Orlando City SC forward Dom Dwyer (14) shoots and scores the game winning goal past Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson (90) during the second half at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
It was almost a disaster for Orlando City.
Missed chances, questionable defending and fouls that led to goals piled up, threatening to make Orlando City’s first match with nearly its entire first-choice lineup a bitter home loss.
Instead, an epic comeback, sparked by one of the youngest players on the Lions’ roster, electrified an announced crowd of 22,337 at Orlando City Stadium. Rookie Chris Mueller, brought on as a sub in the 67th minute, opened his MLS scoring account in the 80th minute and Orlando City scored two more goals in less than 10 minutes to cap a 3-2 comeback victory over the Portland Timbers Sunday.
Before Sunday, Orlando City had never come back from two goals down to win an MLS match.
“You hope to come on as a sub and lift the energy for the team,” Mueller said. “They’re playing 60 minutes, whatever it was when I came on to the game. Everyone’s fatigued. We need a raise, it’s 2-nil down. You just got to come off the bench and bring some energy and try to make a difference.
“Getting the goal, it seemed like it did that. The team just kind of shot out from there.”
The last goal might have been the sweetest. After being practically invisible for most of the match, Dom Dwyer worked his way into the penalty area, slipped and fell, then got up while maintaining possession of the ball and beat Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson to give Orlando City its first lead of the day in the 87th minute.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) April 8, 2018
“Obviously, tremendous character from the boys to come back from two down,” Dwyer said. “I think it was a solid performance again. You know, of course we were upset to concede two goals, but we’re very, very pleased today.”
Once the Lions had the lead, they didn’t relinquish it. During an injury timeout in the 86thminute, when the match was still tied 2-2, Dwyer told his teammates what he thought the outcome of the match would be.
“I said we were going to win this game,” Dwyer said. “I was just letting everyone know we’re going to win this game. I just believed at that point that it was going to happen. We had too much momentum.”
Orlando City managed to tie the match on a penalty kick, earned after Dom Dwyer was brought down in the penalty area and slotted home by Sacha Kljestan.
Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson immediately blasted the call on Twitter and it was questioned by the ESPN broadcast crew, who called the contact Dwyer took in the box incidental and wondered by why there was no video review.
No way in a million years thats a penalty. Disgraceful.
How do you not VAR that.
Tried it once early but he got us in the end
— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) April 8, 2018
Portland left back Derek Zarek Valentin called the penalty “soft.”
“I mean, in my book it’s not a penalty,” he said.
“Obviously the referee makes the penalty call, but I think it’s soft – regardless of who gets touched or whatever. For me, if that’s the precedent being set then you can call a lot more penalties. But at the end of the day, if you create contact in the box that’s kind of the risk, so that’s the tough line you have to tread there.
“So, do I agree with it? No. But that’s part of the game. You don’t always agree with all those things.”
It was part of a bitter momentum shift for the winless Timbers (0-3-2, 2 points).
For nearly 80 minutes, it looked like the Lions (2-2-1, 7 points) were going to drop a total of seven points in four home matches.
Portland opened the scoring with an early penalty kick.
Left back Mohamed El-Munir, who had a rough outing last week in Orlando City’s 4-3 victory over the New York Red Bulls, brought down Portland midfielder Sebastián Blanco in the penalty area, which set off a chain of events that changed the flow of the first half.
It was another case of Video Assistant Referee review working against Orlando City. At first, Sebastian Blanco was given a second yellow card for diving in the penalty area and was sent off. After VAR review, the yellow was rescinded and a penalty was awarded, though El-Munir wasn’t booked.
Reigning MLS MVP Diego Valeri converted the penalty kick in the 20th minute, even though Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik guessed correctly in his attempt to stop the shot. It was the fifth time this season Orlando City conceded first.
Portland doubled its lead after Bill Poni Tuiloma headed home a free kick from Diego Valeri in the 59th minute.
After rallying for a win, Orlando City has a short turnaround before returning to action. Next, the Lions face the Philadelphia Union (1-1-2, 5 points) on Friday in Talen Energy Stadium.