Led by a brace from Nani, Orlando City won 3-1 over Minnesota United to advance to the MLS is Back Tournament final against the Portland Timbers. It was the Lions’ first win over Adrian Heath and the Loons and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Needing late-game heroics to advance against LAFC, Orlando had to prevent such antics to see out the win and substitute Benji Michel sealed the victory with a late goal.
How did your favorite Lions do in the big semifinal win? Here are our player grades and Man of the Match.
GK, Pedro Gallese, 6.5 — The Peruvian didn’t have to face a shot on target until the 75th minute, when he was forced to make an impressive palm save after a free kick. On Minnesota’s goal, he was put in a tough spot by a great ball from Kevin Molino and just couldn’t get enough on Mason Toye’s shot to keep it out from goal. The late goal ruins his clean sheet, but Gallese still looked comfortable and dealt with 10 corners and plenty of free kicks from a Minnesota team that makes opponents pay on set pieces.
D, João Moutinho, 7 — The left back was tested early and often in the match, but held his own against Ethan Finlay, who had a quiet night. It was yet another solid performance from the 22-year-old as Finlay was effectively neutralized, although Robin Jansson helped in that regard. Still, Moutinho had a very strong defensive outing with a team-high six tackles to stop dangerous balls from causing too much trouble.
D, Antonio Carlos, 6.5 — It’s hard to tell that this is only Carlos’ eighth game with the Lions, considering just how well he plays alongside Jansson and under Pareja. He’s played every minute for Orlando this tournament and last night was a great example why. Carlos had five clearances, two interceptions, two blocks, and a tackle, and was a force in the air, preventing Minnesota from taking advantage of set pieces. A strong center back pairing is the backbone that allows Orlando’s talented fullbacks to really work their magic and Carlos is proving his value this tournament.
D, Robin Jansson, 7 — The other half of the center back duo had a strong game as well. Toye’s goal was the only real blip in his performance as he just couldn’t stop Toye from getting one past them. For most of the night though, Jansson led the team with six clearances and shut down anything that came his way. But he had a role on offense as well, picking out one heck of a 65-yard long ball to find Nani behind the defense for Orlando’s first goal and his first assist in MLS.
D, Ruan, 6 — Most of Orlando’s offensive chances came from the right side of the field and Ruan was a big reason. He created plenty of chances in the first half and would’ve had an assist if Tesho Akindele connected better on a low cross. In the second half, he should have scored with a header in front of goal to put the game on ice. He struggled late in the match, but remained a menace for Minnesota defenders.
MF, Sebas Mendez, 7 — Orlando’s engine was at full steam in this game as Mendez led the team with 59 passes and had 68 touches — behind only Nani and Moutinho. Yes, Nani deserves the bulk of the credit for the second goal, but it was Mendez who reacted quickly to find Nani across the field, and deliver a ball fast enough and accurate enough to really earn that assist. He almost had a second assist but Ruan couldn’t convert his drilled cross. If he continues to do well with the ball at his feet like last night, then the game will really open up for the Lions.
MF, Oriol Rosell, 6.5 — With four tackles, 52 passes, and 61 touches, Rosell was on the ball often and had the kind of quiet game expected from a defensive midfielder. Rosell wasn’t too present in the offensive side of things like Mendez, but didn’t really need to be as he shut down passing lanes and smothered Minnesota’s options. Or at least until Molino’s assist that breezed past him and gave Minnesota life, so he loses a bit of praise there.
MF, Chris Mueller, 4 — Mueller lacked his usual bite in the match and there may be some lingering issues with his shoulder. Mueller certainly didn’t look like the energetic midfielder that had the league buzzing in the group stage, even though he had the benefit of Ruan opening up space on his side of the field. He was uncharacteristically sluggish and tended to pass laterally or back rather than pushing the envelope offensively. The American made some nice tackles to disrupt play when tracking back, but was beaten on occasion as well during his 66 minutes on the field.
MF, Mauricio Pereyra, 6 — Although he didn’t play a role in any of the goals or have any key passes in this one, Pereyra directed the flow of play and did well in the midfield. Pereyra finished with 54 passes and a strong 85% success rate on those passes. Whether he was surrounded by defenders or sitting deep in the midfield to pick out a pass, Pereyra was a key part of Orlando’s offensive possessions.
MF, Nani, 8.5 (MotM) — He did exactly what he was brought in to do as a Designated Player. Nani created chance after chance and scored the team’s first two goals with mostly solo efforts. With a perfect first touch and understated strength, he beat his defender to squeak a goal past goalkeeper Tyler Miller. His second goal was a thing of beauty. Nani created space and curled one into the right corner from distance. His two goals in seven minutes shouldn’t overshadow the rest of his Man of the Match performance which included a secondary assist on Michel’s goal to see out the game.
F, Tesho Akindele, 5 — It was another quiet night for Akindele, with his best chance to score coming in the 15th minute. Ruan whipped a low cross in front of goal for him, but he just couldn’t keep his shot from going over the crossbar. He was substituted for some fresher legs in the 66th minute and just didn’t see much action beyond drawing defender’s attention.
F, Benji Michel (66’) 6 — The forward was brought on with a two-goal lead and did fairly well holding possession on offense and keeping Minnesota honest with the threat of a counter. His goal sealed the win for the Lions in the last moments of the match, weaving around Miller to score on an empty net. You have to appreciate his effort to sprint and make sure that Orlando advanced.
MF, Junior Urso (66’) 5.5 — Urso made his return to the field after an injury in the group stage to help the Lions see out the game. He committed some debatable fouls and gave away possession a few times but hopefully it was just some rust. He does deserve credit for the assist in Michel’s late goal and making runs and for helping see out the clock by finding teammates in space.
D, Rodrigo Schlegel (85’), N/A — The center back came on later for Jansson and had a clearance to do his part in Orlando’s defense against a surging Minnesota team but wasn’t on long enough to earn a grade.
MF, Andrés Perea (85’), N/A — The midfielder brought fresh legs to help back up a fading Ruan on the right side of the field. His biggest moment came when Ruan got twisted around and Perea rushed to jump and intercept a cross from going into the box.
D, Kyle Smith (89’), N/A — Smith came in to relieve Pereyra and gave Orlando some more presence on defense to successfully secure the win.
It was a good game both offensively and defensively from Orlando City, which wasn’t something that happened too often in the past. But with Head Coach Oscar Pareja providing leadership and the team practically oozing confidence, the Lions have proven they can hang with the big dogs in the league. Nani’s brace in just six minutes will certainly grab attention, but it was a team effort for Orlando to make it this far in the tournament.
How do you feel about the individual performances and the grades? Were we too low or too high on some players? Tell us by commenting and voting on the Man of the Match below.