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.
Coming into the 2021 season, Orlando City had never lost a season opener in Major League Soccer and that streak continued on opening day. While the Lions have only won once on the first day, a 1-0 win over NYCFC back in 2017 when the team christened the building then known as Orlando City Stadium, the good guys were 1-0-5 on opening day heading into the 2021 season. OCSC ran that record to 1-0-6 after a 0-0 draw against Atlanta United in a game where Orlando had some good chances but couldn’t quite apply the finishing touch to them.
In a back-and-forth game where Orlando City was missing Mauricio Pereyra and Joao Moutinho, the Lions had slightly less possession than Atlanta, with 40.3% to the visitors’ 59.7%. Perhaps the best chance for the men in purple came during the second half. Chris Mueller found Alexandre Pato in the box, and after the striker’s shot came off a defender and then Brad Guzan, the goalkeeper was able to smother the ball as it trickled towards the goal line.
That draw was the start of a club-record best six-game unbeaten run to start the season.
The following week resulted in another draw for the Lions, with this one coming in a slightly more frustrating fashion. Orlando went on the road to face Sporting Kansas City and found itself on the wrong end of the scoresheet following a nightmarish sequence at the back from Pedro Gallese and Antonio Carlos. A mishandled pass by Carlos allowed SKC to get a fairly simple goal and take the lead just before halftime. The Lions fought back though and equalized courtesy of a brilliant Nani backheel after Mueller’s shot was blocked. The score would stay at 1-1 as Orlando got out of Kansas City with a valuable road point.
The third match of the season saw Orlando get its first win of 2021 in dominant fashion back in the comfortable confines of Exploria Stadium. The Lions immediately got off to a strong start against FC Cincinnati, with Tesho Akindele scoring with just 31 seconds on the clock.
Things got even better in the 19th minute as Nani absolutely mangled Yuya Kubo’s ankles by faking right, coming back to his left and unleashing a howitzer that Przemysław Tytoń had absolutely no chance of getting to.
Junior Urso made it 3-0 with 10 minutes to play and that was how the score finished. It was an emphatic display against a poor Cincinnati side, as Pedro Gallese didn’t need to make a single save on the night, while the Lions out-shot the visitors 22-7.
The following week resulted in Orlando’s third draw in four games, but anyone watching the game was treated to yet another stupendous strike from Nani — his third excellent goal in three games. Hosting New York City FC at home, things were deadlocked going into halftime, but in the 52nd minute Urso brought the ball forward, nutmegged his man, and found Pereyra. The Uruguayan linked up with fellow Designated Player Nani, who cut inside onto his left foot and smacked a scorcher into the side netting from 20 yards that left Sean Johnson fully rooted to the spot.
It wasn’t enough, however, and the Lions were pegged back just inside of a quarter of an hour left to play. Moutinho fouled Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the box and eventual Golden Boot winner Valentin Castellanos stepped up and made no mistake from the spot. Things very well could have gotten even worse for the hosts though. With just seconds to go in stoppage time, Antonio Carlos got sucked into the midfield and Jesus Medina was sent into the resulting gap with an excellent pass. Gallese stood tall when he was needed most though, and stonewalled Medina to preserve a point for OCSC.
OMG— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 9, 2021
The Octopus secures the draw at the death! pic.twitter.com/zMNynhSRQc
The next week saw OCSC hit the road to take on D.C. United, and this one was a fairly ugly affair after the first 15 minutes. The Lions started well enough and Nani headed wide early on, with the chance a sign of things to come. Orlando nabbed a neat little goal after just seven minutes with Kyle Smith sending an excellent ball in to Pereyra, who chested it down to Akindele, got the return, and calmly stuck the ball past Jon Kempin to give the visitors a lead they would never relinquish. Neither team put a shot on target during the second half, but getting a win after traveling and playing on the same day was great for the Lions, and it was also only the second time they got a victory on the road against D.C.
The final game of the unbeaten run was a win against Toronto FC back home at Exploria Stadium, and that win came courtesy of yet another early goal. Nani was suspended and both Moutinho and Ruan were missing, but the Lions got off to a great start inside a quarter of an hour. Making his first start for OCSC, Silvester van der Water cut the ball back on the right side of the box and played an inch-perfect ball onto Tesho’s head for the Canadian to nod home past Alex Bono.
From there, Toronto grew into the game well with Yeferson Soteldo in particular causing the Lions plenty of headaches. Orlando should maybe have put the proceedings beyond doubt with an 84th minute chance that Benji Michel just couldn’t quite convert, but the hosts held on for a 1-0 win regardless.
The unbeaten run came to an end the following game, as the Lions fell 2-1 on the road against the New York Red Bulls as a comeback attempt came up just short. Regardless, the club’s best-ever start to a season gave us plenty to cheer about, and it’s well deserving of the eighth spot on our list of the top 10 moments of 2021.
Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the rest of Orlando City’s top 10 moments of 2021.
Previous Top 10 Moments of 2021
10. Orlando City takes part in club’s first international competition against Liga MX side Santos Laguna in the Leagues Cup.
9. Orlando Pride get only their second win ever against Portland as Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux lead the way.