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.
It didn’t take long for Orlando City to feel some hostility towards MLS newcomers Nashville SC. In the Tennessee-based club’s second season in the league, there was controversy and a playoff loss for the Lions to look back on. But the 2022 season saw Orlando City get some revenge, knocking Nashville out of the U.S. Open Cup on the way to the club’s first trophy in its MLS history.
The backstory for the Lions’ second consecutive U.S. Open Cup shootout victory begins late in the 2021 season, when Orlando City entered the final two games of the year with a chance to finish in the top four and secure at least one home playoff game for the second consecutive season. The penultimate game was against Nashville SC at Exploria Stadium and the Lions got off to a good start when Daryl Dike scored in the 18th minute. But the visitors equalized in the 53rd minute on a Hany Mukhtar goal to make it 1-1.
Four minutes into injury time, Orlando City seemed to take all three points. An Alexandre Pato free kick from just outside the box hit the crossbar and landed at the foot of Dike. After a collision in the box, Andres Perea put it away to give the Lions a very late 2-1 win. But referee Allen Chapman called a phantom foul on Dike, ending the game in a 1-1 draw.
The draw forced the Lions into having to win their last game against CF Montreal to make the playoffs. Orlando did that, forcing a rematch against Nashville, this time in Tennessee. Again, the game started well for the Lions with Dike opening the scoring in the 14th minute. But Mukhtar took over, scoring in the 21st and 74th minutes to give his team a 2-1 lead. The Lions pushed for an equalizer as time wound down, but Jhonder Cadiz put the game on ice in stoppage time and the Lions were knocked out in the first round.
It felt like two consecutive losses for Orlando City against Nashville, so the Lions were pleased to have an opportunity for revenge when the two teams drew each other in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
The Lions had gotten their tournament off to a good start with 2-1 wins at home over the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the third round and the Philadelphia Union in the round of 32. In the round of 16, they welcomed Inter Miami to Exploria Stadium. A pair of extra-time goals saw the teams go to penalties, where a Gallese save and DeAndre Yedlin miss allowed the Lions to advance, setting up this clash at home with Nashville SC.
The visitors dominated the first half from the kickoff, as poor passing kept the Lions on their heels. They nearly conceded in the 16th minute when Mauricio Pereyra gave up the ball, creating a chance for Mukhtar. But Gallese was there to make the save. Nashville nearly scored again in the 20th minute when a corner kick found the head of Walker Zimmerman. His shot appeared headed for the bottom corner but Kyle Smith cleared it away.
Gallese was called upon several times to keep his team in the game, making huge saves in the 26th, 35th, and 37th minutes. His heroics kept the game scoreless at halftime.
Orlando City was much better to start the second half, with Junior Urso and Ercan Kara getting chances inside the first five minutes after the restart. But it was Nashville that broke the deadlock and it was Mukhtar doing the damage for the third consecutive meeting.
In the 53rd minute, an Alex Muyl cross found the foot of Mukthar at the far post. He was shielded by Rodrigo Schlegel, but got his foot to the ball and sent it toward the net. The Nashville attacker didn’t get much on the shot, but Gallese was expecting it at the near post and the ball trickled over the line for the opening goal.
The Lions went back on the attack, forcing Elliot Panicco into a save in the 58th minute and sending multiple shots off target. As the game neared its end, it appeared as though it would be another disappointing result against Nashville. But then a familiar hero came to the rescue.
Schlegel became a folk hero for Orlando City in 2020 when he stepped into goal after Gallese was sent off for coming slightly off his line against New York City FC in a penalty shootout in the MLS Cup playoffs. The backup center back replaced Gallese in goal and made the key save that allowed Benji Michel to put the Lions into the next round. He further cemented his legend in stoppage time of this game.
Three minutes into injury time, Pereyra was fouled near the corner of the box and took the free kick himself. The set piece was missed by Panicco and Michel’s header went to the top of the six-yard box. Schlegel was in the right place at the right time and put it in to send the game into extra time.
After an exhausting 90 minutes, neither team was able to do much in extra time. The only real chances came in the second period, when Jansson and Facundo Torres put shots just wide of the goal. After 30 extra minutes, the game came down to penalty kicks.
After Kara gave the Lions the lead in penalties, Muyl missed the target and Orlando City had the advantage. However, Panicco saved Perea’s kick — the third for the Lions — and the shootout went into sudden death. Torres netted Orlando City’s seventh penalty, allowing Gallese to be the hero. Eric Miller aimed for the bottom corner but the Peruvian international goalkeeper guessed correctly, making the save, and the Lions advanced to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals for the second consecutive tournament.
While this game provided some revenge for the previous season, it was the following two games that made it special. The Lions went on to lift their first competitive trophy since 2014 and their first as an MLS side. Without the heroics of Schlegel and others against Nashville two months earlier, that trophy wouldn’t have been won by Orlando.
Overcoming the frustration twice against Nashville in 2021 and the fact that this game was an integral part of the club’s historic Open Cup run is why this game deserves inclusion as one of the top 10 moments of the 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.
7. Jack Lynn scores 15 goals in a record-setting season with Orlando City B.
6. Orlando Pride reel off an improbable seven-game unbeaten streak.
5. Orlando City scores a late equalizer and then wins penalty shootout to oust rival Inter Miami from the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16.