One of the things Major League Soccer has become known for over the years is the hectic nature of the league. But even by MLS standards, what just happened in a first-round playoff game between Orlando City SC and New York City FC may go down in history as the wildest shootout ever.
If you really don’t feel like reading a full breakdown of what happened, here’s a one-minute highlight video of the shootout that at least gives you a taste of what happened.
Penalty kick madness. pic.twitter.com/avYiLD2LhH— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 21, 2020
To fully appreciate what happened, though, it’s going to take a little while. Buckle up.
A little scene setting. Orlando City came into the league in 2015, the same year as NYCFC. There’s always been at least a hint of rivalry between them, as a result. But while NYCFC has seen varying degrees of success, Orlando had never before made the MLS Cup playoffs before this year.
The novelty of the game is probably at least partly why they were determined to allow a limited number of fans into the stadium despite being in the middle of a global pandemic.
In any case, this was shaping up as an interesting but not entirely remarkable match as it went into penalties after the two teams played to a 1-1 tie over 120+ minutes, the last 35 or so were with Orlando City playing a man down after Ruan was sent off in the 87th minute for kicking a player in the groin.
The shootout starts with NYCFC’s best player, Maxi Moralez, hitting his shot off the crossbar. The two teams then trade conversion over the first four rounds to leave Orlando City up 4-3 heading into the fifth and decisive round.
Pedro Gallese comes up with a save on NYCFC’s Valentín Castellanos, seemingly sealing the win and sending Orlando City into a wild celebration. Head coach Oscar Pareja is so excited he runs straight into the tunnel, apparently with the hope of fetching the previously red-card Ruan.
But in all the celebrations, referee Allen Chapman has some bad news. Gallese was ruled to have come off his line early. It’s not entirely clear if this was a decision by the on-field assist referee or the video assistant referee, but the replay angles shown on the broadcast don’t seem to be conclusive.
Either way, Castellanos will be allowed to retake the shot. Not only that, but a 2016 rule change dictates that leaving your line early is an automatic yellow card, and since Gallese had been yellow carded for time-wasting in overtime, he’s shown a red card. To add to the confusion, FIFA made a change to that rule this year that would have not only wiped Gallese’s yellow card slate clean, but would have dictated he only receive a warning on his first offense. MLS has not yet adopted this rule change.
After being shown the red card, Gallese gives his gloves to Rodrigo Schlegel, a defender who had apparently played some keeper in his younger days.
Then things get really confusing. Before Castellanos takes his penalty, Orlando City is allowed to sub in goalkeeper Brian Rowe, presumably under the belief that the overtime period has granted them an additional sub. Rowe is then summoned back to the sideline as someone presumably realizes that subs are not normally allowed during a shootout. After some discussion, Rowe is seemingly allowed back onto the pitch again. The best guess I have for the secondary confusion is that the rules permit for a goalkeeper to be replaced by another goalkeeper during the shootout, but only due to injury or illness. Rowe is quickly summoned back and Castellanos is finally allowed to take his kick after a nearly 10-minute delay.
Castellanos easily scores past Schlegel, who looks every bit as awkward as you’d expect.
Next up for Orlando City is Nani — yes, that’s the Nani who once starred for Manchester United and helped lead Portugal to the 2018 UEFA championship. If he converts, it’s over. Instead, NYCFC’s Sean Johnson comes up with a rather impressive save to send the shootout to sudden death.
NYCFC and Orlando City both convert in the sixth round.
Next up is NYCFC’s Gudmundur Thórarinsson, who puts his attempt in the one spot a field player is most capable of making a save: about shoulder height and only slightly off center. Schlegel doesn’t make it look pretty, but he’s able to get enough of his hand on the ball to hit it off the post and keep it out. Chapman blows his whistle and Orlando launches into celebration.
I know what you’re thinking, “isn’t it still 5-5?” Yes, yes it is. Chapman informs everyone that there’s still another kick to take.
Up steps Orlando native Benji Michel. He buries his kick. Orlando celebrates heading to the conference semifinals for a third time— but this time, for real.
As entertaining as all this was as a pure spectacle, it is at least a little embarrassing for a league that has been spending tons of money to get better not just in terms of quality of play but in terms of refereeing. Chapman is the league’s reigning Referee of the Year, and while this was a confusing situation with new rules and rare circumstances, he made several mistakes that are basically inexcusable. MLS must demand better.