It was another nerve-wracking U.S. Open Cup penalty shootout after Orlando City and Inter Miami CF drew 1-1 through 120 minutes at Exploria Stadium. The Lions made the most of their spot kicks, winning the shootout 4-2 and needing just four rounds to do it due to a big save by Mason Stajduhar and a miss by USMNT right back DeAndre Yedlin. All of that happened after Jean Mota and Facundo Torres traded goals in the first half of extra time.
The Lions advance to the quarterfinals for the fifth time across the combined USL and MLS eras of the club and will face Nashville SC in the final eight at Exploria Stadium with the date yet to be determined.
“A fantastic performance,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The effort of the players (was) incredible. They just played three days ago, and that courage and that willingness to do things...and I thought we managed the game all the time and had the best of the game. We needed to be finer. We have been fighting with that to be more precise.”
Pareja’s lineup included Stajduhar in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo was joined in the central midfield by Sebas Mendez, behind an attacking line of Junior Urso, Torres, and Alexandre Pato, with Tesho Akindele up top.
The Lions domiated the first 45 minutes but again struggled to finish chances and when they did get everything right, Drake Callender made a couple of big saves to keep them off the scoreboard.
Orlando’s chances started right from the jump when Pato split two defenders and was fouled just to the left side of the penalty area in the first minute. His shot on the ensuing set piece deflected out for a corner. Miami did well to deflect a number of Orlando shots and crosses throughout the opening half. Jansson flicked on the ensuing corner cross from Pato but it was off target.
Ruan had an active first half and his headed cross was knocked behind for a corner in the sixth minute. Moments later, Akindele flicked a pass from Urso wide of goal.
Miami’s first opportunity came 10 minutes in with Gonzalo Higuain getting on the ball but having his shot blocked near the penalty spot.
In the 17th minute, Pato threaded a gorgeous through ball to send Akindele down the left. Tesho held up play and found Araujo on the other side of the area. With a lot of net to shoot at, the midfielder made a mess of either a shot or a cross and the chance evaporated. Four minutes later, the Lions should have scored. Ruan made a fantastic cross to find a late-arriving Smith in the area, but the left back sent his free header over the bar.
Smith sent in a cross to Akindele in the 23rd minute and the forward got his header on target but Callender did well to get over to his near post to make the save.
Miami nearly took the lead against the run of play in the 32nd minute. Miami came forward and all of Orlando’s back line focused on cutting off Higuain. Instead, Indiana Vassiliev was able to sneak in and take a pass to put him in against Stajduhar. The Orlando goalkeeper made a vital save to push it off the post, keeping the game scoreless.
A minute later, Damion Lowe prevented an Orlando goal. Ruan got down the right and sent in a nice cross for Akindele at the far post. Just before the cross arrived, Lowe stuck a leg out and deflected it away.
Miami then got a short spell in the Orlando end. Higuain had another shot blocked and Gregore fired just wide from outside the area in the 36th minute.
Mendez smashed a long-range effort in the 41st minute that forced a good save from Callender. A late chance saw Smith get some space on the left in the box but he sent either a cross or a shot wide of goal and that was it for the opening half. The teams went to the locker room without a goal on the board.
Orlando dominated the stat sheet in the first period, with more possession (67.6%-32.4%), shots (13-5), shots on goal (3-1), corners (7-0), and passing accuracy (87.2%-81.9%). However, the Lions couldn’t put one in the net to take control.
The Lions continued to have the majority of the chances in the second half, while the visitors stayed compact and waited for transition opportunities. Orlando wasted a lot more set pieces in the second half, including a free kick in the first minute after the restart. Just seconds after that, however, Pato fizzed a shot inches over the bar.
On a strange play, Emerson Rodriguez went down outside Orlando’s area to try to get a call on Schlegel but none was made. While Stajduhar was over the ball, Schlegel tried to get Rodriguez to get up and picked up the Miami player, who swung at the Orlando defender. Both players were booked and for some reason Miami was awarded a free kick at that point. Higuain sent the set piece over the bar in the 59th minute.
Both teams made multiple subs in the 60th minute to get fresh bodies on the field but not much changed.
Pato suffered a hard foul but the ref played Orlando’s advantage in the 66th. Unfortunately, Urso botched his header attempt in front, bouncing it out of play.
Four minutes later, Miami got one of those transition opportunities but Robert Taylor fired just wide.
Kara took a free kick in the 72nd after Pato was fouled yet again but the Austrian sent his effort well over the bar on another wasted set piece. Six minutes later, Torres had a go from just outside the area but fizzed his shot just wide of the post. In the 83rd minute, Urso again got his head on a cross — from second-half sub Mauricio Pereyra — but he shot it wide.
