Orlando City seemed poised to cap off a vindicating winning season with one final victory.
The team led 2-1 after a free kick from captain Nani gave the Lions the lead in the 61st minute. Orlando City had been dominant throughout the match ever since the Lions opened the scoring in the fourth minute.
But Nashville had other plans. In the 88th minute, Hany Mukhtar headed a cross in the box past Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe. Five minutes later, Jhonder Cádiz knocked home the game-winner to shock the Lions with their first home loss of the season.
Instead of finishing the season on a four-game win streak, the Lions fizzled to a 3-2 loss to conclude the first regular season of the Oscar Pareja era with an 11-4-8 record.
With the draw, the Lions dropped to the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference entering their first MLS postseason. Orlando City will host New York City FC in the playoffs, facing off against its original MLS rival after the teams joined the league in 2015 as expansion sides.
The Lions took the reins of the match early, with rookie Daryl Dike thundering downfield to score in the fourth minute. It was the fastest goal for Orlando City this season, and it seemed to set the tone for another dominant performance from the Lions.
Dike has now scored eight goals in his first 17 matches as a professional, netting one in each of his last four appearances.
This strike was perhaps his most ruthlessly clinical — a perfect thread across the box from an extremely flat angle, finding a small opening to ricochet off the post and into the net. Dike pulled off that shot at a full sprint, flying past half the Nashville defense to take the early lead.
Although Orlando City maintained its grip on possession, Nashville managed to find a response in the 20th minute when a cross on a set piece ricocheted out of the box. Daniel Lovitz ran onto the ball, smashing it into the net to level the score 1-1.
Barely 24 hours after his red-card suspension was rescinded, Nani seemed to be prepared to deliver game-winning heroics in the 61st minute.
Set up for a free kick outside the Nashville box, Nani took only three steps to loft a shot that looked almost effortless as it curled away from the keeper and into the top corner of the goal.
The goal broke a 1-1 stalemate, surging the Lions into a quick flurry of attack. But the Lions' defense fell apart to Nashville in the final minutes of the match, ceding the loss for an anticlimactic finish to the team’s historic season.
The Lions will now take a two-week break before beginning the MLS playoffs, which kick off on Nov. 20.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at email@example.com.
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