Setting up the first score early and converting a critical penalty kick late, Federico Higuain was instrumental throughout the entirety of the Columbus Crew’s 3-2 victory over Orlando City Soccer Club, the local USL Pro side competing in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic. The third-division team, which forced a draw against the Philadelphia Union earlier in the tournament, was unlucky to walk away with a second point for their troubles after playing a tough match against their MLS opponent.
Columbus got on the board almost immediately. Higuain stepped up to take a free kick outside the left corner of the area in the 4th minute. His lofted pass found central midfielder Agustin Viana, who headed the perfect ball down past Orlando goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo for what looked at the time could be a runaway victory.
Orlando City was getting more and more physical, though, finishing their tackles. Already Chad Marshall had exited the game as a precautionary measure, having sustained a head injury after getting hit in the jaw in the scrum leading to Viana’s goal. Unintimidated by their MLS counterparts on the pitch, the local side played a scrappy first half to prevent the Crew from building upon their early lead.
About ten minutes after halftime, Higuain missed a brightly-burnished opportunity to double the lead, unable to fake out Gallardo when he had just the keeper left to beat. Soon afterward, Orlando would be celebrating an equalizer. Pouncing on a poor back pass from Crew defender Glauber, 2005 SuperDraft selection Jamie Watson chipped the ball over Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum’s head to make it 1-1 in the 57th.
The home side continued to get physical now that it had paid dividends. They missed three great opportunities to take the lead, the best a Dennis Chin header that pinged off the crossbar. But the physicality would also take its toll. Scottish midfielder James O’Connor incurred two yellow cards in quick succession for hard fouls, earning the ejection with the latter in the 68th minute. Six minutes after the red card had been shown, Higuain took a corner kick that restored Columbus’ lead. Whipping the ball into the box, Josh Williams rose to head down Higuain’s setup to make it 2-1.
Despite being down to ten men, Orlando would grab another equalizer just five minutes after Williams’ score. Brian Fekete, a rookie on trial with Orlando City after his graduation from the University of Tampa, punished lackadaisical Crew defending with a shot that caromed off Gruenebaum and a defender to restore equality on the scoreboard.
But that physicality ultimately cost Orlando most dearly when it led to a controversial spot kick. Fekete, hero only ten minutes earlier, became the goat as he brought down Eddie Gaven in the penalty area a minute from stoppage time. Higuain, catalyst for the two previous goals, stepped up to take the kick. Drilling the ball past Gallardo, the Argentine attacker earned the Crew the hardest-fought of their three straight victories at the Disney Pro Soccer Challenge.
Columbus will play in the championship game next Saturday against the Montreal Impact. After finishing last in Group A, Orlando City will take on the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies in the 7th/8th match in the early match next weekend.