Orlando City got second-half goals from Ercan Kara and Andres Perea and held on for a 2-1 fourth-round U.S. Open Cup victory over the Philadelphia Union at Exploria Stadium. The Lions advance to the Round of 16 with the victory, after holding on following a late Stuart Findlay goal.
With the win, the Lions avenged the Union’s 1-0 win over Orlando in Chester, PA, in the 2018 edition of the competition.
“The intensity (of the game) just shows the respect that both teams had for the Cup,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “It was not far from the high level in the league and I liked it a lot. The effort that our players did especially in a very difficult match against a very good team, too.”
Pareja’s starting XI included Homegrown Player Mason Stajduhar in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Michael Halliday. Cesar Araujo and Perea started in central midfield with Junior Urso, Alexandre Pato, and Facundo Torres making up the attacking line behind Kara up top.
Orlando fashioned the first chance five minutes in when Torres sent in a cross from the left that found Urso in front of goal. Urso’s volley was wide of goal, however.
The miss was representative of the first half. The Lions were sloppy in possession, often giving the ball away carelessly. Halliday appeared the rustiest of the players in the opening half, with a couple of heavy touches wasting opportunities to create something in the final third and some poor passes that could have been costly.
The Union had a couple of opportunities in the ninth minute. Smith was unable to stop a foray down the right side and the ball was crossed in to Daniel Gazdag, who hit his shot right at Stajduhar. Seconds later, Paxten Aaronson fired over the bar from the right. Cory Burke hit a shot off target a minute later as the Union attempted to take control.
Jansson made a vital challenge in the 16th minute to deny Gazdag a 1-v-1 opportunity against Stajduhar, tracking back to recover after a poor pass by Halliday.
Orlando came into the game more after that and finished the first half pretty well. Torres got the ball out wide in the 17th minute and made a beautiful cutback pass to find Pato in the area but his shot was blocked by Stuart Findlay. In the 36th minute, Torres sent in a corner kick cross that fell to Pato’s foot. However, the Brazilian’s first touch got away from him and he wasn’t able to get back to it to take a shot before the defense cleared it.
Urso had two chances to open the scoring in stoppage time. The first one came on another good corner cross from Torres. The ball fell in the box for Urso, who put his shot on frame. Matt Freese came up big with his only save of the first half to keep it scoreless. A minute later, Torres was sent down the right. He fired a pass across to Urso on the left. Freese came out to challenge and Urso’s shot appeared to go off of Freese and over the bar but the referee awarded a goal kick, so the Bear may have just skied the opportunity trying to get it over the diving goalkeeper.
The Lions held the advantage in possession (59.3%-40.7%), shots (6-3), corners (3-0), and passing accuracy (84.4%-77.4%). Each team put one shot on target.
“The idea was to keep Ercan up front in his natural position,” Pareja said about the team’s improved connectivity over the previous few games. “We wanted to refresh (Mauricio Pereyra), he has been carrying the team for this period. We gave that responsibility to Alex Pato to drop and help us to connect with Urso.”
Pareja’s strategy involved Urso playing on the wing, a position he has played in the back, and that helped stabilize the team on both ends of the pitch.
“He played in that position as a very natural winger, who gave us possibilities to step in the box because he sniffed for the goal,” Pareja said. “He gave us presence in the back, and the best part is he glued us defensively too. So, today it was a phenomenal game for Urso.”
Orlando took control in the second half. In the first minute after the restart, Jansson smashed a shot from long range but hit it into the second deck. But that was just the start of the Lions getting a firm grip on the match, continuing their strong finish to the opening period.
Kara broke the deadlock in the 54th minute. Urso sent the ball to Halliday up the right side and then continued his run into the area. Halliday sent a good return pass to Urso, but the Bear’s shot was blocked by a defender in front. Kara was first to the rebound, turned and fired it into the back of the net to make it 1-0.
The fans were still celebrating when Philadelphia nearly pulled that goal right back. Quinn Sullivan was left all alone near the top of the area. The Union midfielder fired but missed the target with his shot.
Two minutes later, Orlando doubled the lead. The Union were able to dispossess Kara at the top of the box but the ensuing clearance fell to Perea about 30 yards out. With no Union defenders around him, the midfielder went for goal and sent a cannon shot just inside the left post, beating Freese and making it 2-0 in the 57th minute.
“I’m so happy for the goal,” Perea said. “I think for me it’s a very good point to start for my confidence and now I hope this helps me a lot with all my games and all this work. I just saw the ball and my mind said, ‘Shoot!’”
The Lions again left a Union player alone near the top of the area shortly after scoring. This time it was Gazdag, who sent his shot on target but Stajduhar parried it away in the 61st minute.
Philadelphia then tried to change the game by sending in starters Julian Carranza, Sergio Santos, and Jose Martinez.
Halliday sent in a good cross from right to left in the 66th minute that found Torres, but his header was right at Freese.
After that, the Union subs started to give Philadelphia a foothold in the match. Aaronson got down the right in the 67th but sent his shot into the outside netting. Ten minutes later, just seconds after Pareja sent three subs into the match — Mauricio Pereyra, Ruan, and Joao Moutinho — the Union pulled a goal back. Orlando dealt with a set piece from distance but the clearance fell for Martinez. He sent a pop-up back into the area that found Findlay, who bundled it toward the back post, just out of the reach of Stajduhar. With 13 minutes remaining in normal time, the Union were back in the match.
Schlegel made a critical challenge in the 85th minute to prevent Santos from slipping in behind the defense and in on goal.
“They all made incredible plays — Kyle. Mikey, Robin and Rodri,” Stajduhar said of his back line. “Even Mikey. First half he chased that one down on the left side and toe poked it back to me and I cleared it. Those guys are incredible. When they make plays like that, it makes my job a lot easier. I didn’t have to make many saves tonight.”
Ruan had two chances to put the match away late. On the first, he broke in behind the defense with Kara on his left. He tried to make the pass that would give Kara an easy goal but left the pass too close to Freese. On the second chance, the right back had a breakaway on goal and again had Kara mirroring him on the left. This time Ruan kept the ball but never even got a shot away as Freese came out to challenge him and the Brazilian simply dribbled the ball right to the keeper.
The Union had one more good chance to equalize at the death. Taking a free kick at midfield, the ball was flicked toward the middle of the box and then headed toward goal. Stajduhar dove to his left and secured the ball. Referee Elvis Osmanovic then immediately blew the full time whistle.
After the match, Stajduhar proposed to his girlfriend, Tatiana, on the Exploria Stadium pitch. The goalkeeper said he had given the ring to one of the team’s athletic trainers to hold onto for the big post-game moment.
“Yeah, I got engaged,” he said. “She said yes. I was more nervous than before the game for (the proposal).”
Orlando led in possession (55.1%-44.9%), shots (12-10), shots on target (5-4), corners (3-0), and passing accuracy (82.3%-78.1%).
“We were more consistent in the whole game,” Pareja said. “Not just in the possession side that we wanted to keep the ball and have sequences longer and things like that, but just have the creation of options, and it was much more like us. A good time today to bounce back and now we will refocus again on the league. But today was a match that we enjoyed a lot and congratulations to our players.”
The Lions are back in action this Saturday on the road against Toronto FC. Orlando City will learn its next U.S. Open Cup opponent on Thursday.