Nani left a second-half penalty too close to the goalkeeper and squandered a great chance to put Orlando City ahead. But the captain redeemed himself in a penalty shootout after Joao Moutinho’s 90th-minute goal sent the match to spot kicks. Orlando out-lasted LAFC 5-4 in the shootout to advance to the semifinals after a 1-1 draw in the MLS is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Shortly after Nani’s miss in regulation, Bradley Wright-Phillips put LAFC on top. As time wound down it looked like the Lions would bow out of the tournament after a strong showing against perhaps the league’s best team despite outplaying LAFC for much of the night. But Orlando City went five for five from the spot and shocked the visitors from Los Angeles.
Orlando officially gets a draw against LAFC, but the end result is LAFC is going home and the Lions are moving on to the semifinals.
“We are very proud of the group of players who have done an excellent job today and stayed in the game that needed a lot of heart and desire and determination,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I think they accomplished that in those 90 plus minutes, and the game rewarded them, because they were the best team on the field. They were patient in the difficult moments. I want to highlight that as the heart of the team and the club.”
Pareja started the same lineup that beat Montreal last Saturday night, with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Uri Rosell and Sebas Mendez handled the central midfield behind an attacking line of Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Chris Mueller, with Tesho Akindele up top. Despite the graphic below, the Lions looked to be in the same 4-2-3-1 as usual when the game got underway.
Orlando City played a cautious game to start, keeping LAFC from getting into a rhythm and looking for opportunities to get in behind. The Lions did well to break LAFC’s press and hold the ball for prolonged spells, but things generally broke down in the final third, as has been the case the last few games.
Nani went for goal on a free kick from long range nine minutes in but drilled his shot right at LAFC goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer. The captain had a much more advantageous position in the 15th minute just at the left corner of the box but he squirted his shot off to the side and it sailed wide to the left.
Diego Palacios sent a dangerous ball skipping through Gallese’s six-yard box in the 20th minute but nobody from LAFC was anywhere near the back post and the ball skipped out for a goal kick.
Carlos got his head to a Pereyra corner kick cross in the 27th minute but didn’t get much power on it and Vermeer was able to tip it over the bar. That began a good spell of Orlando pressure but both Ruan and Nani overcooked crosses at the top of the six and the Lions couldn’t get anyone to them.
Wright-Phillips appeared to open the scoring for LAFC in the 32nd minute as a ball from Brian Rodriguez deflected off Ruan and fell perfectly for BWP to tap in. However, Rodriguez was half a step offside in the buildup and Joseph Dickerson went over to take a look, waving off the goal after getting a look at the replay.
Nani blazed a shot from the left in the 38th minute but Vermeer was well positioned to make the save.
LAFC ended the half with its first truly prolonged possession of the half, earning a couple of corners and free kicks, but last year’s Shield winners didn’t manage to get a shot off, as the Lions defended well. The teams went to the break at 0-0. It was the first time in the tournament that LAFC went to the break without a goal on the board. Orlando City led in shots (7-0), shots on target (3-0), possession (52.1%) and passing accuracy (77%-73%).
Mueller, who had been grimacing and clutching his shoulder since suffering an early foul, was subbed off at halftime and replaced by Benji Michel. It appeared that the training staff put Mueller in some kind of sling just before the second half started. Pareja said after the match that he thinks Mueller and Jansson — who left later in the match — will be OK but he can’t be sure until they’re more thoroughly examined by the team’s physicians.
Orlando picked up more or less where it left off in the first half, staying organized and keeping the ball moving to avoid giving LAFC transition opportunities. The Lions generated a good chance in the 53rd minute when Rosell blasted a rocket just over the bar from the left corner of the penalty area after a short corner kick was played to Pereyra.
Two minutes later, Ruan came down the right side and got in behind Palacios, who tried a desperation tackle but tripped up the Brazilian fullback in the area. Dickerson pointed to the spot and it appeared Orlando would finally get its breakthrough. Nani stepped up to take the penalty and hit it hard but left it too close to Vermeer, who guessed the right way and had a comfortable save to keep the game at 0-0 in the 57th minute.
“When I had the chance to score the first penalty, I think it was a fantastic moment for the goalkeeper and he had a great save,” Nani said.
