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City beats Tampa, back in tie for league lead

by: Orlando City SC Updated:

Orlando City Defender Rob Valentino leaps for a header against VSI Tampa Bay FC.

Orlando City SC (14-3-6, 48 points) capped off Wednesday night with a thrilling 3-2 victory over cross-state VSI Tampa Bay FC (9-10-4, 31 points) at Fifth Third Bank Field at the Florida Citrus Bowl. The win captures home field advantage for the Lions in the 2013 USL PRO postseason quarterfinals, which will be held on Saturday, August 24.

“Tampa always had a threat on our side of the field, but we were able to take six points from the last two games against them,” said Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath. “We take each game as it comes, with the next important game for us is Seattle on Sunday.”

» IMAGE GALLERY: Orlando City defeats VSI Tampa Bay

Orlando, starting a similar formation from Sunday’s match in Plant City, maintained possession early on while attempting plenty of chances. Early attacks by Midfielder Jonathan Mendoza and Forward Dennis Chin kept VSI’s backline honest, with the visiting side not being able to push up with numbers on the attack through the first 20 minutes.

Despite the ball control, it was Tampa who scored first- with Forward Chad Burt capitalizing off of a deflection to put VSI up 1-0. Midfielder Sebastien Thuriere began the play with a shot just inside the 18-yard mark, with his attempt deflected by Goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo to the opposite side of the box. Gallardo was unable to adjust in time, with Burt blasting it in the back of the net to give Tampa the advantage.

Orlando immediately responded with a score of their own, as Defender Renan Boufleur headed in a well-played free kick by Freddie Braun for the equalizer. Just six minutes after Tampa scored, Mendoza was fouled outside the 18 – leaving the former Portland Timbers midfielder with the attempt. Braun whipped in the free kick, finding Boufleur to equalize the match at 1-1.

Orlando’s second score of the match came off of a Tampa mishap, with Cheyne Roberts unintentionally deflecting in a cross by Braun – giving the Lions a 2-1 lead in the 51st minute of play. Braun displayed control after tricking a VSI defender on the wing, firing a ball into the box only for it to deflect off of Roberts and into the goal.

VSI got back into the match in the 69th minute, with Tampa substitute Shawn Chin curling a ball over Gallardo, off the crossbar and into the goal to equalize the match at 2-2.

After 10 back-and-forth minutes of play, the game-winner was scored by no other than Defender Rob Valentino. Braun was again involved in the scoring, with his corner finding the tall defender – whipping in a header for the 3-2 victory. The goal was Valentino’s fifth of the season, scoring in back-to-back matches for the first time in 2013.

With the win, Orlando will host a quarterfinal match when the USL PRO playoffs begin the weekend of August 23-25. The match will be on Saturday, August 24, at Fifth Third Bank Field at the Florida Citrus Bowl, with the opponent TBD. The Lions are also now tied for first place in the league table with the Richmond Kickers, who have 48 points in 23 games played.

Tickets are on sale for the playoff game. Kickoff for the match is set for 7:30 p.m. Fans can call (855) ORL-CITY to grab their seat for the quarterfinal match.

The Lions now set their sights on Sunday’s home match against the Seattle Sounders Reserves. Orlando and Seattle have faced off once this season, with the Lions topping the Reserve side 2-0 in Tacoma, Wash.

The game is set for kickoff at 7:30 p.m., with gates opening an hour beforehand at 6:30 p.m.