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The opening day of the 2016 MLS season started badly for some 60,000+ Orlando City Soccer fans who arrived at the Orlando Citrus Bowl to the news that star Brazilian play maker Kaká was ruled out of the game due to a thigh injury. It was a day that thousands has looked forward to since the end of the 2015 season and it seemed to be going from bad to worse as the team entered the 94th minute of injury time trailing 2-0 to an efficient Real Salt Lake side.
Somehow, in the course of one frantic minute, the Lions managed to grab a goal and then seconds later smashed home an equalizer to earn an unlikely point in an astonishing finish to the match.
In truth, Orlando were much the better side and thoroughly deserved the draw but aside from the closing climax the game will be remembered for some odd decisions by referee Chris Penso (pictured above) that hugely affected the game.
The first controversial moment came in the 8th minute when Cyle Larin (pictured above) turned the ball home after a pass through from Darwin Cerén. The linesman kept his flag down for at least 10 seconds before raising it after the referee decided the ball had touched Brek Shea on the way through to Larin therefore making him offside. It was a tight decision.
Three minutes later Demar Phillips saw yellow for bringing down Kevin Molino on the edge of the box. Nine minutes later Phillips got his marching orders as he competed with Larin for a loose ball in midfield. It was a harsh decision as Penos adjudged the Salt Lake player had taken down the Orlando forward illegally even though replays suggested it was simply a 50:50 ball.
In the 26th minute, Penso got a penalty decision correct as Hines pulled down Yura Movsisyan just inside the penalty box. Given the inconsistent performance from Penso to that point, you might have been forgiven for thinking another red was coming as arguably the foul denied a clear goal scoring opportunity.
The cards stayed in Penso’s pocket though and Joao Plata (pictured above) duly stepped up to convert the spot kick despite Orlando keeper Joe Bendik getting a hand on the effort.
The Lions eleven men then continued to dominate possession but simply couldn’t find the final ball to get them back in the game as half time approached. As the game entered the second minute of first half injury time Penso then found the way to his pocket for a second red card in the match.
The lead up to this saw Cerén play a sloppy ball in midfield to Shea who couldn’t hold it under challenge from two Salt Lake players. Pedro Ribeiro did well to win the ball back for the Lions and was clearly fouled in the process. Penso simply ignored this and allowed Salt Lake’s Javier Morales to take possession only for Cerén to come in with a challenge that Penso saw as violent play due to his arms being raised somewhat. It was another extremely harsh decision to what was another 50:50 ball.
Half Time : Orlando City Soccer 0 Real Salt Lake 1
The second half began as the first half finished with Orlando on the attack. Against the play Salt Lake broke away down the right flank and Tony Beltran crossed for Plata to slot home his second goal in the 66th minute.
Orlando continued to push forward and in doing so created some good chances. In the 80th minute a through ball found Larin and second half substitute Hadji Berry (pictured above) free in box but the two strikers really didn’t help each other as they got too close together ending up with Berry’s effort going wide of the post.
Nine minutes later, Adrian Winter, on for Luke Boden, cleverly intercepted a through pass and went around Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando only to see the ball agonizingly roll just past the post. It seemed it was not to be Orlando’s day.
In the 94th minute, roared on by a still boisterous crowd, the men in purple continued to press as Shea received the ball from Bendik on the edge of his own area. Shea ran ten yards inside the Salt Lake half before exchanging passes with Berry and then crossing into the box for Larin (pictured above) to latch onto and direct the ball home.
A minute later the Citrus Bowl exploded as Orlando amazingly found an equalizer. A long ball from Servando Carrasco dissected the Salt Lake defence and the ball bounced off Larin’s knee to a grateful Winter (pictured above) who lashed the ball home to send the crowd into an hysterical frenzy.
Full Time: Orlando City Soccer 2 Real Salt Lake 2
“When their guy was sent off, I was confident then that we would go on and win the game,” Lions coach Adrian Heath (pictured above) said after the match. “But, obviously, Darwin goes and gets sent off, and from there it was one of those games we would just keep battling, and hoping that the door would open.”
“We started the game very well; we moved the ball and looked dangerous,” continued Heath. “[The team] kept going. They kept going all afternoon…I always thought we were going to score. I didn’t expect it to be as late as it was, but always thought we would get a goal at one stage. The crowd was unbelievable, even when we were two goals down.”
Man of the match Brek Shea (pictured above) said: “With the fans, it was like a 12th man out there. We were two goals down and a man down and they keep believing in us. Fans can turn in any stadium for any team and they stayed with us and obviously helped us get those two goals. “When that first goal went in I went and got water. I asked the sideline referee and he said there was a minute left. Our only shot was to try to bomb forward, might as well go for it. [We] just played a hopeful ball and it worked out.”
Adrian Winter, (pictured above) scorer of the dramatic equaliser said: “It was a tough game. I want to thank the supporters for pushing through it until the end. They gave us energy until the 94th minute. It was wonderful throughout the whole game, especially at the end with [Cyle} and I with the two goals. We’ll take this point and move forward.”
Orlando City SC – GK Joe Bendik , D Luke Boden (Adrian Winter 61’), Seb Hines, Tommy Redding, Rafael Ramos, M Servando Carrasco, Pedro Ribeiro, Darwin Ceren, Brek Shea, F Cyle Larin, Kevin Molino (Hadji Barry 77’)
Real Salt Lake – GK Nick Rimando, D Tony Beltran, Aaron Maund, Jamison Olave, Demar Philips, M Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Sunday Stephan Obayan (Chris Wingert 24’), F Juan Manuel Martinez (Olmes Garcia 87’), Yura Movsisyan, Joao Plata (Luke Mulholland 77’)
More photos at www.FloridaLeisurePhotography.com