Orlando City never does anything the easy way. The Lions needed a stoppage-time goal from Rodrigo Schlegel and a save in sudden death penalties to advance to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals after a 1-1 draw against Nashville SC at Exploria Stadium. Schlegel again donned his folk hero mantle with a 94th-minute equalizer after the Lions spent much of the second half trying to overcome Hany Mukhtar’s opening goal in the 52nd minute.
Orlando scored six times in the shootout, with only Andres Perea seeing his spot kick saved, while Alex Muyl skied the first Nashville attempt over the bar and Pedro Gallese made a diving stop on Eric Miller to end the match.
“We didn’t play well in the first half, at least 35 minutes where Nashville was much better than us,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “But, after after the goal, I thought we reacted and I want to recognize that reaction from the players. I think they had the personality to be patient and go through it. And then at the end, I thought we were a fair winner.”
Pareja’s starting XI included Pedro Gallese in goal in place of the injured Mason Stajduhar, who had handled all goalkeeping duties in this year’s U.S. Open Cup to date. Joao Moutinho did not make the lineup, so Kyle Smith lined up at left back next to partners Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo and Junior Urso handled the central midfield behind an attacking line of Tesho Akindele, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Ercan Kara up top.
Nashville dominated the first half from the jump, as the Lions played about like they did on Friday in Cincinnati. They were sloppy with the ball, made hopeful passes into areas where there were no teammates, and failed to create any threat to Elliot Panicco’s net. The visitors created dangerous opportunities off of needless and careless giveaways throughout the opening half.
The first of those came in the 16th minute when Pereyra turned down opportunities to pass out of pressure but instead held onto the ball until he was surrounded and dispossessed. The ball ended up with Mukhtar, who forced Gallese into a good save.
Orlando dealt with the ensuing corner and had a chance to break, but Ruan slowed as he approached the penalty area, allowing Nashville to get back into position and then made a poor pass trying to switch play to the right.
Nashville won a couple more corners and nearly scored when Walker Zimmerman got a free header. Smith was there to block the shot before it could find its way inside the right post in the 20th minute.
The Lions continued to give it away and Nashville accepted those gifts, fashioning dangerous chances. Sapong shook free in the 26th minute and fired on goal but Gallese was able to keep it out.
Moments later, Mukhtar got in close on the left side and El Pulpo did well to smother the point-blank shot.
Orlando nearly created something in the 33rd minute with the first half chance. Pereyra got into the right side of the box and cut a pass back across the six-yard box for Akindele, but his attempt to bundle it home was met with a sliding challenge by two defenders and nothing came of it.
Two minutes later, Gallese again made a big stop on Sapong to keep the game scoreless.
Randall Leal then slipped in behind the back line in transition on the right but fired his shot off target in the 37th minute.
Each team wasted a couple late set pieces and that was it for the first half.
Nashville led in possession (52.3%-47.7%), shots (6-1), shots on target (4-0), corners (4-1), and passing accuracy (77.8%-77.4%).
Orlando blew a golden opportunity to take the lead four minutes after the restart. Torres cut a ball back across from the right near the end line. The ball found Urso but the midfielder sent his shot over the bar, wasting the opportunity.
Moments later, Kara went for a bicycle kick near the top of the box but didn’t get all of it. The ball skipped over to the right and Pereyra was first to it, but it bounced just as he arrived and he couldn’t make good contact, sending it just wide.
Those misses were costly, as Nashville broke the scoreless deadlock in the 53rd minute. A harmless looking cross in from Alex Muyl found Mukhtar with Schlegel trying to wall him off. Since the defender didn’t play the ball, Mukhtar simply stuck his foot out and knocked it past Gallese to make it 1-0.
The Lions seemed to wake up at that point and had a good spell of play. Akindele got down the left in the 58th minute and found Kara in front. Panicco did well to come off his line and sprawl sideways to smother the forward’s shot.