The miss was costly. Mendez did what Orlando had avoided most of the night and turned the ball over in his defensive third, getting muscled off the ball by Diego Rossi. The LAFC star took the ball down the right side and fizzed a cross past Jansson to Wright-Phillips, who managed to beat Carlos to the ball. Wright-Phillips made no mistake from point-blank range and L.A. scored on its first shot of the match.
Orlando opened up a bit after the goal and it nearly cost the Lions immediately. Gallese was forced to make a huge kick save in the 62nd minute to keep Rossi from doubling the lead.
The Lions nearly pulled one back two minutes later, when Nani’s cross deflected off of Eddie Segura and headed toward the net. Vermeer got down to keep the ball out again.
Orlando kept coming but gave up some chances as a result of having to chase a goal. Nani came tantalizingly close to equalizing in the 73rd minute, cutting left to right and curling a shot that skipped just inches wide of the right post.
Ruan fell asleep on a throw-in and it nearly cost Orlando. Rossi quickly sped past Carlos and shot from a tight angle and Gallese made the stop, but the rebound came right back to Rossi. Gallese made a second save to keep the Lions in it, living up to his nickname, “The Octopus.”
As the game wound down, LAFC seemed more likely to put the game away than Orlando did to tie things up. Substitute Jordan Harvey forced a good save from Gallese in the 88th minute and El Pulpo again kept his team alive.
The Cardiac Cats showed up in the 90th minute. Ruan came down the right and slid a pass in for substitute Santiago Patino in front of goal but Tristan Blackmon made a sliding block to deny a goal, giving Orlando a corner kick. The Lions made the most of the opportunity. Nani whipped in the corner from the right and Moutinho beat Harvey to the back post ball, heading it home to score against his former club. It was his first goal for Orlando City and the game was tied 1-1 with five minutes of stoppage time remaining.
“I was in charge of going to the back post on our attacking set pieces — corners and free kicks,” Moutinho said. “So, I knew I had some space there. We had already took, I think, two or three corners, and I saw that I had the chance to to get the ball, and I got just a bit a bit short. So yeah, I was expecting the ball to go there and I kept my eye on it, and I knew that the space was there. Yeah, it was a great ball, a great cross. And I was fast enough to get in front of the defender and just head it in.”
“I think we deserved at the end when we score the goal, because of everything we put on the field,” said Nani, who picked up the assist.
Neither team got a quality chance in the added time but Michel did send a shot from the left corner of the box that just wouldn’t curl, sailing high and wide of the target. The final seconds ticked off and the match went straight to penalties.
Orlando had more shots (17-8), with each team getting five on target. The Lions held 52.2% of the possession and maintained their passing accuracy advantage (77%-72%). It was only fair after that performance for Orlando to have a chance to go through to the semifinals.
LAFC got to shoot first and Francisco Ginella narrowly beat Gallese, who got his fingertips to the shot but couldn’t keep it out. Pereyra stepped up and equalized for Orlando. Harvey shot second for L.A. but powered a rocket shot off the crossbar, giving the Lions the advantage.
Substitute Kyle Smith scored beautifully into the side netting to push Orlando out front, but Rossi leveled the shootout at 2-2 on LAFC’s third shot. Moutinho hurt his old team again by scoring on the next Orlando penalty and Brian Rodriguez kept the pressure on the Lions by equalizing on the fourth L.A. kick. Carlos didn’t seem an obvious choice as Orlando City’s fourth shooter. Vermeer guessed correctly and got his hands to the shot but it had just enough power on it to slip through the goalkeeper’s grasp, making it 4-3. Latif Blessing tied the shootout again and it was down to Nani to make up for his earlier penalty.
The captain stepped up, took a stutter step, and coolly won the shootout, sending Vermeer the wrong way. Here’s the entire shootout, minus Harvey’s miss:
That was it. Orlando had slain the MLS dragon and advanced to the MLS is Back semifinals. The lads were excited, to say the least.
“Pay attention (to) our team with good eyes, and give the respect of the football,” Nani said, when asked about Orlando City’s underdog status. “Because we’ve been working hard, and we want to continue to work hard just to play our football and try to improve. We know we are a team who are improving our football. But the respect on football is very important.
“We put more concentration, we put more determination, and the best team won the game.”
Orlando City will await the winner of the San Jose Earthquakes vs. Minnesota United. That quarterfinal match-up will take place tomorrow night at 8 p.m., with the winner facing the Lions next Thursday at 8 p.m.