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Remembering Orlando City’s Breakout Tournament

A magical cup run in 2013 put Orlando City on the national soccer scene for the first time.

Sporting KC vs. Orlando City John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Orlando City is a club known around the world. For some, it’s the club that once housed Kaká. For others, it’s just a Major League Soccer team. But there was a time when Orlando City was mostly unknown in the United States until a U.S. Open Cup run changed everything.

Today, American soccer is much different than it was seven years ago. Lower division teams like the Sacramento Republic, Saint Louis FC, and Louisville City are well known to soccer fans. But not too long ago, even big American soccer fans would struggle to name a single lower division soccer team.

At the beginning of 2013, Orlando City found itself in that lower division obscurity. The club claimed three trophies in its first two years but only those following USL Pro were aware of that. What gave the club its first bit of true national recognition was the country’s longest-running soccer competition.

In 2011 and 2012, the Lions predictably bowed out of the U.S. Open Cup when meeting MLS competition. However, those games were played away from home. A fortunate draw saw the 2013 Lions host the Colorado Rapids at the Citrus Bowl.

A pair of goals by on-loan striker Dom Dwyer and the sending off of Rapids goalkeeper Steward Ceus lifted the Lions to a 3-1 win. It was Orlando City’s first competitive win over an MLS team.

Beating an MLS team brought some notoriety to the young club. Most American soccer fans only followed what the MLS clubs did in the cup at the time or who their MLS team was playing next. Seeing a third-division side advance to the round of 16 was shocking. But it was the next game that really made an impact.

The Rapids played a mostly young side and were playing in the summer heat of Central Florida. The next game for the Lions was away to the cup holders, Sporting Kansas City. Making things more difficult was that SKC Head Coach Peter Vermes didn’t allow loaned players to take part, including Orlando City’s leading scorer.

Even though the hosts were missing a couple of players to international duty (so was Orlando City, by the way), SKC was a heavy favorite. So it surprised everyone when the Lions were able to hold onto a 1-0 lead for 89 minutes and secure the win.

Following the shocking win over SKC, MLS was well aware of Orlando City. While players frequently appeared on Central Florida radio, they were now making national appearances on popular soccer podcasts and radio programs. It took the club’s visibility to a new level.

Unfortunately for the Lions, that was as far as they would go in that year’s cup run. A pair of Chris Rolfe goals and late Orlando City red cards resulted in a 5-1 drubbing to the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.

But the impact was undeniable. A team that was once very much unknown outside of the Sunshine State became one to look out for in the future. At the end of that season, the club was announced as MLS’ 21st expansion side. With that announcement came the recognition that the first division brings.

Most Orlando City fans joined after that magical run and few will remember the moments or players that made that season special. But for those who were there and others interested in the club’s history, it’s nice to look back at the cup run that made Orlando City nationally known seven years ago this month.