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On the final day of the 2016 MLS regular season, Orlando City Soccer concluded their activities at Camping World Stadium with a crowd-pleasing display in a 4-2 win over D.C. United. Next season, the Lions will move into a new, 25,500-seat stadium in downtown Orlando.
The game started with the visitors on the front foot but it was Orlando who scored first when Kaká floated a ball to Rafael Ramos on the right hand side. The young Portuguese right back took his time and delivered a perfect ball to the oncoming Kevin Molino (pictured above) who tapped home for his 11th goal of the season.
D.C. Head Coach Ben Olson opted to rest his starters (10 changes from last week’s starting XI) despite knowing an away win would seal home-field advantage for the Knockout Round of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. It gave Orlando a crucial advantage and they extended their lead in the 21st minute when Molino found Kaká (pictured above) just inside the opposition half. The Brazilian then showed an incredible turn of speed to blast past United defender Sean Franklin who drove deep into the box before lifting a neat right footed flick past Travis Worra in the visitors goal.
This being Orlando and despite the 2-0 advantage, the fans were always on edge and a bad giveaway by Orlando defender Seb Hines gifted D.C. a goal on the verge of half time as substitute Alvaro Saborio seized on a loose back pass to pull one back in the 43rd minute. Two minutes later it could have been even worse for the home team as D.C. had the ball in the back of the net only for Lamar Neagle’s effort to be incorrectly ruled offside. It was a fortunate break for Orlando right on the half-time whistle.
After the break, Cristian Higuita (pictured above), the Lions’ stalwart defensive midfielder, notched his first goal of 2016 and his second in MLS in the 50th minute when Kaká found him on the right flank. The Colombian ripped a right-footed shot to the far post to make it 3-1 and give Kaká his team-leading ninth assist of the season.
D.C. weren’t done though and they pulled a goal back in the 78th minute to to make things interesting for the final twelve minutes. Julian Buescher’s quick, clever footwork in a tight space led to a Kennedy Igboananike strike to the near corner, the first goal for the Nigerian since joining United from Chicago earlier this summer.
Orlando restored their two goal advantage in the 89th minute as Higuita found Júlio Baptista, who entered the match 14 minutes earlier for Carlos Rivas, and “The Beast” powered a shot through Worra and into the back of the net. It was Baptista’s sixth goal of the season and came just after his spectacular bicycle kick effort was blocked on its way to goal.
In the end everyone went away happy. Olsen’s gamble paid off as D.C. secured home field advantage in the play offs when Montreal lost 3-0 at New England in a match that started at the same time. United (11-10-13) remained a point ahead of the Impact (11-11-12) for fourth place and the coach achieved his main objective of not picking up any injuries going into the season finale.
Orlando, meanwhile, have ended a disappointing season on a high and will now look forward to playing on grass in their new purpose built stadium. It remains to be seen who will stay and who will go but a few players have made a case to stay for 2017 and it is now up to Head Coach Jason Kreis (pictured above) to decide who will be valuable to him in his first full season. After the game he remarked: “First I need to say something. A lot of people in my family have now told me that I never smile so I want everybody to get their cameras out and take a picture of this smile. [I’m] obviously very, very pleased with the performance. [It’s] not easy to do as players to, sort of, not have an objective in front of you with the opportunity to make playoffs for two games in a row now. So the motivation now comes from within. Self motivation, self pride, respect, doing thing for fans, doing things for ourselves, without the ability to make playoffs. So I think the challenge that was put in front of the players for the last two matches they took on with full bore, embraced it and gave us everything that they could. So I am really pleased with that. My message to the team is that when they do that, when they are fully committed, when there is no sense of complacency within the group, they can be very good. But we are still not a team that can handle any sense of complacency. As you saw in the game today, we got to 2-0 and there was a little bit of a sense of complacency, then we got to 3-1 and there was a little sense of complacency. So that is happening in the games we cannot have complacency, and it is going to happen during the off-season. There is nobody that will be coming back next season that can have any sense of complacency.”
Olsen remarked: “There’s a lot of thought” that went into fielding a B squad. It was playing the percentages a little bit and understanding Montreal had to go away too on [artificial] turf.”
The match was the Lions’ last at Camping World Stadium, where the Lions played their 2011-2013 United Soccer League (USL) seasons and its 2015 MLS season. Over those seasons, City captured two regular season titles and two USL Pro Championships with the backing of the passionate home supporters. City hosted 1,090,907 fans at Camping World Stadium in two seasons in MLS. Orlando City and Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will move into the Club’s brand new downtown stadium in 2017.
Orlando City SC – GK Joe Bendik, D Mikey Ambrose, José Aja, Seb Hines, Rafael Ramos (Kevin Alston 81’), M Cristian Higuita, Antonio Nocerino, Kaká, Matías Pérez García (Cyle Larin 69’), Kevin Molino, F Carlos Rivas (Júlio Baptista 75’)
Substitutes Not Used: GK Earl Edwards Jr., D Tommy Redding, Luke Boden, Servando Carrasco
D.C. United – GK Travis Worra, D Sean Franklin (Marcelo Sarvas 46’), Luke Mishu, Kofi Opare, Jalen Robinson, M Julian Buescher, Collin Martin, Lamar Neagle, Rob Vincent (Jared Jeffery 72’), F Kennedy Igboananike, Alhaji Kamara (Alvaro Saborio 40’)
Substitutes Not Used: GK Bill Hamid, D Steve Birnbaum, M Nick DeLeon, Lloyd Sam
More photos at www.FloridaLeisurePhotography.com