Seconds later, Ruan made a slick move to free himelf down the right channel. He looked to have some options but spotted Panicco off his line and tried to chip the goalkeeper. Unfortunately, the ball sailed on him a bit and flew over the crossbar.
Torres freed himself for a shot from outside the area in the 70th minute but he scuffed the shot and it skipped harmlessly wide.
Nashville put more defensive-minded players on the field to try to see the game out and it seemed to be working. Orlando sent in passes from deep and the defense simply waited and overlapped with each other to knock them away.
Second-half sub Alexandre Pato had a great chance in the 90th minute from outside the area when he smashed a shot toward the right post. The ball started on target but swerved outside and went just wide.
As time wound down, Pereyra was fouled near the right corner of the box, giving the Lions a free kick. The captain sent in a cross that Panicco missed and Benji Michel nodded down. Schlegel was first to the ball and knocked it in to make it 1-1 in the 94th minute.
“I just saw the ball coming in,” Schlegel said of the play. “I saw Antonio and I saw a good header created a rebound for us, and I was able to get on the rebound, and thankfully I was able to score it.”
The goal sent the ball into extra time. After 90 minutes, Orlando held more possession (55.1%-44.9%), shots (13-9), and passing accuracy (81.4%-75.5%). Nashville had more shots on target (6-4) and corners (6-3).
The first 15 minutes of extra time didn’t provide much excitement, despite Sean Davis getting sent off with a second yellow card in the 91st minute for pulling Torres back to break up a transition play. Nashville packed their area tightly and repelled crosses and passes for much of the first period of extra time.
The closest Orlando came was a header from Perea just inches over the bar on a set piece in the 98th minute. Kara fired wide in the 100th minute and that was it for the scoring chances.
Orlando had more possession at the break (56.8%-43.2%), more shots (16-9), and more passing accuracy (82.8%-75.2%). Nashville had more shots on target (6-4) and more corners (6-4).
Jansson nearly put the Lions ahead in the 105th minute, smashing a shot just wide of the right post from the left corner of the box. Torres pulled a shot just wide of the right post in the 112th minute. Orlando couldn’t do much with a few set pieces with the height of the Nashville defenders in the box and the match went to spot kicks.
After 120 minutes, Orlando had more shots (23-9), corners (7-6), passing accuracy (83.8%-72.9%), and possession (59.8%-40.2%). Nashville still had more shots on target (6-5).
“No player wants a game to go to penalties. But we’re calm now and we can analyze the game,” Pato said. “We have to be more calm when we’re up a player.”
Kara stepped up to be Orlando’s first shooter as he did in the Round of 16 against Inter Miami, and he buried his spot kick to set the tone. Muyl stepped up first for Nashville but sent his shot high over the crossbar to give the Lions the advantage.
Jansson and Ake Loba traded goals in the second round, before Perea tried a stutter-step approach and fired too close to Panicco, who made the save. Jack Maher leveled the shootout at 2-2 after three rounds. Kyle Smith and Walker Zimmerman traded goals in the fourth round and Alexandre Pato and Ethan Zubak did likewise in Round 5, sending the shootout to sudden death. Antonio Carlos pushed Orlando back in front, only to see Dave Romney roof his shot to knot things up at 5-5.
Torres stepped up and fired home to give the Lions the advantage and put pressure back on the visitors. Eric Miller went sixth for Nashville and sent his shot to Gallese’s right. The attempt was poor and El Pulpo guessed correctly, making the save to send the Lions through to the semifinals.
“Very happy, obviously, with the (shootout) victory and going to the semifinal with this group of players against a very good rival, with the possibility to keep advancing,” Pareja said. “I think it’s a very good step for us.”
“I think it’s a situation where you have to be intelligent as a team,” Schlegel said. “You have to play each of these games in a way that you don’t commit an error that could hurt the team. I think this team, specifically in these Cup games, has shown that we’ve been intelligent, we’ve played that type of game, and continue to fight with these difficult moments.
“But more than that, it’s that this team doesn’t fear extra time. It doesn’t fear going to penalties, because we have confidence in each and every one of our teammates.”