By Official Florida FC
Homegrown talents do not sprout immediately. Orlando City’s patience with homegrown attacker Benji Michel once again paid off for the club in Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over visiting Columbus.
Michel scored his sixth goal in all competitions in the 84th minute to help 10-man Orlando (11-3-8, 41 points) vault into third in the Eastern Conference ahead of Columbus (11-6-5).
Orlando City is 4-0-2 this season when the Orlando native finds the back of the net.
Wednesday’s win clinched a home playoff berth. Orlando City will find out its opponent for its Nov. 20 playoff match following results on Sunday’s Decision Day.
“The guys are ecstatic,” Michel told reporters afterward. “We are real excited that we’re able to lock up a home game in the playoffs. For the city. We owe so much to the fans, this franchise. Us winning this game meant so much to us.”
Michel’s intervention was necessary because Orlando City talisman Nani was red carded late in the first half for what was deemed to be a two-footed challenge.
“Even a man down, we still played well,” Michel said. “We couldn’t even notice that we were a man down. That’s how great our team is. That’s how much we trust each other and how much we believe in each other’s capabilities.”
Chris Mueller scored his team-leading 10th goal of the season in the 27th minute to open the scoring. Less than 10 minutes after intermission, Columbus’ Harrison Awful equalized in the 56th.
If there was ever a question on how much first-year manager Oscar Pareja has changed Orlando City, it was on display in the final 34 minutes of Wednesday’s match.
“The second half, we knew Columbus was going to come for the reactions, normally, and we found this play with Nani where obviously we disagree, totally. We’ll have the opportunity to review it, but after that I think the heart of our players came up and they showed what they have this year,” Pareja told reporters afterward.
“A team who may not be made by the best players, but are a bunch of players that make each other better and better and I’m very proud. I’ve said it before tonight, it’s an honor for me to coach these guys and I give the credit to them. It’s nothing else. It was their heart and the three points against a very good rival at home and we secured our spot for playoffs and a home game which is another objective accomplished, so we’re good. We’re good, a lot of emotions today, but it was worth it.”
Wednesday’s win was just the third time in Orlando City’s MLS history that the club won a match where a player was sent off. The most recent instance was also against Columbus at Exploria Stadium. However, by the time Dom Dwyer was red carded in stoppage time of that July 13, 2019 win over the Crew, the Lions led 1-0 via an 84th minute Michel goal. Orlando City also beat D.C. United 2-1 on Sept. 9, 2017 at RFK Stadium. However, the Lions had a 2-0 lead when Servando Carrasco was dismissed in the 79th minute.
Orlando City enters the final matchday of the 2020 MLS season third in the Eastern Conference. The Lions have fewer losses than any team in Major League Soccer and have a chance to tie a club record with 44 regular season points if they can beat Nashville at home on Sunday.