Orlando City SC forward Dom Dwyer (14) celebrates with midfielder Tony Rocha (8) as he scores a goal against the Toronto FC during the second half at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
ORLANDO, Fla. – For the first time in months, Orlando City striker Dom Dwyer had a reason to do a backflip.
By the time Orlando City’s Saturday night match against Toronto FC was over, the entire club had reason to celebrate. At long last, their two-month nightmare was finally over.
Orlando City (7-11-1, 22 points) snapped a franchise-record nine-match losing skid in league play with a 2-1 victory over slumping Toronto FC (4-11-4, 16 points) in front of an announced crowd of 23,420 at Orlando City Stadium.
That crowd had every reason to cheer for Orlando City, which after two months of losing, showed how good things could be with new coach James O’Connor at the helm.
O’Connor said the club wasn’t at its best, despite the win.
“I think there were some lovely passages of play, but there’s lots of things that I think we can be sharper at, that we want to be sharper at,” O’Connor said.
It was a night of change for the Lions. Roster mainstays like goalkeeper Joe Bendik and winger Justin Meram didn’t play. Midfielder Tony Rocha was deployed at his natural position. Goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. got his first MLS start of the season.
“I think when you look at the players coming off the field, they looked really, really tired,” O’Connor said. “I think that’s a testament to their commitment. I think when you look at the energy they used in the game, that was great.”
The biggest difference – other than the scoreline — between Orlando City’s nine-match losing streak and Saturday night’s win was the Lions scored the opening goal. It was just the third time this season Orlando City opened the scoring.
Orlando City came out firing and put together one of its best first-half performances of the season. The missed chances were still there — two golden opportunities went over the crossbar – but Orlando City put pressure on the Reds for 45 minutes and forced goalkeeper Alexander Bono into three saves.
Centerback Chris Schuler opened the scoring — the first time since April 21 the Lions scored the first goal of a match – with a header in the in the 34th minute. He was in the right place at the right time after striker Dom Dwyer smashed a shot from distance that was saved by Bono.
The ball went into the air and sailed in front of Schuler, who headed it home.
“I saw one of the best forwards in the country squaring up on the goalie and knew he wouldn’t be able to hold on to it,” Schuler said. “I just made a run through expecting the rebound and the timing worked out.”
Dwyer doubled the lead in the 48th minute. Rookie winger Chris Mueller found Dwyer and Orlando City’s leading goal scorer was given space near the top of the penalty area. Dwyer took advantage, firing a shot into the bottom left corner of the goal.
Orlando City’s supporters – a rowdy bunch even during losses – were easily at their loudest in months after Dwyer’s goal. Dwyer celebrated with a backflip, something he hadn’t done since scoring against the Portland Timbers on April 8.
“We just needed to give them something to cheer about,” Dwyer said. “Obviously, it was nice to go ahead tonight and get them back on our side. Obviously, with the momentum going our way and along with the crowd, I think it tired [Toronto] our and pushed us along a bit more. We’re very happy with the result.”
The chances weren’t as plentiful for Orlando City in the second half, but they were comfortably ahead. The Reds created chances of their own and Sebastian Giovinco gave Orlando City fits for most of the night.
Giovinco helped Toronto FC get a goal back in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time. He sent in a free kick and centerback Nick Hagglund got on the end of it for a goal.
Other than that, Edwards passed every test thrown his way Saturday. He was comfortable coming off his line and had four saves. He even managed to stop a shot from Giovinco at point-blank range.
Orlando City returns to U.S. Open Cup play on Wednesday with a quarterfinal road match against the Philadelphia Union.
“I wouldn’t say we’re at our best,” Dwyer said. “I’d say we’re improving. I think we’re back on track, which is important for us. We’ll keep moving forward.”