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.
When a match goes to penalty kicks there is always tension and drama. When Orlando City does it, there always seems to be a little something extra. We’ve already shown this to be true in our No. 4 moment of 2020, which saw Orlando City advancing past LAFC on penalty kicks in the MLS is Back Tournament.
However, when it came down to it, no other match has had as much drama as the Running of the Wall and the celebration following the save by Adam Grinwis against New York City FC in the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. In fact, it was our No. 1 Moment of 2019.
As it has done in so many ways, 2020 told 2019 to “hold my beer.” Our No. 1 moment of 2020 saw the Lions once again advance past NYCFC on penalty kicks, but this time it was in the MLS playoffs, and it is by far the strangest ending to a soccer match I have ever witnessed.
Let us first go back to the start of the match. Orlando City got on the board first when Anton Tinnerholm was called for a handball in the area, and Nani buried the stutter-step penalty kick to give the Lions the lead in the fifth minute of play.
Unfortunately, the lead wasn’t long-lived as Orlando City was once again the victim of poor set piece defense and Maxime Chanot scored on a corner kick in the eighth minute.
Despite the early goals, neither club scored another in regular time, stoppage time, or extra time. That’s not to say things didn’t happen. There were chances on both sides, and in the 87th minute, Ruan was sent off, putting Orlando City down a man. The Lions then had to play with 10 men for the remainder of regular time, 10 minutes of stoppage time, and two 15-minute extra time periods. For 43 minutes, Orlando City grinded it out with New York City FC to push the match to penalty kicks.
Things started out well for Orlando City when Maxi Moralez hit the crossbar on NYCFC’s first attempt, giving the Lions an advantage. Orlando City supporters were feeling pretty good after that, and the kicks went on with each team making the next three. Then tragedy struck as Pedro Gallese was sent off with a second yellow card after coming off his line to make a save that appeared to win the game. The shame of it is that under the 2020-2021 rules (that the remainder of the world had already adopted) Gallese would not have been sent off. But because MLS is MLS, the league was still using the 2019-2020 rules that did result in him having to leave the match.
That was when things got really weird.
PRO Referees “PRO’d” so hard in what followed. They allowed Orlando City to sub on goalkeeper Brian Rowe, before sending him back to the bench after a lengthy delay. Then he was brought back on, and then sent off again, because there were no subs allowed during spot kicks. The entire sequence of events was so farcical that Allen Chapman’s crew did not work another match during the playoffs.
With neither Gallese nor Rowe available, Andres Perea and Rodrigo Schlegel both stepped forward to put on the gloves. It was then that Schlegel uttered his now immortal words, “Papi, I can do that.” The Lions’ backup center back strode into the keeper’s spot looking nothing like a goalkeeper, other than the determination on his face.
No one was surprised that Schlegel didn’t stop Valentín Castellanos’ shot, but Orlando City’s chances to advance seemed slim when Nani’s attempt was saved. The penalty kicks went to sudden death with Nicolás Acevedo and Robin Jansson each making their attempts, and it was then that the most unthinkable and amazing thing happened.
It was the most unexpected, you-wouldn’t-believe-it-if-it-was-a-sports-movie save from the most improbable hero of Orlando City’s 2020 playoff run. Benji Michel made his penalty attempt to actually put the Lions through, but it was Schlegel who will go down in Orlando City history for his awkward, yet utterly beautiful save.
It is a moment like this that makes a legend. The Lions advanced in the playoffs in their first ever MLS postseason match despite the craziest of events and the most challenging of circumstances — all because a backup center back playing as a goalkeeper lived up to the promise that he could, indeed, do that. It is for that reason this is our No. 1 moment of 2020.
Thank you for coming along on our look back at the Top 10 Moments of 2020. If you missed any of the other ones, you can find them all below.
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.
2. Orlando City clinches its first playoff spot in the club’s MLS era.