Now that we know who Orlando City will be playing in the Eastern Conference semifinals, let’s take a closer look at the Lions’ all-time series against Sunday’s opponent — the New England Revolution. While not exactly what you’d call a rivalry, the teams have played a tight, contentious, and interesting series of matches since 2015.
Orlando City is 2-4-5 in the all-time series, with a 2-0-4 record at home and a mark of 0-4-1 at Gillette Stadium in MLS play. Additionally, the Lions have a U.S. Open Cup home win over New England. It only makes sense that the USOC match was won in extra time because these teams don’t like to decide a winner in regulation, with a 2-2 draw being the most common score line (occurring three times) and a 3-3 draw coming in second (twice).
The series has been filled with excitement early and late. The teams have scored 52 total goals between them in the 12 all-time competitive meetings. Of those 52 goals, eight have been scored in the opening 20 minutes and 24 have been scored in the final 20 minutes, including 11 in the 90th minute or later.
Let’s take a look at Orlando City’s performances in the overall series in more depth.
The first meeting took place at the Citrus Bowl on May 8, 2015 and was a sign of things to come, with the teams drawing 2-2. Charlie Davies put the Revs ahead in the 19th minute and Kelyn Rowe appeared to put the game away for New England in the 71st minute. If Kaká’s equalizing free kick in the club’s first MLS match was the first sign of the Cardiac Cats, this match provided the second example and set the trend. Cyle Larin pulled back a goal in the 75th minute and Aurelien Collin pushed forward in the late stages, tying it up with a 90th-minute header. I’ll never forget asking Adrian Heath about this tactic after the match, only to be told it was a decision by Collin — not Heath —and that the gaffer was concerned the Revs were going to catch the Lions on a late counter to put the game away.
New England drew first blood in the series at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 5 of that year, winning 3-0. The Lions were missing Kaká, Larin, and Darwin Ceren due to international duty and Carlos Rivas due to yellow card accumulation, and the Revs took full advantage. Diego Fagundez opened the scoring two minutes before halftime and Juan Agudelo and Chris Tierney added goals in the 84th and 94th minutes, respectively.
The series returned to Orlando on April 17, 2016 for the most controversial match between the teams. Kaká put Orlando up via a penalty in just the second minute, but Teal Bunbury equalized in the 37th. Kevin Molino appeared to lift the Lions to victory with a goal in the 92nd minute but referee Baldomero Toledo whistled Servando Carrasco for a handball in the box just moments later, originally awarding New England a free kick outside the area. The ball hit Carrasco just above the Orlando City crest on his chest and may have got a piece of his left shoulder, but there was no chance it was a handball. Toledo consulted with his assistant and changed the free kick to a penalty when he realized the “unhandball” was inside the area. Lee Nguyen converted in the 96th minute and the teams finished at 2-2.
The teams met again in Foxborough 13 days later on April 30 and played to their third 2-2 draw in four meetings. Fagundez opened the scoring just seven minutes in, only to see Molino equalize in the 30th minute. Agudelo made it 2-1 in the 71st minute and it appeared the Revs would stay unblemished at home in the series when Rivas scored in the 90th to make it another 2-2 final. It was Orlando’s first — and, to date, it’s only — point earned at New England.
The Lions finally got on the board in the series with a 3-1 win on July 31, 2016. It was Jason Kreis’ first match at the helm of Orlando City and his team played well, despite falling behind 1-0 in the 19th minute on a Kei Kamara goal. Larin tied it up in the 46th minute and Molino added a brace with goals in the 64th and 83rd minutes.
New England blasted Orlando 4-0 at Foxborough on Sept. 2, 2017 in the most lopsided match-up to that point (although that designation would change 25 days later). The game was originally supposed to take place in March but was postponed due to wintry weather. Kamara scored his first career hat trick with goals in the 26th, 75th, and 89th minutes, and Bunbury added a goal in the 92nd. Orlando defender Jose Aja was sent off with his second yellow card in the 80th minute, all but killing any comeback opportunity.
