Danny Mwanga's penalty kick rolled softly down the middle and into the net, lifting Orlando City past the Charleston Battery and into the fifth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, after one of the craziest soccer games ever.
I mean, how do I even begin to explain this game? Eight goals were scored after a scoreless first half. A player got a hat trick on penalties alone -- and then missed one when the game went to PKs. Orlando City had a two-goal lead in extra time and still had to go to spot kicks. The Lions and Charleston Battery went 10 men deep in the penalty shootout.
This game was an idiot and you'd never believe anything that follows below if you didn't see it. And you shouldn't. No one should ever believe the story of this match.
Still, it was the Lions coming from behind twice, blowing a two-goal lead and then outlasting the Battery in sudden-death penalties in the sweltering heat at Charleston's Blackbaud Stadium after regular time ended knotted at four.
Earl Edwards Jr. was the star of the spot kicks, denying three Battery strikes, the last a diving two-handed stop of defender Taylor Mueller to set up Mwanga's winning strike. Edwards also stopped midfielders Dante Marini and Zach Prince just to keep the Lions in it, after Odisnel Cooper stopped Carlos Rivas and Lewis Neal early.
Charleston Battery fought hard, and for long stretches of the game were the better side, against a team of mostly reserves sent out by Adrian Heath for this fixture. Their collective rust showed in a lack of chemistry and ideas in the final third, along with some cheap turnovers.
The only regulars Adrian Heath selected in his starting lineup were left back Luke Boden, center back Seb Hines (who hasn't been starting the last few games), right wing Eric Avila and midfielder Lewis Neal, who played in the No. 10 role normally held down by Kaká. Speedy sub Carlos Rivas started and played more like a striker than a midfielder, and forward Danny Mwanga served in more of a supporting midfield role.
Tyler Turner got the nod at right back next to rookie Conor Donovan, whose only previous playing time for the Lions was in a friendly. Likewise for goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. Harrison Heath played alongside Amobi Okugo at defensive midfield.
The first half was a slow-paced, ugly affair with few chances for either team. Orlando City played like a collection of guys not used to playing together, because that's what the starting lineup was, basically. The Lions moved slowly, passed the ball slowly and the only speed on the pitch consisted of Rivas's occasional forays forward on long balls.
Charleston fashioned the best scoring chances of the first half. Donovan blocked a Maikel Chang shot inside the box eight minutes in. Edwards was forced into a big save on a Dane Kelly smash at the 36-minute mark, and Eric Avila cleared a Ricky Garbanzo header off the line in stoppage time on a scramble off a late corner kick.
Rivas provided the only consistent threat in the opening 45 minutes for Orlando, taking a couple shots from distance and getting to the end line and looking for Mwanga, only to see his pass deflected by keeper Odisnel Cooper.
Hines had the best Orlando City chance, off a corner kick, but Cooper was able to get to the defender's header.
Things picked up after the break, with Charleston moving quickly and aggressively, taking the game to Orlando and creating chances and getting lots of corner kicks (10 in all). At the 58-minute mark, the Battery drew first blood on its fourth corner of the half, as Jarad van Shaik got free of Luke Boden and headed the cross past Edwards.
Five minutes later, the Lions drew level, with Lewis Neal splitting two defenders and slamming a header past Cooper, off a beautiful long cross by Tyler Turner. Turner took an apparent knock to the leg on the play and was replaced by Rafael Ramos, who would factor into the scoring later.
Following Orlando's goal, Charleston again became the more dangerous side and regained the lead with Kelly getting onto a long ball, sprinting past Conor Donovan and slotted home past Edwards into the far side in the 67th minute. The goal spurred on the Battery's confidence, and they were by far the better side for about the next 10 minutes.
That's when a moment of individual brilliance by Ramos led to a tying PK. Ramos sliced down the right, outside of one defender and inside another and into the box, where he was bundled over by Mueller. Rivas stepped up and drilled the spot kick to tie the game in the 76th minute, beating Cooper with a hard shot into the lower left corner. It was only the beginning for Rivas, who finally opened his Orlando City account.
Orlando had a couple of half chances down the stretch, but the game remained even after 90 minutes, plus four more minutes of stoppage time.
Just three minutes into the extra session, Rivas was sent in alone on Cooper, took a touch to blow by the Charleston keeper and was taken down. The Colombian took his second penalty and calmly blasted it into the upper 90 on the right side, exactly the opposite of where his first one went.
Late in the first 15-minute half of extra time, second-half sub Pedro Ribeiro got a nearly identical clean break and his deft touch forced yet another takedown by Cooper, who somehow managed to not get sent off as the last defender on two separate occasions. In fact, Cooper wasn't even booked for either one. Rivas again went low to the left, completed his PK hat trick, and pushed Orlando's lead to 4-2.
But the Battery weren't done. As the first half of extra time was in its dying moments, Harrison Heath gave Justin Portillo about eight yards of space above the penalty area and the Battery midfielder blasted an unstoppable rocket from 25 yards out into the upper 90 to Edwards' right in the 117th minute. It was a huge goal that boosted Charleston headed into the final 15 minutes.
The Lions couldn't get off their back foot down the stretch. They defended a number of Charleston forays into the box and Ribeiro was too slow in releasing Rivas for a potential kill shot twice, when disaster struck off what seemed like the billionth Battery corner of the night. Okugo went to ground in a header attempt of a low, sinking ball and handled it in the box. Portillo stepped up and scored from the spot to tie it at 4-4 with just four minutes to play.
Orlando tried a desperate final attack but the whistle blew with absolutely no stoppage time for some reason. The teams went to PKs that seemed would go on forever.
Edwards was easily the man of the match with his shootout heroics, but he also had several key saves throughout the game to keep Orlando in it, including a one-handed stab to deny Kelly just three minutes before Okugo's blunder in the box.
The Lions will now have to regroup and head to Montreal, where they'll face the Impact on Saturday night. Most of the regulars should be nice and fresh, but Boden and Neal went the full 120 minutes, Ramos and St. Ledger were called into action as subs, and Avila played an hour before coming off for Ribeiro in the second half. Ribeiro himself played an hour.
The Lions will learn their Round 5 opponents tomorrow with the U.S. Open Cup fifth round draw. The match will take place June 30 or July 1.