When Orlando wins a trophy: Orlando City brings home a major title to Orlando

Facundo Torres opened the scoring and sent Orlando City fans into hysterics as the Lions won the U.S. Open Cup. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Facundo Torres opened the scoring and sent Orlando City fans into hysterics as the Lions won the U.S. Open Cup. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

The anticipation for Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final at Exploria Stadium was palpable. The game quickly sold out, and while there are plenty of soccer newbies who did not quite understand what this tournament was, they understood the prize at the end.

A trophy. An honest-to-goodness championship. Something Orlando has experienced infrequently.

Lest anyone think that this was not important, Orlando City’s supporter’s section, dubbed The Wall as the home of the nation’s first safe standing cheering section in soccer and for the wall of noise they send down to the pitch, reminded everyone.

In their pregame TIFO (those giant banners fans prepare for big games), they bracketed a silhouette of the U.S. Open Cup Trophy with Orlando City’s two logos — the logo the team used through its USL Pro days before getting the call up to MLS and their current logo. Next to them were signs that said “No better time than now” and “No better place than here.”

There was a recognition of the club’s history. The banners proclaiming this was Orlando City’s time might as well have said, “Why not us? Why not now?” the rallying cry of the 1995 Orlando Magic as the city burst onto the national sports scene for the first time and their first trip to the NBA Finals.

This was a day and a moment a long time in the making.

Orlando won its biggest trophy as a sports town as Orlando City won the U.S. Open Cup in front of a wild and title-hungry crowd that brough it to the championship game.

When the 90 minutes were up, Orlando City and its fans celebrated the title they richly deserved.

A 3-0 beating that came after Orlando City found a second-half breakthrough thanks to some pressing defense, a deflection and an opportunity the MLS club needed to down the plucky USL side from Sacramento.

Even hometown product Benji Michel contributed, not only creating the opportunity for the first goal but adding one himself in second-half stoppage time to ice the game away and send Exploria Stadium into hysterics as the cup was within reach.

Michel hit Sacramento Republic with the Stephen Curry “night-night” celebration after doing his customary front flip for scoring. It was that kind of cold-blooded night in the end. It meant a lot to him and meant a lot to the entire team and city.

The Lions got their trophy and Orlando celebrated. And will celebrate again Wednesday at noon at City Hall.

This is not the first title Orlando has won. But this certainly feels the biggest trophy brought to the City Beautiful.

UCF fans claim the 2017 national championship (as does the NCAA by the way), but they got no trophy for the efforts (although they did get a Disney parade). The Orlando Solar Bears won the final Turner Cup in 2000 before the league and the team folded. The Orlando Predators have won multiple Arena Bowl titles (in a league that no longer really exists).

Orlando City even has its own full trophy case, winning two USL PRO championships and two regular season titles. As much as the MLS franchise seems to forget this history (they billed this game as the first trophy in franchise history, which is not true), that legacy is part of the backbone of this club and the passion of its supporters.

That is why revealing the TIFO with the club’s old logo and hearing longtime Orlando City players spoke so wistfully about this game. This was a big moment and everyone recognized it.

U.S. Soccer and Orlando City made this feel like a big event with a light show before the game, a card stunt and fireworks after each goal was scored. It felt like a final. And Orlando showed up for it. They brought the energy and celebrated the victory with the prestige the trophy deserves.

Orlando has had a few times to celebrate championships. But nothing quite like this and nothing this big.

Each time Orlando makes its way through these tournaments it is easy to see and feel how this community rallies around these teams. It has been an uneven season for the Lions in MLS play, but they are on a four-game win streak and have climbed to fifth. Just a week ago, City fans weathered a torrential downpour to watch the Lions steal a win in stoppage time over rival NYCFC.

In soccer, sometimes you escape by the skin of your teeth. All three points count the same.

There are celebrations to be had for winning the U.S. Open Cup, but still work to do as the season begins to wind down.

But the celebrations in Orlando should not stop. Everyone should remember the energy that was brought to this game and what a sports team can do to bring a community together. Everyone was on the edge of their seats waiting for that moment of brilliance.

When it came, there was a release and the party was on. Once the Lions scored that first goal, Sacramento did not stand a chance.

Orlando shows up for its teams. That much is clear.

Even for a team like the Orlando Magic at the bottom of the standings, fans sense when something is building and something is wroth investing in. And the fans in this city will show up to support and push their team.

The Magic saw that in 2019 when they finally returned to the playoffs. They saw that at various points last year as fans began to latch onto this rebuild project. The first overall pick in Paolo Banchero is only adding to the excitement. Fans are jumping on the bandwagon again.

The atmosphere inside Amway Center is not going to be as wild as it was at Exploria. That was a championship environment. The Orlando Magic are still probably a bit worried about Boston Celtics outnumbering them for their home opener in October.

But they will build that fan base. and as the Magic start winning again, they will get the same energy boost Orlando City got to win that title. The 1995 Magic and 2009 Magic both know how good Orlando fans can be.

We saw that on full display once again as Orlando City lifted its cup and brought a title to Orlando.

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It certainly will not be the last for the Lions and certainly will not be the last for Orlando.