The Orlando City Soccer Club opened their 2018 season on Saturday night with a thrilling performance against DC United. While 25,527 fans cheered, screamed, and yelled ( at the refs). The home squad secured a point with a 1-1 draw after Stéfano Pinho’s stoppage-time equalizer against D.C. United. Captain Jonathan Spector earned the game-tying assist while goalkeeper Joe Bendik made four saves.
Orlando City was playing with the most new players ever in a team opening, game with 7, after the team overhauled their roster and has 15 new players on the squad. Add to that the fact that USA team star Sacha Kljestan is serving a suspension (Red Card, through 3/10) and the Lions are working without key injured players: Striker Dom Dwyer (quad strain), Midfielder Josué Colmán (quad contusion), Midfielder Dillon Powers (ankle) Midfielder Uri Rosell (fitness).
DC Started the first half aggressively, and had Orlando fighting back on defense. Rookies Chris Mueller and Cam Lindley played their first MLS matches and Mohamed El-Munir became the first Libyan to ever play in MLS. Eventually Mueler and Justin Meram began to show some chemistry as Yoshimar Yotún provided pressure up front.
Video reviews were not kind to the Lions on Saturday night. Orlando City lost a video review on a hand ball inside the box in the 17th minute after a cross pass grazed Will Johnson’s hand (Which was at his side). That resulted in a penalty kick DC. Joe Bendik became the hero of the night with a spectacular, stretching save of a Darren Mattocks shot.
DC finally scored in the 32nd min on a Yamil Asad free kick near the end line which squeaked past a crowd of Orlando City players and into the net.
The second video review decision led to a red card and midfielder Victor “PC” Giro getting sent off for “violent conduct,” leaving Orlando City down a man at the 41st minute. The call was originally a yellow, but was switched to red after the review.
The Lions managed to put on a gutsy performance by keeping DC on their heels for the end of the first half and most of the second half while playing 1 man down. The 10-man Orlando squad pushed aggressively for the equalizer, using 5-7 passes per possession to find solid opportunities. Orlando held 61% possession in the second half, with new players Stéfano Pinho, Justin Meram, Mueller, Lindley and others showed their skills as DC pulled back to defend.
Pinho finally got the equalizer three minutes into stoppage time with with a blast off of the Spector assist to seal the draw. The sold out crowd exploded.
“I was dreaming about this moment,” Pinho said. “I saw the fans go crazy. It was amazing for me.” I worked for this moment. We pressed them, we were trying to score and we finally scored in the last minute.
“Really pleased with the performance.” Said coach Jason Kreis “Really, really pleased with the effort level, the commitment level, the togetherness the team showed. The never giving up. The true grit that was shown tonight by our squad was second-to-none. I couldn’t be happier. Obviously we ended up getting a point out of the affair, but had we not even got that last minute goal I would’ve been just as happy.”
Orlando City’s Opening Day record is now (1-0-3), with three draws secured with four stoppage-time goals across four seasons.
The Lions return to action on Saturday, March 10, when Minnesota United FC makes its first visit to Orlando City Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.