The Boys in Blue gifted their rivals an early lead after Anton Tinnerholm failed to clear a cross headed for Orlando City captain Nani. The ball ricocheted off Tinnerholm before hitting his extended arm; referee Allen Chapman had no choice but to point to the spot which Nani comfortably converted five minutes into the game.
It didn’t take long for City to respond. Jesús Medina, who has been in inspired form as of late, provided his team with an excellent delivery from a corner kick which Maxime Chanot converted. It would be the first and only time City beat Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, who was one of the outstanding performers of the day.
For the neutral, the game was undoubtedly an entertaining one to watch. The intensity and physicality of the game along with the fans all contributed to the playoff atmosphere of the match.
The personal duel between Tinnerholm and Nani was a fascinating one especially. While Nani did get the better of Tinnerholm on multiple occasions, Tinnerholm eventually found his footing and did well to keep Nani quiet for the majority of the second half.
After equalizing, it was Orlando on the back foot. Gallese had made important saves against shots from Medina and Castellanos who were looking to break the deadlock.
Late into the second half, Orlando defender, Ruan made a questionable challenge on Tinnerholm. Replays show Tinnerholm with his eyes on the ball as he prepares to challenge for it while Ruan rammed shoulder first into his head. There certainly was a case to be made for a red card, but Chapman and VAR could not be bothered to review it. Ruan was booked but his offense probably warranted more. Tinnerholm was taken off for medical treatment and ultimately had to be substituted as per the medical staff.
Minutes later, Ruan would be at the center of another controversy, this time with Gary Mackay-Steven. The two players wound up on the floor and a shove from Mackay-Steven prompted Ruan to kick out at his groin area. With such an obvious offense, Chapman only had to wait for Ruan to get up before sending him off.
Orlando City defender Ruan got sent off for this pic.twitter.com/HDdrVXaiFi— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 22, 2020
With Orlando down to ten men, the home side began to absorb a little more pressure but City could not capitalize on their one-man advantage.
At this point in the game, it was clear Orlando would much rather take to the game to penalties. Ronny Deila had wittingly saved his substitutions for the last minutes of the 90. In doing so, he had hoped to overwhelm Orlando with fresh legs but aside from the introduction of Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, the substitutes had little impact in the final third.
During extra time, the best chance fell to Castellanos who failed to convert his shot from outside the box.
A penalty shootout in a playoff game was always going to warrant madness but few could predict it went down the way it did in Orlando.
Maxi Moralez was the first to step up — his shot hit the crossbar before coming back out. The Orlando players all converted their efforts leaving City with the looming thought of an early playoff exit.
Up stepped Castellanos who saw his effort saved by Gallese. The home side celebrated their victory before being cut off by a VAR decision. Replays show Gallese stepping off his line — otherwise known as “encroachment” — which warranted a retake of the penalty and a booking. Having already been booked earlier in the match, Gallese was also sent off, prompting disbelief for the home side and providing a sliver of hope for City.
Orlando coach, Oscar Pareja attempted to make a substitution but after several minutes of consulting with VAR, Chapman ruled his attempt invalid. Orlando had no choice but to put an outfield player in goal. Up stepped defender, Rodrigo Schlegel, who was unable to save Castellano’s second effort. Nani then saw his effort saved by Johnson, drawing the two sides level after five spot kicks.
Substitute Gudmundur Thórarinsson stepped up for City but saw his penalty saved. It was a heartbreaking moment for NYCFC who were perhaps undeservingly handed a lifeline with the expulsion of Gallese.
While City showed character in the early stages of the game, it was clear that the group did not have the legs or mental capacity to push for a winner late in the game despite playing against a team that was a man down. It was a bizarre and embarrassing way to bow out of the playoffs and no one else will feel more hard-done by than Deila himself.
With the regular season over, City will now focus their attention on the CONCACAF Champions League as they prepare to take on Mexican side, Tigres.