How Rodrigo Schlegel stepped up to help Orlando City advance past NYCFC in penalties

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Photo: Courtesy of Orlando City

Editor’s Note: This is a rundown of the events in the final rounds of Saturday’s penalty kick shootout.


The conclusion of the first-round matchup of the MLS Cup playoffs on Saturday between Orlando City and New York City FC at Exploria Stadium was extremely convoluted, to say the least.

Lions starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese managed to save Valentin Castellano’s attempt to tie the penalty shootout, which Orlando led at the time, 4-3. The team celebrated, believing they had advanced to the next round of the playoffs.

But moments after Gallese’s save, head referee Allen Chapman waived off the Peruvian’s heroic stop, after it was found the keeper did not keep his foot on the goal line, which is encroachment. By rule, Chapman showed Gallese a second yellow card, the first he earned after time wasting in regulation. Gallese, who had just thought he won the game for his team, was now sent off and the shootout would continue.

Players and staffers from Orlando City scrambled at the center of the sideline demanding an explanation to Gallese’s expulsion as Brian Rowe prepared to enter the game.

Rowe walked up to the goal, anticipating Castellanos’ re-taken penalty.

And then there was a pause. Rowe wasn’t eligible to enter the game — but Alan Chapman didn’t realize this until the VAR referees told him. Thus, the substitution was voided and Orlando was left with the only option: to choose an outfield player to step up as goalkeeper in one of the most important moments in club history.

Players and the coaching staff demanded answers. Team administrator Joe Schuchmann was frantically explaining to the officials, at one instance pointing at a phone that may have cited his argument. EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi appeared to be dialing someone on his phone.

As chaotic as things developed, none of that seemed to matter as Rodrigo Schlegel openly volunteered to step in.

“It’s a nice story to tell, which is something obviously that we never plan,” coach Oscar Pareja told reporters after Saturday’s wild game. “It was not in any plan, even though we try to predict the game that much. What happened today was crazy and the story behind it is that we were in this discussion on Brian [Rowe] not being able to select, I was already advised by everybody because we knew that he couldn’t go.”

“Rodri [go Schlegel] came and said ‘Papi, I can do it.’ [Andrés] Perea came and said ‘No, I want to do it. I will stop that one.’ Then, Brian [Rowe] came and Pedro [Gallese] came and Pedro said ‘Give it to Rodri.’ Rodri told him ‘I was a goalkeeper when I was in the academy,’ so we just gave him the gloves and prayed,” added Pareja. “He did an outstanding job on showing the personality. After what just happened, I can laugh, but believe me that this is insane tonight.”

So the 23-year-old Schlegel, who had never played goalkeeper outside of his academy days, stepped up for three nail-biting rounds of penalties.

Castellanos converted the re-taken penalty and Nani’s penalty, which would have won them the match, was denied by Sean Johnson. Nicolas Acevedo scored NYCFC’s fifth penalty and Robin Jansson tied it 5-5 afterwards.

Schlegel, having already let in two goals, was up again to defend a third time, only for this penalty, the third time was the charm.

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Courtesy of Orlando City SC

As Gudmundur Thórarinsson positioned himself slowly approaching to hit the ball towards the upper-right corner, Schlegel produced the game-winning save, palming the ball away and off the post, paving the way for Benji Michel to secure the game-winning penalty kick for Orlando moments later.

“In the first attempt, I stood in the middle and the second one, I launched to my right. So the only place left I had to dive in was to my left,” Schlegel described to reporters. “And well I figured he’s going to go there, and I went that way. Thank God, the ball came to me and I saved it. Then Benji converted and we advanced.”

Schlegel originally entered the game in the 101st minute of the first-half of extra time for Kyle Smith.

The Argentine defender admitted he doesn’t really have a big history playing as a goalkeeper except for a time during his youth days.

“Whenever I’m playing with family, friends and play with them, sometimes I go in goal,” he said. “So that’s why I decided to step up, my teammates showed confidence in me. With luck, everything came out good and we got the result that we wanted, which was to advance to the next round.”

Orlando may not have Pedro Gallese or Ruan — two starters — for its next game of the playoffs, but the Lions did show two things Schlegel mentioned after Saturday’s game: dedication and sacrifice.

“We’re calm. We haven’t won anything,” he said. “It’s only the first game of the playoffs and there’s still a long road ahead. Everything adds, now we have another final and we’re going to get ahead with dedication and sacrifice.”


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