It looked like it would be Orlando City’s night after the first 45 minutes on Sunday.
Ercan Kara got a gift of a goal in the second minute and Ruan scored in the 22nd for a two-goal edge at the break. But the MLS match shifted in the second half tremendously, with Orlando having two players sent off before conceding a penalty and then allowing a goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time to come away with a 2-2 draw.
A lot of Orlando’s ire came at the direction of head official Joe Dickerson following the match. The Lions felt aggrieved following several calls in those final 45 minutes, including a second yellow card to Rodrigo Schlegel in the 60th minute and the last corner of the game that led to Austin FC’s equalizer.
“It’s frustrating. Very frustrating, the management of those plays. We’re going to take this point at this time,” Lions coach Oscar Pareja said. “We’ve got to protect the game.”
The Schlegel handball that led to his sending off also led to a penalty for Austin FC (7-3-3, 24 points), which it converted. The replay showed that the ball grazed his arm as it went past, but nothing was definitive in the play. Referee Dickerson did not check the play on the monitor, instead going with the call made on the field.
The Lions (6-3-4, 21 points) were reduced another man after Cesar Araujo went into a challenge against Austin’s Alex Ring, kicking out at him after missing the ball. That play did go to VAR, which resulted in the midfielder being sent off.
The nine players remaining for the Lions managed to stave off the best offense in the league for the rest of the way until the 95th minute.
A ball deflected by Austin’s Julio Cascante came off the head of teammate Moussa Djitté. Dickerson instead ruled that the ball came off an Orlando player, giving the home side a corner. Seconds later, Djitté put the game-tying goal into the back of the net, rescuing a point for Austin.
“I don’t know if it’s the right call, the wrong call. I have to look and see what took place,” Austin FC coach Josh Wolff said. “Those are calls that referees are supposed to make. So I think that’s not getting the benefit. That’s actually referees executing their job, and I think that’s the responsible reaction of the penalty — the handball — that becomes what they’re supposed to call.”
After the match, Dickerson answered pool-reporter questions explaining his decisions, saying that “Schlegel had extended his elbow and deliberately handled the ball on the shot headed toward goal.”
As for why the play wasn’t reviewed, he said, “The VAR will only recommend a review if there is a clear and obvious error with the on-field decision.”
The decisions that mired the ending of the match did not sit well with Pareja.
“It was our ball, and they call the corner,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. The corner that they gave out is unbelievable. Unacceptable for me. It’s in front. There in front. The boys that are working hard and then teams don’t need to be given anything.”
The Lions will need to shake off the adverse decisions to prepare for Wednesday night’s home match against Inter Miami CF in the Round of 16 for the U.S. Open Cup.