KISSIMMEE — Orlando City B (13-10-5, 46 points) beat FC Cincinnati 2 (7-17-4, 27 points) 2-1 in its regular-season finale at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee this afternoon. Jack Lynn gave OCB the lead in the 16th minute with his league-leading 19th goal of the season. Ryan Belal equalized in the 61st minute, but Shak Mohammed scored shortly after, netting the winning goal. The win secures the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro playoffs.
OCB Head Coach Martin Perelman made three changes to the team that drew 1-1 with Chicago Fire II on Sept. 15. Abdi Salim and Lynn returned to OCB from the first team and were joined in the lineup by Wilfredo Rivera. They replaced Thomas Williams, Moises Tablante, and Mohammed.
The back line in front of goalkeeper Javier Otero was Imanol Almaguer, Nabi Kibunguchy, Salim, and Franco Perez. Alex Freeman, Cristian Medina, Juninho, and Jhon Solis were in the midfield with Rivera and Lynn up top.
OCB dominated this game from the start, creating far more chances than Cincinnati. The Young Lions should have put the game away in the first half, but let the visitors hang around. It looked like they would pay for that when Cincinnati found an equalizer in the second half. But an inspired substitution right after the goal resulted in a quick response and the winning strike.
As usual, the Young Lions tried to get off to a fast start. Solis played Perez down the left inside the first minute with Lynn and Rivera making runs into the box. It was hard to tell if Perez was trying to shoot or cross, but he sent the ball wide of the near post.
OCB had its second chance of the game in the sixth minute when Salim Adams fouled Juninho near the top of the Cincinnati box. The OCB captain stood over the ball with Medina before Juninho stepped up to take the kick. He got the ball over the wall, but it was into the arms of Cincinnati goalkeeper Hunter Morse.
In the 10th minute, Nicholas McHenry cleared the ball out of play, giving OCB another chance from the corner. Perez’s set piece found the head of Kibunguchy in the box, but the center back couldn’t get over it, sending the attempt over the crossbar.
The visitors got their first chance of the game in the 13th minute when Gerardo Valenzuela took a long-distance shot from well outside of the box. It didn’t cause any trouble for Otero, going well over the goal.
The Young Lions finally converted in the 16th minute. Haroun Conteh fouled Perez to the left of goal and about 25 yards away. Rivera stepped up to take the set piece, sending the cross to the top of the six-yard box where Lynn outjumped everyone, reaching it first and heading it past Morse to give OCB the 1-0 lead.
The goal was Lynn’s 19th of the season, passing NYCFC II’s Matt Myers to give the striker the MLS NEXT Pro golden boot lead, although Myers went on to score from the penalty spot in his team’s win over Inter Miami 2.
“My teammates are putting me in good positions to score,” Lynn said about his 19 goals. “That’s the most important thing.”
OCB nearly had another goal two minutes later when Juninho was sent behind the Cincinnati defense. He took a couple of touches before unleashing a shot, but those touches provided enough time for a defender to slide in and block it away.
Cincinnati had trouble gaining possession in the OCB half during the first 20 minutes, but Adams found space for a pair of long-distance shots in the 24th and 28th minutes. The midfielder was able to keep both shots down, but they went well wide of the target. Between those chances, Valenzuela attempted to play Belal into the OCB box, but Kibunguchy did well to get his foot in front of the pass.
Rivera showed off his individual skill in the 34th minute, using a nifty spin to create space for a shot. The move left Adams on the ground, but Rivera’s shot was over the crossbar.
In the 38th minute, Cincinnati used some quick passing that enabled Jesus Castellano to play Belal through. However, the ball was too close to Otero and the OCB goalkeeper collected it.
On the other end, Perez made a long run towards the Cincinnati box and played the ball through for Rivera. Morse reacted quickly, jumping off his line to reach the pass before Rivera could get to it.
OCB created a couple of chances in first-half stoppage time, but weren’t close. A foul on Rivera resulted in a short free kick to Solis. The midfielder took a shot at goal, but sent it high. Shortly after, Medina played Lynn into the Cincinnati box. The striker cut inside to lose his defenders, but slipped. He attempted to recover and shoot, but was off balance and sent the ball high and wide of the target.
The Young Lions dominated the first half and probably should’ve had a multi-goal lead. After 45 minutes of action, OCB had more possession (61.9%-38.1%), shots (9-4), shots on target (2-0), corner kicks (3-0), and crosses (3-1), and passed more accurately (91.1%-84.8%).
OCB had the first attack of the second half and a great chance to double the lead. Rivera flicked the ball into the box, where Perez had gotten behind his defender. The left back was first to the ball, but waited too long to shoot. Center back Joey Akpunonu was able to get in front of the shot, blocking it out of play.
