Chris Mueller dropped inside the Columbus Crew penalty box.
Orlando City SC’s forward peeled off a couple of defenders and needed a teammate to make a pass.
Nani provided a deft pass just above the 18-yard box toward Mueller. The second-year player did the rest.
Mueller opened the scoring with his fourth goal of the season as Orlando City defeated Columbus Crew 2-0 on Saturday at Columbus’ Mapfre Stadium.
It was an important win for the Lions, who continue to make a push for a playoff spot as one of the top seven teams in the Eastern Conference.
Orlando City coach James O’Connor praised how his team bounced back after Wednesday’s loss to D.C. United. The game played differently as the Lions did not create as many chances against Columbus compared to Wednesday’s contest.
But O’Connor praised his team’s work rate and how they were able to capitalize on three shots, all of which were on target.
“I don’t think words can do that performance justice,” O’Connor said. “When you look at the hard running and the intensity and the togetherness and the commitment that they’ve shown … I thought our play (Saturday) was very, very good.”
Orlando (6-3-8, 21 points) did not register a shot prior to Mueller’s goal. Columbus was disciplined in its defensive shape, making it hard for the Lions’ forwards to find space. Misplaced passes for both teams also were a problem.
However, Mueller made an intelligent move to set himself up for the goal-scoring opportunity. He dropped between two Columbus defenders and was isolated by himself.
Orlando put together a string of passes, none better than Nani’s flick, and Mueller did the rest. He took one touch to create more separation as Crew defenders appealed for an offside call, and slotted a shot past Jon Kempin’s near post in the 40th minute.
Columbus (5-2-11, 17 points) almost had an instant response. The Crew hit the post after numerous scoring opportunities just before halftime, but the Lions were able to head into the locker room with the lead.
Columbus continued the pressure early in the second half.
Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe had a diving save in the 55th minute after Columbus’ Robinho attempted a bicycle kick to maintain a clean sheet.
Tesho Akindele then gave Orlando City breathing room, scoring the Lions’ second goal in the 66th minute. Defender Robin Jansson won the ball after a tackle as Columbus was going forward in attack.
Nani passed the ball to Akindele, who faced no pressure from the Crew’s backline, and curled a shot into the back of the net.
Nani’s two assists on Saturday gives him six on the season.
“He’s a world-class player,” O’Connor said. “When you look at his ability to draw people toward him and create space for others, he’s only going to get better and better.”
Orlando City held off Columbus the rest of the way and picked up three road points.
“Tough game against a good opponent so for us to come away and get three points was especially rewarding for the players,” O’Connor said.
The Lions will continue their heavy run of games when they host Philadelphia Union at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.