Soccer can be the cruelest of sports, as New York City FC and Orlando City FC were reminded Sunday night in their inaugural Major League Soccer match.
Despite being outplayed for a good portion of the match, the visitors took the lead on Mix Diskerud’s goal in the 76th minute.
Aided by an Orlando red card, it looked as if NYC FC would steal three points, only to walk out of the Citrus Bowl disappointed with a 1-1 draw after Brazilian great Kaka scored off a deflected free kick 30 seconds into stoppage time.
The ball, which appeared to be heading toward goalkeeper Josh Saunders, deflected off NYC defender Jeb Brovsky in the defensive wall into the lower left corner.
“It was an unfortunate goal,” coach Jason Kreis said.
“You feel like you should be able to win the game when they’re only 10 men and we’re a goal up,” said Diskerud, whose 17-yard strike off a David Villa feed past goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts gave NYC the lead.
It looked even better in the 83rd minute when Orlando defender Aurelien Collin was red-carded for a vicious foul on Villa, giving NYC a man advantage the rest of the game.
With time running out, Ned Grabavoy fouled Kevin Molino 25 yards out. Kaka, who forged a reputation by turning free kicks into goals, did just that, even if it was aided by an opponent.
“If you give Kaka that many opportunities,” Saunders said, “he’s going to put one on frame or he’s going to score.”
Diskerud said NYC “probably could have done a better job riding the game out, using time on the ball.”
Saunders, who was superb, may have been fortunate just to be in the game at that juncture after taking two hits. He hit the back of his head vying for a free kick during the 14th minute, and Carlos Rivas’ knee hit him in the chest in the 63rd minute.
“You’re not going to take a goalkeeper out of a game in a situation like that unless he’s begging to come out,” Kreis said. “He wanted to stay.”
Kreis said NYC’s shaky early play was due to nerves in front of an enthusiastic capacity crowd (62,510) that was essentially a sea of purple.
“It’s inevitable,” he said. “You have 63,000 fans there that are so loud it makes the team extremely handcuffed that has to play in front of those fans.”