As we count down to the new year of 2017 — which will be Orlando City SC's third in MLS and second in the NWSL — and say goodbye to 2016, it's time to look back at the club's 10 best moments of the year.
After narrowly missing out on the playoffs in Year 1 in MLS, Orlando City entered the 2016 season with high expectations and dreams of the postseason. While the Lions would eventually fall short of that goal after a tumultuous campaign, there was no way of predicting it would go that way based on the energy of another huge crowd at home on opening day.
After packing the Citrus Bowl with over 62,000 fans for the 2015 opener, the Lions managed to gather 60,147 purple-clad fans on March 6, 2016 for a bout against Real Salt Lake. By the time the match concluded, all 60k of those fans were left trying to catch their breath.
After Joao Plata scored a brace to put RSL up 2-0 — one goal on a first-half penalty and another in minute 66 from open play — spirits were dampened a bit inside the venue now known as Camping World Stadium, but if any fans headed for the exits early, they were certainly left regretting their decision after what Orlando City pulled off in the final moments.
In the fourth minute of stoppage time, with the game seemingly all but over, the Lions pulled one back via Cyle Larin, who finished on a quick cross in from Brek Shea on the left side to make it 2-1. But even then, with time running out and the Lions playing a man down for over 45 minutes, Orlando seemed destined for a loss on opening day.
That was before another bit of magic salvaged a point for the Lions in the 95th minute and leveled the score at the death, thanks to a miraculous long ball played by Servando Carrasco just outside City’s own 18-yard box all the way to the other side of the pitch. A sprinting Larin used his body brilliantly to hold off an RSL defender while guiding Carrasco’s ball into the penalty area before tapping it back to a charging Adrian Winter, who blasted it into the back of the net from 8 yards out to save a point and a 2-2 draw for Orlando.
It was an exhilarating moment in what would go on to be a challenging season, but it was easily the most memorable moment in the club’s short MLS history to that date, and it’s a draw that will always feel more like a win for Lions fans.
"In the end I can't ask the players of any more," former Head Coach Adrian Heath said after the conclusion of that fateful match. "I think the one thing that they've done is give us everything they've got. We have to be better. We will be better than that."
Orlando would go on to be better, but it couldn’t sustain that higher level outside of matches like the 4-1 drubbing of Portland in April. Ultimately, it was a high that wouldn’t last, but boy was it fun while it did.
The crowd of 60,147 was the largest single-game attendance in MLS in 2016, and it was fifth-largest crowd in the world on that weekend in March, a weekend that featured matches between German giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund as well as Real Madrid and Celta Vigo in La Liga. Not bad, Orlando.
Come back every day through New Year's Eve to count down the remainder of Orlando City's top 10 moments of 2016.
Check out the rest of our top 10 Orlando City moments of 2016:
9. Orlando City signs Antonio Nocerino and Julio Baptista.
8. MLS Commissioner Don Garber looks on as the first seats are installed in Orlando City’s new downtown soccer stadium.
7. Orlando City kicks off the Jason Kreis era with a victory over New England.
6. Orlando City dismantles defending champion Portland, 4-1.
5. Steph Catley’s historic first goal for Orlando Pride.
4. Orlando City B makes the playoffs on the last day of the season.