No game exemplified the difference between 2020 and past MLS seasons more than Orlando City’s quarterfinal match-up in the MLS is Back Tournament against Los Angeles FC. It was a dominant performance by the Lions for much of the night and nearly a devastating loss. But last-minute heroics by João Moutinho and quality penalty-taking saved the day.
Orlando City had high expectations after joining MLS from USL Pro in 2015. The club was looking to “defy expectations” by making the postseason in its first season in the top flight. That nearly came to pass in 2015, but the reality was the opposite.
The Lions narrowly missed out on the playoffs during that first season and only got worse in ensuing years. In 2018, the first team set a new MLS record for goals conceded, finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference.
The team did improve in 2019, though it couldn’t get much worse. The highlight of the season was a U.S. Open Cup run that saw the team reach the semifinals for the first time in club history.
Many changes were made heading into 2020. Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi brought in Oscar Pareja to be head coach and made several changes to the squad during his first full off-season in charge.
Just two games into the new era, the world came to a standstill due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. All MLS games were postponed until further notice.
After nearly four months without games, MLS returned to action with the MLS is Back Tournament at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex. The Lions only recorded one point from the first two league games but came back flying in the tournament. A 2-1 win over Inter Miami, a 3-1 win over New York City FC, and a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union saw the boys in purple top their group.
Another 1-0 victory over the Montreal Impact in the Round of 16 won the Lions a quarterfinal date with LAFC. It was a chance for a team that had been disappointing since joining MLS in 2015 to show it had changed.
Orlando City was the better team that night, dominating possession and the number of chances. Nani had two shots inside 15 minutes, but LAFC goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer saved the first and the second ended up wide of the target. The goalkeeper was forced into two more saves in the 27th and 38th minutes while a Uri Rosell header in the 53rd minute went just over the crossbar.
While the Lions created several chances on goal, LAFC only had three in the first hour. Diego Palacios played a ball into the six-yard box in the 20th minute but nobody could get on the end of it. Brian Rodriguez created a chance in the 32nd minute but was ruled offside.
The Lions should’ve been the first on the board in the 57th minute when Ruan was tripped in the box by Palacios. It would’ve been a deserved lead as Orlando had nearly all of the chances up to that point. However, Nani’s poor penalty was easily saved by Vermeer and the game remained scoreless.
The first shot the California-based team was able to record was created in the 60th minute by a Sebas Mendez turnover in his own third of the field. Diego Rossi picked the ball off Mendez, carried it to the end line, and found Bradley Wright-Phillips in front of goal. The striker beat Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos to the ball to open the scoring.
Despite dominating the game to that point, the Lions found themselves trailing with 30 minutes remaining.
LAFC nearly doubled its lead in the 62nd minute when Rossi forced Pedro Gallese into a kick save, but the Lions took over after that.
In the 64th minute, a shot by Nani was deflected by Eddie Segura, forcing Vermeer into a diving save. The Orlando City captain had another chance in the 73rd minute to equalize but his shot was just wide of the post.
It would be expected for the team’s Designated Player and primary playmaker to equalize but, in typical 2020 fashion, it was the young left back who became the hero.
A 90th minute cross by Ruan was knocked out of play by Tristan Blackmon, giving the Lions a corner kick. Nani’s ensuing corner was sent toward the back post where Moutinho beat Jordan Harvey to the ball. The 22-year-old defender’s header beat Vermeer, sending the game into penalties.
Orlando City’s penalty taking was superb during the shootout, with the team converting all five spot kicks. All the Lions needed to advance was one miss by LAFC or a save by Gallese. That was achieved on the second attempt when Harvey’s penalty pinged off the crossbar.
Advancing to the knockout stages of a tournament played just down the road wasn’t out of the question, and a victory over Montreal was not that surprising either. But LAFC has been one of the best teams in MLS since joining the league in 2018. Getting past LAFC provided confidence that the Lions could make it to the MLS is Back Tournament final.
The team’s performance was a catalyst for the remainder of the season. The Lions took the momentum gained at Disney and used it to carry themselves into the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time.
There were many memorable moments that occurred during the 2020 MLS season for Orlando City. Finding a way to advance past LAFC to the MLS is Back Tournament semifinals, lifting the team and its fan base, certainly qualifies as one of them and therefore earns its spot as our No. 4 moment 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).
5. Orlando City signs Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese.