Orlando City SC’s game-winning goal in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Montreal Impact came from an unlikely source.
With the hosts needing three points to keep their post-season hopes alive, substitute Seb Hines struck in the 80th-minute following a half-cleared corner to hand his side a vital win over their Eastern Conference rivals.
It was the former Middlesbrough defender’s first goal since scoring for the Championship club back in August 2012, but he might not have been on the pitch to provide the finish had it not been for an unfortunate event earlier in the game.
The 27-year-old centre-back, who initially joined Orlando on loan in February before his contract at Boro expired in the summer, suffered a dislocated shoulder in the previous week’s 5-2 win at the New York Red Bull and, as a result, was not deemed fit enough to start on the night.
However, despite wearing a shoulder brace on the bench, the Yorkshire-native was forced off the bench only 11 minutes into the match when teammates Tommy Redding and Rafael Ramos were involved in a sickening aerial collision which forced both off.
Rookie sensation Cyle Larin eventually gave playoff-chasing Orlando the lead in the 33rd-minute with his 15th goal of the season but Dominic Oduro equalised for Montreal just before half-time to set up a tense second period.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, though, Hines proceeded to write his name into club folklore with the crucial strike that saved the expansion side from almost certain elimination ahead of their last two regular-season games.
“It was just instinct, really,” he told MLSsoccer.com after the win. “The ball fell to me and I was lucky enough to get a good connection on it. It was a really big feeling to see it go in, just amazing, really. And I think it shows the mettle of this team. We will not just give up until it is all over.”
On playing only a week after his shoulder injury, the Boro academy graduate added: “I had to wear a brace to protect it. There was a little concern that it might come out again, but I think our back four did a terrific job tonight. We all battled for each other.
“We knew we had to get three points, and we have now put ourselves in a position to take this to the end of the season and, although we still need other teams to help us, it should make for a great finish now.”
Orlando are now only two points behind Montreal, who sit in the East’s sixth and final playoff spot, but the Canadian outfit still have two games in hand with which to widen the gap.
Nevertheless, Adrian Heath’s men still retain some hope of passing their Didier Drogba-led rivals going into their last two games and that’s thanks in large part to Hines’ well-timed contribution.