanol Almaguer. Cristian Medina, Juninho, Alex Freeman, and Moises Tablante were in the midfield with Shak Mohammed and Solis up top.
Chicago was by far the better team in the first 30 minutes and could’ve been up multiple goals before OCB took its first shot. But it remained 1-0 at halftime, enabling the Young Lions to get back into the game. A strong second-half team all year, OCB did it again, dominating the second 45 minutes to pull level.
The game got off to a slow start with neither team creating any dangerous chances. Charlie Ostrem took a long-distance shot in the second minute and Eric Leonard in the 11th minute, but both were blocked. In the 12th minute, Oregel played the ball to the top of the box for Missael Rodriguez, but his shot missed wide.
The hosts nearly opened the scoring in the 15th minute when Billy Hency dribbled into the OCB box for the second time. He cut inside to lose Perez — who reached his right leg out but didn’t get enough of the ball — and shot for the near post. Otero dove to his left, tipping the ball wide.
Chicago broke through in the 17th minute when Rodriguez received the ball in the middle of the field. He played it for Oregel, who continued the ball out right for Hency. The midfielder’s pass for Rodrigeuz was behind and it looked like OCB might clear. Dylan Borso and Juninho both went after the ball and it bounced off Borso’s arm, but referee Calin Radosav didn’t call it. The ball went back to Oregel, who put it past Otero to give the Fire a 1-0 lead.
In the 22nd minute, Hency found Luka Prpa at the top of the OCB box. Prpa’s shot was rising as it neared the OCB goal and Otero reached up for it, but the attempt ultimately went over the crossbar.
The Young Lions finally created their first attack in the 26th minute. Juninho made a long run into the Chicago box and centered the ball for Mohammed near the penalty spot. The pass was behind the forward, so Mohammed played it to Tablante on his left. Tablante made some moves to create space for a shot, but Hency did well to stay in front and blocked the attempt.
OCB was able to create some more opportunities from set pieces but was unable to convert. In the 31st minute, Prpa fouled Freeman, earning a yellow card. The free kick by Almaguer was into the box, but cleared away.
Three minutes later, Borso fouled Solis about 25 yards from goal. Almaguer was expected to lift another cross into the box, but quickly stepped up to the ball and fired on goal, attempting to catch the defense off guard. However, his shot skied over the crossbar and was never a threat for Chicago goalkeeper Jeff Gal.
Juninho found Tablante to his left in the 35th minute, but the midfielder’s second shot of the half was blocked. That was the last first-half chance for either team as the game went to the break with Chicago leading 1-0.
Possession was almost even in the first 45 minutes, with Chicago holding a slight edge (50.1%-49.9%). But the Fire created most of the chances, ending the first half with more shots (6-3), shots on target (2-0), and crosses (4-1). OCB passed more accurately (88.4%-85%) and both teams won two corner kicks.
Perelman made a surprising halftime change, replacing the team’s second-leading goal scorer Mohammed with Cristofer Acuna. Immediately after the kickoff, the Fire created a chance when Oregel sent Rodriguez behind the OCB defense. The forward was pushed wide, but got away a shot on target. Otero was guarding his near post and got down to make the stop.
OCB created its first shot on target in the 49th minute from Perez just outside of the Chicago box. It forced Gal to dive to his left and tip the ball wide for a corner kick. The ensuing short corner resulted in an Oregel foul on Juninho just outside of the Chicago 18. Almaguer sent a curling cross towards the back post, but it was too high for Williams to put it on target, glancing off the top of his head.
As he’s done several times this year, Juninho attempted to drag his team back into the game as it neared the hour mark. In the 51st minute, the OCB captain dribbled into the box and shot, but it was right at Gal. Five minutes later, the midfielder took an ambitious shot from outside of the box. He kept it low, but it was right to Gal who made the easy save.
Perelman made his second change in the 61st minute and it was a forward for a defender. Rivera came on for left back Perez, resulting in Tablante dropping back to left back, where he’s played frequently since 2020.
