Orlando City traveled north to New Jersey to square off against New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night. This match was the chance for Orlando to secure a playoff spot for the first time in franchise history. The Lions had 2 scenarios in which they could earn that spot:
-If Orlando beats NYRB, hated rivals Atlanta has to lose/tie against Toronto.
-If Orlando draw against NYRB, Atlanta HAS to lose against Toronto.
A loss was not an option. A result from Tuesday night, Montreal 2-1 Miami, would also play a role in this match-up. Orlando came into this match in 4th place with 31 points while NYRB entered in 7th place with 24 points. Both sides wanted the 3 points to climb up the table.
Kickoff started at 7:00 P.M EST for Orlando City. The players and staff alike all knew that the chance to secure a playoff spot would also depend on the result of the Toronto-Atlanta game, which would kickoff at 7:30 P.M EST. The game started off rather slowly. Both New York and Orlando help up well in the midfield, not allowing either side to get any opportunities to get in behind the back line. Both sides were also strong defensively. The first half was uneventful up until almost halftime, where star player and captain, Luis Nani, got in behind the Red Bull's defense and drilled a shot toward goal just outside the 6 yard box, only for NYRB GK Ryan Meara to stop the shot from going in. The ref blew the whistle and both teams entered the locker rooms for halftime. 15 minutes later, both squads stepped back onto the field and started the 2nd half. The 2nd half started off similar to the 1st. In a quick change of possession, Orlando City pushed up the field and young rookie striker Daryl Dike entered the 18-yard box and was fouled by one of NYRB's defenders, which resulted in the ref awarding a penalty to Orlando. Luis Nani is the one to take it and places it firmly into the left side of the net. 1-0 to the Lions.
The Red Bulls picked up their game from here on out. Orlando would have almost no chances to score after that PK. Orlando was leading 1-0, Atlanta was tied 0-0 with Toronto, all the Lions had to do was hold on for a few more minutes and hope Toronto keeps Atlanta scoreless. The assistant referee signals an additional 5 minutes of stoppage time. 5 more minutes to play, and if the results hold, Orlando will punch a ticket to the 2020 MLS Playoffs. Less than one minute left in the game, New York is awarded a corner. The ball is crossed in and Orlando barely manages to clear the ball, only for it to land into a Red Bulls player's feet. The ball is then passed to Brian White, who quickly turns and shoots, and drives the ball into the bottom left corner, just out of reach for Orlando GK Brian Rowe. NYRB equalizes 1-1 with 30 seconds left to play. The ref blew the whistle after 95 minutes of playing, and Orlando and New York split the points. Toronto and Atlanta were still tied 0-0 with less than 10 minutes to play, this result would mean that Orlando would have to wait until next week for another shot at securing a playoff spot, against South Florida rivals, Inter Miami.
Just when it seemed that Orlando would have to wait to make history, former Lion, Richie Laryea, crosses the ball into the box towards Toronto forward Pablo Piatti, who connects with the ball and heads it into the far post in the 89th minute! Toronto keeps the lead, and beats Atlanta 1-0. Orlando City finally qualifies for the playoffs after 5 disappointing seasons. Orlando City has 4 games remaining left in the season against Miami, Atlanta, Montreal, and Nashville. 12 possible points can be earned. Each game will be a battle to secure the highest seed possible to ensure a home game in the playoffs. Inter Miami will host Orlando City and will meet for the 4th time this year on Saturday. Orlando now has a record of 8W-8D-2L this season, while Miami has 5W-3D-11L. Orlando are now unbeaten in 12 straight games.