Sports offer supporters the greatest of highs and the lowest of lows. Passion, drama, victory and defeat all elicit emotions. If you’re like me there have been times when you’ve been reduced to sobs, and times you’ve been inspired to tears.
Orlando City has offered up opportunities for those of us that support the Lions to feel those highs and lows, sometimes in the same match. Since it is SBNation’s “Games that Made You Cry” week, let’s look at some matches that did just that in the Major League Soccer era.
2015 Home Opener
Orlando City’s first official MLS match was played on March 8, 2015 at the Citrus Bowl. This was the “Fill the Bowl” match in which 62,510 people made history. The opponent was fellow expansion club New York CIty FC. The atmosphere was electric and the Lions were the better team for most of the match. In the 76th minute Mix Diskerud nearly made Lions fans cry when he curled in the go-ahead goal. Then in the 84th minute all seemed lost as Aurelien Collin earned a straight red on his tackle of David Villa and was sent off. It seemed Orlando City supporters were doomed to end the first match in heartbreak. Then, in the 91st minute, Kaká’s free kick deflected off NYCFC’s Jeb Brovsky into the goal and the record books. Despair turned to elation, and I’m absolutely certain there were tears in the crowd and in homes across the state.
2016 Home Opener
One year after “Fill the Bowl” Orlando City fans managed to get 60,147 supporters into Camping World Stadium, including my parents and I. This time the opponent was Real Salt Lake, and despite going a man down when Demar Phillips received his second yellow in the 20th minute, the visitors didn’t make it easy for the Lions or the fans. Orlando City gave up a penalty kick in the 26th minute and Joao Plata put RSL up 1-0. Despite giving up the goal, Lions fans must have felt good about their chances being a man up, until Darwin Cerén was sent off in stoppage time of the first half. Suddenly, things weren’t so good, and it got worse in the 66th minute when Plata scored his second goal all but dooming the Lions to a loss in their second home opener. Time wore on, and as the match went to stoppage time my fellow supporters and I were ready to accept defeat. Fortunately, the players were not. In the 94th minute, Cyle Larin scored to give Orlando City fans at least a little bit of joy in the loss. It was then that the most improbable ending happened. Less than 90 seconds later, as Larin and Adrian Winter were sprinting forward, the ball split the defenders and Winter put it in at the death to give the Lions the point. There are draws that feel like a loss and those that feel like a win. I can tell you that the tears of joy in my eyes that day, as I jumped up and down, hugging and high-fiving my family and fellow supporters, it felt like a win.
The Pulse Match
June 12, 2016 saw one of the most horrific events of the year, and up until that point the deadliest single-shooter incident and largest hate crime in U.S. history. A shooter killed 49, and wounded another 53 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. That there was a soccer game played at all in the city just days later was a testament to the community, the club, the players, and the supporters. Emotions were raw before the match even started with an ovation for first responders, the National Anthem, and the supporters somehow being able to ring the stadium in rainbow colors in honor of the victims. This was the setting for the match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Despite a determined Lions side, no goals were scored in the first half. In the 49th minute there was a moment of silence. Then, in the 66th minute the dam broke with a Seb Hines header to put the Lions up 1-0. Chad Barrett tied the score with a header of his own in the 85th minute, and Orlando City’s chances to win seemed to be winding down. It was in the 91st minute that the Lions looked to give the supporters and the community exactly what they needed from this game. Júlio Baptista hit a rocket of a goal to send the crowds higher than they could have hoped. It should have been a game winner, but PRO gonna PRO, and play continued beyond the stoppage time shown. Brek Shea cleared a ball out of Orlando’s area, and that should have been the game, but the referee allowed San Jose to bring the ball back into the box, and Shea Salinas snatched the victory from Orlando in 94th minute. It was perhaps the most disappointing of results given the circumstances on an emotional night.
Running of the Wall
Orlando City had advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2019 U.S. Open Cup by defeating the New England Revolution 2-1. The Lions then hosted New York City FC at Exploria Stadium. James O’Connor started a mixed group for the Open Cup, including Adam Grinwis in goal instead of Brian Rowe. Despite a rough start, Grinwis kept the Lions in the match with some solid saves, and in the 61st minute the Lions opened up the scoring when Nani put in a perfect cross for Chris Mueller’s header to make it 1-0. It looked as though Orlando City might advance as they made it through nearly six minutes of stoppage time with the lead. Unfortunately, in the sixth minute of stoppage time Maxi Moralez broke through and scored to break our hearts. Thirty minutes of extra time did nothing, and given that this was a tournament, the match went to penalty kicks. It was here that one of the greatest moments in Orlando City history happened. The Wall was in the standing section as usual, but NYCFC chose to shoot at the goal on the opposite side of the stadium. The supporters were not going to stand for it, and running along either side of the stadium, they made their way to the other end only to be stopped temporarily by security. Finally, word made it to them to allow the fans through, and the Running of the Wall was etched into our memories forever. Once the raucous supporters were ready, Orlando City made enough kicks, and Adam Grinwis made the biggest save of his career to advance Orlando City to the semifinals.
I know there are other incredible moments in Orlando City history, but given how long this article is already, we will have to leave those for another time. Go City!