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Orlando City stuns LAFC in penalty kicks, advances in MLS tournament

Orlando Sentinel — By Julia Poe Orlando Sentinel

July 31-- ORLANDO, Fla.-Orlando City defender Joao Moutinho had never faced the club that drafted him in the 18 months since he was traded from LAFC. He also hadn't scored.

But with the Lions trailing 1-0 in the final seconds of the quarterfinal match, none of that mattered. Moutinho dashed into the box, shouldered inside his defender and flew up to level the score 1-1 with a searing header.

The goal lit a fire under the Lions, who outplayed arguably the best team in Major League Soccer for the majority of Friday's match. They carried that passion into penalty kicks, finishing all five and turning away one from LAFC to advance to the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament.

Orlando City goalkeeper Pedro Gallese delivered on his nickname of "El Pulpo"-"The Octopus" in English-blocking the second penalty kick from Jordan Harvey into the crossbar. Midfielder Mauricio Pereyra buried his penalty kick, while defenders Antonio Carlos, Moutinho and Kyle Smith showed their versatility with clinical finishes.

The game winner came down to the team captain-Nani.

A saved penalty kick from Nani was the only thing keeping the Lions from a win in regulation. In the 56th minute, it seemed Orlando City had found its chance to take a lead over LAFC.

Ruan was upended in the box, earning a penalty kick. Nani-who had been cool and collected in this position for the Lions so many times in the past-lined up the shot.

But LAFC keeper Kenneth Vermeer easily smashed the shot away for a save. The missed penalty kick left Orlando City reeling, and an LAFC goal quickly followed.

On a second try, that save didn't cling to Nani. He pushed the penalty kick past Vermeer's reach, running a lap around the dismayed LAFC players on the pitch before joining his teammates in a raucous celebration.

It was the greatest win in Orlando City history, placing a team that has never made the playoffs closer to an MLS trophy than it has ever been before.

Orlando City broke the famed LAFC high press throughout the first half, threatening the defense heavily. While taking seven shots of their own, the Lions held LAFC to zero shots in the first half for the first time in the Los Angeles club's illustrious-albeit short-history in the league.

Early in the second half, it appeared Orlando City's effort would still add up to a loss.

Shortly after Nani's errant penalty kick, LAFC pounced.

Diego Rossi stripped the ball off Sebas Mendez just outside the box, flying toward the goal post and slicing a cross back for Wright-Phillips to finish.

But Gallese helped Orlando City avoid letting LAFC build on its lead, keeping the Lions' hopes for a late rally alive.

The match was chippy from start to finish. In the first 15 minutes, the two teams amassed a combined eight fouls and a yellow card apiece. But that was the way the Lions always planned to play-toe-to-toe, refusing to back down to LAFC's relentless pressure.

After a back-and-forth first half, LAFC began to settle into its waves of high press, pinning the Lions further and further into their own attacking half. Orlando City remained organized on defense, fending off several slanting runs into the box. But every time the Lions reclaimed the ball, they struggled to push it up out of their own half.

Orlando City reorganized, launching a counter attack and resetting its attacking line in a deep position on the opposite end.

LAFC created a dangerous chance in the 32nd minute, with Brian Rodriguez dropping a ball into the box for Wright-Phillips to place into the net. But a quick VAR review determined Rodriguez was a step offside, overturning the goal. The call gave Orlando City a moment to take a deep breath in relief.

The Lions were steeped with chances throughout the match, edging LAFC on possession and firing off 15 shots. Four saves from Vermeer made the difference as he fended off every one of Orlando City's on-frame shots until the final minute of regulation.

Orlando City will now advance to the semifinal match to face the winner of Saturday's match between Minnesota and San Jose. The Lions could take on former Orlando City coach Adrian Heath and his Minnesota squad for a spot in the MLS tournament final.

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