Stefano Pinho of Miami FC celebrates one of his three goals against Orlando City in the Fourth Round of the 2017 US Open Cup. Photo: Miami FC
Another year, another south Florida nightmare for Orlando City in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. This time, Miami FC did the job, emerging with a convincing 3-1 victory. Stefano Pinho’s hat trick, the first in the history of the new Orlando City Stadium, paced an outstanding performance by the NASL league leaders.
Only thirty seconds into the game, Kwadwo Poku raced around a pursuing Servando Carrasco and flicked a perfect ball onto an onrushing Dylan Mares. The shot went just wide of a lunging Josh Saunders at the far post. For Orlando, so dominant at home this season, it was a moment of dire portent.
Lined up in a modified 4-3-3 with Poku playing just beneath two forwards as a pure playmaking number ten, Miami was able to use the former NYC FC man to peel defenders toward the center, creating space for Dylan Mares and Michael Lahoud to operate in the channels. The result was a plethora of chances for Miami, which outshot Orlando 10-2 in the opening 45 minutes.
Miami again threatened in the eighteenth minute, with Lahoud dancing around Victor “PC” Giro and slotting a cross to Stefano Pinho, who had beaten Leo Pereira to the ball. Stefano fired just wide, but the former NASL golden boot winner was finding space to operate against the Orlando defense.
Miami broke through at the half hour mark.
Stefano Pinho of Miami FC scored one of his three goals against Orlando City in the Fourth Round of the 2017 US Open Cup. Photo: Miami FC
Michael Lahoud took a deep pass from Richie Ryan down the right flank, put a shoulder shake on PC and slotted the ball across to Pinho, who raced just past a lunging Pereira to tap the ball in off his thighs. It was a deserved lead.
“They are usually good defensively,” Lahoud said. “They were missing Will Johnson, which would have made a difference. But I’ve watched them a lot this year, and we weren’t surprised we had space in the channels to operate. [Manager Alessandro] Nesta stressed being composed and I thought we were. The temptation in these types of games is to want to score every time you have the ball. You can’t do that against these teams. You have to be composed and patient.”
Miami added to the lead just six minutes later, this time after Hunter Freeman raced forward from his center half spot to put a lovely parabola of a cross towards the far post. The diminutive Pinho outjumped Spector and buried the header past an off-balance Josh Saunders to give Miami a 2-0 lead.
In the opening half, Miami were first to every 50/50 ball and won eight tackles compared to three for Orlando. By the time Luis Gil put Orlando’s first shot on frame in the 41st minute, Miami had already collected eight shots, with four on goal. Whether Orlando lacked cohesion playing with a new lineup or simply lacked interest in the affair, the Lions were thoroughly dominated in the opening half on their own field. With Orlando City playing for the first time since June 4th, and the visitors coming off a weekend road trip to Edmonton, it is difficult to imagine why Miami FC appeared to have fresher legs.
Orlando’s sluggish performance was even more stunning given the Lions fell victim to a Cupset in last year’s tournament, losing 2-1 at home to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The loss was the breaking point for Orlando City’s front office with then-manager Adrian Heath, who was fired shortly after the defeat. Looking to avoid a similar fate, manager Jason Kreis fielded a blend of youth and experience, affording opportunities to youngsters like Pierre Da Silva, Hadji Barry and Rafael Ramos but flanking them with vets Antonio Nocerino, Servando Carrasco and Jonathan Spector. Also in the eleven for the Lions? PC, who scored the winning goal for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers against Orlando City last season, and signed with Orlando this winter. But the side never appeared to find any rhythm, and the Lions were largely rudderless until the insertion of Kaka at the hour mark.
By the time the former Ballon d’Or winner entered, his side trailed 3-0, victims to another Pinho goal. The Brazilian finished his hat trick in the 55th minute when Vincenzo Renella played a slicing ball in traffic to Roberto Baggio Kcira, who had plenty of space on the flank. Baggio took a quick touch and cut the ball across to Pinho, who finished tidily in space. Giles Barnes scored a consolation goal on a set piece for Orlando in the 79th minute, but by then, Miami had nine behind the ball and was content to sit deep and clear any of Orlando’s forays into the final third.
Jason Kreis was conciliatory after the game, but visibly upset with the club’s second consecutive elimination at the hands of a NASL side from the Sunshine State.
“For me this is the most disappointing night I’ve had since I’ve been in Orlando,” said Kreis, who won the MLS Cup managing Real Salt Lake in 2009. “I take full responsibility. There are three things a coach is tasked with: we must have the players ready physically, we must have the players ready mentally, and we must have them ready tactically. We didn’t do any of that. But at the same time, we have to say Miami was clearly the better team, as difficult as that is to say. And they deserve a great deal of credit.”
Kreis was quick to compliment Miami and Nesta’s setup tactically.
“I think they did a really nice job defensively making us uncomfortable,” Kreis said. “They forced us into poor choices and were quick to catch us into transition. Poku, having worked with him, and in the games we scouted — that was the most invested I’ve ever seen him defensively. Credit their coaches.”
In the winning locker room, the mood was joyful but by no means content.
Lahoud, who was marvelous in 90 minutes for the visitors after flying 29 hours from Sierra Leone, where he played in African Cup of Nations qualifying over the weekend, said the team feels they can go on.
“I believed we would win,” he said. “We had nothing to lose. Pressure is on every MLS team that plays us. We respected Orlando, we’ll respect who we play next, but the moment won’t be too big for us. If we’re going to play in this tournament, we’ll play on our terms.”
That starts and ends with defense, according to Lahoud.
“Alessandro preaches defense and trust. Everyone has a tactical role defensively. If you close a guy down, you trust the guy behind you is covering for you. More times than not, we’re seeing that domino effect, if you cover the guy next to you, there aren’t breakdowns. It becomes interchangeable football. That’s a big thing and makes us tough defensively and as a team.”
For Miami, that toughness has meant only one loss on the season. And now it means a date in the Open Cup round of sixteen.
Orlando City SC
REF: AR: AR: 4th:
Orlando City SC
Neil W. Blackmon is the co-founder and editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He is a member of the North American Soccer Reporters and his work has appeared in Howler Magazine, Eight by Eight Magazine, MLSSoccer.Com, SB Nation and ESPN FC, among other publications.