Orlando City did the thing. The Lions patiently battered their heads against a stout Sacramento Republic FC bunker for an hour and a quarter before Ivan Angulo’s pressure created the crack that Orlando needed to bash down the door to its first major trophy since joining MLS for the 2015 season. The 3-0 victory over the upstart Republic also gave the Lions their first qualification to the Concacaf Champions League and they’ll play for the continental championship in 2023.
While the visitors were seldom threatening in the match, the game seemed to be unfolding just the way they would have hoped. Referee Ramy Touchan let a lot of contact go, and the Lions moved the ball slowly and cautiously, opting to keep it under control instead of trying to play to striker Ercan Kara over the top. The few times those attempts came, long balls were overhit and either went out for a goal kick or were easily collected by Sacramento goalkeeper Danny Vitiello.
The rain — usually a friend to the Lions — also seemed to be an advantage for Sacramento, taking some of the crispness off Orlando’s passing.
Oscar Pareja inserted Homegrown Player and Orlando native Benji Michel into the lineup for Kara just past the hour mark to provide energy and it worked. When Angulo dispossessed defender Dan Casey on the left edge of the box, he knocked it to Michel, who did well to spot the oncoming Facundo Torres and deliver an easy pass for the Uruguayan winger to handle. Torres smashed it first time into the upper left corner for the opener the Lions had been looking for.
With the Republic having to chase the game over the last quarter of an hour, the cracks and spaces began to grow and Orlando took full advantage. A good ball over the top found Michel in the box and as he settled the ball to take his shot, he was fouled by Casey, earning his team a penalty. Torres dispatched the spot kick with class and coolness, sending Vitiello the wrong way to make it 2-0.
Torres returned the two Michel favors deep in stoppage time, sending a pass that split two midfielders and two defenders to pick out Benji making a diagonal run. Michel placed his shot perfectly, slotting just inside the left post to put the game away and allowing Exploria Stadium to celebrate.
Speaking of celebrations, the joy and chaos on the field after the final whistle was a sight to behold. The Lions jumped, danced, and sang, filming themselves with cell phones, donning various bits of costume, and draping their national flags around their shoulders, while quickly changing into 2022 U.S. Open Cup champion t-shirts. They walked through a classy honor guard of Sacramento players to the podium and lifted their trophy in front of their home fans, finishing a run of six consecutive home matches in the competition en route to the title.
We hope you enjoy these images from an absolutely unforgettable night in the history of Orlando City SC.
Images: Dan MacDonald
Words: Michael Citro