I can’t quite believe what I witnessed Saturday night. Orlando City erased a two-goal deficit in the final 15 minutes to overcome the Columbus Crew with essentially the last kick of the game. The Lions were 4-3 winners in a match they looked down and out of, and now have sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference.
What follows are my five takeaways on a match that I’m still struggling to get my head around.
Defensive Issues Dig a Hole
The Lions were up against it almost immediately. While the first Columbus goal didn’t arrive until the 16th minute, the suffocating press that the Crew deployed made it feel like just a matter of time. Sure enough, Diego Rossi’s chipped ball over the back line found Cucho Hernandez, who in turn lobbed Pedro Gallese, which allowed Julian Gressel to slot the ball into the empty net. The defense did not look settled in this one, and the Crew’s second goal in particular was an absolute horror show that the right side of the line won’t enjoy seeing on film. Granted, the Crew are a good team and some of their movement patterns aren’t things that the Lions have seen a ton of, but with two weeks to prepare for this game it simply had to be better.
Gallese Stands Tall
Fortunately, Orlando City owns a get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of Pedro Gallese. El Pulpo was beaten three times on the night but frankly was blameless on all of the goals. Things could have gotten much worse right before halftime but he made a fantastic pair of saves to deny Yaw Yeboah and then Hernandez after the rebound from Yeboah made its way to the Colombian’s feet. He made several other stops throughout the night to help keep the scoreline from getting too out of hand, and was generally a massive presence when it came to keeping a disorganized back line from falling to pieces. He makes this team that much harder to beat and hasn’t missed a beat since being on international duty with Peru.
In Praise of Felipe
I’ll be the first person to hold my hand up and say that I haven’t been the biggest fan of Felipe for most of this season. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why he got the nod next to Cesar Araujo instead of Junior Urso, but I was happy to be proven wrong. His stats weren’t eye-watering as he finished with two tackles, a foul committed, a foul drawn, an assist, and a key pass while delivering his passes with 87% accuracy, but for me this was his best game in an Orlando City shirt by a country mile. He looked extremely comfortable and at ease, whereas in some of his substitute appearances he’s struggled to adapt to the pace of the match when coming on. I want to talk about the key pass though. That sweet, sweet key pass. His chipped ball sprayed out wide that sprung Ivan Angulo and led to Martin Ojeda’s goal was a thing of pure beauty, and I could watch it over and over. He was sacrificed for Facundo Torres with Orlando chasing the game, but it certainly wasn’t because he put a bad shift in. Bravo, and I’ll happily eat my words on this one.
Facu Lights the Fire
Speaking of Facu, my word does he make a difference for this team. The fans know it, the team knows it — hell, people walking around on Central Avenue might have been able to feel the shift in the game when he came on. The team immediately not just looked, but also felt more dangerous, and it wasn’t an accident that he found space almost instantly and got a shot away. Other guys, like Ojeda and Ramiro Enrique had as good as or more statistically impressive nights, with a goal and an assist and a brace and an assist, respectively, and they absolutely deserve their flowers. But Facu coming into the game immediately shifted things and the Lions kicked into a higher gear. If he can figure out some semblance of a weak foot, then good luck trying to contain him.
Cat’s Won’t Quit
The shift in the game that occurred when Torres came on made it all the more discouraging when Hernandez scored what looked to be the dagger in the 68th minute. A 3-1 deficit simply seemed like too tall of a task, and the air well and truly went out of Exploria Stadium. Credit the Lions’ resilience and mental fortitude though. They found an answer through Torres just five minutes later and were right back in it all of a sudden. When Enrique equalized you could practically feel the belief oozing out of both the players and the fans alike. Orlando City just doesn’t know when to give up and doesn’t seem to have an ounce of quit up and down the entire roster. It’s truly something to behold, and the number of gritty, hard-fought wins from this season is beginning to get difficult to keep track of. At this point, I don’t know when, if ever, I’d feel comfortable counting OCSC out.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness some truly memorable games from these Lions. Some personal favorites include the first game back with a full stadium in 2021, which resulted in a weather-delayed 5-0 beatdown of the San Jose Earthquakes, the 3-2 win over Atlanta courtesy of a late Nani header, and pretty much the entirety of last year’s run to the U.S. Open Cup. But man, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that.
With as hopeless as the game looked, only for things to build the way they did over the final 15 minutes and culminate with a winner on practically the last kick of the game? Plus, considering the stakes with an eye-wateringly tight race at the top of the East? The sheer delirium and bedlam that was unleashed where I was in The Wall was otherworldly and nigh incomparable. Hell, I’m writing this at 1:30 a.m. after getting home from the match and I’m still wide awake. Our Sean Rollins put it best: this was a “where were you when” game.
Those are my five big thoughts from a match that will surely go down as an all-timer in Orlando City history. Be sure to share your thoughts on this one down in the comments. Vamos Orlando!