Survive and advance is a good description of what Orlando City did tonight on a rainy evening at Exploria Stadium. The Lions played lethargic soccer for nearly 90 minutes, then scored twice in extra time and then held on against a furious rally to nip the New England Revolution, 2-1.
Benji Michel opened his Orlando City account and Tesho Akindele added some much-needed insurance before New England scored late and came close to equalizing numerous times. The Lions are through to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals and will host New York City FC at 7:30 p.m. on July 10.
“Obviously, very pleased to get through,” O’Connor said after the game. “I thought it was a very tough game, as we knew it would be. Credit to New England. I thought they put up a great fight. I thought it was a very difficult game for both football teams, back and forth. But I thought the heart and the commitment that the players showed was outstanding.”
O’Connor put together a similar lineup to last week’s match in Memphis, but starting fullbacks Joao Moutinho and Ruan returned to the starting XI, pushing Shane O’Neill and Alex De John to the bench. Other than that, the personnel were only different on the bench, with Nani, Kyle Smith, and Michel dressing, along with last week’s reserves Brian Rowe and Carlos Ascues.
The first half was as sloppy as the Orlando weather throughout the day, with neither team doing a whole lot. The Lions were slow and plodding and as a result New England easily picked off a pass nearly every time City approached the final third. The Revolution were easily the more motivated club for the first 45 minutes and that showed in their 7-2 advantage in shots, even though New England failed to put any on target (Orlando managed one).
Teal Bunbury got the game’s first shot three minutes in, sending a shot that Adam Grinwis parried but it looked to be heading wide anyway. Cristian Penilla sailed a shot over the bar four minutes later.
Orlando’s first shot came off a counter attack that put Cristian Higuita into a good spot but the Colombian didn’t get much power on his effort and it was an easy save for Matt Turner in the eighth minute. Santiago Patino fired a header wide off a free kick cross in the 16th minute and Orlando’s chances were done for the half.
Most of the rest of the first half was played between the boxes with the teams trading forays forward only to turn it over when they came toward goal. New England looked the far more likely team to score, getting deeper into the Lions’ end overall.
Late in the first half, the Lions tried to send a long ball to Higuita and Jalil Anibaba got to the aerial ball first, colliding with the Orlando midfielder in the New England box. He won the ball cleanly but Higuita was injured on the play and had to be subbed off with an apparent leg injury.
The half ended 0-0 with Orlando holding 57.4% of the possession and out-passing the Revs 86%-79%.
New England continued to get the better opportunities in the second half and it seemed like only a matter of time before the Revs would cash in. Sacha Kljestan blocked a shot by Anibaba off a corner kick in the 57th minute to deny a goal. After a couple of Orlando crosses couldn’t find anyone in the area, a cross to an open Penilla looked like it would give New England the lead but the Revs forward couldn’t set his feet properly and the chance was wasted in the 66th minute.
After a weak shot by Chris Mueller fell right to Turner, New England nearly scored in the 75th minute. Adam Grinwis did well to get down to deny a wicked cross that was back-heeled on frame by Bunbury.
Juan Fernando Caicedo hit the post four minutes later, then tracked down the rebound and missed wide.
Orlando City got a late flurry despite the second half being all New England, which coincided with Michel entering the game in the 81st minute. Akindele smashed a shot off the post five minutes later as the Lions started to find some energy. The rebound almost fell for Michel but he was offside and Ruan followed with a shot that didn’t matter, but it was right at Turner anyway.
Moments later, Dillon Powers fired and forced a great save by Turner, who committed to his right and had to reach back to his left to make the save.
The full time whistle blew and the game headed to extra time for two additional 15-minute halves, still scoreless. The Revs held a 14-7 lead in shots after 90 minutes but Orlando got three on target to New England’s one. The Lions held 56% possession and an advantage in passing accuracy (84%-79%).
In the first minute of the extra period, Michel got down the right. With no one else in the area he fired a bad-angle shot that forced Turner into a save. The Revs came back the other way and fizzed a cross through the six but no one could get a touch on it.
Michel’s earlier foray was a sign of things to come. The Lions broke through in the 96th minute when Moutinho got down the left and fizzed a cross in that deflected off the back of Michel’s foot. It fell for Carlos Ascues, who shot. Turner saved it but Michel was there for the put-back to open his Orlando account and make it 1-0.
“I mean, wow. It’s an amazing feeling,” Michel said of scoring his first professional goal. “I’ve been dreaming of this since I was younger, watching the club and then thinking about me scoring in front of these amazing fans, and I finally achieved it. I scored my first goal in front of this club and I’m still just...thinking about it. It’s like amazing to me.”
Ascues freed himself up for a shot in the 100th minute but it was deflected out for a corner kick by the defense. A minute later, the ball fell to Akindele’s feet in the box. He was standing dead still and couldn’t get any power on his shot, but it deflected off Andrew Farrell and wrong-footed Turner, trickling across the goal line to make it 2-0. After what seemed an interminable amount of stoppage time, the Lions held a two-goal advantage into the extra time break.
Nani nearly made it 3-0 just after the restart on what would have been a truly spectacular goal. The Portuguese star tried to catch Turner off his line from near midfield and the ball sailed just over the bar and landed on the roof of the net.
Orlando then went into conservation mode more out of self-preservation than sitting on the lead. Powers went off with what appeared to be a groin injury or cramps and limped off the field, being replaced by Alex De John. Akindele could hardly walk let alone run for the final 10 minutes.
As a result, New England sent numbers forward and was able to sustain some pressure over the final five minutes. The Revs broke through in the 117th minute on what seemed like their 20th dangerous cross of the game. Carles Gil sent a back-post ball that second-half sub Justin Rennicks got onto and nodded home to make it a game with just minutes remaining.
The Lions got nervy after that but were able to just see out the final few minutes, with Bunbury heading just off target in stoppage time. The whistle mercifully sounded and City had a trip to the quarterfinals.
“Credit to our back line,” Grinwis said of his defense’s work on the night. “I mean, even Joao Moutinho, who’s one of the shortest guys out there and he’s winning balls in the air left and right. I think we weathered the storm well, because they were just putting balls in on us left and right. It was tricky on the pitch and I thought (the defense) did really well to manage that.”
Orlando saw 52% of the final possession and was the better passing team (83%-80%) but the Revs fired more shots (22-15). The Lions, however, were the more accurate side, getting eight attempts on frame to just three for New England.
Orlando City returns to MLS action next Wednesday, June 26 at D.C. United.