10 Man Orlando City secures top four in MLS Eastern Conference with victory over Columbus Crew

Orlando City SC secured a top-four berth in the Eastern Conference for the first time with a dramatic 2-1 win over Columbus Crew SC on Wednesday night at Exploria Stadium.

After going down to 10 men when their Captain Nani was sent off, Benji Michel notched a late game-winner in the 84th minute. The win locked up an Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs home match for the Lions and the result eliminated Columbus from contention for the Supporters’ Shield.

The game started well for Orlando as they created several good opportunities to open the scoring.  First Júnior Urso (pictured above) found himself wide open on the penalty spot and with just Crew keeper Eloy Room to beat, he somehow fired wide. Moments later both Nani and Tesho Akindele should have done better from more difficult opportunities outside the box that didn’t test Room.

The opening goal came in the 27th minute as the Crew turned the ball over to influential midfielder Mauricio Pereyra and he fed Chris Mueller (pictured above) on the six yard box and the youngster made no mistake in notching his 10th goal of the season.

Orlando should then have extended their lead in the 30th minute but for the heroics of Room who pulled off a double save from Kyle Smith.

Half Time : Orlando 1 Columbus 0

The second half started in dramatic fashion as after video review, referee Ramy Touchan gave Nani a red card in the 52nd minute that had the men in purple utterly bewildered. It was hard not to sympathize with the Orlando players as even after several television replays, it still wasn’t clear what offense the Portuguese midfielder had committed although there was a suggestion that he had lifted his foot slightly as he completed his tackle on Harrison Afful.

With a man advantage, Columbus wasted little time in finding an equalizer and four minutes later they struck as Afful struck a left-footed rocket that fizzed past Pedro Gallese in the Orlando goal to the top left corner.

The Crew then took the initiative and camped out in the Orlando half but couldn’t create anything significant. A succession of corners yielded nothing and it was from those that the Lions sought to break. Three or four times they broke away and earned free kicks around the edge of the penalty area but each time the Crew cleared.

Then the moment of the match arrived. A long ball from Pereyra found Michel a few yards outside the “D” of the penalty area. The 23 year old flicked the ball up and past Crew defender Aboubacar Keita with his head and then in one movement he chested the ball down and fired through Room’s legs to regain the lead.

Full Time: Orlando 2 Columbus 1

After the game Orlando City SC Head Coach Oscar Pareja said: “First of all, I think the first half was very good. One of the best we have had and the volume that we had and the creativity and the connections we were looking for and it was very consistent during the whole half with six or seven chances that we had. The desire to impose our game against a very good team, it was remarkable. The second half, we knew Columbus was going to come for the reactions, normally, and we found this play with Nani where obviously we disagree, totally. We’ll have the opportunity to review it, but after that I think the heart of our players came up and they showed what they have this year. A team who may not be made by the best players, but are a bunch of players that make each other better and better and I’m very proud. I’ve said it before tonight, it’s an honor for me to coach these guys and I give the credit to them. It’s nothing else. It was their heart and the three points against a very good rival at home and we secured our spot for playoffs and a home game which is another objective accomplished, so we’re good. We’re good, a lot of emotions today, but it was worth it.”

Orlando will conclude its MLS regular season on Decision Day on Sunday 8th November against Nashville SC. Kick off 3.30pm ET.

Lineups/Substitutions:

Orlando City SC – GK Pedro Gallese; D Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Ruan; M Mauricio Pereyra (Joey DeZart 88’), Júnior Urso (Rodrigo Schlegel 88’), Andrés Perea, Chris Mueller (Sebastián Méndez 57’); F Nani ©, Tesho Akindele (Benji Michel 70’)

Substitutes Not Used: GK Brian Rowe; D Alex De John, Kamal Miller; F Matheus Aiás, Alexander Alvarado

Columbus Crew SC – GK Eloy Room; D Waylon Francis, Aboubacar Keita, Jonathan Mensah ©, Harrison Afful; M Artur, Darlington Nagbe (Aidan Morris 69’), Pedro Santos, Lucas Zelarayán (Youness Mokhtar 69’), Luis Díaz (Derrick Etienne Jr. 59’); F Gyasi Zardes (Krisztián Németh 78’)

Substitutes Not Used: GK Andrew Tarbell; D Chris Cadden, Milton Valenzuela, Josh Williams; M Emmanuel Boateng

More photos at FloridaLeisurePhotography.com

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