Orlando City SC, down to nine men when goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was sent off in a penalty shootout, prevailed 6-5 over New York City FC in the chaotic decider to advance in the MLS Cup playoffs on Saturday.
It was 1-1 after extra time at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, where both goals came in the first eight minutes.
Orlando players had twice celebrated what they thought was victory before Benji Michel scored the actual game-winner in the seventh round of the shootout.
That came after Orlando defender Rodrigo Schlegel made a crucial save on New York’s Gudmundur Thorarinsson.
Schlegel was in goal because Gallese was sent off for a second yellow card for stepping off his line early in what first appeared to be a game-winning save of Valentin Castellanos’s effort on the fifth attempt for New York — who saw Maxi Moralez miss on their shootout opener.
The Peruvian keeper had been shown a yellow card for time wasting in extra time.
There was confusion as Orlando first tried to bring on backup keeper Brian Rowe, but after back and forth with referee Allen Chapman Schlegel eventually donned the gloves and gave up a penalty to Castellanos that made it 4-4.
Orlando still had a chance to win it through Nani, but he was denied by Sean Johnson.
New York’s Nicolas Acevedo and Orlando’s Robin Jansson had both converted to make it 5-5 when Schlegel stopped Thorarinsson and zoomed off to celebrate with teammates.
It was some minutes before referee Chapman could impress upon them the affair wasn’t over and Michel got his chance.
“I never had such an experience during an important game like that,” Nani said of the confusion during the shootout.
“I must say, it doesn’t look good for the league and for the spectacle of the football.”
Nevertheless, the first playoff appearance in Orlando’s six-year history saw them advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals, where they will face either the Philadelphia Union or New England Revolution.
New England defeated Thierry Henry’s Montreal Impact 2-1 in their play-in game on Friday to set up the clash with the Union, who earned the Supporters’ Shield as the team with the best regular-season record.
It was more post-season misery for NYCFC, who had stormed home with four straight wins in the regular season but are now 2-7 in playoff games.
Ruan sent off
Orlando struck quickly as New York’s Anton Tinnerholm, blocking a Nani header, was penalised for a handball in the area. Nani coolly converted the resulting penalty in the fifth minute.
New York grabbed the equalizer two and a half minutes later through a powerful header from Luxembourg’s Maxime Chanot off a corner from Jesus Medina.
Gallese came up big more than once to keep it level at halftime, diving to save a left-footed shot from Medina in the 24th minute and producing an impressive double save in the 43rd of Valentin Castellanos’s blast from outside the area and the follow-up attempt by Keaton Parks.
But Orlando appeared to be in trouble in the 87th, when right back Ruan was shown a straight red card for kicking to Gary Mackay-Steven.
Mackay-Steven had brought him down with a hard challenge, then pushed off Ruan’s abdomen as he hoisted himself back up, angering the Brazilian who 10 minutes before had drawn a yellow card for a shoulder-first charge into Tinnerholm.
New York couldn’t take advantage of their man advantage, Orlando actually coming close to a late regular-time winner by Tesho Akindele.