Orlando City SC drew Major League Soccer (MLS) side Columbus Crew 4-4 on Wednesday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sport Complex. With a draw against Columbus, the Lions will play in the third place match at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 1.
“We’re still growing and are trying to put this next group of players together,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “Everyone’s still not on the same page with their roles and responsibilities but some of our play was excellent.”
Columbus kicked off the match with a mixed line up of starters and reserve players that did not feature designated player Federico Higuain but included speedster Dominic Oduro.
Oduro, who scored 13 goals for Columbus last year, had an early near-chance in the 3rd minute but saw his volley sail over the bar.
Similar to the past two matches, Orlando would settle into the game after dealing with the opposition’s early opportunities and begin dominating possession. Newly appointed player/coach James O’Connor, who made a return to the starting line-up for City, was instrumental in the Lions’ ability to maintain time on the ball.
“James has been a great player. We’re talking about a guy who has played over 500 league games in the top two leagues in England,” added Heath on O’Connor’s contribution. “He’s been a great player and a consistent performer for us, so the way that he played today doesn’t surprise me one bit.”
The tenured Irishman provided a constant option in the center of the park, allowing Molino and Alvarez the opportunity to be a bit more creative in the final third. Left-back Luke Boden also appeared to be getting closer to regular season form, as the veteran was active down the left-hand-side and managed to produce several quality crosses.
After finding their rhythm, Orlando generated their first quality chance of the evening when Molino slipped Striker Corey Hertzog in behind. The former Vancouver Whitecap made a great run but was unable to hit the frame as he pulled his effort just wide of the target.
On the other hand, Columbus struggled to maintain possession and instead looked to play a strategic counter-attack game by employing Oduro’s lightening quick pace. In the 18th minute, the Crew nearly went ahead when Valentino and Howard attempted to draw the Ohio-based club offside on a broken play.
Striker Ryan Finley found himself in behind but, fortunately for City, was unable to hit the target.
After back and forth attempts on goal from both clubs, Orlando would receive a bit of good fortune in the 30th minute when Oduro tripped over the ball in a dangerous area of the pitch.
Boden, who was lurking nearby, collected the ball and pulled it across the box for Molino. With limited time and space, the Trinidadian set a lovely one-touch pass for Ceren who slotted home his first goal while wearing purple and white.
Following Ceren’s goal, Orlando came close to scoring again when they were awarded a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the area, after Molino was tripped up by the Columbus defense. However, the ensuing free-kick from Alvarez was disappointing, as the Cuban’s low-effort was deflected by the wall.
Moments later, the Crew generated their best chance of the half when Ben Speas found Oduro all alone inside the six-yard-box. However, the speedy striker’s final header was weak and Gallardo was able to make an easy save.
Building on that momentum, Columbus would create another chance in the 42nd minute that allowed them to level the match. Justin Meram whipped in a dangerous ball that saw Finley re-direct it past Gallardo.
With five changes made by Heath during halftime, Orlando began the second half on the front-foot. In the 51st minute, Boden would venture up the left-side and float his cross in to Molino who tapped it in to give the Lions the advantage.
In light of the second Orlando goal, Columbus began playing with more energy and started putting more pressure on the Crew’s back four. In the 76th minute their pressure would pay off when rookie Joseph Toby brought down Ethan Finlay inside the area, allowing the Midfielder to level the match from the spot.
Returning midfielder Adama Mbengue was included in the five changes made by Heath at halftime and would make solid contributions for the Lions in his first match of the 2014 campaign.
In the 83rd minute, Chin found the Senegalese midfielder inside the six-yard-box and set him up for his first goal in 2014.
After Justin Meram equalized the match in the 86th minute, Dennis Chin would also score his first goal in 2014 to give Orlando another late lead. However in the waning moments, Columbus increased their pressure and a sloppy defensive play from the City backline allowed Finlay to finish his second goal of the match.
With the draw against Columbus, Orlando (0-0-3) remains in second place in their group behind Columbus (2-0-1) and will play either Montreal Impact or the New York Red Bulls in the third place match, pending the Impact’s result against Sporting Kansas City.