Orlando, FL. The Charleston Battery lost to the Orlando City Lions Friday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl in a USL PRO semifinal ending the Battery's hopes of repeating as league champions. After conceding three early goals the Battery fought back to 3-2 but the rally fell short as Orlando held on for the win.
Orlando will now face the winner of the Richmond Kickers vs Charlotte Eagles semifinal match in next weeks championship game; Richmond hosts Charlotte Saturday night at City Stadium in Richmond, VA.
The game started at a frantic pace with Orlando pressing for an early lead. The breakthrough came after only six minutes after forward Dennis Chin found some space on the right side of the box. Chin crossed to the back post and his strike partner Long Tan tapped in from close range.
The bad start worsened less than a minute later as Orlando doubled its lead. This time Tan crossed from the right side for Adama Mbuenge who hit a clean finish past Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper into the right corner.
Charleston were shell-shocked and looked stretched as Orlando continued to attack. The Battery finally came up for air in the 15th minute after earning a corner following a long ball forward. Jose Cuevas whipped the ball into the near post but forward Dane Kelly's header rose over the bar.
Minutes later Orlando scored its third from a corner-kick at the other end. The ball came in at pace and was deflected onto the underside of the cross-bar. Dennis Chin reacted first to the loose ball and bundled it over the line from inside the six-yard box.
Charleston needed a goal before half-time to have any hope of completing an unlikely comeback. Ten minutes before the break the chance came after Kelly's chasing run forced Orlando goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo to come out of his box and head the ball clear. Midfielder Michael Azira ran on to the clearance and headed the ball over the stranded Gallardo and into the empty goal.
The goal changed the game with the Battery firmly in the ascendency. Amadou Sanyang missed a good chance in the 50th minute heading wide from in front of goal. Two minutes later Nicki Paterson came close but his scuffed shot went across goal and wide of the target.
The second goal finally came on the hour-mark with Cuevas tricking his way past Orlando's left-back Erick Ustruck before chipping the ball across to the back post. Sanyang had pushed forward to join the attack and this time he made no mistake, snapping a header home.
Charleston's best chance for an equalizer came in the 64th minute after a surging run down the left side by veteran defender John Wilson. Wilson managed to pick out Kelly in the box but Kelly lifted his first-time shot over the bar.
Tempers began to fray with Orlando feeling the pressure and the tension boiled over in the 75th minute after Long Tan was booked for diving in the box. As he got to his feet he clashed with Charleston captain Colin Falvey and after the dust settled the referee issued both players red cards.
The Battery continued to fight knowing another goal would send the game into extra-time but Orlando were strong enough to run out the clock and hold on for the win.