Josef Martinez gave the Five Stripes a lead inside the first minute before Kyle Smith leveled two minutes before halftime. Marcelino Moreno put Atlanta back in front only to see the Lions tie things again through Silvester van der Water.
It appeared the match was headed for a draw until Almeida de Cunha won it for Orlando in the 87th minute to send the Lions back into second place in the Eastern Conference.
Story of the match
Orlando got forward in the opening seconds and Ruan was dangerous, but when his cross didn’t find its intended target, Atlanta scored going the other way.
A quick cross from Brooks Lennon on the left found Martinez near the top of the box and he rifled a shot off of the right post that caromed in, giving the Five Stripes the lead less than a minute into the game.
The Lions should have leveled in the third minute. Ruan got down the right and had Benji Michel breaking in alone at the back post but the Brazilian hit his cross too hard and it skipped through the box before he could get onto it.
Ruan had a go himself in the 15th minute, firing Orlando’s first shot on goal but hitting it straight at goalkeeper Alec Kann. A minute later, Mason Stajduhar came up big to stop a shot from Erik Lopez at the other end as the game was end-to-end.
Michel was robbed in the 21st minute by a sprawling, one-armed save by Kann. Atlanta immediately earned a corner at the other end and the Lions left Martinez unmarked but the Atlanta frontman headed well over the bar. Antonio Carlos headed just wide on an Orlando corner in the 27th minute.
In the 39th minute Ruan set Michel up right in front but he hit his shot right at Kann and when the rebound came back to him he couldn’t dig it out of his feet and the goalkeeper was able to regather it.
Finally, Orlando City made the breakthrough as Ruan again got down and without a good option in front he sent a hard, low shot on target from a tight angle that Kann saved.
On the ensuing corner kick. Nani sent it in across the box and Smith went low to get his head to it, knocking it past Kann to tie the match at 1-1 in the 43rd minute for his fifirst goal with the Lions.
Despite being outplayed, the Five Stripes regained the lead. Mauricio Pereyra made an ill-advised play to allow a pass across the midfield to go through him, but Nani couldn’t get onto it in time and Atlanta caught the Lions with Ruan and Chris Mueller caught up field.
Moreno got the ball with time and space on the left corner of the area, cut to his right and smashed a ball just inside the upper right corner where Stajduhar couldn’t reach it, putting Atlanta up 2-1.
Substitute Van der Water nearly made an impact four minutes later when he got into space but he couldn't settle down Pereyra’s pass. A minute later, he tied things up as Pereyra sent a beautiful ball over the top to Michel on the left and he headed the ball across the box to van der Water, who headed past Kann.
Smith turned over the ball in his own end moments later and gave Atlanta a chance to regain the lead again from a corner kick. The cross was low and deflected to Anton Walkes, who hit his shot just wide of the goal in the 82nd minute.
Orlando found a winner three minutes from time as Van der Water got the ball on the right, cut back to the corner of the box and sent in a dangerous cross. Nani timed his run perfectly, got his head on the ball and knocked it past Kann to make it 3-2 and give the Lions an improbable victory.
Man of the match: Silvester van der Water
He was only on the field for 16 minutes, but the Dutchman had a huge impact, scoring the tying goal and assisting on Nani's winner.