When Orlando City SC signed Pedro Gallese back in January of this year, I was surprised how little MLS fans seemed to take notice. Goalkeepers in MLS are rarely included in lists of “most important off-season transfers” or talked about as being exciting new signings. But I was still taken aback by how little fanfare his arrival was met with, besides that of Orlando fans.
The dude has been Peru’s first choice goalkeeper since 2014, started all three of the team’s games in the 2018 World Cup, and helped the squad to a runner-up finish in the 2019 Copa America. Before even seeing him kick (or save) a ball, he had the potential to be a hugely important signing for Orlando.
Prior to Tuesday’s win over New York City FC, the Peruvian hasn’t had too much of a chance to strut his stuff. In the first three games of the season he faced seven shots on target and made four saves, keeping a clean sheet in the draw with Real Salt Lake, when he faced one shot on target. He made three saves in the loss to the Colorado Rapids after facing five shots, but still didn’t have a ton of opportunities to show what he could do. Tuesday’s game provided the perfect platform for him though. El Pulpo faced eight shots and made seven saves against NYCFC, and helped preserve the Lions’ lead on several different occasions.
The first of his big saves came after 30 minutes. With Orlando up 2-0 the ball fell to Gudmundur Thórarinsson on the edge of the box, and the midfielder hit a curler on the volley that looked to be heading for the bottom corner at the far post. Gallese looked like his view might have been obstructed by several of his defenders but he got down well and made the save, although the rebound did go into a pretty dangerous area. Still, he kept Orlando up by two goals on a shot that was trickier to stop than it appeared at first glance.
His second big save was even better, and helped preserve Orlando’s 2-1 lead at a time when NYCFC was controlling the game. Ronald Matarrita sent a diagonal ball over the top for Valentin Castellanos, who managed to get in behind the defense and was 1-v-1 with Gallese. Castellanos dove and hit the ball first time with an outstretched foot, but El Pulpo made himself big and kept the ball out of the net with his foot.
The best of the bunch came in the second half with a quarter of an hour of regulation left to play. An NYCFC shot came in from distance and, while it was a comfortable save for Gallese, the rebound fell to Castellanos. who immediately fired it toward goal. The Peruvian made a quick recovery, however, and made a wonderful outstretched save to deny NYCFC yet again. Not only did the double save keep the lead at 2-1, but it also provided yet another look at the sort of game-saving heroics he’s capable of.
Simply put, while Chris Mueller was plenty of people’s Man of the Match, (and rightly so) Gallese’s work in net was sometimes the only thing preserving Orlando’s lead for several stretches during the match. There were periods in both the first and second half where New York City was controlling play and getting several good looks at goal. Gallese’s ability to keep denying the Pigeons from converting promising opportunities helped Orlando to weather the storm until the Lions were able to respond and ultimately put the game away.
Having someone of Gallese’s talent in net can be invaluable in tight games, especially when the team is in the state Orlando currently is. The Lions’ back line doesn’t look to be fully settled yet, and there were several times on Tuesday when the defense was scrambling and looked disjointed. Having a guy like El Pulpo in goal who can bail out his defenders a couple times a game and either keep his team in the match or preserve a lead is immense.
When you look at the score of some of Orlando’s game’s late last season, the importance is only emphasized. On July 8 of last year the Lions were in eighth place with a halfway decent shot to make the playoffs, but a string of draws and losses that saw Orlando give up late goals to drop points meant that the men in purple eventually finished in 11th. While Brian Rowe isn’t a slouch by any means, the Peruvian looks to be a cut above. His quality on Tuesday was a big reason for Orlando being able to refocus and continue on to secure all three points. If he’s able to maintain that level of play as the season continues, then expect it to bode well for the Lions in the grand scheme of things.