COLUMBUS, Ohio — For a moment, it looked like Orlando City would walk into MAPRE Stadium and hand the fourth-place Columbus Crew a stunning defeat.
The Lions were up 2-1 with the match winding down and successfully turned away a slew of late chances from the Crew.
Then, in the 86th minute, the ref’s whistle blew. The Crew’s Patrick Mullins went down in the penalty area and Columbus was awarded a kick despite there being minimal contact. The Video Assistant Referee reviews all penalty decisions. The referee on the pitch decides whether to consider that information. It is unclear whether the VAR’s perspective was considered before the referee proceeded with awarding the penalty kick.
According to MLS VAR rules, a penalty call on the field can only be reversed if there is a clear and obvious error and referees are not required to disclose VAR discussions after the match.
Striker Gyasi Zardes converted the penalty kick to level the match.
Then, in the second minute of second half stoppage time, Will Trapp – who until that point was having a match to forget – smashed home a shot from distance to give the Crew a 3-2 victory over Orlando City.
It was Orlando City’s seventh consecutive road loss and second defeat under new head coach James O’Connor after a questionable call from the match referee.
“It’s just really, really disappointing for the players, because the players didn’t deserve that tonight,” O’Connor said. “They really didn’t. I’m exceptionally proud of the players. That’s the main point I want to get across.”
O’Connor went with a lineup full of fresh legs after a disappointing 1-0 loss in U.S. Open Cup play on Wednesday. In fact, only four outfield players from Wednesday’s starting XI — Sacha Kljestan, Chris Mueller, Shane O’Neill and Uri Rosell — returned to the starting XI for Saturday’s match.
“To say we truly deserved all three points… I thought we had chances, I thought we were unlucky not to score a couple more goals,” O’Connor said. “Regards to the effort, the commitment, the quality, at times, I thought it was a really good performance. Really strong. That’s just… we didn’t deserve that. We didn’t.
He added, “It really hurts. Really, really hurts.”
The Lions opened the scoring in the 16th minute thanks to Kljestan. Right back RJ Allen sent in a cross that went by Mueller in the penalty area and skipped to the feet of Kljestan who put the ball in the back of the net.
Kljestan who on Friday said he was annoyed fans called him old at 32 years old, celebrated his goal by acting as though he needed a walker to get around.
“I’m very proud of the guys,” he said. “I think everybody put in such a really good effort tonight.”
It was the fourth time this season Orlando City scored the first goal in MLS play and the second time under O’Connor, who has only coached three league games.
Crew responded early in the second half. Columbus winger Niko Hansen got around City left back Tony Rocha and made it to the end line and sent in a cross for Gyasi Zardes, who provided the clinical finish and leveled the match in the 51st minute.
The level score didn’t last long.
The Lions put on a counterattacking masterclass in the 58th minute. A ball from midfielder Cristian Higuita sprung Yoshi Yotún, who sent a through ball to Kljestan.
The central attacking midfielder sent a cross in the penalty area to Stéfano Pinho, who scored his first league goal since Orlando City’s season opener against D.C. United and put the Lions up 2-1.
“We had a lot of guys put in some very good performances tonight on tired legs,” Kljestan said. “A lot of guys ran a lot tonight and put a lot of effort into the game and I think we deserved maybe a little bit more. It’s really disappointing.”
The match was delayed 48 minutes as severe weather rolled through Columbus.
Goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. got the start for the third consecutive match in all competitions, but he subbed off in the 32nd minute of the match with a left ankle injury. He tried to continue after being examined by trainers in the 28th minute, but he went down to one knee four minutes later and had to be replaced by Joe Bendik.
A club spokesperson said the initial assessment on Edwards is the goalkeeper rolled his ankle. Edwards will be evaluated further in Orlando.
Orlando City returns to action on Thursday against New York City FC in Orlando City Stadium.