After the biggest win in Orlando City history last week, the Lions managed to top themselves again, beating former head coach Adrian Heath and Minnesota United 3-1 on the back of two goals from Nani and one from Benji Michel on Thursday night.
“We’re very happy to be in the final,” Orlando coach Oscar Pareja said following the match. “It has been a great tournament and a great opportunity for our players to represent a franchise and the club, and I think they have done a great job and very well deserved to be in the final. And tonight, against a very good team that was really hard to beat, Minnesota.”
“The best part was that we respect the way we play and we respect our ways, our forms and we ended up getting that result under our concepts and principles and that’s why they made us even more proud.”
After almost an hour and a half weather delay, Minnesota were the ones that started the match on the front foot, pushing the tempo and creating chances within the first 15 minutes. As the game moved along, Orlando started to grow into the match and began picking out pockets to work through, breaking down Minnesota’s high pressure.
With that shift in momentum came Orlando’s opener. Defender Robin Jansson picked out Nani on the run from the opposite side of the pitch. The Portuguese attacker displayed his excellent first touch, pushing the ball into the box and just past Loons defender Hassani Dotson. Nani was able to muscle off the young defender and toe-poke the ball past Tyler Miller to give the home side the advantage.
Nani would not be done in the first half, as he managed to top himself yet again just seven minutes later. On a counter attack, midfielder Sebas Mendez picked out Nani on the left, just at the top of the 18-yard-box. As Joao Moutinho made an overlapping run, Nani faked the pass, sending Dotson the opposite direction. The winger then took a quick touch to his right, curling the ball up and around Miller and in from 20 yards away for his second of the night.
Orlando would take that 2-0 lead into the halftime break after which Minnesota made some adjustments.
Adrian Heath made three attacking subs in the 58th minute, brining on former Lion Kevin Molino, as well as strikers Mason Toye and Aaron Schoenfeld to bolster the Loons offense.
As the second half went on, Orlando found themselves defending more and more as Minnesota inched closer to a breakthrough.
After two close calls on free kicks, the Loons found their breakthrough late in the night. The two substitutes Molino and Toye connected as Molino fed in Toye on goal and the striker chipped Pedro Gallese to pull it back to a one goal game.
Orlando made some defensive changes, playing much more bunkered in the final 10 minutes of the match, clearing balls down field and away from danger.
Eventually, Orlando would capitalize on Minnesota pushing numbers forward to find an equalizer. Junior Urso, who was one of the first subs for Oscar Pareja, fed in Benji Michel with only space in front of him. Michel was able to coolly round the keeper and finish, sealing the game for the Lions and capturing their first final appearance in the MLS era.
Orlando now moves on to take on the Portland Timbers in the MLS is Back championship on Tuesday, August 11 at 8:30 p.m.
36′ – Nani, assisted by Robin Jansson (ORL)
42′ – Nani, assisted by Sebas Mendez (ORL)
83′ – Mason Toye, assisted by Kevin Molino (MIN)
90’+6 – Benji Michel, assisted by Junior Urso (ORL)
Here’s how the Lions lined up
Orlando City XI (4-2-3-1): Pedro Gallese; João Moutinho, Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson (Rodrigo Schlegel, 83′), Ruan; Chris Mueller (Junior Urso, 67′), Uri Rosell, Sebastián Méndez (Andres Perea, 85′), Mauricio Pereyra (Kyle Smith, 89′), Nani; Tesho Akindele (Benji Michel, 67′)
Bench: Alex DeJohn, Kamal Miller, Brian Rowe, Joey Dezart, Robinho, Santiago Patiño, Daryl Dike
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