Orlando City played its first U.S. Open Cup match since a deep run in the tournament in 2019 on Wednesday night, welcoming I-4 Derby rival Tampa Bay to Exploria Stadium. The Lions turned in a solid performance against the Rowdies, finishing with a 2-1 victory in the third round of the competition.
Homegrown defender Thomas Williams got his first start for the senior side and played well overall, going the distance for the Lions. The 17-year-old was partially culpable on Tampa Bay’s goal, but he never looked as if he didn’t belong on the field in a promising performance.
The visitors’ shape and early energy prevented the Lions from taking control of the game in a scoreless first half. Oscar Pareja changed shape in the second half and brought midfield maestro Mauricio Pereyra into the game to counter what the Rowdies were doing and it worked.
It didn’t take Orlando City long to break the scoreless deadlock, as the Lions got on the scoreboard just seven minutes after the break. Benji Michel drew a penalty early in the second half thanks to a slick through ball from Pereyra and Alexandre Pato smashed home the ensuing spot kick to give the Lions the advantage. Junior Urso got on the end of another beautiful pass from Pereyra just over 10 minutes later and doubled the lead.
Although the Rowdies pulled that second goal right back, Orlando City simply controlled the match in the second half and it never looked like Tampa Bay would generate anything unless it could pull off a set piece goal. The Lions were content to kick the ball around the pitch for much of the second half, although late substitute Facundo Torres had a golden opportunity to put an exclamation point on the match with a late 1-v-1 opportunity against the goalkeeper. Torres looked as though he could have rounded Raiko Arozarena for an easier shot but instead he tried to slot it past the Rowdies’ goalkeeper, who made the save.
Having knocked their I-4 Derby rivals out of the U.S. Open Cup, the Lions will now turn their attention to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday and the Philadelphia Union in the competition’s fourth round next month.
We hope you enjoy the images below from a great night of soccer at Exploria Stadium. Orlando City left the field with an important victory and, as they say, survived and advanced.
Images: Dan MacDonald
Words: Michael Citro