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.
Every aspect of life in 2020 has been impacted by COVID-19. For MLS, it meant that the season was suspended after just two weeks. When it was safe to return to action, the league started cautiously, working out of the bubble of the MLS is Back Tournament. Orlando City put the league on notice by advancing to the championship match.
The Lions had an eventful run to the championship match. This run included some of the best moments of the season — Oscar Pareja’s first win with Orlando and the Lions’ dramatic elimination of LAFC on penalties. But coming in at number three in the top moments of 2020 is Orlando City’s semifinal win over former head coach Adrian Heath and Minnesota United.
To make it to this stage, the Lions tied LAFC and then advanced through a penalty kick shootout. Next up came Minnesota. Orlando had never beaten its former head coach and was 0-2-1 against Minnesota entering the match. Minnesota was filled with former Lions — In addition to Heath, Minnesota’s roster included Kevin Molino, Jose Aja, and Greg Ranjitsingh. Molino was one of Orlando City’s former star players both at the USL and MLS levels. Defender Aja played 25 games (24 starts) across two seasons with the Lions in 2016 and 2017. Backup goalkeeper Ranjitsingh played two road games for Orlando in 2019, falling 2-1 to Seattle and drawing Portland, 1-1. In addition, former OCSC assistant coaches Ian Fuller — himself a former USL Lion — and Mark Watson were on Heath’s staff with the Loons.
History was not on Orlando’s side, and it looked like the Lions’ run could come to an end against their former gaffer. However, the Lions’ defense and Nani led the way for Orlando.
Both teams had chances to start the match. The first half-hour was fairly back and forth. Then Robin Jansson bombed a perfect pass down the length of the field to Nani. The captain took a heavy first touch but remained in possession. He flicked the ball past Tyler Miller and opened the scoring.
After going up 1-0, the Lions kept the pressure on the Loons. Five minutes after the opening goal, Orlando City doubled its lead. This time it was Sebas Mendez providing a perfect assist. After Orlando entered the final third, Mendez switched the field and found Nani open. Nobody closed Nani down, and the captain had options to pass the ball. Both Joao Moutinho and Tesho Akindele made good runs, but Nani decided to take it himself. He cut to the inside of the field and sent in a perfect bending shot that Miller had no chance of keeping out.
Up 2-0 at half, Orlando City fell into a more defensive state after the break. Minnesota was on the attack and put the Lions back on their heels. Eventually, Molino sent a perfect through ball to Mason Toye in the 83rd minute. Toye got behind Jansson, somehow stayed onside, and calmly passed the ball into the back of the net to cut Orlando’s lead to 2-1.
Toye nearly got a brace and tied the match at two, but he could not convert his chance. Instead, Benji Michel got one on the other end and sealed the win for the Lions. In the sixth minute of extra time, Orlando City was able to clear a Minnesota attack. Nani made a headed pass to an on-running Junior Urso, who flicked the ball ahead of him and let Michel run onto it. The Homegrown product used his speed to break free and was one-on-one with Miller. Michel dribbled around the goalkeeper, passed the ball into the empty net, and the Lions were through to the final.
Nani was the player of the match. His two goals sealed the game for Orlando. This is what The Mane Land’s Marcus Mitchell said of the captain after the match:
“He did exactly what he was brought in to do as a Designated Player. Nani created chance after chance and scored the team’s first two goals with mostly solo efforts. With a perfect first touch and understated strength, he beat his defender to squeak a goal past goalkeeper Tyler Miller. His second goal was a thing of beauty. Nani created space and curled one into the right corner from distance. His two goals in seven minutes shouldn’t overshadow the rest of his Man of the Match performance, which included a secondary assist on Michel’s goal to see out the game.”
As Dave Rohe wrote our Five Takeaways for the match, set pieces were a major factor, with the Loons having 13 corners, but the Lions did well defending. Additionally, the no cards were surprising. However, Nani’s impressive performance stole the show in the Lions’ number three moment of 2020.
Full match highlights are below.
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. The Lions get an upgrade at the goalkeeper position by signing Peruvian international Pedro Gallese.
4. Orlando City eliminates LAFC from MLS is Back on penalties.