Orlando City set sights on US Open Cup glory after thrilling win over Sounders


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Orlando City SC, as they set their sights on the biggest match in the club’s MLS history, could hardly be riding a better run of form.

The Lions will be hosting the 2022 US Open Final in just a week’s time at Exploria Stadium (Sept. 7 | 8 pm ET, ESPN+), where they’ll have a chance to bag their first-ever trophy in a matchup with USL Championship side Sacramento Republic FC. The winner will book a 2023 Concacaf Champions League spot and get national-level silverware, which Orlando haven’t accomplished since joining the league in 2015.

Going into that match, Orlando have successfully established plenty of momentum with four straight wins in MLS play, the latest of which was a come-from-behind thriller that required the Lions to erase a 2-0 deficit Wednesday, eventually knocking off visiting Seattle Sounders FC 3-2 via Kyle Smith’s stoppage-time winner.

“I think one of the good things as well that I like from the boys is that they have their feet on the ground,” Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja said post-match. “They know where they are. The league is still hard and we know we have a big challenge in front of us with our schedule and we need to get points to qualify the team into the playoffs.

“We tried to live in the present today with Seattle. We didn’t want to touch the topic of playing the final; the final didn’t exist in the last week or so. After the game I saw their faces and they said, ‘Ok, Oscar we’re ready for the Cup.’ We will rest tomorrow and we will do everything that we have in our heart and in our bodies to give this trophy to Orlando, the next step ahead, without forgetting the commitment that we have in the league, the challenge.”

Wednesday’s result was the latest in a string of dramatic efforts from the Lions, harkening back to their “Cardiac Cats” reputation of the club’s early days in MLS. During their current four-match win streak, all four have been decided by one goal, three of which were scored after the 89th minute. Going into the Open Cup final, Pareja said a run like that can only boost his team’s confidence as they prepare for the high-stakes matchup ahead.

“We’re just facing every challenge one step at a time,” said Pareja, whose team is off this coming weekend in preparation for the final.

“Now it’s time to think about Sacramento, the final. Control our emotions. I don’t need to say to this group that they need to take it seriously. They’re professional enough, and this is an unbelievable moment for us. So, that commitment is a quality for our fans. But, rest, prepare for the game, concentration, focus on the moment. The moment is the final and we will do that. That’s what we can control.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the run of positive results comes as Orlando continue to jostle for Audi MLS Cup Playoffs positioning in the Eastern Conference, where the Lions are in fifth place with 42 points from 28 matches, three clear of sixth-place Columbus Crew.

As they look to solidify their spot above the line, they’ll kick off a unique week of preparation against an unfamiliar opponent in Sacramento Republic, who have become the story of the tournament for their Cinderella run that has seen the USL side beat three different MLS opponents. A lower-division team hasn’t won the Open Cup since the Rochester Rhinos in 1999.

“We feel optimistic about what we can do,” Pareja said. “We recognize the challenge. We’re playing against a very good team as well who has done a good job on getting their spot in the final. We don’t want to overload the boys mentally, but we’ve got to be in that middle term of being worried about, but not too worried about it during the times that we are responsible and we are committed to things.

” … Come and play the game with that energy they have showed in the last few games: Fight, play and try to get this trophy.”

WATCH: Orlando City surge into Open Cup Final, take down Seattle Sounders

Orlando City set sights on US Open Cup glory after thrilling win over Sounders

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