Looking to seal the golden boot, Lynn took a chance in the 50th minute. He was sent forward by Freeman and took a curling shot on the run from outside of the box, but sent it well wide of the target.
FC Cincinnati 2 had its first good chance shortly after, when Kibunguchy fouled Castellano outside of the OCB box. Valenzuela stepped up to take the free kick and went for goal, but sent the attempt over the target.
The Ohio-based team had another set piece just outside of the OCB box in the 56th minute when Castellano was taken down by Rivera. Castellano took the set piece, but sent it straight into the wall, enabling OCB to clear.
In the 58th minute, a low Cincinnati cross into the box was blocked out of play by Kibunguchy. The ensuing corner kick was cleared and OCB broke on the counter attack. Morse was off his line and Rivera took the opportunity to send a long shot from midfield. It got over the head of the Cincinnati goalkeeper, but drifted wide.
Despite being outplayed, FC Cincinnati 2 found an equalizer in the 61st minute. Valenzuela played Belal to the top of the OCB box and the forward did well to cut back, losing the sliding Salim. His first touch after the move was a hard shot past Otero to even the game at 1-1.
Immediately after the goal, Perelman made his first two changes of the game. Tablante and Mohammed came on for Freeman and Rivera.
It didn’t take long for the Young Lions to respond, retaking the lead two minutes later through one of the substitutes. Receiving a short pass from Juninho just inside of the box, Mohammed felt the defender closing in on him and spun to create space for a shot. It was a difficult angle, but he beat Morse to give the Young Lions a 2-1 lead.
Cincinnati almost had a second equalizer in the 67th minute when Valenzuela had space to shoot from inside of the OCB box. The midfielder didn’t miss by much, sending a hard shot just over the crossbar.
Solis was even closer in the 69th minute. Receiving the ball just outside of the Cincinnati box, the midfielder sent a curling shot beyond the outreached arms of Morse and off the crossbar.
Otero didn’t have a lot to do in this game, but he was called into action in the 73rd minute. Valenzuela received the ball at the top of the box from Jiovanny Mora and sent a low attempt that was heading inside the near post. The OCB goalkeeper dove to his right, tipping it wide.
Solis had another good chance in the 75th minute when he took a shot from outside of the Cincinnati box. The ball appeared to be heading in, but Morse got his fingertips to it, tipping it over the crossbar.
A minute later, OCB hit the crossbar for the second time in the second half. This time it was Mohammed, looking for a brace. The forward received the ball on the right and was aiming for the far corner, but the ball bounced off the crossbar, keeping the score at 2-1.
The Young Lions continued to push for a third goal to put the game away. In the 85th minute Perez took a shot from distance. It was on target but right to Morse. A minute later, Juninho made a nice run into the box, split his defenders, and shot on goal. However, Morse was up to the challenge, getting down to block the attempt out of play.
Attempting to hold onto the one-goal lead, Perelman made three defensive changes in the final minutes. Zakaria Taifi and Dominic Bell entered the game in the 88th minute for Juninho and Medina. The final change came in the 90th minute as Thomas Bowe replaced Solis.
The fourth official showed three minutes of second-half stoppage time and the Young Lions controlled the final minutes. FC Cincinnati 2 was unable to get any possession and OCB saw the game out, winning its final regular-season game of 2023.
At full time, OCB had more possession (58.6%-41.4%), shots (18-12), shots on target (6-3), corners (7-3), and crosses (7-6), and passed more accurately (89.5%-84.6%). Cincinnati was much more threatening in the second half but rarely put Otero under pressure. It should’ve been a more comfortable win, but the Young Lions took all three points.
“It was a difficult game to play. We wanted to finish the regular season with a win at home because I think and I believe that the victories here were a big part of the regular season and allowed us to clinch the five position,” Perelman said. “So, we’re happy with the result and the performance as well and are ready for the playoffs.”
“It was good. It was a hot one,” Lynn added. “I think we did a good job controlling our energy. You know, picking our moments when to play fast, when to play slow. And it’s always good to get a win.”
More importantly, the win saw the Young Lions clinch the fifth seed in the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro playoffs. As a result, they’ll face whoever the second and third seeds don’t choose as their opponent.
“I want to achieve the maximum possible with this team. I believe in this group of players. I believe in all the staff, our managers, our first team here in Orlando,” Perelman said. “There’s a big family with a team mentality doing strong work. So, I hope we can put this team as high as possible because I believe it will be fair for all of us.”
“I think we can play better than anyone. It’s just if we show up on the day or not,” Lynn added about the team’s chances in the playoffs. “So, being focused going into every game is going to be super important for us.”
OCB will begin its first MLS NEXT Pro playoff campaign, and second postseason ever, next weekend on the road against a yet-to-be-named opponent.