With Orlando City playing in their first MLS Playoff match, it was always going to be a memorable one. Through the first 10 minutes of the match, it was even more evident that this would be a special game.
But no one could predict that the Lions would go down a man in regulation, head to penalties, lose their goalkeeper to a second yellow after coming off the line, put a centerback in goal and still, somehow advance to the next round of the MLS Cup playoffs after a 6-5 victory in penalties against New York City FC on Saturday at Exploria Stadium.
“I think we need more time to calm down and reflect on what happened tonight,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The analysis of the game, it may wait for tomorrow when we can analyze the soccer side. What just happened at the end, I never saw it before and this is the beauty of this game that we’re humans and full of emotions and mistakes and good things and all of that. Today, the ball bounced our way, well deserved. The boys showed today the heart of this franchise. That made me very proud. We will prepare for the next game because this doesn’t stop, but what happened today I will keep in my memory forever.”
It’s hard to wrap up succinctly how this all unfolded.
Within the opening eight minutes, Nani had scored a penalty kick in the fourth minute after Anton Tinnerholm’s hand hit the ball in the box.
The captain’s goal also marked the first for the Lions in the playoffs.
Just three minutes later, NYCFC’s Maxime Chanot headed a corner past Pedro Gallese to level the game in the eighth minute.
The initial thought would be the match would be a back and forth thriller, but that ended the scoring for both teams through a full 120 minutes.
Throughout the rest of the first half, NYCFC created numerous chances on goal, but Gallese made some massive stops to keep the game level. A theme that carried over into the second half.
Days before Saturday’s match, the Lions thought they’d have to start the playoffs without Gallese after his Peruvian call-up to the South American World Cup qualifiers. But a last-minute charter flight from the league allowed the keeper to skip a quarantine period, putting him back between the posts against New York.
The rest of the match evolved into a physical battle between the two 2015 expansion teams. Challenges for balls became challenges to see who was brave enough to get hit on the way to it.
10 cards total were shown through the match, two to two Orlando players.
The first came in the 85th minute when NYC’s Gary Mackay-Steven knocked Ruan to the ground. On his way to his feet, Mackay-Steven put both hands on Ruan and shoved him back down.
Ruan then retaliated, kicking the NYC player in his thigh. The referee deemed that a dangerous offense, showing a straight red and with minutes left in regulation, Orlando was down to 10 men.
Despite that, the Lions almost found a winner in the last moments of regulation. Nani managed to get into the attacking third and fire a cross to Tesho Akindele, who hit his wide-open shot over the crossbar and into the stands.
That final kick sent the game into extra time, where Orlando held on for the next 30 minutes to make it to a penalty shootout.
That’s when things went a bit sideways.
The beginning of the shootout was standard. Maxi Moralez hit the crossbar to open the shootout, then both teams scored theirs until the fifth taker for New York City, Valentin Castellanos. Gallese saved the shot, the team celebrated as if they had won and the crowd went wild.
However, after a VAR review, referee Alan Chapman deemed that Gallese had come off his line early, which is an automatic yellow card.
This was a ruling that was contentious for a number of reasons. The current International Football Association Board Laws of the Game deem that “Warnings and cautions issued during the match are not carried forward into kicks from the penalty mark.”
However, because MLS started before these laws went into effect, they are governed by the 2019/2020 laws, where the ruling hadn’t been added yet.
Since Gallese had already gotten a yellow earlier in the match, he was shown his second yellow and sent off, leaving Orlando without a goalkeeper for the rest of the shootout.
At one point, Orlando tried to sub Brian Rowe in, but only an eligible player currently on the field could take the place of Gallese.
So in stepped centerback Rodrigo Schlegel to don the keeper gloves.
After Castellanos made his penalty and Nani missed his, which would have won the game for Orlando, it was back to even for the shootout as they went into sudden death.
NYC’s Nicolás Acevedo beat Schlegel, then Robin Jansson scored past Sean Johnson.
It then was left to New York’s Gudmundur Thórarinsson.
Schlegel managed to guess right and save Thórarinsson’s penalty as the team went wild and rushed the centerback/goalkeeper.
The Lions thought they had advanced, but there was still one more kick to take. That job fell to Orlando’s own Benji Michel.
Benji stepped up, blasted it past Johnson and took off his shirt in celebration, flexing for the fans.
In one of the wildest finishes to a game Orlando City has ever seen, the Lions managed to prevail.
Orlando will now wait for their opponent after the Philadelphia Union take on the New England Revolution
5′ – Nani [PK] (Orlando City)
8′ – Maxime Chanot, assisted by Jesus Medina (Orlando City)
|Maxi Moralez – Miss|
Jesús Medina – Goal
Tony Rocha – Goal
Ismael Tajouri-Shradi – Goal
Valentín Castellanos – Goal
Nicolás Acevedo – Goal
Gudmundur Thórarinsson – Miss
|Tesho Akindele – Goal|
Andrés Perea – Goal
Antônio Carlos – Goal
Júnior Urso – Goal
Nani – Miss
Robin Jansson – Goal
Benji Michel – Goal
How the Lions lined up
Starting XI: Pedro Gallese; Ruan, Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson, Kyle Smith (Rodrigo Schlegel, 101′); Uri Rosell (Andres Parea, 83′), Junior Urso; Chris Mueller (Kamal Miller 90+4′), Mauricio Pereyra (Benji Michel, EHT), Nani; Daryl Dike (Tesho Akindele, 83′)
Bench: Alex DeJohn, Brian Rowe, Joey Dezart, Matheus Aias.
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