When it rains, it pours.
Heading into Wednesday night’s US Open Cup semi-final, Orlando City was searching for any possible ways to score goals. Anything at all. With a combined xG of about 2.6 in their last four matches and one of the worst home records in MLS this season, the Lions knew the odds were stacked against them.
That didn’t matter.
Taking to one of the league’s best road opponents, the Lions exploded for five goals on a rain-soaked night in downtown Orlando, defeating the New York Red Bulls 5-1 to get one step closer to their first trophy since 2013, securing a spot in the US Open Cup Final on September 7.
The Lions will host Sacramento Republic, who are also advancing to the final for the first time in their history.
“I think the confidence that they showed today as a group helped them a lot to put things together,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match, “The team showed that we have talent and cohesiveness among the players… Congratulations to the players and congratulations to the fans for taking our club to another final.”
Orlando looked comfortable on the ball early in the match, finding the time and space in the middle of the field to patiently build possession and seek out opportunities down the wing. With Benji Michel and Alexander Pato in the lineup, both attackers floated to both sides of the field throughout, finding chances where they could and linking into the action early.
Despite lacking a polished final touch, Pato was flashing his footwork with the ball and picking up space to contribute to the attack. He came ever so close to scoring on Orlando’s best chance of the first half in the 38th minute, after Pedro Gallese found Facundo Torres with a long ball down the left side. The ball eventually made its way to Pato, via Ruan, who skied it from close range over the bar.
After falling out of control through the middle stages of the first half, Orlando regained some energy in the final 10 minutes but it was New York that ultimately struck first, finding the net on a stoppage-time goal from Lewis Morgan to put the visitors up 1-0. But with time still remaining in the half, the Lions won a corner and managed to level the score thanks to Cesar Araujo, who slotted home his first professional goal, to send the match into halftime at 1-1.
It didn’t take Orlando long to take the advantage early in the second half, when Mauricio Pereyra ran onto a ball to hit a strike from close at the top of the penalty area, making it a 2-1 game in the 47th minute. The play started with Pereyra as he hit Torres on the left side with a long ball from the right. The winger held off until an overlapping Joao Moutinho could pick up the layoff, then served in a cross that sat available until Pereyra could get there and connect, sending it in for his second goal in all competitions this season.
Araujo made it 3-1 in the 62nd minute with a right-footed shot off another corner, his second goal of the night, and first career brace, continuing what has been an outstanding debut season for the 21-year-old Uruguayan midfielder.
Torres added the fourth about 15 minutes later, in the 75th minute, when Junior Urso fed a through-ball to the wide-open winger, setting up an opportunity to blast a shot past the goalkeeper to push the score to 4-1. After some confusion about a possible offside call, the goal was ruled onside.
Benji Michel would add the cherry on top, getting on a Torres cross in the 83rd minute, hitting the ball off the post and in. It was the winger’s first goal since opening day for Orlando’s season, back on February 27th.
With a couple of lucky breaks in the first half — a bicycle kick shot clanked off the crossbar in the 20th minute, prompting a huge follow-up save by Gallese, and another shot that hit the post in the 27th minute — the Lions have found themselves in the US Open Cup Final for the first time in club history, making this far after reaching the semi-final only one other time before, where they fell to Atlanta United in 2019.
One game away from history.
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