US Open Cup winners Orlando City: “Big things” are achievable
ORLANDO, Fla. – Waiting ever-so patiently for Orlando City SC’s postgame press conference to end in the underbelly of Exploria Stadium, general manager Luiz Muzzi rushed in after final remarks from head coach Oscar Pareja and captain Mauricio Pereyra.
His impetus? Handing those at the podium a bottle of celebratory champagne.
It was an apt moment for the Lions’ mood as Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning, having just won the club’s first-ever trophy since their MLS journey began in 2015.
The result came via a 3-0 win over USL Championship side Sacramento Republic FC, sparked by heroic second-half showings from Uruguay international winger Facundo Torres and homegrown forward Benji Michel, the latter a second-half substitute. Torres had two goals and one assist, while Michel had one goal, one assist and a drawn penalty kick.
Some bubbly was in order, rightly so.
“In this Cup, we deserved to be the champions and now we are,” Pereyra said, with an Uruguay flag hanging over his shoulders and his jersey drenched. “This is not just the players, this is the staff, the head coach, the assistant coaches, the people who work in the facility – all of them give something to be champion and now they deserve it.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Orlando City SC vs. Sacramento Republic | September 7, 2022
Celebrations were at every turn following Orlando’s victory, having avoided a Cupset Sacramento sprung on three previous MLS squads – LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City – to dream of becoming the first lower-division side to win the Open Cup since 1999.
But the fates lost steam when the trophy was on the line, and now it’s Orlando marching into the 2023 Concacaf Champions League. The Lions also got some sweet validation, having lost the MLS is Back Tournament Final in 2020 during the early days of Pareja’s time at the Florida-based club.
“We’ve been working really hard ever since Oscar got here for the last two and a half, three years,” said left back Joao Moutinho. “The first year we got to the final of the MLS is Back Tournament and unfortunately we lost that one.
“But we knew with the team that we had, we could achieve big things. As soon as we got to the final this year, we knew that we were going to win it. We were really confident and we knew we had a really good team. We showed it out there.”
US Open Cup: Oscar Pareja post-game interview
Orlando’s celebrations started from the final whistle, gave way to a trophy-raising ceremony and continued into locker-room songs. The party carried onto Exploria Stadium’s suite level with family and friends, and on Thursday afternoon (12 pm ET) there’ll be a ceremony on the steps of City Hall in downtown Orlando.
Making it all sweeter, Orlando played before a sell-out crowd of 25,527 fans. For a club that weathered five straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs-less seasons upon joining the league, it was a sign of what the club and its supporters can achieve together.
“It was fantastic to see the energy,” Pareja said. “The players recognized immediately how it’s important. It’s something where the people have been supporting in difficult moments, but seeing the stadium full is great.
“I would like to ask them to come against Atlanta again. There is nothing like seeing that stadium and feeling that energy. Together we can do big things, but we need them.”
That optimistic outlook comes less than a year into the Wilf family’s ownership, a new era that saw Torres and striker Ercan Kara arrive as Designated Players. Now, with CCL and a revamped Leagues Cup on the horizon for next year, there’s a historic trophy that shows what heights the Lions can reach.
“The Wilf family, they’re changing the direction that we’re going,” said technical director Ricardo Moreira, noting the groundwork past leaders laid as well.
“We’re aiming for different things with them and they’ve brought a different culture inside the club that we’ve seen on the field as well. They’ve been a key part of that and I think the future of Orlando is going to be bright with them.”
Orlando hope their celebrations aren’t done, though. They sit fifth in the Eastern Conference table and have won four straight league games, returning straight to the pressure-cooker with a Saturday evening test at Supporters’ Shield contenders Philadelphia Union (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).
Chasing a third consecutive playoff trip, they’re booming with confidence.
“We did a nice job, but we’ll try to get one more trophy now if it’s possible,” said midfielder Junior Urso. “We’re trying to go far in the playoffs and make history again to get some special position in the league and another trophy in the league. We’ll try for [MLS Cup], why not?”
Added Moreira: “We have a good team, a team that is growing into something special we believe. To be honest, it’s been a season of ups and downs – that’s there for everyone to see. But that’s how MLS is mostly.
“Hopefully we can carry this good moment into the playoffs and we can surprise everybody again. That’s what we’ve been doing the past few years.”
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