They’re at it again–the defending national champion Orlando City U17s are two games away from repeating their title.
At this week’s MLS NEXT Cup in Frisco, TX, the young Lions have made their way from the initial field of 32 teams (a field for which they had to qualify in previous tournaments) all the way to the semifinals. Orlando will face the Columbus Crew in the semifinal game on Friday night at 8 p.m. ET, with the winner set to battle the victor of LAFC vs. Philadelphia Union in the finals on Sunday night, also at 8 p.m. ET.
Orlando began its run with a rivalry win over Inter Miami, seeing off its fellow Floridians 1-0 in dramatic fashion. With the game scoreless, Favian Loyola was sent off for a second yellow card, putting the Lions down to 10 men. However, Johann Chirinos came up with a late goal to turn their fortunes around and send City on to the next round.
There was more drama in the Round of 16 against the San Jose Earthquakes. Orlando went down 1-0 and 2-1 in the game, equalizing both times with goals from Zakaria Taifi and Ethan Subachan. The Lions, who won last year’s championship in penalties, were victorious 4-3 in the shootout to reach the quarterfinals.
Things were slightly less heart-racing against Austin FC in the quarterfinal round, with the Lions seeing off the Verde and Black 2-0 thanks to a penalty-kick goal from Alejandro Granados and a late clincher from Tahir Reid-Brown.
Orlando City now sets up against Columbus in the semis. The Crew reached this point entirely via penalty-kick shootouts, taking down Sacramento Republic, Atlanta United and FC DELCO all via the shootout.
It was also a great week of experience for the Orlando City U15s. While the younger City side was eliminated from the playoffs on penalties in the first round, the U15s would post a win and a draw in the ensuing showcase, beating FC Dallas on the final day to head back to Central Florida on a positive note.