Orlando City made a historic run in the MLS is Back Tournament, riding an undefeated streak to get to the final. Orlando, unfortunately, fell to the Portland Timbers in the championship match. Still, it was a remarkable run from a team that finished 22nd in the Supporters Shield a season ago.
It was the first time since the Lions were in the USL that Orlando featured in a championship match. Orlando’s performance in MLS has been subpar since joining the top flight, but Oscar Pareja has given the team a new identity. This identity was felt even with no fans in the stadium. It is a crucial reason behind Orlando’s success in the tournament.
Below are the top 5 moments for Orlando City in the MLS is Back Tournament:
5. A Championship Performance
The Lions were massive underdogs, not just in the final, but in the MLS is Back Tournament as a whole. But in every match, Orlando held its own and fought until the last second. The final was no different.
Orlando was doing well to start the match, but Portland caught the Lions on a free kick to take the 1-0 lead. 10 minutes later, Orlando came right back. Nani created space on the left wing and sent in a low cross to Mauricio Pereyra. The pass was deflected, and Pereyra had a lot of work to do in front of the net. He managed to control it and power it into the back of the net while falling to tie the championship match back up. Our No. 5 moment showed Orlando’s resilience and ultimately gave the Lions a shot at the trophy.
4. Cash Money
The legend of Cash Mueller continues to grow in central Florida. Mueller was in peak form in the group stage of the tournament. 10 minutes into the Lions’ second match against New York City FC, Mueller earned his brace. He scored the game-tying goal against Miami a week prior. Then, just 10 minutes into the next game, he did enough to help Orlando win its first back-to-back games since Jason Kreis was the coach. It even led to a t-shirt.
Joao Moutinho stood over a free kick in the fourth minute. He sent in an out-swinger, and Mueller volleyed it into the back of the net.
Six minutes after that, Mueller struck again. This time it was a great team effort. It started with Pereyra playing a perfect through ball down the line to Ruan. The right back sent a cross to Dom Dwyer. Instead of trying a challenging shot, Dwyer headed it across the frame to Mueller, and Cash took a touch, faked out Sean Johnson, and scored his second goal of the game.
3. The Return of the Cardiac Cats
Orlando City versus Inter Miami was a much-anticipated match. It was the first match-up between the in-state foes. It was also the first game in the MLS is Back Tournament. Both teams were searching for their first wins of the season.
The match itself was ugly and sloppy, as was expected in the first match back since the quarantine. Juan Agudelo opened the scoring before Mueller tied it at one in the 70th minute.
The game was basically over, as Orlando attacked in the 97th minute. However, Nani pounced on a bouncing ball in the box and scored the game-winner to give Orlando the 2-1 victory deep in stoppage time.
2. Nani’s Magic Sends Orlando to the Final
They say the best players show up in the biggest games. Well, Nani showed up in the semifinal match with a performance that told the league not to sleep on him. First, a brilliant long ball from Robin Jansson allowed Nani to get behind the Minnesota back line and, while he held off a defender, the captain opened the scoring.
Six minutes later, the winger sent a goal of the tournament finalist past Tyler Miller and put the Lions up 2-0. It looked like Minnesota might have a late comeback after a late goal, but Orlando scored an insurance goal — on a play involving Nani, naturally — and went on to win it.
The match is the biggest MLS win in Orlando City history. While Nani’s performance stole the highlights, it was a team performance that helped the Lions advance to the final. Mueller and Tesho Akindele were subpar, but the rest of the team held their own and won their battles.
1. Late Drama vs. LAFC
In 2019, Orlando City finished 22nd out of 24 teams in MLS. LAFC won the Supporters Shield by three games and advanced to the Western Conference final.
LAFC was clearly the best team in MLS this season — even without Carlos Vela — and all the major pundits were not only picking Los Angeles to ease past Orlando but to win the MLS is Back Tournament.
Well, Pareja, Nani, and the rest of the Lions had their say in the matter, and it left LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley fuming.
The Lions could have ended the match in the first half, as Orlando had a plethora of chances but couldn’t convert. The Lions out-shot LA, 7-0, with Nani leading the way with four shots. Those missed chances were killer as Bradley Wright-Phillips put LAFC up after an hour of play after a turnover by Sebas Mendez, followed by great work from Diego Rossi.
Minutes counted down. As the game got nearer and nearer to its end, the Lions kept throwing men forward, kept attacking. Even with no fans in the stadium, there was a buzz around the Lions that helped push them forward. Then, in the 90th minute of play, Nani sent a corner to the far post, and Joao Moutinho headed it into the back of the net to tie the game against his former team.
If that wasn’t enough drama, the game went to penalty kicks. LAFC went first, and Francisco Ginella powered it past Pedro Gallese, who got a hand on it. Pereyra went first for Orlando and perfectly slotted in into the side netting.
Then, Jordan Harvey decided to go straight down the middle. Gallese dove right, but the ball sailed up and hit the crossbar. The next six takers all found the back of the net for both teams. Nani walked up with the potential game-winning shot. Earlier in the match, in the 57th minute, Kenneth Vermeer had saved a penalty kick from Nani diving to his right. Nani was not going to be beaten twice, though. The winger sent Vermeer the wrong way, passed the ball into the back of the net, and sent the Lions to the next round.
What was your favorite Orlando City moment of the MLS is Back Tournament?
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Late drama vs. LAFC.
Beating Minnesota and advancing to the final.
Nani’s 97th-minute goal vs. Miami.
Mueller’s brace vs. NYCFC.
Other (comment below).