It looked like OCB would have a great chance in the 64th minute when Juninho was sent forward to the top of the Chicago box. After a challenge with the defender, Juninho went down. Both teams stopped, expecting Radosav to call the foul, but he decided there wasn’t enough contact.
An unusual and confusing situation occurred in the 67th minute when Kibunguchy and Rodriguez got together near the OCB box. The Young Lions ended up with the ball and went on the counter attack. After failing to create anything, Radosav halted the game as Rodriguez was still down. He gave Kibunguchy a yellow card for the collision and Perelman a yellow for dissent after the play.
OCB had been the more threatening team in the second half and found the equalizer in the 71st minute. Receiving the ball from Tablante near the end line, Juninho sent a low pass to Rivera at the top of the six-yard box. But it hit the foot of Prpa and popped up for Rivera. The second-half substitute’s diving header went past Gal to even the game at 1-1.
The Young Lions had more chances in the 75th minute when Tablante saved the ball from going out of play, but his pass into the middle was blocked out by Ueland for a corner kick. The short set piece ended up with Freeman in the box and his shot was blocked for another corner. This one didn’t result in an OCB shot as Chicago won a goal kick.
In the 81st minute, Hency found Rodriguez going forward. Rodriguez took a shot shortly after entering the box, but it was blocked out of play by Williams for a corner kick. That was the last action for Rodriguez as he was immediately replaced.
The corner ended up with Matteo Kidd, who took a hard shot from distance. It looked like it would’ve been on target, but Williams came charging in to block it, enabling OCB to clear the danger.
On the other end, OCB nearly took its first lead of the night. With his back to goal at the top of the box, Juninho laid the ball off for the oncoming Solis. The midfileder’s first touch was a hard shot towards the near post, but it went just wide.
In the 90th minute, Hency cleared the ball out of play for an OCB corner kick. The set piece found the foot of Kibunguchy in the box and the center back’s first touch was a shot. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get over it, sending the ball well over the target.
The Young Lions nearly scored a winner in the third minute of stoppage time when Tablante sent a cross towards the back post. It looked to be too close to Gal, but went over his head and off the far post. The Chicago defense nearly headed it into the goal but it went just wide for a corner. That was the last chance as the game ended 1-1.
At full time, OCB had more possession (54.2%-45.8%), shots (12-11), corners (9-2), and crosses (7-5), and passed more accurately (87%-83.8%). Chicago put more shots on target (4-3), but only one past Otero.
NYCFC II’s draw and shootout win over Toronto FC II earlier in the evening meant that the Young Lions only needed a point to clinch a spot in the MLS NEXT Pro playoffs. It’s the first time they’ve seen the postseason in the young league and the second time they’ve made the postseason in team history.
While they did their job and clinched a playoff spot, the draw meant the game would go to penalties to see which team got an extra point. Freeman started the shootout by putting his attempt into the corner. Prpa stepped up for Chicago and also went for the corner. But Otero guessed correctly and stopped it to give OCB the lead after one round.
Medina took the second attempt for the Young Lions and went right down the middle. Gal dove to his left, but left his legs back enough to block the attempt. Defender Noah Egan put his penalty past Otero to make it 1-1 after two rounds.
The shootout settled down after that with Juninho, Solis, and Acuna comfortably netting their penalties. Michael Nesci sent Otero the wrong way, but the 20-year-old goalkeeper nearly ended it in the fourth round when he got a hand to Justin Reynolds’ attempt. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get enough of it to keep it out.
After Acuna put his shot into the roof to give the Young Lions the fifth-round lead, Ostrem stepped up needing to convert. He put his attempt down the middle, nearly identical to Medina earlier. However, Otero was able to keep his legs back, blocking the shot and OCB took two points on the night.
OCB remains in fifth place with one game remaining in the regular season and can’t catch Columbus Crew 2 for fourth. However, the Young Lions still have plenty to play for next weekend. They can still finish fifth, sixth, or seventh, potentially determining if they can get a home game in the postseason.
The Young Lions will return home to end their second MLS NEXT Pro regular season next Sunday when they face FC Cincinnati 2 at Osceola County Stadium.