The Lions got their revenge on Sept. 27, mauling the Revolution, 6-1. Orlando scored the most goals in team history in the MLS era and set a club record for margin of victory as well. New England’s Xavier Kouassi was sent off in the 11th minute after video review and then the Lions ran rampant. Antonio Nocerino and Yoshimar Yotún scored their first MLS goals in the match, Kaká added a brace, and Dom Dwyer and Seb Hines also scored. Nguyen scored on an incredible free kick just before the end of the first half to avoid the shutout.
The teams went back to the drawing board (so to speak) on Aug. 4, 2018, finishing in a 3-3 draw. It was a classic Cardiac Cats ending after Agudelo and Cristian Penilla scored in the first 18 minutes to set the early tone for New England. Dwyer scored in the 45th minute and Amro Tarek tied the match in the 71st, only to see Bunbury restore New England’s lead five minutes later. But Scott Sutter scored a dramatic equalizer in the 93rd minute to provide the final tally. The match was a bit spicy, with Brandon Bye fortunate to escape with only a yellow card for an awful challenge that knocked Sacha Kljestan out of the match with an injury.
New England won the return leg 2-0 at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 13. Penilla and Fagundez scored four minutes apart and the Lions finished the match without a goal for the fifth consecutive game during a rough stretch for Orlando. Despite a bit of a contentious history, referee David Gantar did not show a single card to anyone in the game.
2019 (0-1-1 + 1-0 in U.S. Open Cup)
Orlando City and New England met on June 19 in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line. The teams played 90 minutes without scoring and the match headed into extra time, when things suddenly got more interesting. Benji Michel opened the scoring in the 96th minute. It was Michel’s first professional goal and he became the first OCSC Homegrown Player to score for the first team. The game seemed out of reach when Tesho Akindele added a goal in the 101st minute. But Justin Rennicks pulled one back in the 117th minute, making for a nervy final three minutes of extra time. The Lions prevailed 2-1 and advanced to the “Running of the Wall” match-up with New York City FC two weeks later.
A couple of weeks after that memorable USOC match vs. NYCFC, the Revs again showed their strength at home, winning 4-1 in Foxborough on July 27. Gustavo Bou opened the scoring just three minutes in for the only scoring of the first half. The Revolution broke the game open after halftime, handing Orlando its worst loss of 2019 to that point, with a goal by Penilla two minutes after halftime, Gil’s 60th-minute penalty, and an insurance strike from Fagundez in the 75th. Akindele pulled one back in the 77th to help the Lions avoid the shutout. The Lions went on to equal that three-goal loss two more times by the end of the season, falling 3-0 at San Jose and 5-2 at home to Chicago on Decision Day.
The most recent meeting came on Sept. 14 of last year at Exploria Stadium, with the teams drawing again, 3-3. An own goal off Akindele put the Revs ahead in the 15th minute before Nani leveled things in the 22nd. Penilla and Bou scored six minutes apart to give New England control heading into halftime with a 3-1 lead. But the Lions fought back, getting a goal from Dwyer two minutes after the restart and Nani’s second of the game in the 54th ensured the teams split the points. Mauricio Pereyra registered his first MLS assist on Nani’s first goal and Nani broke the club’s single-season record for goals and assists in the match, reaching 12 goals and nine assists on the season.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lions and Revolution have not met yet this calendar year. There could hardly be bigger stakes to a first meeting of the year. This is the biggest game to date in Orlando City’s club history, even though it seems like we’ve said that a lot this season between MLS is Back and the MLS playoffs.
The Revolution were an impressive 5-4-1 on the road in 2020 and improved that mark with their win Tuesday night at Philadelphia in the postseason. But the Lions would rather play the Revs at home due to not only having a good home record this year but also an abysmal record at Gillette Stadium.
Regardless, the biggest chapter in the series so far will be written at Exploria Stadium on Sunday afternoon.