On a historic night, Orlando City delivers a magical moment


Photo: Courtesy of Mark Thor / Orlando City SC

Not even Adam Grinwis himself could stop Orlando City fans from pouring into the south end of Exploria Stadium to watch their team up close in a penalty shoot.

Not in arguably the biggest game of the club’s season.

Not with a spot in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on the line.

And neither could the moment stop Grinwis and his Orlando City teammates, which had come within seconds of winning in regulation before Maxi Moralez scored to equalize in the 96th minute of stoppage time, to rally in a penalty kick shootout and deliver a historic victory for Orlando City on Wednesday night.

The Lions are on their way to their first Open Cup semifinal in club history where they’ll next meet rivals Atlanta United, another team in the midst of its deepest run in the nation’s oldest continuous soccer tournament, on Aug. 7.

You could probably contain within two hands — maybe one — moments in Orlando’s MLS history that have rivaled this in terms of charismatic, passionate, emotional, and magical.

It started with Chris Mueller‘s go-ahead goal in the 61st minute, a headed ball from a wide-open spot on the back post, finishing a perfect service into the box from Nani, and ending with Grinwis stopping Maxime Chanot‘s final penalty attempt for New York City FC in sudden death, his second save in the shootout, to secure the victory.

In between, it was never a guarantee that Orlando City would pull it off. Not with a history of heartbreak and dramatic collapses.

NYCFC dominated Orlando from the start. They created countless chances in the first half, out-shot the Lions 16-14, and controlled the game with 64 percent of the possession — an impressive feat for the visiting team.

Moralez’s game-tying goal at the death was a gut-punch that noticeably hobbled the team into the 30 minutes of extra time, as the Lions struggled to keep up with NYCFC, which had been threatening to score again throughout the two 15-minute halves. But Orlando held on and saw the game to penalty kicks, where they knew they had an advantage.

Orlando City fans have been waiting ever so patiently, dying for moments like this to become reality again. It’s been a rough couple of years for the team and it’s passionate, never-waning fan base — especially so over the last 13-14 months.

There might be a time down the road where we can look back at this match as the turning point for the club, that it can compete again, that it can entertain again, and that it can deliver again.

Orlando City is now just two wins away from its first major trophy since winning the USL regular-season title in 2014. It’s not far-fetched to say that the purpose of this season is to restore faith in the club again, to show it’s finally on the upward trajectory — MLS Cup Playoffs or not.

At the very least, it’s delivered an image we can hold on to: hundreds of fans bum-rushing the south end seats just to be there when the players themselves got to do the same.

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