A new year typically calls for new beginnings, but I believe that you can’t look ahead without remembering where you came from first. That flimsy piece of philosophical babble is the basis for the construction of what follows: my list of the five best goals of Orlando City’s 2021 season.
My criteria here are fairly simple: whether or not the goal is a banger, and the stakes and situation in which a goal was scored. There were a number of great goals to choose from this year so there will inevitably be some that didn’t make the cut. However, I did include two very top notch honorable mentions, because doing a top seven just sounds dumb and a top 10 sounded like a lot of typing. Behold the best of 2021.
Nani vs. New York City FC
I almost included this one at the fifth spot, although I ultimately went a different way because I wanted a bit more variety in this list. Don’t let that take anything away from this goal though, because it’s exquisite. With the score knotted at 0-0 against NYCFC in the 52nd minute, Junior Urso brought the ball upfield, nutmegged a New York player and found Mauricio Pereyra, who subsequently found Nani outside the box on the left. No one closed him down sufficiently so he cut inside onto his right foot, took a couple dribbles, and sent the ball into the far corner with Sean Johnson rooted to the spot. The game ultimately ended 1-1.
Chris Mueller vs. Inter Miami
The last honorable mention is maybe the most technically sound goal from start to finish from the whole season. Orlando were down 1-0 on the road against Inter Miami in the second half and were having a slightly rough go of things. But in the 73rd minute, Robin Jansson chipped the ball over the top for Nani to run onto in the right channel. Rather than taking a touch, the captain crossed the ball off the bounce directly into the path of Chris Mueller, who likewise shot with his first touch and put the ball into the back of the Miami net. Both passes were absolutely perfectly weighted and put into the exact spot they needed to be, and Cash’s technique was excellent to keep the ball down on what was a difficult chance. The goal tied things up, en route to a 2-1 Orlando City comeback win, and we’ll be seeing more from this game later on.
The Top Five
No. 5 Daryl Dike vs. Columbus Crew
Against Columbus on Sept. 4, the Lions were already getting into must-win territory after enduring a brutal stretch in August. In the 26th minute, Nani slid to clear the ball from a corner kick and somehow played a nearly perfect pass for Daryl Dike. The big striker sealed off Aboubacar Keita, turned and out-muscled him, and then drove towards the Columbus goal. He feinted several times to freeze Vito Wormgoor and found himself at a tight angle on the right side of the box. No matter though, because he blasted a shot into the roof of the net past a helpless Eloy Room at his near post. It was a wonderful example of physicality, close control, and ultimately both precision and power on the finish and it’s well deserving of the fifth spot.
No. 4 Dike vs. D.C. United
At fourth place we have another Dike goal and this one is as much about the stakes involved as about the quality of the goal itself. The Lions were facing off against D.C. United at home on Oct. 4, in a game they absolutely needed all three points from to keep pace in the playoff race, especially in the midst of a five-game winless streak. As the game drew on, it didn’t look like those three points would be forthcoming, although OCSC did well to fight back and tie the game after going down a goal in just the sixth minute. But with the Lions unable to score again after Robin Jansson’s 16th-minute equalizer, it just didn’t look like it would be their night. That all changed when Orlando was given a corner in front of The Wall in the seventh minute of stoppage time. Mueller sent the ball in and Dike rose at the near post to perfectly flick it just under the bar at the far post where Bill Hamid had no chance to reach it, sending Exploria Stadium into rapture and securing a precious three points for the good guys.
No. 3 Nani vs. FC Cincinnati
Our third best goal of 2021 came in the Lions’ first win of the season, just three games in against FC Cincinnati. Orlando started quickly with a Tesho Akindele goal under a minute into the match, but the goal that put OCSC up 2-0 was something both truly special, and very familiar. Nani picked the ball up on the edge of the Cincy box with Yuya Kubo in between him and a clear shot at goal. The captain brought the ball to the right before executing a Cryuff turn to come back onto his left, (leaving Kubo on the floor in the process) taking a touch and curling the ball into the net with his weaker foot. It was pure excellence from the captain and very closely mirrored a goal he scored at the same end last year against the New England Revolution.
No. 2 Nani at Inter Miami
I said we’d be coming back to this Miami game later, and the time has now come. When we left off, the two teams were tied after Mueller’s 73rd-minute goal, and in the 80th minute the comeback was complete. Nani received the ball at the top left corner of the Miami box, in what seemed a very unlikely position to score. He cut onto his right foot to give himself a tiny sliver of shooting room and struck a magnificent ball that bent and dipped into the far corner of the Miami net, with John McCarthy unable to get anywhere remotely near it. The spot on the field where he strikes the ball makes the goal completely absurd, and when you add in the fact that it was a game-winner on the road against Miami, it makes it even more special.
A goal so nice we watched it twice.*— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 26, 2021
*more than twice but who's counting pic.twitter.com/fwuOeXgkaE
No. 1 Sebas Mendez at CF Montreal
Orlando’s best goal of 2021 has everything, starting with stakes that couldn’t be higher. It was Decision Day and Orlando was on the road against the ridiculously named Club de Foot Montreal. Win and the Lions are in no matter what. Lose and Montreal makes the playoffs instead. Things were nervy after the first half, with OCSC out-shooting the hosts but looking vulnerable at the back, with Pedro Gallese making a big save in the 16th minute and Montreal having a goal ruled out for offside in the 39th minute. The Lions seized control of affairs emphatically in the 50th minute though. Emmanuel Mas took a long throw-in down the left side of the field which was only half-cleared by Montreal, where it fell to Sebas Mendez. The Ecuadorian international let the ball bounce and smacked a swerving, curling shot that dipped into the Montreal net at the far post, with Sebastian Breza given hardly any chance to get to it.
This goal is just flat out special. The patience required to let the ball drop and bounce, and then the way that Sebas cuts across the ball with his instep and stops his follow-through short to give it the dip and swerve to beat the goalkeeper is phenomenal. Add in the fact that he scored his first-ever goal for Orlando City when the stakes were that high and you have the best goal of Orlando City’s 2021 season.
Those are my five best goals from Orlando’s 2021 season. Did I miss any, would you have placed any of these in a different order, or am I spot on? Be sure to have your say down in the comments, and vote for your favorite in the poll below.
Which of these goals was Orlando City’s best, in your view and by your own criteria?
Nani’s blast vs. NYCFC.
Mueller’s tic-tac-toe team goal.
Dike’s power move vs. Columbus.
Dike’s flicked header to drop D.C.
Nani’s back-and-forth blast vs. Cincy.
Nani’s tough-angle golazo at Miami.
Mendez’s magical moment in Montreal.