Yesterday night on 11/4/20, Orlando City welcomed Columbus Crew at home for one of the most important games in the 2020 MLS Season. As Decision Day, the final day of regular season games, approaches on Sunday, Orlando are looking to continue climbing the standings, but in their way; Columbus Crew SC.
Orlando City came into this huge matchday with a record of 10W-8D-3L, coming off of a 1-0 win over Montreal. Prior to this game, Columbus Crew had a record of 11W-5D-4L, coming off of a 2-1 victory at home against 1st place Philadelphia Union. Both Orlando and Columbus were tied at 38 points and 1.81 PPG. Orlando could finally secure a top 4 seed spot with a victory and host their very first MLS Cup Playoff match at home. Orlando City has been unbeaten at home this season, and the Lions planned on keeping it that way. No one would realize the drama that would ensue.
Kickoff! The first half starts in central Florida and both teams were already going at it. Orlando City had chances after chances but couldn't quite find the back of the net. Columbus could barely get into Orlando's half of the field, they were struggling. A golden opportunity emerged for Orlando to take the lead in the 13th minute. Junior Urso ended up with the ball right at the penalty spot, but somehow missed the basically open goal from 12 yard out. This wouldn't discourage the Lions, as they would keep pushing for another chance which came in the 27th minute, when Mauricio Pererya played a perfect ball towards Chris Muller, who would without a doubt rip a shot and open the scoring for the night. Orlando City were up 1-0. Chances would keep coming, as Kyle Smith would have 2 amazing chances to score his first as a Lion, only for those to be stopped by even better saves from Columbus GK Eloy Room (seriously, props to him, those were spectacular saves). The 1st half would come to an end with Orlando up 1-0, who easily could've been up by 2 or 3 goals.
The 2nd half would star off similarly to the first, but less than 10 minutes in, a very controversial call would change the course of the game. Orlando City forward Luis Nani apparently fouled a Columbus player (I reviewed the play, Nani clearly touches the ball first while the Crew player falls down after). Nani initially received a yellow, but the referee went to VAR to check on a possible RED CARD. After a few minutes, the referee made his decision. Astonishingly, he changes the decision from a yellow...to a red card. Nani was now ejected from the match and would be suspended for the Decision Day clash against Nashville. Of course, the whole stadium went into an uproar form the decision. Orlando were now down to 10-men, holding onto a 1-0 lead after such a horrible call by the referee. Less than 2 minutes after the red card, Columbus got into the final third, played the ball to Harrison Afful, who would let the ball fly just from inside the 18 yard box and nail the ball past GK Pedro Gallese. Columbus equalised 1-1 in the 56th minute. The ref would continue to make some interesting calls against Orlando afterwards. Orlando desperately needed the 3 points, but it felt like they were snagged away from them. In the dying minutes of the game, Mauricio Pererya again fed a beautiful pass, this time to homegrown Benji Michel, who came on as a sub replacing Tesho Akindele. Michel bounced the cross from Pererya off his head, beat 3 Columbus defenders to the ball, and miraculously drove the ball between Columbus GK Eloy Room's legs. The crowd and players alike went wild. Orlando City were now leading 2-1 in the 84th minute despite playing a man down. The referee appointed an unusually high 8 minutes of stoppage time. Orlando prevailed and managed to hold onto the lead and secure the most valuable 3 points of the season. Orlando City (3) went on top of Columbus (4) in the standings, with the Lions now having 41 points and 1.86 PPG. Orlando beat the odds and will now host a playoff game at home.
Orlando City will close out the regular season with their final game at home against Nashville on Sunday. Orlando now has a record of 11W-8D-3L. Decision Day will hold 11 games to determine the final outcome of the season before playoffs. I will do a mini review for each match, so expect a bit of a longer post next time.