In Orlando: An emotional roller coaster
Orlando is known for its theme parks, including high-thrills roller coasters like Rock n’ Roller Coaster and Incredible Hulk. But Orlando City might have topped them all on Sunday night.
Let’s take you through the timeline of what Miguel Gallardo and I experienced in the studio and you all no doubt felt at home:
8:58 pm - Orlando City are two minutes away from securing another big win, this time 1-0 at the New York Red Bulls thanks to a Nani penalty. With Toronto and Atlanta scoreless and not doing much, it looks like the Lions will clinch their first-ever playoff berth.
8:59 pm - A cleared corner falls to Jason Pendant, who tries to shoot from 35 yards in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a draw. Pendant scuffs the shot and, as if guided by some October ghoul, it finds its way to Brian White, who turns it around and sneaks it into the far corner. Hearts are broken across Central Florida at this horribly unlucky twist of fate.
9:01 pm - We hit the commercial break going into the Heineken Postgame Show. Miguel and I nearly throw our headsets down in frustration. We have to compose ourselves to get through the half hour, hoping inside that Toronto will find a way to score–if they win, Orlando clinches.
9:14 pm - We cut to a live look at Toronto-Atlanta. Toronto makes a sub. Atlanta knocks the ball around a bunch and Toronto looks completely disinterested in doing much of anything. We come back to our postgame.
9:26 pm - While discussing the next matchup against Inter Miami, producer Art Izquierdo gets in my ear.
“Uh, Evan? Toronto just scored.”
I have no idea who or how, but I break the good news immediately. Art tells me we have the goal. We go straight to it, and it’s former Lion Richie Laryea who sets up Pablo Piatti’s winner.
9:30 pm - We realize we won’t be able to see the end of the game while we’re on the air, as we have a hard 9:30 cut-off. I close the program and Miguel and I instantly sprint to our phones to pull up the game. Miguel starts recording.
9:32 pm - This happens:
This was a long time coming. You don’t need me to tell you what it means to this fanbase and this community for Orlando City to reach the postseason–our Hannah Drosdick had a great write-up yesterday–but know that it was well-earned and richly deserved, not just for the players and coaches and the front office, but for, especially for, the fans. There’s a reason national broadcasters talk up this fanbase every time they cover Orlando City. You guys are incredible.
Wouldn’t mind if the roller coaster is a little less intense next time, though!
Around MLS: Top 4 pulling away
We talked about the East’s top 4 a few weeks ago, and if anything, the situation has gained more clarity. Toronto, Philadelphia, Columbus, and Orlando look to have pulled away from the pack and are in a strong position to lock in quarterfinal home games over the next couple of weeks.
NYCFC appeared like the team most likely to crash the party for a while, but they really needed to beat Orlando and Columbus this past week and ended up with a draw in Florida and a loss in Ohio. It looks like the Pigeons will spend the next few weeks fending off their Hudson River rivals RBNY to avoid the play-in round.
The New England Revolution briefly threatened to make things really interesting this week. They were the only team in the top 6 to win on Wednesday, putting them within striking distance of Orlando in fourth. But with a chance to get closer on Monday night, the Revs committed a horrible early gaffe and were 2-0 down to Philly with ten minutes to go.
A Tajon Buchanan goal got them back in it in the 81st minute, and then Lee Nguyen hit a magnificent free kick to tie it in the 85th. Or at least he would have, if not for this outrageous save from Andre Blake:
Blake has been the MVP for Philly this year, and he might have sunk New England’s chances to host in the quarters. There’s still work to do for Orlando to lock in that home game, but their odds were greatly helped on Monday night.
Throughout the World: Zlatan reigns
Zlatan Ibrahimovic dominated MLS last season, scoring 30 goals for the Galaxy and single-handedly lifting them to the second round of the playoffs–look at where they are without him. Most European fans were quick to write off the performance as a washed-up former great lighting up an inferior league, and when Ibrahimovic returned to AC Milan last winter going into his age 38 season (he turned 39 a few weeks ago), expectations were that he’d give them an occasional boost off the bench and little more.
Zlatan is not your average 39 year-old soccer player, though. He is a genuine freak of nature, a man with an almost-psychopathic commitment to greatness. Ibrahimovic’s production in Italy has held steady from what he was doing in the United States, as the Swedish legend has scored 16 goals in 23 games in all competitions.
Zlatan was at his absolute best in the Derby della Madonnina between AC Milan and Inter Milan on Saturday. First he wrecked poor Inter center back Aleksander Kolarov in the 12th minute, drawing a penalty that he would score himself. Then, just three minutes later, he made a picture-perfect run to grab his second:
Zlatan with the quick double in the Milan Derby!— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 17, 2020
AC Milan up 2-0 pic.twitter.com/RsLMAduoPb
You’d be hard-pressed to name ten center forwards better than Ibrahimovic in the entire world. On Sunday, he was better than Romelu Lukaku, a player in his prime at age 27 and coming off being named Europa League Player of the Season. He has Milan at the top of the table in the ultra-competitive Serie A.
That he is doing this at 39 is virtually unprecedented. Though he may verbally demand it constantly, Zlatan still deserves respect.
What Weston’s Watching this week
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Manchester United, UEFA Champions League (10/20, 3p, CBS All Access) - The Champions League is back, featuring a marquee matchup in Group H to kick us off. PSG reached the final last season and made some smart moves to bolster their squad this summer, grabbing right back Alessandro Florenzi and center mid Danilo Pereira on loan from Roma and Porto, respectively, while adding attacking mid Rafinha Alcantara (Thiago’s brother) on a free from Barcelona. United responded to a 6-1 thrashing by Spurs before the international break with a big 4-1 win at Newcastle this weekend, but the French champs represent a much stiffer test.
Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, La Liga (10/24, 10a, beIN SPORTS) - There is a strange pallor to this El Clasico, which finds both Spanish giants struggling for an identity. Both lost as heavy favorites in the league over the weekend. But this is the most famous rivalry game in soccer, and I fully expect both Zidane and Koeman to bring their best teams to the Bernabeu on Saturday. It could also be one of Messi’s final Clasicos as he runs out his Barca contract.
LAFC vs. LA Galaxy, MLS (10/25, 3:30p, ABC) - From El Clasico to El Traffico (and yes, that’s the name), as the Galaxy look to save their season at the Banc. The five-time champs enter in last place in the West. But the general rule with this game is to throw out expectations and embrace the chaos.