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Orlando City vs. Nashville SC, U.S. Open Cup: Photo Gallery

An album of images from the Lions’ draw followed by a penalty shootout win at Exploria Stadium.

Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City is taking years off our lives with these tense knockout matches, but at least the Lions have the good sense to win the penalty shootouts. The Lions were, in the words of Oscar Pareja in his postgame press conference, outplayed by Nashville SC in the first half of their U.S. Open Cup game Wednesday night, but started to come into the game shortly before the break. After Pedro Gallese carried the team to halftime without conceding, the Lions did fashion two great chances to take the lead, only to see the visitors strike first.

However, this team doesn’t stop fighting and it took all 90 minutes and most of the six added minutes to draw level through the Nashville bunker. If Rodrigo Schlegel wasn’t already a folk hero for pulling on a goalkeeper’s jersey and stopping a penalty in a playoff match against New York City FC, he would have attained that status Wednesday night with his 94th-minute equalizer. Schlegel gave his team new life and Orlando City took advantage of that after 30 minutes of the Lions beating their heads against that stingy Nashville defense — made even more desperate to defend by a 91st-minute sending off of Sean Davis.

It was fitting that Gallese, who had played so brilliantly to keep his team from getting blown out in the first half, was the one who ended the proceedings in the seventh round of the penalty shootout. Gallese didn’t have to work hard to keep out the penalty Eric Miller left too close to the middle of goal, but he did have to go the correct direction and parry it away.

It felt like vindication for the previous two meetings against Nashville. The first of those matches came last Halloween, when an awful refereeing decision erased a perfectly good Andres Perea goal that would have provided the Lions with a home match in the postseason. The second of those was the ensuing road playoff game at Nashville, which Orlando City lost, 3-1.

Hany Mukhtar is a terrific player, but if we never had to see him smile on the soccer pitch again, well, I’d be OK with that.

Orlando now has now won penalty shootouts in three of its last six U.S. Open Cup matches and has gone at least into extra time in four of its last seven games in the competition. The Lions have won all five of their USOC penalty shootouts in the club’s MLS era. When you throw in the shootout wins in the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament and the 2020 playoff match vs. NYCFC, it’s truly remarkable how much resolve the team has shown over the years.

We hope you enjoy these images from a memorable night at Exploria Stadium, which erased at least some of the ghosts of Nashville games past and gave the Lions a shot to reach the final if they can clear the significant hurdle known as the New York Red Bulls on July 27.

Images: Dan MacDonald
Words: Michael Citro