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.
Was there ever any doubt what the top moment of 2022 would be? Orlando City lifted its first trophy in the club’s MLS era by capturing the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship with a 3-0 win over Sacramento Republic FC of the USL Championship. The victory clinched the Lions’ first ever berth in the Concacaf Champions League.
As with any title, there was a little luck involved in Orlando City’s run to the trophy. In the Lions’ case, they were able to host all six matches in which they played, setting a record in the competition. Getting to play at home didn’t seem like an advantage for a team that struggled in league play at Exploria Stadium for much of the year. But Orlando City was a different animal in cup play, handling four of the opponents in regulation and coming from behind to force (and then win) a penalty shootout against the other two.
Sacramento Republic FC came to Orlando after a road match at Louisville City in which almost every starter was rested. The Republic, for some reason, feared Orlando City might film training or something so the team opted to instead train in a public park. That park happened to be a busy place for youth soccer and led in turn to the dumbest storyline of the entire competition — spygate.
Reports of an Orlando City staffer supposedly spying on Sacramento’s training session took a little of the fun out of the buildup to the match but ultimately the matter was investigated and a small, slap-on-the-wrist, don’t-do-that-again fine was issued against the club.
As for the game itself, the Lions and Republic got off to a cagey start to the final. Orlando City struggled to break down the organized and compact visitors in a nervy, back-and-forth first half. The game unfolded exactly as Sacramento would have hoped, with plenty of physical play allowed by referee Ramy Touchan, lots of stops and starts, and the Lions having trouble getting through Sacramento’s sticky defense. The visitors roughed up Orlando captain Mauricio Pereyra multiple times without drawing any bookings, emboldening the visitors to continue knocking anyone down who threatened to break their lines.
The first half chance came Orlando’s way on a set piece in the 20th minute that Joao Moutinho crossed into the area for Antonio Carlos to head toward the far post. Ercan Kara and Ivan Angulo both ended up in the same place trying to get a head to it, but sufficiently distracted each other so that neither did.
The visitors fashioned a chance by again knocking down Pereyra, which went uncalled, and going on the counter attack. At the end of the movement, Maalique Foster fired wide of goal to Pedro Gallese’s left.
The first half ended scoreless, with Orlando City leading in possession, passing accuracy, and corners. While the Lions had more shot attempts (6-1), neither side had tested the other’s keeper by putting one on frame before the break.
Sacramento finally put a shot on target in the 75th minute via Douglas Martinez, who cut in front of Moutinho and headed a shot on target. Gallese made the save to keep the match scoreless.
Orlando finally got its breakthrough just seconds after the save. The ball ended up on the right side of Sacramento’s defense, with Dan Casey tracking it down. Angulo pressured the defender and forced a turnover that Benji Michel picked up and laid off for Facundo Torres. The Uruguayan fired a shot with his first touch and couldn’t have placed it any more accurately, finding the upper left corner of the net to open the scoring.
Once the Lions had the lead with just 15 minutes remaining in normal time, Sacramento had to abandon its defensive shell and try to control the ball. That allowed Orlando City to become more dangerous in transition because there was a lot more space in the attacking half from that point.
Michel was first to get to a ball over the top of the Republic back line and he was taken down by Casey in the box. Touchan awarded a penalty. Torres stood over the ball to take the pressure-packed penalty. A miss or a save would have given Sacramento momentum in a one-score game with 10 minutes to play, plus stoppage time. But Torres sent the goalkeeper one way and fired home to the right side from the spot to make it 2-0 in the 80th minute.
The trophy celebration was in sight for the Lions at this point as long as they could withstand the final Sacramento push. Orlando City continued to turn the Republic over and fashion dangerous transition opportunities. Torres nearly completed his hat trick in the 82nd minute when he shook loose on the counter but he sent his shot just inches wide of the right post.
Sacramento’s best chance to climb back to within a goal happened in the 87th minute when Rodrigo Lopez sent a shot just wide of Gallese’s post. The end of normal time came and Orlando just had to see out eight minutes of stoppage time to clinch the trophy.
Homegrown Player and Orlando native Michel finished Sacramento off in the 96th minute. A forced turnover at midfield ended up with Torres, who threaded a perfect ball through the defense for Michel’s run. The forward slotted a well-placed shot past the keeper and just inside the left post to make it 3-0 and the celebrations were on at Exploria Stadium.
Somewhere, Junior Urso got a bear hat and Ruan found a Flash mask, so both were in costume to receive their champion medals and to lift the trophy. Pereyra gathered his teammates on the stage and held up the trophy to the screaming, sell-out crowd of 25,527 at Exploria Stadium.
Orlando City had its first trophy in the club’s MLS era and a trip to the 2023 Concacaf Champions League. It was a memorable day for the Lions and their fans and absolutely worthy of the No. 1 spot in our countdown of the club’s best moments of the calendar year.
Thank you for coming along on our look back at the Top 10 Moments of 2022. If you missed any of the other ones, you can find them all below.
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.
4. Lions avenge a 2021 playoff loss at Nashville as Rodrigo Schlegel’s stunner ultimately sent a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match to a penalty shootout, with Orlando City advancing.
2. Lions come from behind to beat the Columbus Crew on Decision Day and punch their ticket to the 2022 MLS Cup playoffs.