Orlando City has traveled to Colorado to visit the Rapids. The opponent holds a special place in the history of Orlando City, as it was the first MLS club the Lions defeated in a competitive game. It will also be the first time striker Dom Dwyer faces the team as a Lion since a memorable performance at the Citrus Bowl.
As a small third-division club, the only chance Orlando City had to face MLS competition in meaningful games was in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Lions were 0-2 against higher division teams when they were drawn at home against the Rapids in a match that was played May 28, 2013.
It wasn’t Colorado’s best side that traveled to Orlando, missing key players like Drew Moor and Edson Buddle, but the Rapids did have a strong team comprised of Marvell Wynne, current Lion Dillon Powers — the MLS Rookie of the Year that season — and Nick LaBrocca. Regardless, defeating an MLS team was a huge accomplishment for what was then a third-division club.
Like many games during the 2013 season, it was best known for the play of Dwyer. Having already scored 12 goals in 11 league games, Dwyer scored twice in the second half, lifting the Lions to the 3-1 win. Only an offside call in the 41st minute kept the striker from a hat trick.
Orlando City had narrowly missed out on its first competitive win over an MLS team in 2011 with a 3-2 loss at FC Dallas and a year later with a loss at Sporting Kansas City by the same score. Beating an MLS team provided the club with national recognition and provided the opportunity to travel to Kansas City to face the defending U.S. Open Cup champions two weeks later.
The game against Colorado was not just an important one for the club, but also for its on-loan striker. When MLS teams face their USL affiliate, it’s up to the MLS team to decide whether their on-loan players can compete. Most of the time they allow it but, led by the fear of being knocked out by a player sent on loan, SKC Head Coach Peter Vermes decided to buck the trend and not allow the loaned players to play. While Dwyer was a 2012 first-round MLS SuperDraft pick on a tear through USL Pro and SKC was keeping an eye on him, it’s likely that his performance against a strong MLS side convinced them he was ready to return, leading to his recall on June 27.
Orlando City has played the Rapids four more times since that night at the Citrus Bowl. The following year, with the two sides drawn together again, the Rapids took no chances, playing their strongest lineup and defeating the Lions 5-2 in Colorado. In 2015, the Lions faced the Rapids on equal ground as the two were finally in the same league. Since entering MLS, Orlando City is undefeated at 2-0-1 when facing their opponent from the Centennial State, but the biggest win the Lions have had against the Rapids continues to be the 3-1 victory in 2013.
When Dwyer was traded to Orlando City last season, it was after the Lions and Rapids had met for their lone meeting of the season. That night in 2013 was the first time Dwyer had scored a goal against an MLS team. He has since scored 72 more of his 100 professional goals against MLS sides, but that first pair will certainly be remembered by the 27-year-old.
Most of the players and coaches that took part in that first meeting have moved on to other clubs or have retired. However, for Orlando City fans and the club’s star striker, facing the Rapids brings back special memories.