Mota got a free look from the top of the box in the 88th minute but fired his shot just over the bar. That was the last good look of normal time and the teams went into extra time still scoreless.
The Lions led in possession (62.3%-37.7%), shots (20-10), shots on goal (3-1), corners (9-2), and passing accuracy (87.4%-82.8%). Nevertheless, the game headed into extra time.
Pereyra had the first good look of the first half of extra time, whistling a shot just over the bar in the 92nd.
Two minutes later, Miami opened the scoring out of nowhere. Mota came up the field and took a pass with substitute midfielder Andres Perea a little late in closing him down. Mota struck his shot hard from the left side toward Stajduhar’s near post and it went in. While there was quite a bit of pace on the shot, it was one the keeper would probably expect to stop. The visitors led 1-0.
“It was not easy to overcome (Sunday’s loss) mentally and that’s why I was wondering how much we were going to mentally last in the game with with that intensity, and that willingness, pushing (forward),” Pareja said. “And even when they scored a goal. It was not an easy moment for our boys to come back.”
The lead lasted three minutes. The Lions made their next foray into the attacking third count, as Pereyra and Torres worked a give-and-go. The ball ended up on Torres’ foot just inside the top of the area. He cut from right to left, cleared a defender and fired a shot just inside the left post to tie the match at 1-1 in the 97th minute.
Much of the rest of the first half of extra time was stop-and-start soccer, with Orlando getting a few set pieces but not doing much with them. Referee Kevin Broadley blew the halftime whistle just as Torres was coming free with the ball at the top of the box.
The Lions got the first good chance of the second half of extra time, when Torres fired a shot from the left toward the back post in the 109th minute. Callender did well to make the save. In the 115th minute, the Lions recycled a cleared corner kick and the second ball in found Jansson, but the Swedish defender’s shot was at the goalkeeper.
The best chance of the extra period’s second half came in stoppage time when substitute Jack Lynn was beaten and Stajduhar came off his line but couldn’t get there. The ball was crossed in to Leonardo Campana in front of goal but the forward’s shot was blocked over the bar by substitute defender Michael Halliday, and the match went to penalties.
“I decided to go. I’m pretty sure I got in touch on it,” Stajduhar said of that final play. “I think it might have hit either my heel or my hip. Then it squeaked in the middle and Mikey made an incredible block and saved the day for us. He didn’t even know he made it after the play.”
Orlando City finished open play with the advantage in possession (64.7%-35.3%), shots (28-12), shots on target (6-3), corners (12-3), and passing accuracy (88.7%-81.9%).
Before the shootout, Adam Grinwis, Stajduhar’s fellow Orlando CIty backup goalkeeper and a previous U.S. Open Cup hero for the Lions had some advice for Mason.
“He always says, ‘Just rock up and be sick,’” Stajduhar said.
Miami won the toss and shot first with Campana taking the first penalty. The forward took a cheeky spot kick, chipping softly down the middle. It beat the diving Stajduhar and hit the crossbar but still deflected in. Ercan Kara answered with a solid penalty inside the right post.
“I asked (Pareja), ‘Can I shoot at first?’ Because I want to show my teammates my self confidence,” Kara said. “I trust myself, and when I score, I’m thinking now everybody has this confidence to score. And I was like, ‘I want to go in front and say trust me, I scored and you will also.”
Bryce Duke shot second for Miami and Stajduhar guessed correctly, going right to save it. Jansson shot second for Orlando and although Callender guessed right and got a piece, it went in anyway.
Yedlin followed for Miami but fired over the bar with barely any run-up. Andres Perea then converted to give Orlando a 3-1 lead after three rounds.
Miami needed to score to stay alive and Ariel Lassiter blasted his spot kick into the net to give the Herons a chance. But Pereyra sent the Lions into the quarterfinals by beating Callender to end the shootout, 4-2 in Orlando’s favor.
Pareja said after the match that he hadn’t planned on playing Torres 90 minutes and he needed to come off just before the penalty shootout due to tightness. We’ll have to wait to see if he’ll be available Saturday against FC Dallas.
“Anytime you get to fight for a trophy, no matter what it is, go as hard as you can for it. And obviously this is do or die in every game,” Stajduhar said. “So, yeah, it means a lot to be able to represent this club and hopefully we can take it another step further versus Nashville in a couple of weeks.”
“We advanced,” Pareja said, summing up the night. “The Cup is important for us. It’s great to see the fans connected. We’ll see how we recover. We know it has been a very taxing night for (the players) but their heart is big and we’re proud of that.”
The Lions have another quick turnaround as they welcome FC Dallas to Exploria Stadium on Saturday night.