Early Goals, Red Cards, Late Drama: How Orlando City Defied Odds in Controversial Playoff Debut

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – The MLS Cup Playoffs always bring a certain level of intensity to league matches. Heading to Exploria Stadium, the excitement within the city was palpable. But no one could have expected the roller coaster of emotion that would ensue.


MLS Playoffs Round of 16: Orlando City SC vs. New York City FC

From the opening minutes, the frenetic pace of Orlando City and NYCFC gave way to early mishaps. A handball in the opening minutes against Tinnerholm gave Orlando City a penalty kick from the spot.

Orlando City SC captain Luis Nani makes a penalty kick during Orlando City's Audi MLS Cup Playoffs debut at Exploria Stadium Saturday, November 21, 2020. Photo: Willie David/Florida National News.

Orlando City SC captain Luis Nani makes a penalty kick during Orlando City’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs debut at Exploria Stadium Saturday, November 21, 2020. Photo: Willie David/Florida National News.


Nani was able to convert the penalty for his 10th goal of the season with relative ease. The rest of the game was far from simple, though. In just a few short minutes, NYCFC found their rebuttal with a volley via Chanot to make it 1-1.

The setup for drama started in the second half. Referee Allen Chapman did well to let plays go on in the first, but eight yellow cards followed from the 70th minute onward. The physicality between both teams became impossible to ignore, and the first expulsion of the game came after a reckless challenge from Ruan against Mackey-Steven.

The ten-man Orlando City roster employed many tactical changes to maintain the draw in extra-time. After Ruan’s exit, Oscar Pareja introduced Andres Perea, Tesho, and Kamal Miller to shore up their defensive line.

By the end of the first half of extra-time, Orlando City had used all their substitutes. This crucial fact would soon cause fans, players and officials alike scratch their heads at the ruling during penalty kicks.


Bring Out the Rule Books

Pedro Gallese accrued a first yellow card at the 103rd minute for stalling the game out on a goal kick. His fourth yellow card of the season quickly turned into a fifth during penalty kicks.

This second yellow card, given to Gallese due to an encroachment off the goal line during his game-winning save, caused bewilderment across the board. Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja attempted to bring in secondary goalkeeper Bryan Rowe to finish PK’s, but was denied ultimately by the MLS officials due to the substitute rule.

According to the International Football Association Board, Gallese’s encroachment wouldn’t have been ruled a straight yellow if they were using the 2020-21 ruleset. Unfortunately for Orlando, MLS hasn’t implemented those rules yet in the 2019-20 season, which will complicate their motion to appeal in time for the Eastern Conference semifinals.

These issues will no longer be, according to the MLS. Joe Machnik reported on FS1 that the Professional Referee Organization, which employs the officiating crews for all MLS games, will not be working for the remainder of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. Howard Webb, who is the current General Manager of the organization, confirmed that Allen Chapman was in fact following protocol according to 2019-20 guidelines, but the 22-minute penalty fiasco did not bode well in his case for rehire.

Because of the current rule set, Gallese wasn’t issued a courtesy warning. Instead, his red card — and Orlando City’s lack of subs — meant outfielder Rodrigo Schlegel would have to come into the fray and perform a miracle.

And he did. Schlegel, with his back against the net, pulled off a miraculous save to deny Guomunder Thórarinsson his penalty shot. The crowd went wild and Schlegel was elated, but the job wasn’t over just yet.

To ensure victory, Benji Michel converted the penalty to finally secure their ticket to the quarterfinals. Although the final sequences of the game led to head-scratching on both sides, Pareja was happy enough with a win. “What just happened at the end, I never saw it before and this is the beauty of this game–that we’re humans and full of emotions and mistakes and good things and all of that,” said Pareja postgame. “Today, the ball bounced our way, well deserved. The boys showed today the heart of this franchise.

“Obviously we need to make many corrections and many things that happened in that last part, but we are proud to represent this community. We are proud to win and beat one of the best teams in Major League Soccer with 10 men on the field, multiplying themselves for this team. That made me very proud.”

Regardless of the result, Orlando City isn’t out of the weeds just yet. With Ruan’s red card more than likely to remain, their options at fullback will be limited since Joao Moutinho is still on the fringe. That and Gallese’s outstanding red card could cause serious lineup issues for Orlando City as they prepare for their next opponent.


Nicolas Vera is a Florida National News contributor. |

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