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 had played five MLS seasons entering 2020 and had always had adequate-to-good play from the goalkeeper position, with the exception of an outstanding season from Joe Bendik one year. Bendik seemed to win the MLS Save of the Week every week during the 2016 season en route to earning a final season rating of 8 from The Mane Land staff, with help from TML readers. The other guys were fine, but they weren’t a threat to land on anyone’s Best XI list.
The Lions had never had a guy who most would rank among the best in the league before. Looking around Major League Soccer, guys like Luis Robles, Stefan Frei, Tim Melia, Bill Hamid, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando were considered among the best over the last several years. Sometimes a one- or two-year wonder would climb into that discussion.
Orlando City got decent play from the position in 2019 with Brian Rowe between the sticks, but the veteran goalkeeper never seemed to make the big, game-saving play on point-blank chances. He made most of the saves you’d expect him to make but was never flashy.
Rowe himself had won the Orlando starting job almost by default, arriving on trial to compete against three young, unproven guys in Greg Ranjitsingh, Adam Grinwis, and Mason Stajduhar. The Lions signed Rowe just before the 2019 season on Feb. 22 and he was solid all season.
Orlando needed a game changer and so Luiz Muzzi went out and found one, signing Peruvian Men’s National Team stopper Pedro Gallese back on Jan. 17. Even fans who hadn’t seen Gallese play, or hadn’t even heard of him, were probably encouraged by his nickname of El Pulpo (The Octopus). Muzzi used Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to complete such an important player signing and seemed excited at the time to land the Peruvian.
“We are very excited to welcome Pedro to our roster. He is a proven goalkeeper at both the club and international levels with World Cup experience on his resume,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “His track record speaks for itself and we are thrilled to add his presence to our roster ahead of this season.”
Gallese was everything Orlando City fans and the front office hoped he’d be. The Octopus lived up to his billing in 2020, making sensational saves the few times he was called upon to do so. Orlando’s back line improvement ensured he didn’t have to do that as often as Bendik did back in 2016. Our Scott Carnevale broke down his statistical season in our 2020 Season in Review series on El Pulpo:
Gallese made 24 starts in his first year as a Lion. Those 24 matches included 19 league games, one playoff match, and four starts in the MLS is Back Tournament knockout stages. He only allowed 25 goals, the fewest by any Orlando City keeper who made more than 10 starts since 2013. His 25 goals allowed in 24 games gave him an impressive goals-against average of just 1.04. In just MLS matches, his GAA is slightly higher (1.05), and he tied for fifth in the league for best GAA for goalkeepers who made at least 15 starts.
The Peruvian faced 71 shots in league play and saved 52 of them — a rate of 73.2%. Gallese faced an average of 3.74 shots on target per game. This is higher than Rowe faced in 2019 (3.44). Before that, Orlando City’s defense allowed about 50% more shots per game. The improvement in the defense is a significant reason for Gallese’s success. However, he also has the best save percentage in Orlando’s MLS history (73.2%).
Gallese finished the 2020 MLS season with a record of 11-3-5, with three shutouts. While that is the most wins out of any Orlando ‘keeper in MLS, it is the second-fewest shutouts. Joe Bendik in 2018 only had one.
In the playoffs, Gallese started in one match against New York City FC. He was issued a yellow card in the 103rd minute for time-wasting. Then, he was issued another in the penalty shootout for coming off his line early. The 30-year-old made six saves in the match and allowed just one goal. The lone goal that he allowed was a free header off a corner that he could do nothing about. Many of the saves he made were fantastic saves that lesser ‘keepers would not have made. The best save was the double save he made in the 43rd minute of that playoff game.
The Mane Land staff gave Gallese a composite grade of 7 for the season. While that seems a bit low for the quality he displayed, that mark speaks highly of how rarely Gallese was hung out to dry by his defense. He was outstanding when he had to be, but he wasn’t often called upon to be outstanding.
On the other hand, perhaps Orlando City’s defense played looser knowing Gallese was back there. It’s easier to play more relaxed and confidently when you’re unafraid of making a mistake because trust the man behind you in goal. Whichever came first in this chicken-or-egg scenario, the upshot was that the Lions conceded just 25 goals in 2020 — tied for the fourth-fewest allowed in the Eastern Conference and tied for the sixth-fewest in all of MLS.
Gallese was a legitimate contender for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year due to his outstanding play in 2020, meaning folks around the league took notice of him. However, he finished just fourth in the final voting behind winner Andre Blake of Philadelphia, Matt Turner of New England, and Columbus Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room.
By the end of the season, El Pulpo had shown Orlando City fans why Muzzi spent a lot of money to bring him to MLS and the Lions had a guy between the sticks that they could count on to make the tough saves when needed. Gallese’s performance throughout 2020 shows why his signing with Orlando City is worthy of our No. 5 spot in our top moments of the year.
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.
7. Orlando City beats Columbus despite being down to just 10 men.
6. The Lions get their first win over Atlanta United (and go unbeaten in four meetings).