In the seconds leading up to the first penalty kick of Wednesday night, Exploria Stadium echoed with boos.
The minute before that had been a mad scramble. New York City FC elected to take the kicks on the goal opposite of the supporters section. When fans saw both keepers heading to the goal, they left their seats and sprinted around the concourse to fill in the seats behind the NYCFC goalkeeper.
When they arrived, however, the sea of purple fans was met with a row of yellow-jacketed security officials who refused to let them pass. For a tense handful of seconds, the crowd piled up in the concourse and raised a chorus of angry shouts. Then the yellow line of security broke, the purple horde descended into the seats and the stadium rumbled with a happier cheer.
It was something that coach James O’Connor had never seen before.
“That really pushed us over the line,” O’Connor said. “We need to enjoy tonight, because it’s an incredible night for the football club. We need to savor this moment. We’ve created a little bit of history tonight. ”
The crowd packed behind the goal needed a hero, and they were quickly met with one — goalkeeper Adam Grinwis, who turned up two saves during six penalty kicks to power Orlando City to a 1-1 (5-4 PK) victory over New York City FC in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
When Grinwis made his second save — a diving swat with his right hand — the team rushed the field, gang tackling their keeper and piling on top of him in celebration.
“As a goalkeeper, these are the kind of situations you dream of,” Grinwis said. “Growing up, you always want to be the guy that is the hero. I was just excited to be a part of it and I just wanted to help the boys however I could because they fought for me for all 120 minutes. If I was able to dig a couple out, it was the least I could do.”
Orlando City will face Atlanta United FC in the Open Cup semifinals on Aug. 7. A draw at 2 p.m. Thursday will determine home-field advantage for the match.
Both teams struggled to piece together meaningful possession to start the game. At first, Orlando City couldn’t string together passes to escape its defending half. New York City peppered the backline with shots, forcing Grinwis to make a diving save in the 13th minute to bat away a header from point-blank range.
As the half wore on, however, the Lions began to find offensive rhythm, pushing New York City back onto its heels. Yet the increase in offensive pressure never resulted in serious chances on goal. At the end of the half, Orlando City had taken seven shots but placed none of them on frame.
The break for Orlando City came in the second half when Nani drove the ball into the box, then whipped a cross to the backside. The play was familiar, something that Nani had tried to no avail throughout the game. Every time the cross came, the backside stretched empty, without a purple kit in sight.
But in the 61st minute, forward Chris Mueller was waiting in a gap between two defenders, ready to head the ball down into the net to give Orlando City a 1-0 lead. The goal marked Mueller’s sixth on the season.
“With the goalie on the other side of the goal, there were a couple things going through my mind,” Mueller said. “The ball was kind of just floating up and gave me time to make a decision.”
Mueller’s goal lit a fire under New York City, desperate to level the score. That desperation became increasingly physical as the final whistle drew closer. In the 81st minute, Valentín Castellanos earned a yellow card after bowling over Robin Jansson, igniting a shouting match between the two teams. Players on both sides had to be tugged away after minutes of shouting before Jansson slowly rose to his feet to rejoin play.
Although New York City controlled possession in the final third of the game, it picked up as many yellow cards as shots in the second half with two apiece. But that all changed in the final seconds of regulation, when a curling cross into the box was deflected off multiple Orlando City players. New York City forward Maxi Moralez pounced on the ball, sliding to the ground to slice a shot around Jansson and into the net. The goal leveled the score with only seconds remaining on the clock, forcing the teams into extra time.
“Conceding in the 90th minute was gutting,” Grinwis said. “Going into those extra 30 minutes was a grind. We needed [the supporters’] energy because it was hard to bring ourselves back up after such a gutting moment.”
Faced with 30 extra minutes of time, both Orlando City and New York City flagged on offense. New York City ripped several shots at Grinwis in the final minutes of extra time, but the keeper fended off the flurry and the team held on to ride out a penalty-kick battle.
For O’Connor those final minutes of extra time were a reflection of the commitment of his players, who had only one day at home to prepare for Wednesday’s game after weather and travel delays during their road trip to Philadelphia.
“When you look at the mentality, the guts, we’ve got guys out there who are really leaving it out there for the club,” O’Connor said. “You look at the fight, the commitment, the heart, it was absolutely outstanding.”
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