Orlando City

Top 10 Moments of 2023: Orlando City Scores Late Winner to Beat Santos Laguna

Our No. 7 moment of 2023 is the Lions’ first-ever win against a Liga MX opponent, and it was done in Cardiac Cats fashion.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

As we count down to the new year of 2024 — which will be Orlando City’s 10th in MLS and the Orlando Pride’s ninth in the NWSL — and say goodbye to 2023, it’s time to look back at the club’s 10 best moments of the year as selected by The Mane Land staff via vote.

Orlando City needed a result when Santos Laguna came to Exploria Stadium on the final day of South 2 group play in the 2023 Leagues Cup competition. The Lions had won a shootout after drawing the Houston Dynamo 1-1 on July 21. The Dynamo turned around and drew Santos Laguna 2-2 and then won the ensuing shootout on July 25. So the Lions sat on two points, with Houston on three and Santos Laguna on one. A draw or better was needed to advance to the knockout rounds and a shootout win or better would hand Orlando City first place in the group.

The Lions had not beaten a Liga MX side in three attempts. Orlando City fell 1-0 at home against Santos Laguna in the 2021 iteration of the competition. Earlier this season, the Lions had drawn Tigres 0-0 on the road and 1-1 at home in Concacaf Champions League. By the end of the evening of July 29, the Lions had their first win over Liga MX competition after a 3-2 win at the death.

The Mexican side took the lead shortly before halftime on an Orlando mistake. Ivan Angulo got under an attempted switch, but his touch was heavy and he gave it away immediately to Raul Lopez. The Santos Laguna right back used Jansson as a screen and fired a hard, low shot that curled and skipped up off the turf and past Pedro Gallese to make it 1-0 in the 41st minute.

The Lions, however, responded immediately. They needed only three minutes to pull level. Facundo Torres sprayed a pass wide to the left from the middle for Rafael Santos to run onto. Santos sent in a perfect cross that Duncan McGuire redirected home with his head in the 44th minute to make it 1-1.

The teams went to the locker room all knotted up at 1-1 thanks to McGuire’s response. That momentum carried into the second half. Mauricio Pereyra took a through ball, dribbled right, and uncorked a blast into the upper right corner to make it 2-1 in the 46th minute. It was Pereyra’s first and only goal of the entire 2023 season and his final strike as a Lion.

This time, Orlando’s lead didn’t last long. The Lions cleared a set piece and Santos Laguna recycled, sending in a cross. Harold Preciado headed it in to tie the match in the 58th minute. The Lions appealed for a foul on the play but after review the goal stood, and the match went into the final half hour all even at 2-2.

As the second half wore on, Santos and Preciado each missed opportunities wide of net and the game seemed likely to end in a draw followed by a shootout. But there’s a reason Orlando City is sometimes called the Cardiac Cats. The games can get dicey either way when the seconds tick down toward the end.

The winning play looked like it was going to go Santos Laguna’s way before it turned in Orlando City’s favor. The Lions lost the ball in the attack and the Liga MX side broke on a 5-v-3 transition opportunity. As the play entered the Lions’ attacking third, Cesar Araujo made a fantastic open-field play to take the ball away and start the break the other way. After a few touches in the attack, it ended up back on Araujo’s foot on the right side. The defensive midfielder slipped the ball in for Cartagena, who redirected it through goalkeeper Gibran Lajud, opening his Orlando City account on the winning goal in the 92nd minute.

Orlando bled the final four minutes of stoppage time off the clock and held on for the victory. With the win, Orlando City won the South 2 group and then went south to play Inter Miami in the Round of 32. Unfortunately, that’s where the Lions’ Leagues Cup journey ended, due to a lack of finishing, some incredible officiating decisions (no second yellow for Lionel Messi before halftime, a soft penalty given Miami’s way early in the second half, and a disallowed goal for an offside that didn’t affect the play).

However, despite the Lions going out in the next game, a last-gasp win to knock out a Liga MX side and claim the group in Leagues Cup is a worthy inclusion in our top moments of 2023.

Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City’s top 10 moments of 2023.

Previous Top Moments of 2023

10. The Orlando Pride select breakout stars Emily Madril and Messiah Bright in the 2023 NWSL Draft.
9. OCB draws at Chicago and then wins a shootout, clinching its first playoff spot since 2016.

8. Orlando Pride dump Portland Thorns 3-1 in June, kick-starting the team’s push for the playoffs.


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