JACKSONVILLE, FL — Orlando City’s 2016 U.S. Open Cup run is off to a good start. Playing their first game in more than two weeks, and their first match since Sunday's senseless act of violence, the Lions traveled to Jacksonville for their opening match of the tournament, where they escaped with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Southern Oak Stadium on Jacksonville University's campus.
The win came as a relief for Orlando City and the club's fans after a somber week in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shootings that claimed the lives of 49 people.
"It's been a really emotional few days for everybody, and I'm glad we got this out of the way now and can concentrate on Saturday because it's going to be another emotionally-charged evening," Head Coach Adrian Heath said after the match.
In addition to both teams walking out of the locker rooms prior to kickoff wearing purple "#OrlandoUnited" t-shirts, fans applauded throughout the 49th minute as another tribute to the 49 victims. It was a cathartic evening for the club and its traveling supporters.
While nearly the entire team traveled for the match, Heath used a reserve-heavy lineup against the team that was able to beat Orlando City, 2-1, in Jacksonville in a preseason friendly back in February.
David Mateos finally broke the Lions through with his first competitive goal for Orlando City in the 62nd minute, off a corner kick. Julio Baptista headed Antonio Nocerino's corner ball back towards goal to find Mateos, who knocked in the game’s only goal, which ultimately was enough to send the Lions through the to next round of the tournament.
Neither team overly dominated the play through any point in the first half. Although Orlando City did control most of the better possession, the team struggled to put together dangerous opportunities after 17 days between competitive matches.
Orlando City nearly made it 1-0 before the crowd of 2,155 had time to sit down. Carlos Rivas used his speed to turn the corner on the Lions' left side and squared a ball back across the box into the path of Julio Baptista. The Beast had a sitter on his foot but shot high over the bar from close range.
Jacksonville came up with its first real chance of the game 21 minutes in, when Junior Sandoval ripped a shot on goal from the right side of the box, but Earl Edwards Jr. was able to get a diving hand on the ball to knock it away for a corner kick.
Orlando City’s next best chance of the first half came in the 42nd minute, when Rivas rocketed a free kick goal just over the cross bar from about 30 yards out.
The Armada came back out as the better side at the start of the second half, but none of that mattered once Mateos put his far post header past former Orlando City goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo to put the Lions ahead, 1-0.
Rivas, who was very much involved in the game, although ineffective, put a header off a corner on goal minutes later, but was denied by Gallardo who pawed it off the line.
As time wore down, the NASL side continued to apply pressure on Orlando’s defense, which had been putting up a solid performance throughout the night. Edwards, who started in goal for Orlando City, came up with one of his biggest plays in the game in the 91st minute off a counter attack, coming off his line to collect a through-ball and effectively stop the Armada’s final dangerous threat.
"The second (half) I thought we played some good stuff, and we had great chance early on -- Julio [Baptista] had a great chance," Heath said. "I've said it a million times, goals change games, and had we went up then we would have had a bit more composure on the ball. I thought the second half when we sort of moved the shape around a little bit I thought it was a lot better.
"I'm glad we got out of it, it looks like we've come through unscathed, and we'll get them in tomorrow and get ourselves prepared for what will be a big game for us on Saturday."
The win puts Orlando City through to the fifth round of the Open Cup. The club will find out its opponent at noon on Thursday. The Lions will get back into MLS play when they host the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday at Camping World Stadium at 7:30 p.m.