As we count down to the new year of 2020 — which will be Orlando City’s sixth in MLS, OCB’s second in USL League One, and the Orlando Pride’s fifth in the NWSL — and say goodbye to 2019, it’s time to look back at the club’s 10 best moments of the year.
Major League Soccer promised Orlando an All-Star Game when Orlando City was putting together the plan for its soccer-specific stadium. The club had to wait a few years but the league’s global showpiece came to the City Beautiful in 2019, giving the city a chance to do what it does best — host big events. The official announcement came last September.
This year, Spanish giants Atletico Madrid signed on to play the league’s All-Stars. Atleti was introduced as the opponent by the legendary Diego Forlan and Orlando City captain Nani was selected as a starter for the game.
But before the match even took place on July 31, Orlando City took center stage in a new ancillary event — the All-Star Skills Challenge. Nani, Sebas Mendez, and Chris Mueller represented Orlando City against a trio of players from Atletico Madrid and an MLS All-Star trio on July 30. The three teams went toe to toe in a variety of competitions that tested the players’ touch on the ball and their ability to pass and shoot. It went down to the very last touch of the last competition but when Nani rang the crossbar with his final kick, the team from Orlando had won it. No Orlando City fan will ever forget this snapshot:
Benji Michel and Mason Stajduhar represented Orlando City in the MLS Homegrown Game, which also took place on July 30. The MLS Homegrown team drew the Chivas U-20 team, 2-2 and then went on to win 3-0 on penalties in the shootout that followed.
But soon enough it was time for the main event. Nani and his fellow MLS All-Stars took to the Exploria Stadium pitch against Atletico Madrid. Things didn’t go well for the All-Stars, even though there were some moments of individual brilliance. The MLS All-Stars started in a 4-1-4-1 under then-Lions Head Coach James O’Connor with Nani on the left side of the midfield.
Although Atleti won 3-0, it was an entertaining night of soccer at Exploria Stadium. The best scoring chance during Nani’s time on the pitch came when the captain laid off a pass for Alejandro Pozuelo of Toronto, who in turn laid off for D.C. United’s Wayne Rooney, but the former Manchester United striker fired just over the crossbar.
Marcos Llorente, Joao Felix, and Diego Costa scored the goals for Atletico Madrid and although the hosts suffered the loss, everyone who attended was a winner. It was an outstanding evening of pageantry and skill and one of the more enjoyable events I’ve ever covered.
It may be some time before the game comes back to Orlando, and when it does it will likely have a very different format and feel. But that night in July will long be remembered and it’s certainly worthy of inclusion in our top moments of the year.
Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City’s top 10 moments of 2019.
Previous Top 10 Moments of 2019
10. OCSC hosts the USMNT in a Concacaf Nations League game.
9. OCB returns in USL League One.
8. The Orlando Pride upset the Red Stars in Chicago.
7. Orlando City B picks up its first USL League One win.
6. Orlando City hires Oscar Pareja as head coach.