As we count down to the new year of 2022 — which will be Orlando City’s eighth in MLS and the Orlando Pride’s seventh in the NWSL — and say goodbye to 2021, it’s time to look back at the club’s 10 best moments of the year.
Orlando City had played six previous seasons and finally had a modicum of success in 2020, reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals before bowing out of the postseason against the New England Revolution and also competing for a trophy in the MLS is Back Tournament. That success in 2020 helped Orlando City experience a new franchise first in 2021.
Even with the original plan of holding the competition with 16 teams scrapped and reduced to just eight, the Lions qualified to play in the Leagues Cup — a competition between clubs in Major League Soccer and Liga MX. It was the first international tournament appearance for the Lions and on top of that, Orlando was able to host its first match when Santos Laguna on Aug. 12 at Exploria Stadium. The Liga MX side came to Orlando to face City in a knockout competition, with the Seattle Sounders awaiting the winner due to their win over Tigres.
Santos Laguna entered the match undefeated in Liga MX with a win and two draws on the young Aperatura season, including a 1-0-1 mark away from home. The Lions were likewise 1-0-2 in their previous three matches entering the contest, although consecutive 1-1 draws against Eastern Conference bottom feeders FC Cincinnati and Inter Miami didn’t provide the squad with the utmost confidence going into a meeting with a Liga MX side.
Still, the Lions nearly scored in the game’s opening seconds. Mauricio Pereyra cut a pass through the box to Chris Mueller, who appeared to slip a bit while lunging at the ball for his shot. He managed to get the shot on target and past goalkeeper Gibran Lajud; however, Roberto Prieto was there for the visitors to clear the shot off the goal line.
Nani got the next good look of the game but fired over the bar.
Santos Laguna got back into the game a bit and nearly pounced when Junior Urso’s wayward pass was picked off by Juan Ferney Otero, forcing a good save from Mason Stajduhar — filling in for the injured Pedro Gallese.
Nani and Urso fired shots that were just off target in the next few minutes as Orlando kept searching for a breakthrough. Santos Laguna looked to counter and nearly scored when Otero fired wide when Robin Jansson got caught forward in the attack.
Santos Laguna scored the game’s only goal about 10 minutes later after a controversial no-call. Antonio Carlos made a sliding challenge to break up play but missed the pass. However, passer Jordan Carillo landed on top of Carlos. Referee Selvin Brown judged the contact to be incidental and Santos Laguna attacked with Carlos now behind the play.
In the build-up to Santos' goal, Antonio Carlos was kneed in the back of the head by Jordan Carillo. Carlos and Junior Urso were arguing with the ref about it after the goal was scored. #OrlandoCity pic.twitter.com/0wHBsK9eSl— Austin David (@AustinDavid22) August 12, 2021
Ruan did a poor job at the corner of the box of closing down Otero, who sent in a shot that bounced just in front of Stajduhar, and that bounce allowed the attempt to skip up and over the young goalkeeper to make it 1-0.
Tesho Akindele flicked a Ruan cross off the top of the bar moments after the Santos goal in the final good chance of the half.
The visitors did a good job of protecting their lead, strangling play and staying organized in the second half. The Lions didn’t even hit the target with a shot after the 48th minute.
Despite the 1-0 loss to Santos Laguna, Orlando City’s first taste of international competition against a Liga MX side was a big moment for the club. The Lions showed they were capable of matching up with Santos and had they been a little sharper in the offensive end, the match could easily have gone Orlando’s way.
The match was an important step for Orlando City SC as a club and deserving of a spot in our top 10 moments of 2021.
Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City’s top 10 moments of 2021.