Orlando keeps play off hopes alive with tense victory over Columbus

Benji Michel (pictured above) scored a vital game-winner for Orlando City late in the game to give the Lions victory over Columbus Crew on Saturday night and keep alive his teams hopes of making the play offs.

For the best part of 80 minutes there was absolutely nothing to write about as neither team could muster a shot on target in a drab affair. Then the game came to life in the 84th minute as Lamine Sané made the pass of the game with a superb curling through ball to Ruan who was flying down the right flank in behind the Columbus defense. The Brazilian defender ran onto it and played it first time across the face of goal for Michel to apply the finish.

The goal sent the 22,397 fans in attendance into raptures as they celebrated Michel’s first ever MLS goal and becoming the first homegrown player to score a goal for the first team in club history.

By now, the home fans are well used to their team throwing away games they are seemingly heading to win and Columbus roared back at them with vengeance. Four minutes after the opening goal Harrison Afful fired a vicious strike from the right hand edge of the penalty area that brought a superb save from Brian Rowe in the Orlando goal.

In the 90th minute, US International Gyasi Zardes wasted a glorious opportunity to level things up as he met Afful’s cross from the right wing but instead of heading towards the net, he headed the ball down and it bounced harmlessly over the bar.

Two minutes into added time it was Zardes again as he headed a ball from the left wing that scrapped just past the left hand post and out for a goal kick. The moment was symptomatic of a team who just can’t buy a result at present and it was the last chance of the game for the visitors as they recorded their fifth straight defeat and have become the third MLS team in league history to lose 13 games in a 15-game stretch, joining last year’s Orlando City SC squad and the 2001 Tampa Bay Mutiny.

The night wasn’t done though as Dom Dwyer managed to put a black mark on the evening as straight from the goal kick after Zardes miss, he inexplicably elbowed Crew defender Josh Williams in the face and was sent off for serious foul play.

Dwyer is a player who has had many high points in his Orlando career stemming back to the clubs USL days but this was surely his lowest point. With his team a goal up and looking to secure three points with just two minutes left of the match, only he will know what he was thinking and what intent there really was when he jumped up to challenge for the ball and violently threw his elbow back into Williams face. The striker will now miss the next game and because of the violent nature of his actions, it is entirely possible he may face further disciplinary action from MLS for his red card indiscretion.

Fortunately, Orlando did hold on this time and after the game, the Lion’s Head Coach James O’Connor (pictured above right) said: “Obviously a massive, massive win for us tonight. I think we showed another great side, very positive to be able to show that kind of toughness. I don’t think we played particularly well. I thought we looked very tired, which we knew, we expected that. I think in a game like that with the emotion of the other night, we were always very wary of just what kind of energy we were going to have, so we needed to have some grit. I thought the boys showed tremendous character tonight really to be able to defend, put their bodies on the line and the guys who played so many minutes, to be able to push like that is fantastic. Great commitment from the players tonight.”

The Lions face yet another quick turnaround as they travel to face the Portland Timbers on Thursday, July 18 at the newly-renovated Providence Park. Kickoff for that match is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Lineups/Substitutions:

Orlando City SC – GK Brian Rowe; D Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Lamine Sané ©, Ruan; M Will Johnson (Santiago Patiño 71’), Carlos Ascues, Sebastián Méndez; F Benji Michel, Tesho Akindele (Uri Rosell 78’), Chris Mueller (Dom Dwyer 58’)

Substitutes Not Used: GK Adam Grinwis; D Kyle Smith, Danilo Acosta; M Dillon Powers

Columbus Crew SC – GK Joe Bendik, D Waylon Francis, Gastón Sauro (Aboubacar Keita 25’), Josh Williams, Harrison Afful; M Artur, Will Trapp ©, David Guzman (Eduardo Sosa 82’); F Luis Argudo (David Accam 63’), Gyasi Zardes, Pedro Santos

Substitutes Not Used: GK Jon Kempin; M Ricardo Clark, Hector Jimenez; F Romario Williams

Attendance: 22,397

More photos at www.FloridaLeisurePhotography.com

 

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