Orlando City’s first dip into the Concacaf Champions League pool was a quick one but the Lions acquitted themselves well across the two legs, fighting Mexican power Tigres UANL to a 1-1 aggregate standoff. Unfortunately, both goals were scored in Exploria Stadium on Wednesday, and the away goals tiebreaker pushed the Monterrey-based club through while Orlando City was pushed out of the competition. It’s a rough way to leave any competition, but a penalty shootout loss wouldn’t have been any more comforting.
While Orlando City fans have seen more than their share of shootout heroics over the years, there’s no guarantee that even the mighty Pedro Gallese would come out on top had the teams gone to spot kicks. Gallese has been as close to unbeatable as a goalkeeper can be in the first five competitive matches of the 2023 season, being bested only by an unstoppable shot at D.C. United and a point-blank rip on Wednesday from Sebastian Cordova. But penalties are penalties.
The Lions certainly had their chances to put more than one past Nahuel Guzman Wednesday night in front of a pulsating crowd of 21,112 at the Purple Palace. Ivan Angulo missed the far post by inches just moments before Cordova’s opener put the Lions behind in a game for the first time in 2023. Ramiro Enrique had a point-blank chance that he rattled off Guzman’s chest. Facundo Torres saw his close-range shot deflect up into the goalkeeper. And finally, after Ercan Kara’s insane overhead kick drew Orlando City level in the final minute of normal time, rookie Duncan McGuire found himself with a chance to play the hero a few minutes later. Guzman had strayed from his line and failed to track down a cross that feel for the first-year pro but the big forward blazed his shot over the bar.
The game ended far too soon for the amount of time wasted, but in the end, the Lions came up just short.
Nevertheless, Orlando showed it can play with the best clubs on the continent and several young players earned valuable experience in the high-stakes competition. Few who were there will ever forget Gallese’s acrobatics or Kara’s wondergoal.
We hope you enjoy these images from a 1-1 draw that might have felt like a win if not for the confederation’s away goals rule.
Images: Dan MacDonald
Words: Michael Citro