ORLANDO – Fans rose to their feet each time Kaká touched the ball during the Major League Soccer debuts for both the Orlando City Soccer Club and New York City FC.
But it took a little more than the length of the match for locals to get what they came to see at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Kaká delivered a crucial goal, thanks to a lucky bounce, that evened the match after NYCFC took the lead in the 76th minute. Spain’s David Villa set up U.S. national team member Mix Diskerud for a score from the top of the box that put the visitors in front and seemingly ruined the day for the Lions.
But the Brazilian legend tied the match on a free kick in the 91st minute by deflecting a shot off of defender Jeb Brovsky, who provided an otherwise fiery presence throughout the match.
The announced crowd of 62,510 – the second-largest for an inaugural home match in league history behind the LA Galaxy’s 69,255 at the Rose Bowl in 1996 – erupted once the ball landed safely into the left corner of the net.
“I’ve scored many big goals in my career but I put this goal in a special place,” said Kaká, a former world player of the year. “When I saw the ball go inside that goal it was amazing. I really wanted to score the first goal for this team.”
The magnitude of Orlando City’s first MLS goal will be remembered for quite some time. Even more so because the Lions were forced to play the final stretch of the match shorthanded after defender Aurélien Collin drew a red card following a tackle of Villa in the 83rd minute.
The final score read 1-1, but it was the City of Orlando and it’s rowdy supporting collective throughout the stadium that won big Sunday as the color purple filled the Citrus Bowl to capacity in front of a national audience on ESPN2.
Major League Soccer hadn’t played a regular season game in Florida since the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion went under following the 2001 season.
It seems much has changed in more than a decade. Orlando City and NYCFC are among eight new teams to have joined MLS since 2007, bring the total number of clubs to 20 just in time for the league’s 20th season.
Expect plenty more memorable goals to come from each side this season. This budding rivalry is just getting underway.