U.S. Open Cup win gives Lions bragging rights Tampa Bay Rowdies

By Official Florida FC

Orlando City’s return to America’s oldest cup competition may have started out lethargic, but finished with yet another win over their in-state rivals.

Orlando City eliminated the Tampa Bay Rowdies from the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win at Exploria Stadium on Wednesday night. The Lions will host the Philadelphia Union in the fourth round.

As for Wednesday’s match, the banter in the first half made up for the lack of genuine chances for either team.

The Lions made seven changes to the side that defeated Columbus 2-0 over Easter weekend and it showed. In the first 15 minutes, Tampa Bay gave Orlando City space to bring the ball into the middle third, confident the Lions would turn the ball over – something the hosts did multiple times.

Orlando City defender Kyle Smith, left, clears his lines before Tampa Bay Rowdies wingback Dayonn Harris can close him down during the first half of a U.S. Open Cup match. Orlando City defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, April 22, 2022. (Photo by Will Brown, Official Florida FC)

Tampa Bay operated in a 3-4-3 system and made no secret of trying to get its wingback Dayonn Harris isolated against Orlando City fullback Kyle Smith. Harris consistently found dangerous positions, but he couldn’t pick out center forward Steevan Dos Santos or forwards Jake LaCava and captain Sebastian Guenzatti.

More than once, someone in The Wall yelled for the hosts to “wake up” during the first half hour. Despite Orlando City giving away the ball, the Lions had more possession and goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar hardly had to get on the ground.

Mauricio Pereya prepares to take a free kick during the second half of a U.S. Open Cup match at Exploria Stadium. Orlando City defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Photo by Will Brown, Official Florida FC)

“It is a very important game for our fans, for our Club and we are very proud to beat Tampa today,” head coach Oscar Pareja told reporters afterward. We dedicate this to our people and I was very glad to see them in the stands pushing our team in difficult moments. We really enjoyed this victory with a lot of respect for Tampa who came out with a great attitude in the game and is a very good team, a team who brought a lot of energy and created a lot of trouble, especially in the first half. We were quiet in the first half, I don’t think we dominated the game. I have to give credit to Tampa that most of the time they had the initiative and for us it was difficult to recover the ball.”

“I didn’t see too much from either side, but in the second half we needed to get into the game and the boys did. I think they did, the second half I liked a lot and once again the most important thing is that I know what this means for our fans and we dedicate this to them.”

The fans stuck with the Lions long enough for Pareja to make three halftime changes and a tactical switch.

The 4-2-3-1 system that has been solid in the league was ditched in favor of what appeared to be a 5-3-2 system. Thomas Williams, who was making his first professional start in central defense next to Rodrigo Schlegel, was joined by Robin Jansson after intermission. Smith was hooked, and Joao Moutinho was introduced as a left wingback.

Bringing Moutinho on meant Harris couldn’t bomb forward with the freedom he had in the first 45 minutes.

The third tactical switch placed Mauricio Pereyra in central midfield. Pereyra assisted Junior Urso’s match-winner in the 65th.  What Pereyra provided was stability in possession that allowed Orlando to get more players in front of the ball and not have to worry about Harris on the wing or LaCava and Guenzatti getting into shooting positions.

Tampa Bay’s goal came within 75 seconds of Urso giving Orlando City a 2-0 lead. Fittingly, Lucky Mkosana scored it. Mkosana is the only player, from either club, who was on the pitch when the last competitive I-4 Derby was played in the 2014 Open Cup.

Orlando City has, obviously, come a long way since then. The Lions have become a MLS mainstay and advanced to the semifinals of the last Open Cup played in 2019.

This year is the ninth time the Rowdies have played in the U.S. Open Cup since the club resumed operations in 2008. Only, once did the green and gold win two matches in the cup – and that was back in 2013 when Florida didn’t have a MLS club.

With its cup run ending, the Rowdies can focus on the USL Championship, a league where Tampa Bay has surprisingly dropped points four times in seven matches this year.

Here are more images from the match.

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