Taty Castellanos celebrates his equalizing goal. (Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports)

ORLANDO – Taty Castellanos converted a penalty kick in the 77th minute to lift New York City FC to a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium Saturday night.

The draw lifted NYCFC (2-1-1, 7 points) into a first-place tie with the New England Revolution in the MLS Eastern Conference. Orlando (6) moved to 1-0-3 and six.

“It says so much about the team,” NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila said. “We were missing [some veteran players (Maxi Moralez/Alfredo Morales)] that can make a difference. The boys go on and show themselves in that way, it just shows we’re coming [close to] what we’re talking about before the season—the togetherness, to be a team. Everyone is performing. Everyone is doing their job. They kept discipline. There was leadership on the pitch today.”

The game ended on a dramatic note as Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese produced a kick save on an onrushing Jesus Medina. About 10 seconds later, the final whistle was sounded as the team play to a draw here for the fifth time in a row.

“We deserved to win today,” Deila said. “We had four big chances, they had one. It wasn’t a chance almost—just a fantastic finish. If Jesus put that last chance in the goal, it wouldn’t have felt like robbery. I would feel like we were the closest to winning it. Overall, very pleased with the performance and proud of the boys.”

Castellanos put home his penalty to the lower right corner past Gallese to equalize at 1-1. After the referee  signaled to resume play and take the kick, the forward hesitated just a bit before depositing the ball into the net to become only the five player in MLS history to score in the first four matches of a season.

The penalty was set up when Joao Moutinho tripped second-half substitute Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the penalty area.

Orlando grabbed the lead in the 52nd minute when Nani powered a 22-yard shot from just outside the left of the penalty area past goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

“We go 1-0 down after a fantastic finish for Nani—they didn’t have any chances before that,” Deila said. “When you shoot like that, it’s okay…you just have to accept it. We just kept on going and getting back in the game.”

NYCFC entered the match looking for revenge after last year’s playoff fiasco and elimination by the Lions.

“It wasn’t the prettiest game from us,” midfielder James Sand said. “I think we’ve played much better soccer, in the end you can’t win them all pretty. I think to come down to this stadium against a really good Orlando side—in the heat, we’re not used to that either—to come away with a point, and probably the better chances. It’s a huge statement about the will of this team. It’s going to be helpful come playoffs because I think it’s something we’ve lacked in the past years. This team is different and we can go a long way.”

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.