ORLANDO, FL -In a thrilling showdown at Exploria Stadium on Monday night, the No. 2 seed Orlando City SC clashed with the No. 7 seed Nashville SC, igniting the 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs with an intense battle. The Lions emerged victorious with a 1-0 triumph, securing a one-game lead in the best-of-three series. It was a historic night for Orlando City, as they notched their first-ever regulation playoff win, and the second-ever playoff victory at their beloved Exploria Stadium.
The star of the evening, Wilder Cartagena, etched his name in the annals of Orlando City history. In the first half, with the crowd’s anticipation soaring, Cartagena unleashed a rocket of a strike that found the back of the net, earning him his maiden career playoff goal. The setup was masterful, as César Araújo delivered the perfect assist, marking his own inaugural playoff assist.
Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese also etched his name in the record books, earning his first shutout in playoff history. He showcased his prowess with three remarkable saves, delivering his 12th clean sheet of the season and extending his Club’s record for shutouts in a single season across all competitions.
The pivotal moment occurred in the 41st minute when Wilder Cartagena seized the ball in midfield, courtesy of César Araújo’s precision. Cartagena took a few strides and then uncorked a shot from a considerable distance, a breathtaking strike that found the upper corner of the net, kissing the bottom of the crossbar before crossing the line. The Exploria Stadium crowd erupted in a crescendo of cheers as the Lions seized the lead.
Head Coach Oscar Pareja shared his post-game thoughts, acknowledging the fierce battle against Nashville. In the first half, they demonstrated impressive connectivity in the final third but acknowledged the need for more precision. The second half witnessed Orlando City taking control of the game, but the tenacious Nashville defense kept them on their toes. The series now hangs in the balance, and Orlando City is gearing up for the next showdown in Nashville.
Wilder Cartagena’s goal marked his first playoff strike of his career and the third of the season across all competitions, ending a drought that dated back to August. César Araújo, with his first playoff assist, notched his sixth for the year across all competitions. Pedro Gallese, the custodian extraordinaire, celebrated his first MLS Cup Playoff clean sheet, setting a new Club record with 12 shutouts this season.
This exhilarating match will go down in history as the Club’s first-ever regulation win in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, and it was the third playoff game ever hosted at Exploria Stadium, marking a return to the playoff spotlight after three years.
Orlando City turned up the heat with a staggering 25 shots, the most they’ve amassed in any match this season. Coach Oscar Pareja made a bold statement by making nine changes to the starting lineup, following a heavily rotated Decision Day Starting XI in the final regular season match against Toronto FC.
The Lions are now poised for the second chapter of this epic best-of-three series. They’ll be traveling to GEODIS Park to face Nashville SC on Tuesday, November 7, in what promises to be another electrifying encounter. So, buckle up, MLS fans, because this showdown is far from over, and you won’t want to miss a moment of the action!