Benji Michel broke a tie in the 84th minute for 10-man Orlando City, who earned a 2-1 win against the visiting Columbus Crew in a battle for third place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference on Wednesday.
Orlando (11-3-8, 41 points, 1.86 points per game) moved in front of the Crew (11-6-5, 38 points, 1.73 points per game) heading into the season finale for both teams. If they wind up level in points per game, the Crew would earn third by virtue of the first tiebreaker, wins.
Michel took a long pass from Mauricio Pereyra off his head and chested the ball down with three Columbus players in pursuit, but he managed to get a shot that beat goalkeeper Eloy Room for his fifth goal of the season. Pereyra got his second assist of the match and seventh of the year.
Chris Mueller gave Orlando the lead in the 27th minute. Harrison Afful got the equalizer in the 56th, four minutes after the game took a dramatic turn when Orlando star Nani was given a red card for his serious challenge on Artur. The booking came after a video review.
Nani will miss the finale Sunday against visiting Nashville SC, as will Pereyra for yellow-card accumulation. The Crew end at home vs. Atlanta United.
Orlando played from the start like a team confident in its chances, and with good reason. The Lions are one of three MLS teams with an unbeaten home record (6-0-3).
In contrast, Columbus is the first team to make the playoffs without winning a true road game. The Crew are 0-5-5 outside of Columbus, excluding their 3-0-0 record in the MLS is Back Tournament at a neutral site near Orlando.
Mueller gave Orlando City the lead with his 10th goal when the Lions took advantage of the Crew’s third unforced error. Afful’s outlet was easily intercepted by Pereyra near the top of the penalty area on the left side, and he found Mueller on the opposite flank.
A half-hour later, Columbus’ Pedro Santos laid off a short pass at the top of the 18-yard box for Afful, who fired the ball into the top left corner.