ORLANDO — It wasn’t the win Orlando City so desperately needed.
But it wasn’t a loss. And it keeps the Lions’ slim hopes of reaching the playoffs alive with 11 matches remaining in the regular season.
Despite falling behind early and once again looking vulnerable, if not downright bad, on defense, Orlando City (7-14-2, 23 points) scratched out a 3-3 draw with the New England Revolution in front of an announced crowd of 23,879 at Orlando City Stadium.
After a wild match, right back Scott Sutter headed home a free kick from star midfielder Yoshimar Yotún in the third minute of second half stoppage time to salvage a draw for Orlando City.
“I still think we can play way better than that,” coach James O’Connor said. “We need to be braver. I think one of the things that came through to me tonight is we need to be braver at home. Get on the ball, be willing to take responsibility to pass forward.”
O’Connor also thanked the supporters after the match.
The Revolution opened the scoring in the seventh minute of the match. Orlando City started well enough, with some sharp passing into the final third, but the Lions continued a season-long habit of giving away cheap goals.
“Honestly, I think it has to stop,” O’Connor said.
“You have to stop it. You can’t give goals away like that. I mean, we’re 2-nil down in the blink of an eye. We’re making teams work. It’s different if somebody gets the ball up and shoots from 35 yards and shoots the ball into the top corner you go, ‘OK, that’s a hell of a strike.’ It’s a little bit easier to take. You hope that somebody’s going to get out and try to block the shot.
“When you’re giving up the goals that we are giving up, it’s not like teams are having to work for the goals. I’m waiting for a game where a team is so generous and gives us the type of goals that we’re giving teams. I look forward to when that happens.”
The Revs earned a throw-in, which turned into a goal. Brandon Bye sent the long throw in from close to the end line, and striker Juan Agudelo got his head on the ball and flicked it past Orlando City centerback Amro Tarek and goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. for the score.
New England doubled its lead in the 18th minute. The Revs took advantage of a turnover in the Lions’ defensive third. Sutter tried to play the ball to Shane O’Neill, who couldn’t handle the pass.
Revs midfielder Cristian Penilla pounced gave the visitors a 2-0 lead with a clinical finish inside the far post.
“The goals that we’re conceding are really, really soft goals,” O’Connor said.
Striker Dom Dwyer managed to get a goal back for the Lions in the 45th minute. He redirected a cross from Tony Rocha to get Orlando City within a goal.
“It was huge going into the half 2-1,” Sutter said of the goal. “We went in and we kind of knew that we could come back from this. You heard the crowd, you heard everyone getting behind us. You know what that feels like when you play away and you’re in the same position. We kind of wanted to put the pressure on and I think we did that.”
New England created some more chances throughout the first half – a critical goal line clearance from centerback Tarek stopped the Revolution from taking a 3-0 lead in the 30th minute – but couldn’t capitalize on mistakes from the Lions.
Orlando City leveled the match at two goals apiece in the 71st minute thanks to a bit of luck. Yotún sent in a free kick and Tarek managed to head the ball down and toward the goal. The ball bounced off the post, then off New England goalkeeper Matt Turner and over the goal line.
New England quickly answered, thanks to Teal Bunbury. He blew by Tarek and gave the Revs a 3-2 lead in the 76th minute.
The draw came at a cost.
“It feels like a loss, honestly,” Rocha said. “I mean going down 2-0 early in the game and kind of putting ourselves in that situation … scoring three goals, we should be able to come out of here with three points.”
Midfielder and captain Sacha Kljestan went down in the 37th minute with an apparent right leg injury after a challenge from Bye, who was carded. Kljestan tried to walk off the injury, but he played with a noticeable limp until he was subbed off for Paraguayan midfielder Josue Colmán in the 44th minute.
Yotún was sent off in the eighth minute of second half stoppage time with a straight red card following a confrontation after Orlando City’s match-tying goal. He’ll miss the Lions’ next match unless the card is successfully appealed.
The Lions’ shape morphed into a 3-5-2 after two substitutions in the second half, with (from right to left) O’Neill, Rocha and Tarek as the centerbacks.
“You go into every home game wanting to win, so everything but that feels like a loss,” Sutter said. “You need to look at it realistically and think that if you get an equalizer so late in the game, you’ve got to be thankful for that.”