The opening match day of the 2023 Major League Soccer regular season is finally upon us, bringing soccer back to the City Beautiful since a 2-1 decision-day result over the Columbus Crew in 2022. The 2023 campaign will officially mark the start of the club’s ninth season in the top-tier division after a few years of dominating the competition of the USL.
Let’s take a look back and count down the top three opening day matches in Orlando City history.
No. 3 — Feb. 27, 2022: Orlando City 2-0 CF Montreal
Opening day of the 2022 season started with a grudge match between two teams who had last seen each other on Decision Day in 2021. It served as a bittersweet match for the visitors from up north as Orlando City had just played spoiler on Decision Day 2021, clinching their place in the postseason while keeping CF Montreal out of the playoffs. Fast forward a few months, and the visitors had revenge on their minds but Orlando had other ideas.
The highlight of the match was the team’s first goal of the season as veteran striker Alexandre Pato, who had missed almost all of his first season with the club after suffering an injury on opening day in 2021, broke the seal by calmly slotting home a cross from Ruan in the 49th minute. Joy erupted visibly not only on the striker’s face but also throughout Exploria Stadium as Pato went on to earn Man of the Match recognition.
Right place, right time @Pato | #DaleMiAmor pic.twitter.com/RrXik3l3UM— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) February 27, 2022
Homegrown Benji Michel added on an insurance goal 10 minutes later, slotting home a pass from Mauricio Pereyra and celebrating with his trademark backflip.
No. 2 — March 8, 2015: Orlando City 1-1 New York City FC
The second spot on my list goes to the club’s inaugural MLS home opener. In front of 62,510 fans at the stadium previously known as the Citrus Bowl, Orlando City faced off against fellow expansion club New York City FC. Orlando controlled the tempo and possession. The Lions looked like the more dangerous side throughout much of the match until the 76th minute, when a shot from Mix Diskerud gave the visitors a 1-0 lead. In the waning moments of normal time, Orlando City’s hopes for opening day success took a further blow as Aurelien Collin was sent off with a straight red for a high tackle on NYCFC forward David Villa.
However, Kevin Molino earned a free kick just a few yards outside the 18-yard box in the 91st minute. Team captain Kaká stepped up and sent a shot toward goal that deflected off of Jeb Brovsky and trickled past NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders.
Moral victory is a term that often gets thrown around casually when the good guys don’t take all three points in a match. On their first opening day as an MLS club, Orlando City simply found a way to get a result and the Cardiac Cats moniker, which has followed the Lions through numerous matches over the years, was...well, not exactly born that day, but it set the table for it to come later.
No. 1 — March 5, 2017: Orlando City 1-0 NYCFC
Just two years after that inaugural meeting between Orlando City and New York City FC, the teams met again in another memorable Orlando City milestone opening day match. This time around, opening day was the Lions’ first match in a new home made just for the team. After years of politicking, planning, logistics, and construction, the building then known as Orlando City Stadium was officially christened at the start of the 2017 season. A sellout crowd of 25,527 fans marched down Church Street and packed into the new stadium to cheer on Orlando City.
Their passion and excitement was rewarded in the 15th minute, when Cyle Larin got on the end of a Giles Barnes cross and struck a header into the back of the net past Sean Johnson. That was the only offense that the team needed that day to secure all three points and usher in a new home field for the club. Orlando City keeper Joe Bendik recorded the first clean sheet in the stadium’s history, notching seven saves on the night. The Lions secured their first-ever opening day win after drawing their previous two openers.
Will opening day 2023 eventually take a spot away from one of these three matches? Are there others you’d swap into the top three instead? Let us know your favorite opening day memories in the comments below.