From the fiery wreckage of what was up till then a dumpster fire of game, Tito Villalba emerged in stoppage time to keep Orlando City from three points and Give Atlanta United a 1-1 draw in the team’s final game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The Five Stripes controlled most of the game, out-possessing Orlando 64 to 36 percent on the day, but needed Villalba’s late game heroics a Kaka wonderstrike gave Orlando the lead late in the first half.
In the beginning, it took a couple of minutes for Atlanta to settle into the game. There were some nervy moments early, but the Five Stripes began to play keep away for the most of the half. Atlanta kept possession a large majority of the time and created multiple chances. However, their best chance of the first half turned into Orlando’s only goal of the game.
In the 39th minute, Almiron played a through ball to Villalba on the right side. Villalba kicked it back to Almiron in the box, but Miggy’s shot deflected off the post and Villalba’s rebound attempt on a mostly open net went wide. Orlando keeper Joe Bendik’s ensuing goal kick found Cyle Larin ,who laid the ball of to Kaka. The legendary Brazillian took the ball space and thumped it past Brad Guzan and into the top right corner.
Class. Class. Class. #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/B3idlMmeBd— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) July 29, 2017
“He took it quite early. He didn’t let it come across his body and hit it with the outside of his foot. At that point, it’s always leaving me,” Guzan said. “From our point of view, it’s probably not the best goal to concede. A direct ball from the goal keeper. On another day I think I’m able to get a hand to it. In saying that, I think he’s probably scored a few of those in his career.”
Atlanta outshout Orlando 8-6 in the first half, but missed opportunities and a world-class strike sent the Five Stripes into the locker room down one.
Atlanta United continued to apply relentless pressure in the second half, but the Five Stripes seemed to run out of ideas. Frustration began to build. Temper’s began to flare. The crushing weight of imminent sadness set in.
But then, when all hope seemed lost…….
THE LION TAMER COMETH pic.twitter.com/cxlUEQP6IL— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) July 29, 2017
The goal was Tito’s team leading tenth goal of the year, and his team-high second “kick that completely breaks the spirit of Orlando fans.”
“I made a diagonal run,” Villalba said. “But Yamil did everything.”
Villalba has scored four goals in his last four games, and continues to be a more than adequate replacement up for the injured Josef Martinez.
“I’m just adapting to the position and trying to do what the coaches ask of me. I’m trying to make up for not having Josef,” he said.
Asad’s assist -- maybe his biggest of the year -- gives him 10 this season. He’s tied with four others for the MLS lead.
It’s a draw that for most fans will feel like a win. Avoiding a traveling Orlando contingent heading home happy and back to their twitter accounts is maybe the greatest positive from the afternoon.
The end result got mixed reviews from players and Tata Martino.
“At a moment in the second half we got a little desperate. We stopped circulating the ball like we’d been doing before that. In general, I thought we played really well. We just didn’t finish the chances,” Martino said. “We scored a goal in extra time so that feel’s good, but on the other hand we controlled the game and didn’t win. In that sense, it’s like a loss.”
Guzan took a more positive approach.
“Going into that game, knowing what kind of game it was going to be and to limit their chances. To get a draw at the end of the day was fully deserved, he said.
While the result wasn’t perfect, the defense was a bright spot today. The new car smell of Orlando’s strikeforce of Cyle Larin and Dom Dwyer didn’t affect the back line, and the unit was able to limit Dwyer and Larin’s chances.
“They’re both very good strikers on their own,” captain and centerback Michael Parkhurst said. “Together, they’re a handful. I think for the most part we did well and eliminated their chances. I felt we did a pretty good job of keeping them away from dangerous areas.”
With Larin and Dwyer neutralized, Bobby Dodd stadium could have been sent off into the sunset with a win if not for Kaka.
But the country’s oldest stadium did get one final moment and one final explosion of noise thanks to Villalba and Asad.
The players were almost as sad to see their time at Bobby Dodd come to a close as the fans.
“I think it’s been awesome. Really one of the most enjoyable stretches of my career,” Jeff Larentowicz said. “Coming out on the field against the Red Bulls was one of the coolest experiences of my career. I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss the sun. But good things are ahead. I’m always trying to soak it up. We’re really looking forward to a special stadium ahead, but I think to a man we really enjoyed our time here.”
“Our time here, we weren’t thinking, ‘Oh, we can’t wait to get out of here,’” Parkhurst said. “We enjoyed our time here. The atmosphere here was fantastic, the fans were awesome. It was amazing.”
The Five Stripes move on from Bobby Dodd to face Sporting KC next Sunday night at 8 p.m. They’ll return home to the brand-new stadium/intergalactic spaceship that is Mercedez-Benz on Sept. 10 against FC Dallas.
The draw keeps the Five Stripes in fourth place for now, but a New York Red Bulls win over Montreal tonight will knock Atlanta United down to fifth.
Orlando stays in seventh. One spot below the playoff line. A line they would have crossed if not for Tito “The Lion Tamer” Villalba.