Orlando City won its first major trophy since the club joined Major League Soccer, beating Sacramento Republic FC 3-0 at Exploria Stadium to claim the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Facundo Torres scored two second-half goals and set up Benji Michel’s insurance goal to lead the Lions to victory.
The Lions struggled to break down the visitors from California but eventually forced a turnover in a dangerous area and once Torres provided the lead, the Lions stomped on the Republic’s throats.
“I think it’s important to recognize that Orlando has won the first title here and we are very proud of the community, of the club, the fans, the players,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after winning his second USOC title as a head coach. “And having this opportunity to bring this trophy means a lot against a very tough rival.”
Pareja’s lineup featured Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo played in central midfield with deep-lying playmaker Mauricio Pereyra behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Junior Urso, and Torres, with Ercan Kara up top.
The first half was a nervy, choppy, back-and-forth game that was exactly what the visitors wanted. Sacramento gummed up the field, wasted time whenever possible, and played a physical game that referee Ramy Touchan allowed. Pereyra was knocked down several times in the opening period without a call and Angulo was pulled back while in possession in the final third and no call was made. Touchan even allowed Orlando to play on after one foul and although the Lions lost the ball almost immediately, he didn’t pull it back for the foul.
Neither team even got into the opposing third of the field in the opening five minutes. The game’s first shot attempt came eight minutes in when Torres fired from outside the area but it was always going over the bar.
A minute later, Jack Gurr crossed a ball into Orlando’s area but Gallese came off his line to claim it.
Orlando was at its best when it moved the ball quickly and accurately. Ruan got a cross into the area in the 17th minute for Angulo but it was headed away at the last second. Three minutes later, the Lions worked a long-distance set piece that ended up on the left with Moutinho. His cross into the box found Carlos’ head but he could only direct it toward the post. Kara had a bead on it but Angulo cut across him and in the confusion the ball went out for a goal kick.
Sacramento’s best chance came in the 22nd minute when Pereyra was knocked down with no call and the Republic came forward in transition. Maalique Foster fired a shot that was just wide of the post to Gallese’s left.
Torres got a couple more shot attempts blocked down the stretch and the half ended scoreless.
Orlando finished the half with more possession (55.7%-44.3%), shots (6-1, but neither side got one on frame), passing accuracy (84%-81.3%), and corners (1-0).
The second half began much like the first half went. Orlando probed for ways through but couldn’t string together enough sharp passes to break through what was essentially a 5-4-1 formation in defense at times. Sacramento won more set pieces in the second half but Orlando was able to withstand them.
The Lions continued to press forward and had an opportunity in transition in the 53rd minute but Torres’ layoff for Ruan was a little heavy and by the time the right back got to it, he had to lunge on his cross and he overcooked it.
Urso fired a shot that was blocked in the 63rd and there were shouts for handball but none was given. Urso followed his initial shot but hit it over the bar on the second try.
Sacramento’s best chance of the second half came in the 75th minute when a cross in found Douglas Martinez, who got in front of Moutinho and headed the ball on target. Gallese was able to get over and make the save.
Seconds later, the Lions finally broke through.
Angulo won the ball in the corner with pressure, taking it from Dan Casey. Second-half sub Michel picked up the loose ball and found Torres cutting into the top of the box. The Uruguayan smashed it home to make it 1-0.
“I was really happy with everything that the guys had done to that point, but when you play against world class players, you make a mistake and you get punished,” Sacramento manager Mark Briggs said. “And unfortunately, we learned the hard way.”
“They have a defense of three that is very difficult to break,” Pareja said when asked about the decision to bring on Michel. “We knew that Ercan will give us presence in the box but there was a time in the game that we stuck (Michel) in there because we needed to stretch the field. Benji gave us that possibility to run in behind, to help us with the presence too. It was a good job by Ercan but at that point we needed more energy. And I thought Benji changed (the energy) tremendously.”
Sacramento had to open up and pursue the game at that point and it helped the Lions find space and transition chances. Michel was first to a ball over the top and gathered it in the box for a shot but he was taken down and a penalty was given in the 79th minute. One minute later, Torres fired home from the spot to double the lead.
“Very happy for the production that Facu has gave us, especially in the last month and a half when we need it the most,” Pareja said of his Young Designated Player. “I think those players that change the games and take their teams on their shoulders are difficult to find. In Facu we have found that already.”
Torres had a good opportunity for his hat trick in the 82nd minute on the counter but he fired just inches wide of the right post.
Sacramento’s Rodrigo Lopez fired just wide of the right post from long range in the 87th minute.
The fourth official signaled eight minutes of stoppage time, but the Lions didn’t dig in and absorb pressure. Instead, they moved the ball quickly and tried to possess it and stuck an insurance goal on the board.
Torres sent a ball into the area for Michel, who was making a run from left to right. Michel gathered the ball and the Homegrown and Orlando native sent a shot just inside the far post to put the game away in the 96th minute, celebrating with his signature back flip.
Moments later, the whistle blew and the Lions were USOC champions. Orlando finished with more possession (52.1%-47.9%), shots (15-5), shots on target (3-2), and passing accuracy (82.0%-79.1%). Sacramento had more corners (2-1).
“I’m really happy, I’m really proud of this team,” Pereyra said. “I said many times when we lose here in this (press) conference that I was really proud to be the captain of this team. They show a lot of energy and a lot of commitment during the whole season. And in this cup, I think we deserve to be the champions and now we are.”
The team will celebrate its U.S. Open Cup championship on the steps of City Hall on Thursday at 12 p.m. and it is open to the public at no cost. Orlando City is back to regular-season play on Saturday night when the Lions visit the first-place Philadelphia Union.