Orlando City advanced in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in convincing fashion Wednesday night, dominating the stylish and sartorially splendid but outclassed Miami United 3-0 at Ted Hendricks Stadium.
A lively crowd of 2,721 paid to see it, including a sing-song and boisterous chorus of traveling Orlando City supporters.
Miami United had the better chances early, with early round Open Cup-hero David Ochoa troubling Orlando’s central defender pairing of Jon Spector, who was playing his first game after a month in concussion protocol, and Tony Rocha. Miami had two glorious chances in the the12th minute through Ochoa, only to see midfielder Tomas Grannito and Ochoa miss chances from 10 yards.
The game evened out after the early chances, and when David Ochoa picked up an injury around the half-hour mark, Miami United lost the valve that had pressured and pinned Orlando back throughout the early stages.
After a long spell of possession, Orlando finally broke through late in the opening half. Sacha Kljestan won a second ball in the center of the field and played a ball to Josue Colman, who switched the field to fullback RJ Allen. Allen’s cross found a surging Stefano Pinho, who tapped home from five yards to give the Lions the lead.
For Pinho, it was a well-earned goal on a night where his off-ball movement and secondary runs created havoc in the area. The Brazilian had made his star turn a year prior against Orlando City in the Open Cup.
This season, he enjoyed sending the Purple and White through to the next round.
“I have confidence in the Open Cup, but I’m a goalscorer, I always want to score,” Pinho said. “I have to be myself and prove myself every day, whether a league game or a Cup game or a practice, but to help us win in Miami in front of friends and family, it’s a great feeling.”
While Pinho is no stranger to Open Cup success, having earned Player of the Round honors during last year’s competition playing with Miami FC, Orlando City have had difficulties the last two years playing fellow Florida sides in Open Cup competition. The Lions provided the city a moment of bittersweet joy in beating Jacksonville Armada in 2016 after the tragic Pulse shooting but succumbed at home to Fort Lauderdale in the following round and lost a lopsided affair to Miami FC in 2017.
Compounding matters, Orlando also entered the match winless in nearly a month, having lost four consecutive games to league foes Atlanta United, Toronto FC, New York City FC and the Chicago Fire.
But for all the trouble the Lions have had recently and historically at home against NASL sides, they handled a turf field and a hostile road environment in Miami against a tricky NPSL side Wednesday night.
“It was a moment we needed desperately,” Orlando coach Jason Kreis said. “This was a critical result for us and hopefully it builds confidence for the future.”
Kreis also noted the respect he had for Miami United when he watched them on video, insisting that he didn’t take the Open Cup — or his team’s NPSL opponent — lightly.
“I select the team that gives my club the best chance to win the game. There’s no part of me that says the league is more important, not at all,” Kreis said. “We may have league games where we’ll rest certain players to be ready for Open Cup games, because we think we can make a deep run.”
The Lions added to their lead within the first ten minutes of the second half, when a high-pressing Mohamed El-Munir charged forward down the left flank, took a ball away and chipped out of three defenders to Sacha Kljestan. The U.S. international took one cut and played a ball across to a late-running Dillon Powers, who finished clinically to give Orlando a deserved two-goal advantage.
The third would come minutes later, off an unforced error in the back by Elisma Pierre, whose simple clearance pass was intercepted by Sacha Kljestan. The Orlando star quickly turned inside and slotted the ball to PC, who tapped home from seven yards to signal that the rout was on in Miami.
As often happens when a game gets sideways, things turned chippy late, with Orlando taking exception to Miami United putting in hard, physical tackles as they chased possession down three goals. Fortunately, referee Elvis Osmonovic kept proceedings under control, issuing a handful of cards and even ejecting a Miami United coach for a bump on Orlando’s Brazilian fullback PC. Meanwhile, Jason Kreis, fully aware of Orlando’s precarious position as they chase their first MLS Cup playoff berth, used his substitutions wisely, protecting stars like Sacha Kljestan and Jonathan Spector with early substitutions as the Lions seized control.