For much of the U.S. Open Cup match against New York City FC, the Lions looked every bit the team that spent an extra day traveling and was playing with just one day of preparation and recovery. But despite letting a lead slip away with just seconds remaining, Orlando City showed grit and determination in the penalty shootout after a 1-1 extra-time draw and advanced to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals for the first time in club history.
The Lions won a sudden-death penalty shootout 5-4 at Exploria Stadium and advanced, despite not beating the Pigeons for the seventh consecutive competitive match (0-4-3). Orlando City fans and players won’t care about the game officially being a draw because the team is in the semifinals. The draw for the location will be Thursday at 2 p.m. ET.
Adam Grinwis was the big hero, stopping two New York City FC penalties in the shootout, after Chris Mueller and Maxi Moralez traded goals in the second half of normal time.
“Obviously exceptionally proud of the whole football club,” Head Coach James O’Connor said after the match. “I think when you look at tonight, we’ve created a little bit of history. Now we’ve won the biggest game in the club’s history. I think when you look at the fight and the mentality — I mean, granted in the last minute we would expect not to concede a goal like that — but I thought the composure then when it did go to penalties was excellent. I thought the mentality was very strong.”
O’Connor went with mostly a first-choice lineup for the quarterfinal match-up against fellow 2015 MLS expansion side NYCFC.
The first half wasn’t one that either team will frame and mount on their wall to look at. Orlando City started the game with a couple early chances, then fell into a lethargic 20-minute span.
Sebas Mendez fizzed a shot just a foot to the left of the far post off a corner kick in the second minute in what turned out to be Orlando’s best opportunity of the half.
The Lions spent much of the opening 45 minutes hemmed in their own half, passing out to midfield, then back to their own box. They struggled with New York City’s pressure and turned the ball over frequently or lumped it up the field. Ronald Mattarita was left all by himself on the Lions’ right side in the 10th minute and fired a shot wide of the back post with a couple of teammates lurking nearby.
The visitors nearly scored three minutes later. Maxime Chanot got a free header on a corner kick but Grinwis made a spectacular save to keep the game scoreless. The rebound was headed onto the top of the net.
Around the 25-minute mark Orlando started to get onto the ball more but couldn’t really generate anything dangerous. Nani shot a few attempts well over the bar but New York City FC’s defense kept turning the Lions back toward their own goal and nobody seemed particularly interested in beating their man one-on-one.
Orlando out-shot the visitors 7-5 in the scoreless opening half, but New York City FC registered the only shot on frame. NYCFC held 62.5% of the possession and was the more accurate passing team (84%-77%).
Orlando got more of the possession to start the second half but couldn’t do much with it other than rack up corner kick after corner kick. Very few of the chances were dangerous, but Will Johnson did manage the team’s first shot on target from a tough angle in the 49th minute.
The Lions finally broke the deadlock in the 61st minute on a gorgeous play. Mendez picked up the ball in midfield and found Nani down the left flank. The Portuguese star stormed down the wing and sent in a perfect cross for Mueller to head home to make it 1-0.
“The ball was kind of just floating up and giving me time to make a decision,” Mueller said. “I just headed it back across and I think Tesho was almost there to tap it in. I thought he was going to steal it (laughs).”
Akindele was wise not to touch it and risk an offside call, and the Lions held the lead.
New York had a lot more possession after the goal but the visitors got very few chances until late when they brought on Anton Tinnerholm, who helped the attack with dangerous crosses in from the wing.
Tinnerholm had a late header attempt that went just over the bar and it just about looked like Orlando had survived six minutes of stoppage time when disaster struck. A ball into the area deflected and fell perfectly for Moralez, who shot it from just in front of goal. Robin Jansson got a touch but could only get a piece of it and it found the corner of the net to make it 1-1 at the death, sending the match into extra time.
“Conceding in the (96th) minute was gutting for the boys,” Grinwis said. “To go into that extra 30 minutes was a grind. And (the supporters) fought with us all through that. The supporters were there and they kind of were that extra man and we needed their energy because it was hard to bring ourselves back up after such a gutting moment.”
The first 15 minutes of extra time were mostly uneventful, with New York City FC sending a few hopeful crosses into the area but neither team had any clear-cut opportunities. Orlando players looked to be running in mud, arriving second to every 50/50 ball.
Grinwis was forced to make a decent save on Castellanos in the second half of extra time but mostly the final 15 minutes consisted of Orlando kicking the ball back to New York City FC. No one had any legs left and even the second half subs looked like they’d played all 120 minutes.
When extra time couldn’t decide the match, the penalty shootout was set to start at the south end of the stadium, where no one was seated. The supporters from the wall sprinted down the concourse and pushed past security to fill the section behind the goal and lend their support — a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed by O’Connor or his players.
“I’m just immensely proud of the supporters as well,” O’Connor said. “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.”
Tesho Akindele fired home the first penalty and Grinwis kept out Alex Ring to push the Lions ahead. Kyle Smith — who had an excellent game at left back in place of the injured Joao Moutinho (quad) — scored on Orlando’s second kick and Valentin Castellanos answered for NYCFC. Dom Dwyer tried a cheeky stutter step as the third shot, and as often happens with such run-ups, he left his shot way too close to Brad Stuver, who saved easily. Anton Tinnerholm buried his shot, tying it at 2-2 after three rounds, putting the pressure on Orlando.
Will Johnson and Keaton Parks exchanged goals in the fourth round and Dillon Powers and Jesus Medina each converted in Round 5. Uri Rosell scored in the sixth round, and Maxime Chanot stepped to the spot to take New York City’s sixth. He fired and Grinwis dove to his right to make the save and send his team through to the semifinals.
“As a goalkeeper, these are the kinds of situations you dream of,” Grinwis said. “If I’m not noticed, that means the team had a good game. That means I didn’t have to do much, and that’s a good thing. I just wanted to help the boys however I could because they fought for me all 120 minutes. So, if I was able to dig a couple out and help them out, it’s the least I could do.”
New York City FC ended up with 64% of the possession and a 16-14 advantage in shots (4-3 on target). The Pigeons passed at an 82.7% clip to Orlando’s 69.6%. But in the end the Lions’ mental toughness led them past a good opponent and into the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
The Lions return to league action on Saturday, playing their third match in a calendar week when the Columbus Crew come to Exploria Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.