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.
If New York City FC had had its way, those seats behind Adam Grinwis would have been completely empty. The coin toss decided that the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match would be decided on the south side of the pitch, opposite The Wall. The Wall was not going to accept that result, and took it upon its collective self to right the injustice of chance.
It was a hot and muggy July 10 evening in Central Florida. Orlando City was on the verge of getting to the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the first time in club history, and the fans who showed up that evening were ready to help them make it. The Lions had moments, then got sloppy, defended fairly well, and survived the first half to walk into the locker room tied at 0-0.
The excitement throughout the stadium was building, although riding a knife edge, as the second half whistle blew. In the 61st minute, Chris Mueller sent the stadium into a collective pandemonium as he headed in a perfect cross from Nani.
Now, the fan base held its breath for 29 minutes, plus stoppage time, to punch that ticket to the semifinals. The curse of the last-minute goal weighed heavily on all Orlando City fans’ minds. NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez would stab every Orlando fan in the heart in the sixth minute of the six minutes of added time, scoring a gift of a goal to equalize as the ball literally landed at his feet.
Both teams worked hard through extra time, but after 120 minutes of play, the scoreboard still showed 1-1, and both teams looked exhausted.
Chance decides who has the option to kick first or second, and chance also dictates which goal will be used for the penalty kicks to decide the match winner. Chance decided that the goal to be used would be the south goal, approximately 115 meters away from the front row of The Wall. The groans and disdain grew exponentially, getting louder and more intense as the players began to slowly assemble on the midfield line and the two keepers started to walk towards the goal.
The section behind the south goal was completely empty, and this was not acceptable. Fans could be seen running towards the south end, congregating and pleading their cases to the security teams attempting to contain the growing mass. Then, the floodgates opened, the fans could not be denied, and the once-packed Wall on the north end of the stadium emptied into a tsunami of supporters pouring into the sections behind the goal on the south end of Exploria Stadium. Where the visitors thought they would get a little reprieve from the cacophony of support for the Lions, they were met with an ever growing wall of noise.
That singular moment sent a very loud and clear message to everyone in MLS that Orlando City fans truly mean it when they chant “...and where you go I’ll follow,” and we all absolutely mean it with conviction. A coin flip would not deny the masses that evening of supporting the club through the insanity of penalty kicks to determine the winner.
I was one of those people running from end to end of Exploria Stadium. You could feel that moment give itself to the players on the pitch and give them that added bit of energy after 120 minutes of play on a still, hot, and humid Florida evening. Players were waving at more and more fans to run down to the south end seats and join the sea of purple humanity pilling up behind the goal.
Buoyed by the mad, end-to-end dash by thousands of supporters, Grinwis, who denied Alex Ring after Tesho Akindele had put the Lions out in front of the penalty shootout. After the first five shooters from each team had provided four successful spot kicks, the shootout went to sudden death. Uri Rosell supplied the most steely nerved penalty in Orlando City history and turned the game over to Grinwis. The Grinch denied Maxime Chanot — the villain from opening day who every Orlando City fan felt should have been called for a handball in the area in an eventual 2-2 draw that day — and the stadium exploded. The Lions were through to their first U.S. Open Cup semifinal appearance.
It was an electric moment that will forever be a big part of the history of the 2019 season. I might even venture to say that this could be one of the top moments in the entirety of this club’s history, and one that showed just how cemented together the club and fans are. Despite the Lions going out in the next round, it was an unforgettable night. It might lack the real-life gravitas of our No. 2 moment but it was something unexpected and there was a strange magical quality to the energy in the building that absolutely transferred energy into an exhausted Orlando City team.
“I’m just immensely proud of the supporters as well,” then-coach James O’Connor said after the game. “I think when you look at the way they were tonight. They kept pushing and driving and singing and chanting, and then at the end, even when the penalties (were) on the far end for the supporters to just not accept it and to come all the way around and get behind the goal — what a special memory for the football club.”
That’s why the Running of The Wall is our number one moment 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.
4. Orlando City hosts 2019 MLS All-Star Game.
3. Orlando City signs Portuguese superstar Nani.
2. Toni Pressley’s return to the pitch after breast cancer treatment.