As we count down to the new year of 2021 — which will be Orlando City’s seventh in MLS and the Orlando Pride’s sixth in the NWSL — and say goodbye (and good riddance) to 2020, it’s time to look back at the club’s 10 best moments of the year.
Orlando City and the Columbus Crew were originally scheduled to play on Sunday Oct. 11, but due to two members of the Crew’s traveling party testing positive for COVID-19, the match was postponed. It was decided that the match would instead be played midweek on Nov. 4, making it the penultimate regular-season game.
While that would ordinarily carry plenty of importance, the place the two teams occupied in the standings made it even more crucial. Orlando and Columbus entered the game level on points, with the Crew holding the tiebreaker due to having more wins. Orlando had a chance to finish as high as second in the Eastern Conference, but Columbus still had a shot to take the top spot and the Supporters Shield with it.
The game started well for the Lions, with the good guys dominating much of the first half. The one thing that was lacking was the finishing touch for the men in purple, as chance after chance was either saved by Eloy Room, missed the target altogether, or was squandered by poor decision making. In the 10th minute, Chris Mueller picked off a pass from Jonathan Mensah, who attempted to play in Tesho Akindele down the left-hand side. Cash hit the pass too softly though, and the defense was able to regroup and clear the ball. There were then cries for handball a few moments later when Mueller tried to play a ball across the box and it appeared to hit Pedro Santos on the arm, but there was no call.
The hectic pace of the game only picked up from there. Orlando really should have taken the lead in the 14th minute when Junior Urso collected a pass at the penalty spot, turned and fired wide of the goal while under no pressure from the defense.
In the 26th minute, Orlando finally got everything right and took the lead. Mauricio Pereyra picked up a loose pass from Harrison Afful and found Mueller, who took a touch to settle the ball before firing into the far corner past Room.
The lead nearly increased shortly thereafter when Kyle Smith had back to back shots saved well by Room. The fullback was almost certainly shocked that he didn’t score, but things remained at 1-0 thanks to Room’s brilliance. That’s how things were as the two teams headed into the locker rooms at halftime. Although the score was tight it had been a dominant half for the Lions, with the home team holding an advantage in shots (10-5), shots on target (3-2), passing accuracy (87%-80%), possession (57%-43%), and corners (6-0).
A few minutes after halftime however, the game changed drastically. Nani went to ground trying to win the ball just outside of Orlando’s box, and while he seemed to do so he also caught a Columbus player with his follow-through, and did so with both feet. Referee Ramy Touchan initially gave Nani a yellow card and awarded the Crew a free kick, but upon going to the monitor he gave the Portuguese forward a straight red card. El Capitão was off and Orlando City was down to 10 men with just under half the game left to play.
Things went from bad to worse almost immediately, as the Crew drew level in the 56th minute. A ball fell for Santos who did well to lay it off for Afful, who promptly smashed the ball high into the top corner beyond Pedro Gallese and things were all knotted up.
The Lions fought hard after conceding and were able to avoid giving the Crew any truly good looks at goal while mostly playing on the counter. There was a video review for a possible handball against Aboubacar Keita as the game drew on, but Touchan did not award a penalty kick.
Thankfully, OCSC wouldn’t need it. Pereyra hung up a long ball for substitute Benji Michel in the 84th minute. Michel put his man on his back and headed the ball up and over himself, then turned inside and past Keita to chest the ball down and fire the go-ahead goal through Room’s legs, sending the limited capacity crowd in Exploria Stadium wild in the process.
From that point, the Lions bunkered in and kept Columbus very much at bay for the remainder of the match. The Crew’s main avenue forward consisted of long balls and crosses into the box, which Orlando was able to deal with well. After the end of a whopping eight minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle blew with OCSC on top.
The win is an incredibly memorable one for a number of reasons. For one, it clinched a home playoff game at Exploria Stadium, and the dramatic fashion in which it happened only made it sweeter. It also moved Orlando into the drivers seat for third place in the East, and meant that OCSC could finish no worse than fourth.
Overcoming adversity in the way that the Lions were able to is very telling when assessing the character of a team, and previous Orlando teams almost certainly would have fallen to pieces in that situation. It was the very first time that OCSC had gone down a man and then scored to win the game. As a postscript, Nani’s red card was overturned.
Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City’s top 10 moments of 2020.
Previous Top 10 Moments of 2020
10. The Orlando Pride rally from three goals down to get a result vs. North Carolina.
9. Orlando City drafts forward Daryl Dike.
8. Oscar Pareja picked up his first win as Orlando coach in the Lions’ first Tropic Thunder meeting with Inter Miami CF.