As we count down to the new year of 2023 — which will be Orlando City’s ninth in MLS and the Orlando Pride’s eighth in the NWSL — and say goodbye to 2022, it’s time to look back at the club’s 10 best moments of the year as selected by The Mane Land staff via vote.
Today we highlight the No. 8 moment in our countdown. To say that the 2022 season was a rollercoaster for the Lions would be the understatement of the year. The Lions got off to a solid start, endured early injuries to key players, dropped points to some of last year’s bottom dwellers (cheers to you, Wayne Rooney), and ultimately brought home the club’s first trophy.
Our No. 8 moment goes to Tesho Akindele and his not one, but two late match winners seven days apart, which undoubtedly became a key catalyst, propelling the Lions into the post-season. Starting on Aug. 21, Orlando City went on the road against Charlotte FC to face the newcomers in their building for the first time. After a scoreless first half in front of a packed stadium, the Lions finally found the back of the net in the 62nd minute when Facundo Torres sent a near-perfect through ball towards Ercan Kara, who slotted it past Kristijan Kahlina to give Orlando City a 1-0 lead.
Orlando held onto the lead for less than five minutes, as Charlotte found an equalizer in the 66th minute. Things settled down in the match and it looked like the Lions were destined to split the points with the hosts. Enter Akindele, who had other plans, and in the 88th minute ignited a counter attack way back near the Lions’ own 18-yard box. The Canadian sprinted the length of the field, took a pass from Junior Urso, and demonstrated why you never give up on a play after collecting his own rebound and putting his second chance in the back of the net. It was truly an amazing run and effort to push the Lions over the top, secure all three points, and — at the time — propel OCSC back into fifth place in the MLS playoff race.
One week later, back in the friendly confines of Exploria Stadium, the Lions welcomed NYCFC into their den on Aug. 31. At the end of the game, the legend of Tesho Time would grow by leaps and bounds. As if scoring a game winner one week before in the 88th minute wasn’t good enough, against the Pigeons in the 95th minute Akindele took a glancing header off of an Ivan Angulo corner, which had such good pace and direction on it, NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson had no time to react.
Fought until the end and it paid off.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 29, 2022
Orlando with the win on a corner! pic.twitter.com/u1kD7YJNfB
When asked about the late winner, Akindele said, “I was just thinking that I had seen (Angulo) hit some near post. I was like, ‘I’m just going to guess near post.’ That’s what you do a lot of times. You just guess. Our set piece coach won’t want to hear me saying that, but that’s what I do sometimes — just guess. So I just thought, ‘Maybe Ivan’s going to hit it near post,’ and he did, luckily. And then I hit it and then I didn’t even know if it went in but then I heard everybody screaming and I said, ‘Oh dang, it went in.’”
With Akindele to thank, the Lions notched their third win in a row and saw their form and confidence continue to grow, finishing the month of August with a 3-2 comeback win over the Seattle Sounders, and then, a week later, defeated Sacramento Republic FC to win the U.S. Open Cup. It is hard to measure over the course of a season what impact an individual moment or two may have on the year as a whole, but I would argue that without Akindele’s two late winners, Orlando City could have been faced with a much more stressful final third of the season.
Recently announced on Dec. 20, Tesho has officially announced his retirement from professional soccer after a nine-year MLS career.
When I was starting my career, my mom told me, “it’s great to be known as a good soccer player, but I’d rather you be known as a good person.”— Tesho Akindele (@Tesho13) December 20, 2022
I worked every day to live up to that ❤️⚽️ pic.twitter.com/l8cRnNFoyW
Thank you Tesho for the memories and for the two amazing late game winners that rightfully deserve a spot as one of the Top 10 moments of 2022!
Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City’s top 10 moments of 2022.
Previous Top Moments of 2022
10. OCB nabs first win in MLS NEXT Pro play after joining the new league.
9. Orlando City signs Facundo Torres as a Young Designated Player ahead of the 2022 season.