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 was in a little trouble. The Lions thought they had clinched a playoff spot with a 2-1 win over Nashville SC at the death with a game to spare. Andres Perea poked home the rebound of a stellar free kick by Alexandre Pato that hit off the post and the back of goalkeeper Joe Willis. But then Allen Chapman perpetuated the Halloween Heist and inexplicably disallowed the goal for a foul on Daryl Dike — the man who appeared to be the man fouled from every angle that showed the play.
Instead of a playoff-clinching win, it was an unsatisfying 1-1 draw and Orlando could only be certain of advancing to the playoffs with a road win at Montreal on Decision Day. Most of the other contenders for the final playoff spots seemed to have easy matches on the last day and the Lions had gone winless in two matches at home against CF Montreal (0-1-1) on the season, so a win at Stade Saputo seemed anything but certain with a postseason berth on the line.
The Lions arrived in Montreal for the final match with an ailing captain and Nani did not start the game. Silvester van der Water and Benji Michel both started, filling in for Nani and Chris Mueller, who didn’t play.
Despite playing in the midweek and Orlando having had a regular rest week, Montreal began the match by pressing high to try to prevent the Lions from playing out of the back. While it wasn’t successful in creating turnovers, it was a bit disruptive. Orlando struggled to find space between the lines and started the game with a lot of cycling the ball across the back.
Eventually, the Lions did manage to get a few early chances. Michel fired over the bar cutting inside from the left and Mauricio Pereyra sent a dangerous free kick over the wall that was stopped by a diving Sebastian Breza. Daryl Dike flicked a header wide of goal from a van der Water cross moments later.
Montreal settled down and got on the front foot for the next segment of the game and the hosts should have taken the lead in the 16th minute. Zachary Brault-Guillard sent a dangerous ball across the front of goal that just needed a tap-in, but Sunusi Ibrahim’s touch took the ball back across the front of the goal line and Pedro Gallese scooped it up. Five minutes later, Gallese was called upon to make a vital save when Emmanuel Mas — filling in for the injured Joao Moutinho — tried to cut in front of an attacking Montreal player but missed the ball. That allowed Torres to get in alone on goal before being denied by El Pulpo.
Orlando settled back down and got more control of the match. Robin Jansson nearly provided the breakthrough in the 37th minute. A Pereyra free kick was touched to the Beefy Swede, who smashed a shot off the post.
The close opportunities weren’t going in for Orlando and that seemed to come back and bite the Lions late in the half when Ibrahim scored but he was well offside and the goal didn’t count. The teams went to the break scoreless.
Oscar Pareja put Andres Perea in the game after halftime and took off van der Water in an effort to gain more control of the middle of the pitch. Montreal countered by sending the dangerous Romell Quioto into the match.
The Lions finally broke through 10 minutes after the restart. Mas sent a long throw-in into the box that Rudy Camacho only partially cleared as far as Sebas Mendez at the top of the area. Mendez took the ball off the bounce and struck it well, sending in his first MLS goal into the far side of the net to make it 1-0. It was a stunner of a goal, made all the more shocking by who scored it and the importance of the moment.
Only minutes after Mendez broke the deadlock, Quioto thought he had brought Montreal level. He headed home a good ball into the area but the flag came up immediately. The video assistant referee confirmed that there was no error on the play. The play was certainly close, with Jansson possibly keeping Quioto on, but the TV camera angle on the broadcast wasn’t in a good spot to get a proper look at it. That play unnerved the hosts, who started to lose their heads after the play was shown on the scoreboard.
Montreal players started confronting referee Armando Villarreal and coach Wilfried Nancy was booked for his outburst on the bench.
The Lions began defending desperately to preserve their lead and looked to find some way to put the game away in transition. They did a good job of keeping Montreal from generating clear-cut looks and the game completely swung in Orlando’s favor when Camacho lost his head and was sent off in the 79th minute after charging forward and flying into a challenge with studs up, taking out Dike. It was the first — and only — sending off by an Orlando opponent in 2021.
The Lions capitalized on their manpower advantage. Ruan took possession of the ball on the right and made a strong run up the field, cutting inside to split two players. He then sent a perfect through ball to Dike, who took a touch and then slotted past Breza to make it 2-0 in the 86th minute.
Pareja sent three defensive subs into the game to see it out and the Lions did just that, not allowing another good scoring chance the rest of the way. The celebration was on as Orlando City clinched its second consecutive playoff berth.
Although the Halloween Heist didn’t prevent the Lions from making the postseason, it did put Orlando on the road instead of home for the first round. That made things tougher and of course the Lions bowed out of the postseason quickly. However, that hard-fought win on Decision Day — with an absolutely magical goal from Mendez — is worthy of being our No. 1 moment of 2021.
Thank you for coming along on our look back at the Top 10 Moments of 2021. If you missed any of the other ones, you can find them all below.
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 seven-game unbeaten run.
5. Orlando Pride end slide and rekindle their playoff hopes with 2-0 road win over the Chicago Red Stars, giving interim coach Becky Burleigh her first NWSL win.
4. Lions smash San Jose Earthquakes 5-0 to equal their most lopsided MLS win behind braces from Benji Michel and Daryl Dike.
3. Orlando City rallies twice in comeback win vs. Atlanta United as Mason Stajduhar wins in his MLS debut.
2. A pair of golazos from Chris Mueller and Nani bring Orlando City from behind to beat Inter Miami on the road for the first time.