CHARLESTON, S.C. - Orlando City Soccer Club became the first team in USL PRO to clinch a playoff spot after a thrilling, 2-1 come-from-behind win over the Charleston Battery on a muggy Thursday night in Charleston. Matt Luzunaris and Ian Fuller scored goals on either side of stoppage time to usher City to victory.
After a shaky first five minutes, the Lions controlled much of the first half. Luke Boden, Jerome Mechack, and Adama Mbengue spurred on the attack, but Orlando could not find the final ball necessary to get a goal. The best chance came shortly after the half-hour mark, when Boden and Rodrigo Lopez combined to release Kevin Molino inside the 18. Molino’s shot was parried up into the air by Charleston Goalkeeper Kevin Klasila, then cleared safely away by John Wilson. The halftime whistle came without any fireworks from either side.
The second half saw the Battery come to life, making in-roads towards goal with attack after attack. The Lions defense finally broke in the 64th minute when Jose Cuevas pounced on a loose ball poking out of a scrum inside the 6-yard box. His point-blank strike caught Miguel Gallardo by surprise as it zoomed past the City Keeper and into the roof of the net.
The Lions responded quickly, but could not manage a scoring answer. Both Jamie Watson and Matt Luzunaris struck the crossbar, but it appeared as if Orlando would have to wait until next week to book their place in the playoffs. Then came the final minute.
All night long, Boden and Luzunaris were connecting on crosses inside the 18, but Luzunaris could not seem to direct one low enough for a goal. With 30 seconds left in regulation, Boden whipped in another hopeful ball. Luzunaris rose, as he had so many times before, but this time the results were different. The goal, Luzunaris’ sixth in eight games, gave the Lions the draw they needed for the playoff spot.
With time still left, the Lions stayed hungry. As the seconds dripped off the clock, the Lions got closer and closer to a winner. Consecutive corners from Jamie Watson came oh so close, but could not find a body at the back post. Watson’s final corner was punched away, but gave the Lions another chance from the other side of the goal. Boden once again served up a perfect cross, this time finding former Battery man Ian Fuller, who sent his former fans home shocked.
While the win gives Orlando City a guaranteed seat at the USL PRO playoff table, this weekend’s results also leave open the possibility of clinching a first-round bye. Should Rochester Rhinos lose or draw on Saturday, Orlando will be assured a home playoff game and break during the post-season’s opening week.
Next up for the Lions is a revenge match with the Wilmington Hammerheads on Wednesday, July 25, at the Citrus Bowl. The Hammerheads remain the only USL PRO team to have beaten the Lions in 2012. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.