Photo courtesy of Bethlehem Steel FC
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – For weeks, Orlando City B had been in a prime position to earn a berth to the 2016 USL Cup Playoffs. Following a five-game losing streak and eight-game winless streak (0-7-1), OCB finally put an end to those skids that temporarily put them on the outside of the postseason picture this weekend, earning a much-needed 2-0 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC on Sunday at Goodman Stadium. Wilmington Hammerheads FC (8-12-10, 34 points) had moved into eighth place Saturday following its 2-0 victory against the Richmond Kickers to go two points ahead of Orlando, forcing the expansion side into a must-win situation on the final day of the regular season. OCB stepped up in the moment as Johnny Mendoza’s ninth-minute goal from Michael Cox gave the visiting side the early advantage and Lewis Neal tallied in the second half to put the match away. Orlando finishes the regular season with a 9-13-8 record (35 points) overall and 5-8-2 on the road. OCB had last its previous six road games. Fellow 2016 expansion side Bethlehem saw its season come to a close as the Steel moved to 6-14-10 (28 points) overall and 4-6-5 at home, ending the season with a 12-game winless streak (0-8-4). Orlando, as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, will next face the top-seeded New York Red Bulls II in the conference quarterfinals on Sunday at Red Bull Arena.
9’ – ORL – Johnny Mendoza (Michael Cox)
58’ – ORL – Lewis Neal
Three Things That Mattered:
1. Orlando had everything to play for Sunday and needed a strong start. OCB rose to the challenge within the first 10 minutes as Johnny Mendoza notched his second goal of the season in the ninth minute for a 1-0 lead. Michael Cox did the brunt of the work as he fended off a defender on the left side of the box, crossed in and set up Mendoza for the tap-in score. Cox has three assists on the season.
2. OCB put the match away in the 58th minute as English footballer Lewis Neal volleyed home a long-distance strike that found the upper left corner of the frame for a 2-0 lead. Pierre Da Silva chested the ball and sent it up forward, where Bethlehem’s Derrick Jones had an opportunity to intercept. However, he only got a slight touch and ended up aiding the OCB buildup. Neal took advantage and drove his shot into the back of the net for his second tally of the campaign.
3. The Steel attack looked pretty fluid in the buildup, but the host side had nothing to show for its efforts despite a dominant 13-2 shots advantage through the opening 45 minutes. Brazilian Leo Fernandes had the closest chance, with a left-footed strike from outside the box that caromed off of the crossbar in the 35th minute. Beyond that particular sequence, one of the most consistent threats was through Philadelphia Union Academy product Justin McMaster. The 17-year-old pressured the goal throughout both halves, particularly the opening 45. McMaster’s individual effort in the 17th minute included a cutback to his right and a long-distance shot with pace, only to go directly to OCB goalkeeper Mark Ridgers for the save. In the 23rd minute, McMaster made a run from the left and with a difficult angle either attempted a shot or half cross in which he just missed the goal and Bethlehem didn’t have a teammate on the end of the buildup.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match:
Lewis Neal, Orlando City B – The OCB veteran placed a beautiful volley into the upper left corner for a two-goal cushion to cement a spot in the postseason during Orlando’s regular-season finale.
Bethlehem Steel FC – End of Season
Orlando City B: Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, at No. 1 New York Red Bulls II – Sunday, Oct. 2, 4 p.m. ET – Red Bull Arena