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.
The Orlando City defense got off to a strong start in 2021 with four clean sheets in the first six games. However, the offense was struggling as the Lions had only scored more than once in one of those six matches. The Lions were poised to make a postseason run for the second consecutive season but something had to change on the attacking end.
In addition to the lack of scoring, all but one of the eight games to that point had been within a goal. Each game had been full of stress as the team looked to find a late winner. The most recent game saw the Lions take an early two-goal lead on Toronto FC at Exploria Stadium, only to see the Reds equalize. Fortunately, an 84th-minute strike by Junior Urso allowed the Lions to claim all three points.
A half-hour weather delay saw Orlando City and the San Jose Earthquakes take to the field on a rain-soaked field. The Lions got off to a strong start, putting the Quakes on their heels as Urso forced JT Marcinkowski into an early save. After scoring twice in the first eight minutes against Toronto, it only took the Lions seven minutes to get on the board against San Jose.
In the sixth minute, Benji Michel beat Judson and streaked down the left and into the San Jose box. Florian Jungwirth attempted to make the stop, but took Michel down in the process, forcing referee Chris Penso to point to the spot.
Marcinkowski guessed the right direction on the ensuing penalty, but it was a good strike by Nani. The ball rolled beyond the outstretched arm of the Quakes’ goalkeeper and into the corner for the opening goal.
After drawing the penalty that led to the first goal, Michel got one of his own in the 16th minute. Chris Mueller played a nice ball through for the forward into the box. Paul Marie attempted to shield Michel from getting to the ball until Marcinkowski could collect, but the Orlando City Homegrown Player got his foot to it and put it into the back of the visitors’ net.
In the previous game, the Lions’ lead only lasted for two minutes before Toronto got one back. Orlando City fans would’ve been rightfully concerned that San Jose could start to come back when it was 2-0. However, the Lions did well to pull away.
In the 31st minute, Nani was once again a part of a scoring opportunity for the Lions. Daryl Dike was playing his second game of the season, and his first start since returning from England, and made a nice diagonal run into the box. The captain spotted Dike’s run and played him behind the Quakes’ defense.
Dike’s first touch was around the San Jose goalkeeper and his second was into the back of the net. It was the third time that the Lions had scored three goals in a game and only the second time in 2021 that they’d taken a three-goal lead.
But it didn’t stop there.
Four minutes after halftime, the Lions scored their fourth of the game. Nani’s free kick from the right of goal found the head of Dike in the box. The big striker put the header down and on goal, pushing it past Marcinkowski and making it 4-0 Orlando City.
At that point, the question wasn’t whether the Lions would win, but by how much. That answer came in the 90th minute. Second-half substitute Tesho Akindele played Michel through on the right side of the box. The young forward’s second touch was behind Marcinkowski for the fifth and final goal of the game.
The 5-0 win matched the largest margin of victory by Orlando City since joining MLS in 2015 (the other was a 6-1 win over the New England Revolution in 2017). However, the significance in 2021 was that it wasn’t a stressful game for the Lions. In fact, the only other game to that point that wasn’t even or a one-goal difference was the team’s 3-0 win over FC CIncinnati on May 1.
From a player standpoint, the game was the first in which any Orlando City players had multiple goals or assists. Michel and Dike each had a brace in this one and Nani had a pair of assists to go with his early goal.
It was also a memorable game for young on-loan goalkeeper Brandon Austin. Taking over for starter Pedro Gallese — who was on international duty — the 23-year-old completed his first MLS shutout in just his second MLS start.
The Lions wouldn’t have a comfortable win like that again, with the team’s 2-0 win over CF Montreal to end the season the only remaining multiple goal victory. It was also the last time in the season that an Orlando City player would score a brace. Those facts make this game worthy of inclusion in our top 10 moments of 2021.
Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City SC’s top 10 moments of 2021.
Previous Top 10 Moments of 2021
10. Orlando City takes part in the 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.
8. Orlando City opens the 2021 MLS season with a club-record six-match unbeaten streak.
7. Orlando Pride start the 2021 NWSL season with a club-record unbeaten run.
5. Orlando Pride end slide and rekindle their playoff hopes with road 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars, giving interim coach Becky Burleigh her first NWSL win.