Orlando City's Justin Meram, center, collides with D.C. United goalkeeper David Ousted, left, during an MLS soccer match Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
Stéfano Pinho said he wanted to know what it felt like to score a goal in Orlando City Stadium and hear the roar of thousands of purple-clad fans.
The new striker, a man added to the club as part of a sweeping roster overhaul, got his wish. He got it in a massive way.
Orlando City, playing down a man, spent an entire half plus nearly three minutes of stoppage time searching for an equalizer after D.C. United scored an early goal. With time ticking away, Pinho found the back of the net after Lions captain Jonathan Spector centered the ball inside the penalty area from the end line.
Pinho got his goal. The crowd roared. Midfielder Richie Laryea jumped on his back. And a 10-man Orlando City side salvaged a point with a 1-1 draw against D.C. United during the Lions’ season opener in front of an announced crowd of 25,527 at Orlando City Stadium.
“I was dreaming about this moment,” Pinho said. “I saw the fans go crazy. It was amazing for me. I worked for this moment. We pressed them, we were trying to score and we finally scored in the last minute.
“We can do better for the next game.”
The play was started off by a phenomenal ball into the box from forward Justin Meram, who spent most of the night playing distributor. It was Meram who found Spector, who showed why he’s the team’s captain. The center back ran nearly 40 yards to reach the end line.
“Really pleased with the performance,” Orlando City coach Jason Kreis said. “Really, really pleased with the effort level, the commitment level, the togetherness team showed. The never giving up. The true grit that was shown today from our squad was second to none.
“Had we not gotten that last-minute goal, I would have been just as happy.”
The Lions dominated possession (61.3 percent) in the second half, despite being down a man. D.C. United played defensively, up a goal and up a man, opting not to press and Orlando City controlled the pace while looking for a goal to tie the match.
In truth, the match was almost a disaster.
D.C. United scored the first goal and left the Lions scrambling for an equalizer. United opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Rookie defensive midfielder Cam Lindley’s late challenge on United forward Yamil Asad led to a free kick near the end line, which Asad squeaked past a crowd of Orlando City players and into the net.
Lindley was one of two MLS rookies in Orlando City’s starting lineup Saturday night. Striker Chris Muller also got his first start.
“I think both of them had some shaky moments, as I knew they would,” Kreis said. “I thought both of them recovered quite well.”
Things were pretty rough in the first half. Video replay made two first-half appearances Saturday night, and both decisions went against Orlando City.
The second decision led to midfielder Victor “PC” Giro getting sent off for “violent conduct.”
The first was for a hand ball inside the penalty area in the 17th minute. Darren Mattocks beat Amro Tarek into the penalty area and tried to send in a cross, but Will Johnson came in to defend. The ball glanced off his hand, which was at his side.
After the review, a penalty was awarded to D.C. United. Mattocks took the penalty, but it was saved by Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik — one of four saves he made that kept the Lions in the match.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 4, 2018
PC later battled D.C. United’s Yamil Asad in the air for a ball and was issued a red card for violent conduct. It was originally a yellow, but it was switched after review.
“Initially, I thought there would be no way the penalty decision would go against us,” Kreis said.
“On the second one, a really odd situation where I think my player was fouled first, honestly.”
In the 58th minute, Orlando City nearly had its equalizer. Meram’s cross found the foot of Yoshimar Yotun, who beat the D.C. United goalkeeper David Ousted with his shot, but not center back Frederic Brillant.
Brillant cleared the ball off the line, ending the threat and leaving Orlando City fans groaning.
The Lions worked to eventually earn the equalizer and lift their spirits.
“I didn’t think we’d get an ejection and a penalty in my first game here,” Meram said. “Definitely made it exciting, right?”