Orlando City Through To USL PRO Championship Final

Filed under: Orlando City Soccer |

Orlando City made a fantastic start to their “win or go home” USL PRO semi final match against Charleston Battery at the Florida Citrus Bowl last night.  Three goals by the 19th minute gave the Lions the upper hand before the Battery came back to give the home side something of a scare. The Lions held on though and the win ensured their progression to 2013 USL PRO Championship game, with the opponent still to be determined.

In a remarkably similar fashion to Orlando’s Quarterfinal victory over Pittsburgh Riverhounds last week, the Lions got off to a fast start, scoring two goals in the first five minutes of play. Orlando forward Long Tan (pictured above left), who scored a brace against the Riverhounds, got on the score sheet first as he tapped home a neat ball from fellow forward Dennis Chin in just the 4th minute.

Just a minute later, Orlando doubled their lead thanks to a nice one-two between defender Erik Ustruck and Chin. Ustruck cleverly got behind the Battery backline and delivered the perfect cross to midfielder Adama Mbengue (pictured above right) who beat Charleston keeper Odisnel Cooper with a firm shot to extend the lead.

Things got even better in the 19th minute as Chin (pictured above) was the first to react to a loose ball in the six yard box and he prodded home to make it 3-0.  Charleston were not done though and they got on the scoreboard in the 33rd minute, with midfielder Michael Azira capitalizing on a mistake from the Lions’ defence. A through ball found City goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo outside his box and his attempt to clear the danger with a header fell to Azira who floated a return header over the stranded Lions keeper to make it 3-1 in the 33rd minute. 

Orlando  almost restored the three goal advantage seven minutes later as Mbengue had the ball in the net (pictured above) but his effort was ruled out for offside.  3-1 Half Time.

Over the last three years Orlando fans have never been used to having things all their own way and this game was to be no exception.  Hearts began to flutter as Charleston mounted a rearguard and a sustained period of pressure was rewarded when Amadou Sanyang scored in the 60th minute to reduce the deficit to one goal.

Things then became heated in the 75th minute as Orlando forward Long Tan was brought down in the penalty box for what looked like a certain penalty.  The home crowd of 8,912 gasped in amazement as the referee waived their appeal aside and then booked Tan for a simulated dive. An astonishing decision that was made even worse moments later as a clash of heads between Tan and Battery defender Colin Falvey saw both men get red cards and an early bath.

That seemed to take all the sting out of the game and although Charleston threatened there was not much potency and the Lions’ backline held strong as Orlando recorded a final 3-2 score line.

“We put the game away after the first few goals, but gifted them back into the game,” said Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath (pictured above left). “We’ll move on and try to win next week.”

The win now puts Orlando in the Championship match for the first time since 2011 when the Lions topped the Harrisburg City Islanders on penalty kicks two years ago to take home their first USL PRO Championship.

Attention now turns to tonight’s Richmond Kickers/Charlotte Eagles match, with the winner determining where the 2013 Championship will be held. A Kickers win would mean the game will be played in Richmond, whereas an Eagles victory will see the Championship game played in Orlando. The match will be played on Saturday, September 7. 

More photos at www.FloridaLeisurePhotography.com

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