Orlando, FL – This time last season, Orlando City SC was making a U.S. Open Cup run. A trophy they would eventually lift shortly after. Fast forward to this season, the Orlando City Lions are hoping to make a similar run in the “inaugural” iteration of the Concacaf Leagues Cup. I guess the 2021 version, also called Leagues Cup, is being treated as something different. Orlando actually faced off against Santos Laguna in the 2021 version of the Leagues Cup with Santos Laguna coming out victorious.
This time around, the Lions won their 1st match last week, defeating Houston in penalties. Houston also defeated Santos in penalties, so the group came down to this match. Win and you’re in. Lose and you’re out. If this match went to penalties again, a 3-3 regulation draw would’ve seen Orlando move on, but any score less than that and a penalty shootout loss would see the Lions bow out. It was almost headed in that direction until Orlando broke Santos Laguna’s collective heart, defeating them 3-2 with a late goal by Wilder Cartagena, winning the Leagues Cup group for the Lions.
The match got a bit chippy at times, as it does when a team underestimates their opponent and is being outclassed. Seven yellow cards were shown. Liga MX teams have won a vast majority of matchups vs MLS squads throughout the years, so they probably do feel superior. However, in this year’s Leagues Cup tournament thus far, MLS squads have won 12 out of 26 matches, including Orlando over Santos Laguna, with four matches left to play in Matchday 3. I think it’s safe to say MLS teams have closed the gap.
ROY is Duncan; Duncan is ROY
Duncan McGuire’s the best rookie striker I’ve seen in the league’s 28-year history. Orlando’s done it again, man. pic.twitter.com/jhPszrOEZl
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) July 30, 2023
While the whole MLS has its eyes on Miami, in Central Florida, Orlando runs on Duncan. McGuire that is… The rookie sensation is a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year honors. He leads the team in goals and is a constant threat to find the back of the net. He’s got size, strength, ball control, and a knack for finding space to cook. He almost did so early on as Orlando played touch-n-go to build up a beautiful play. Iván Angulo used his speed to break down the defenders and then pinpoint passing got the ball to Duncan’s feet with a wide-open net, but all he found was the right-side post. He made up for it though.
Santos Laguna eventually struck first in 41′. A mishandled ball by Angulo lead to an uncontested shot from outside the penalty area by Raul Lopez. The shot was blockable, but Pedro Gallese, fully extended, saw it go right through his hands. However, as I mentioned earlier, Duncan made up for his earlier sidebar missed shot. Three minutes later, Rafael Santos sends in a cross from the left side that finds Duncan’s head, and subsequently the back of the net. The kid is on fire. His team-leading 10th goal of the season put Orlando right back into the match heading into the half.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) July 30, 2023
Wild & Crazy Kids
The Lions came out ready to pounce in the 2nd half. Captain, Mauricio Pereyra received a pass in the final third, dribbled his defender, and took a blazing shot from outside the 18. The shot was placed perfectly in the top right corner. A fully extended Manuel Lajud wasn’t even close to keeping it out of goal. It was his first goal of the season.
— Gustavo Chacon (@onaPSIh) July 30, 2023
Twelve minutes later, Harold Preciado, who had missed a golden opportunity earlier on, capitalized on a center ball from almost midfield, heading the ball home and almost taking out Orlando defender, Antonio Carlos in the process. VAR ultimately upheld the goal as no foul was committed. 2-2
At this point, Orlando was looking at another penalty shootout, which, if they lost, would’ve left them out of the tournament. They needed a 3-3 draw or better to advance. How about a stoppage-time go-ahead goal to seal the victory? Wilder things have happened. Pardon the pun, but it was right there. In 90+2′ Wilder Cartagena sealed the deal for Orlando. César Araújo delivers a pass from the right side of the 18 right into the middle. Cartagena was left all alone to collect the pass and very simply tapped it past the keeper in exchange for a round trip to Ft. Lauderdale. It was his first goal in an Orlando City uniform.
At the death! Wilder Cartagena gives Orlando the 3-2 lead in stoppage time as #VamosOrlando holds off #PrimeroGuerrero to win their group.
They’ll face #InterMiamiCF at DRVPNK Stadium on Wednesday.#CSLvORL | #LeaguesCup2023pic.twitter.com/ghyHJhQsQ6
— Gustavo Chacon (@onaPSIh) July 30, 2023
Flip The Script
Orlando now faces Inter Miami and Leo Messi on Wednesday, Aug. 2nd. In the post-match press conference, all players interviewed pretty much unanimously stated that they’d be ready for the challenge of facing an improved Inter Miami. They also couldn’t help but offer their praises to Messi, almost as if they’re still unsure whether this is now their reality. The rivalry favorites flipped almost overnight, but I wouldn’t count them out. Wilder things have happened!
📸Credit: Ana Lara-Cruz