Loons top Orlando 3-2 with Hlongwane’s stoppage-time goal

A Minnesota United team that last season squandered too many late leads or draws has now scored a second-half stoppage goal every game so far this season, to keep them unbeaten and battling Portland for first place in the Western Conference.

On Saturday, it was striker Bongokuhle Hlongwane's 96th-minute goal in his season debut that beat Orlando City SC 3-2 at Inter&Co Stadium.

The Loons surrendered a goal in the 14th second — the fastest ever by an Orlando City team celebrating its 10th MLS season — and a late one in the 84th minute. Young Duncan McGuire scored both goals for the Lions, just as Loons veteran Teemu Pukki scored a brace himself with goals in the first half's 4th and 38th minutes for a 2-1 lead that didn't stand quite long enough.

But Hlongwane's winning goal after he subbed in for Pukki during the 66th minute was the difference for a team that was outdone most of the second half by Orlando City, which had chance after chance but only produced McGuire's brief tying goal late in the game.

The Loons are 2-0-1 without star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, who missed his third game to start the season, and without a permanent head coach as Eric Ramsay starts his new job later this week.

"It was a crazy one," Pukki said in a video call afterward. "To be honest, I don't know if we deserved to win this game. They had quite many chances, but in the end, it doesn't matter who deserves it or not. We're happy with the three points."

Hlongwane's goal was the difference, just as Tani Oluwaseyi's 95th-minute goal tied defending MLS Cup champion Columbus 1-1 in the Loons' home opener last week and Alejandro Bran's 91st-minute goal beat Austin FC 2-1 in the season opener.

Interim Cam Knowles sounded emotional after what could be his last game as head coach. He's expected to stay on as an assistant on Ramsay's staff rather than return to coaching the Loons' second team.

"The heart, the fight, the character, it's unbelievable," Knowles said. "To weather that storm for long stretches of the game, the chances the opposition created, the amount of possession they had — man, what they showed was just incredible.

"To concede so early, essentially from the kickoff, to respond so quickly and then to keep going and going, I can't give the guys enough credit."

BOXSCORE: Loons 3, Orlando 2

They trailed 1-0 before they knew it, after Orlando City turned Hassani Dotson's bad pass in the midfield into a turnabout, one-pass dash that McGuire converted into a goal inside the 18-yard box.

Those 14 seconds went fast.

"I don't know, that should not happen," Pukki said. "That's not how we want to start games. That was not us. We can't let that happen again."

Pukki needed just three minutes to tie the game. He pressed Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese into kicking a clearing pass that Pukki's foot blocked. It bounded free and he rolled it from a sharp angle into the far side of an open goal.

Pukki's goal in the 38th minute came courtesy of Finnish national teammate Robin Lod's assisting pass in Lod's first game back after leaving the opener injured. Pukki's one-touch strike from just outside the 18-yard box went just inside the left post for a 2-1 lead that stood until late in the second half.

"It's a rollercoaster of emotions," Knowles said. "Being down, being up, being even. I'm just so proud of the guys. That's a huge, huge, huge three points."

Hlongwane's winning goal came as a second-half sub, after it was deemed he was fit enough to play after missing the preseason. He was stopped at short range in the 79th minute and unstoppable in the 96th minute. Oluwaseyi's unselfish pass set him up for the counterattack winner, just as Oluwaseyi had on Bran's goal in the season opener.

"There's just so much fight in this team and so much belief," Knowles said. "We never know when their number will be called but when it is, be ready and, man, have they been."

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.