Orlando City looked to be in trouble midway through the first half of its U.S. Open Cup semifinal match against the New York Red Bulls at Exploria Stadium, allowing numerous dangerous scoring chances to the visitors and falling behind late in the opening period. But the Lions pulled Lewis Morgan’s goal back at the death of the first half through unlikely scorer Cesar Araujo, and then added four in the second half to run away with a 5-1 win and earn the team’s first berth in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final.
Araujo led the scoring barrage with a brace, but Orlando also got goals from Mauricio Pereyra, Facundo Torres, and Benji Michel. The win avenged an earlier 3-0 loss at home to the Red Bulls in MLS play.
“I think the confidence that (the players) showed today as a group helped them a lot to put things together,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The team showed that we have talent and cohesiveness among the players. It’s just trying to get that consistency and it’s a long season.”
Pareja’s lineup featured Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Araujo and Junior Urso started in central midfield behind an attacking line of Alexandre Pato, Pereyra, and Torres, with Michel up top in the striker role.
Orlando City started well, owning the first 15 minutes of the game. Michel had a takeaway in the area just over a minute after kickoff that almost led to an early chance, but his cutback pass for Urso was cut out by the defense at the last second. The Lions had a good opportunity in the 11th minute when Pereyra was fouled just outside the area but the captain hit his free kick into the wall on the set piece.
The Red Bulls fired their first warning shot in transition in the 14th minute when they quickly got the ball up the field, where Luquinhas fired just wide of the left post.
Two minutes after that, Orlando had a chance that Pato couldn’t finish. Pereyra sent Ruan to the end line with a superb pass and the right back made a great cutback pass to find Pato, but the Brazilian’s shot was just wide of the right post.
Luquinhas got a second chance in the 19th minute from the top of the area but again sent his shot just inches wide of the left post. The chance came on a quick transition after a Ruan turnover in his own end. The Red Bulls took control for most of the remainder of the half at that point. Patryk Klimala sent a bicycle kick off the crossbar in the 20th minute. The ball found Dylan Nealis near the left post but Gallese made a spectacular save to keep the game scoreless.
New York kept creating chances out of innocuous plays. Klimala was under pressure but still came close when he hit the post in the 27th minute with a curling effort.
Pato again had the ball on his foot in a dangerous spot in the 38th minute. Ruan sent the ball across the front of goal to Pato, who missed high with his shot.
It appeared the teams would head into the break scoreless but then New York struck in transition. Pato had numbers in the attack and held the ball too long, losing it in traffic. The Red Bulls quickly broke down the field to Klimala on the right. The forward sent a ball across the top of the box to Morgan, who fired just under the crossbar to give the visitors a 1-0 lead early in stoppage time.
Orlando struck back just before the whistle. Antonio Carlos made a rare run up the field and threaded a sweet pass through the line to Ruan. The right back again made a good pass, floating one for Pato but the defense arrived just in time to nod it behind for a corner. On the set piece, the cross found Carlos at the near post and the defender sent his header toward the back post. It hit the woodwork and bounced out in front to Araujo, who swept it home with the last kick of the half.
“I’m living in a beautiful moment right now in my personal life and for me in my career,” Araujo said. “But the most important thing right now is the team won tonight. We get to go on and play in the final.”
Orlando City dominated possession (64.7%-35.3%) and passed more accurately (83%-71.2%) but New York had more shots (10-6), shots on target (3-1), and corners (5-1).
The Lions took the lead just two minutes after the break on a team goal that started with a defensive recovery. Orlando worked the ball up the right and the ball ended up in the midfield on Pereyra’s foot. The captain turned and switched play to Torres on the left side near the top of the area. Torres held the ball and waited for Moutinho to make an overlapping run and gave him a good pass to run onto. The left back then sent a diagonal ball back up through the box, where Pereyra ran onto it and struck it into the back of the net.
“For me, I think letting in that first goal early on (in the second half),” New York defender Aaron Long said on what changed after halftime. “I think, as a group, we got a little unsettled, and in a game that is win or go home, I think maybe we pushed the envelope a little too quick, too fast, got a little bit stretched trying to score that second goal.”
New York tried to get it right back. Ruan’s clumsy attempt to knock the ball away went awry when he swung and missed, knocking his opponent down. The Red Bulls had a dangerous free kick and Ruan saw a yellow card. On the set piece, Carlos cleared the delivery but the recycled ball found its way to Nealis at the top of the area, but he sent the shot well over the bar.
Sean Nealis fouled Torres near the top of the penalty area moments later and Pato fired a shot under the wall. The ball was hit right at goalkeeper Carlos Coronel, who nearly spilled it but managed to smother it in the end.
Orlando started to look more and more dangerous getting down the flanks of the Red Bulls’ defense. Torres unleashed a shot in the 62nd minute from the left corner of the box that Coronel got a touch on, sending it out for a corner kick. He only postponed the third Orlando City goal by a few seconds.
On the set piece, a defender got a foot to the ball that Pato served in, but it squirted up in the air. Michel was first to it and headed it to his left, where Araujo fired home his second of the match — and of his professional career — making it 3-1 and giving the Lions their first breathing room seemingly all season.
Pato got his third — and best — golden opportunity of the match in the 65th when he was slipped in behind the defense. Unfortunately, the Brazilian tried to wait out Coronel and the New York goalkeeper ended up smothering it before he could get off a shot. Two minutes later, Michel got loose down the right flank and smashed a shot on target toward the near post, but Coronel fought it off.
Luquinhas sent yet another shot just wide in the 74th minute. His three misses combined must have missed the target by less than a yard in total.
A minute later, Torres scored, but it took a few moments for it to count. Torres got the ball from Urso, raced down the left in behind the defense, and beat Coronel to make it 4-1. The assistant referee’s flag had momentarily come up but there was no whistle and regardless, no one on New York was catching Torres at that point whether they switched off or not. Torres’ finish was good, and after a few moments of referee Victor Rivas discussing the play with his assistant, the goal was given. The Lions led 4-1 in the 75th minute. It was a new season high in goals for the club and the team’s first three-goal lead all year.
Torres then took an absolutely ridiculous ball from Jansson and set up a great finish by Michel in the 83rd minute to complete the night.
Nicholas Gioacchini made his debut late in the match to get his first minutes as a Lion and he picked up a booking on his first foul with the team, which is the most Orlando City thing ever.
The Lions saw out the final minutes of normal time and there was no stoppage time given by Rivas as Orlando City punched its ticket to the U.S. Open Cup final — the second final under Pareja when counting the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament.
New York fired more shot attempts (17-14) and won more corners (5-2), but Orlando City led in possession (59.9%-40.1%), passing accuracy (81%-74.5%), and shots on goal.
“The best thing is that we are aware of the things that we need to work on,” Pareja said. “And today we showed also that we have the tools to do it right, so congratulations to the players and congratulations to the fans for taking our club to another final and showing that we can be much better as well in our performing on the league games, and we will keep working on it.”
The Lions return to league play on Sunday when they visit Audi Field to face D.C. United. Orlando City will host the U.S. Open Cup final on Sept. 7.