ORLANDO, Fla.—After his late, late penalty winner grabbed a priceless win for Orlando City SC in the most dramatic of 3-2 scorelines, Lions playmaker Kaká said with as much as he's seen and done in his long, storied career, this one was meant a great deal.
With the game in the 100th minute and Toronto FC still fuming at the penalty awarded by referee Ismail Elfath, the City skipper stepped up to lash his kick off the bar and just behind the goal line.
The successful penalty spared Orlando a fourth successive 2-2 draw, after the Reds looked to have bagged a point with a 90th-minute equalizer. Instead, the last-minute win capped a wild game that had already extended Orlando's home unbeaten streak, which dates to July 19 of last year.
“I just wanted that goal so badly,” Kaká said. “It was so important to us and, because I missed my last PK, I just kicked it with something extra. When it hit the bar, I didn’t know if it would come back out, so my heart stopped at that moment.
“It was very, very big to win this game after everything that happened,” he said, referring to the mass shooting at a gay nightclub two weeks ago that took 49 lives and injured 53 other people. "I just looked at it as a big gift for our supporters. They gave us the power and strength [to keep going] and this is for them tonight.”
Both Kaká and head coach Adrian Heath admitted they were thinking, “Not again,” after Justin Morrow tied it, 2-2 in the 90th minute, in a game the Lions dominated for long stretches but failed to put away. That had been the case last week at home to San Jose and in last month's 2-2 draw with Philadelphia.
“It would have been a travesty if we hadn’t won the game,” Heath said. “I thought some of the individual performances and our overall play was fantastic, but it was a poor goal to concede at the end.
“Once again we have left it late to get a result I thought we deserved, and maybe we were fortunate with the penalty, but their lad had his hands all over Julio [Baptista], so we have certainly earned it. There have been too many times we haven’t got that decision.”
Heath singled out many of his players for a lung-busting effort on a hot and humid night that required a water break in each half. He had especially kind words for Adrian Winter, who headed City in front seven minutes from the end of regulation from a Kevin Molino cross.
“Adrian must have run a million miles tonight,” Heath insisted. “It is so difficult to keep believing when you keep making 50- and 60-yard runs and not getting the reward for them. But he stuck at it. And some of our combination play with Cyle [Larin], Kaká and Kevin [Molino] in the first half was excellent.”
Keeper Joe Bendik was delighted to win playing against his former team for the first time, but he didn’t think the game would have a happy ending.
“It actually looked like he had missed [the penalty kick] at first,” Bendik admitted. “But it was an excellent feeling at the end. It was more about the three points than the fact it was Toronto, and our willingness [to keep going] carried us through in the end.”
Kaká also pointed to the weather as a critical factor in the result. “It was pretty hot and humid,” he added. “But we have to use this to our advantage because we train every day in this weather and, if it’s tough for other teams, we have to be able to use it as a good weapon.”