A 12th-minute headed goal from Tesho Akindele would be all Orlando City SC needed in their Eastern Conference matchup with Toronto FC at Exploria Stadium on Saturday, as the Lions rode the early tally to a 1-0 victory.
HIGHLIGHTS: Orlando City SC vs. Toronto FC | May 22, 2021
It was a more entertaining matchup than the final scoreline might indicate, as both sides had multiple good chances that narrowly missed, but the hosts ultimately took all three points on the strength of Akindele's goal and some stalwart goalkeeping from Pedro Gallese.
Orlando shot out to a dream start in just 12 minutes in through the eventual game-winner from Akindele. The veteran forward made the most of some pinpoint service from Silvester van der Water, who put a cross from the right flank on a platter for Akindele to easily head home a point-blank finish.
Toronto nearly equalized on 24 minutes after a ball popped loose just outside the top of the penalty area, allowing Auro Jr. to tee up a shot that took a wicked deflection and looked destined for the back of the net. But the Brazilian would see the attempt denied by a great kick-save from Gallese, allowing the Lions to preserve their one-goal advantage. Yeferson Soteldo had Toronto's other best look of the first half, but the newly signed Venezuelan attacker had a shot from a difficult angle cleared off the line by Robin Jansson.
Akindele had two good chances to add to that lead in the second half, but couldn't quite convert a pair of breakaway opportunities. The first came in the 49th minute after he was sprung in on goal by Mauricio Pereyra, only to see the shot go just wide. The second came in the 67th minute, this time set up by a perfect through ball from Jansson, but Akindele would see his shot denied by Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono.
Toronto saw a potential equalizer thwarted by a goal-line clearance again in the 71st minute when substitute Jacob Shaffelburg sent in a shot from the left side with Gallese off his line, but Rodrigo Schlegel would clear away the threat.
The Reds continued to press for a leveler and put on a flurry of late pressure, culminating on a wild last sequence of the match when Gallese made a pair of highlight-reel saves to preserve the result, the last of which saw the Peruvian backstop go full extension to deny a laser shot from Soteldo.
- 12' - ORL - Tesho Akindele | WATCH
- THE BIG PICTURE: Playing without suspended star Nani, the Lions did well to protect their home field and pick up all three points. Oscar Pareja's group remain unbeaten at 3-0-3 through six matches and look poised to continue to challenge at the top of the Eastern Conference throughout the season. It's a less rosy picture for the Reds, who fall to 1-3-2 amid a slow start to their league campaign. It remains to be seen if the return of reigning MVP Alejandro Pozuelo is what's needed to set them on their way or if there are deeper issues at play.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: With his team protecting a one-goal lead, Gallese's double-save at the very end proved to be the difference between his team dropping two points and taking all three.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: He subbed off right before the hour mark but Silvester van der Water had an impressive shift in his first start for Orlando, showcasing some of the dynamic traits that led the Lions to bring him in during the offseason, including with the pinpoint dime on Akindele's goal for his first MLS assist.
GOAL: Tesho Akindele, Orlando City SC - 12th minute
- ORL: Saturday, May 29 at New York Red Bulls (1 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+)
- TOR: Saturday, May 29 at Columbus Crew ( 3 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+)