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Top 10 Moments of 2020: Orlando City Clinches First Playoff Spot in Club’s MLS Era

Our No. 2 moment of the year is Orlando City finally making the MLS Cup playoffs.

MLS: Nashville SC at Orlando City SC Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

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 may have lost — err...drawn — the battle that night but the Lions won the war. The lads in purple went up to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ and played to a 1-1 draw against the titular Red Bulls as the hosts scored at the death to deprive the Lions of all three points. Despite that, Orlando City clinched a spot in the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs that night, reaching a new club milestone. The Lions would finally glimpse the postseason in the club’s sixth season in Major League Soccer.

While Brian White’s 95th-minute goal erased what would have been a clinching 1-0 victory on the road against New York, it was another late goal that pushed Orlando into the postseason and the fact that it came against Atlanta United made it even better. Pablo Piatti’s 89th-minute goal against Atlanta United lifted Toronto FC to a 1-0 victory and eliminated any chance of a late collapse costing the Lions a seat at the playoff table.

The goal that officially clinched Orlando City’s first playoff spot in the MLS era was coincidentally set up by former Lion Richie Laryea.

While a win to get in would have been a tidier way to clinch, it wasn’t to be. Orlando winger Nani, who had earlier seen a great save by Ryan Meara deny his 44th-minute bid to give his team the lead off a beautiful Robin Jansson long ball, provided Orlando City’s only goal of the night in the 56th minute. The captain converted from the spot after former OCSC defender Amro Tarek knocked down striker Daryl Dike in the penalty area as the rookie deftly sliced his way through the New York defense.

The penalty was Orlando City’s first of the regular season in 2020 and the captain did well to wait out Meara, send him the wrong way, and easily finish a shot toward the left side.

Orlando looked for a second goal and eventually settled into absorbing pressure and looking for transition opportunities. The Lions were moments from seeing out the remainder of the game when Drew Fischer curiously added a full six minutes of injury time to the 1-0 proceedings. The hosts made the most of the added time. White was the recipient of a happy accident in the aftermath of a corner kick — with Meara pushed forward as a last-ditch extra attacker — when Jason Pendant sent a desperation long-range effort toward goal. He hit it poorly and it ended up falling perfectly for White just inside the top of the area, just right of center. White popped the ball up a bit on his first touch, then spun and sent a shot just inside the left post for the equalizer.

“It was a corner, where we cleared them,” Pareja said. “The guy who hit the ball — he missed the ball. He just kicked it somewhere and it arrived with the forward.”

Despite the deflating, late, tying goal by White, the Lions got their good news after the game out of Connecticut, where Toronto was hosting Atlanta at Pratt & Whitney Stadium. Orlando City clinched with nearly a month remaining in the regular season and when told during his postgame press conference that the Reds had scored late to win, Pareja simply said, “OK” in a businesslike manner, knowing that a lot more work was still to come.

That 1-1 draw was also the final game of Orlando City’s club-record, 12-game unbeaten streak, with the Lions going 6-0-6 from Aug. 26 to Oct. 18. Bookend one-goal losses away to Inter Miami prevented a longer run, as the Lions rebounded from a 2-1 loss Oct. 24 and won their next three straight.

Despite the deflating end to the match in New Jersey, Orlando City clinching a playoff spot for the first time in the team’s MLS era is a worthy recipient of the No. 2 spot on our list of 2020’s top moments. After all, your first time only comes once.

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.

3. Orlando City advances to its first final in the MLS era by beating Minnesota United in the MLS is Back semifinals.