Officially, Brian Rowe remained on the bench throughout a drama-filled Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs clash between Orlando City and NYCFC last Saturday. He was, though, an integral part of the remarkable theater.
After 120 minutes and 10 shootout penalties of the Round One match, Orlando's starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese appeared to have made a decisive save from NYCFC’s fifth shot, taken by Valentin Castellanos.
But referee Allen Chapman thought it was worth another look and decided that Gallese came off his line early, issuing the keeper’s second yellow of the game and sending him off. Orlando thought they could make a substitution and rushed backup Rowe onto the field, only for him to be sent back to his position on the sideline with teammate and center back Rodrigo Schlegel instead taking the gloves. The rest, of course, is history. Schlegel stepped in and was the unlikely hero for the Lions, pulling off a save from Gudmundur Thorarinsson that will go down in MLS playoffs folklore.
Come Sunday, though, Rowe will officially be part of the action. With Galesse suspended, all eyes will be on the 32-year-old goalkeeper when Orlando take on the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (3 pm ET | TV & streaming info).
Full Penalty Shootout: Orlando City SC 1(6), New York City FC 1(5)
FULL PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Orlando City vs New York City FC in Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs
It will not be an altogether unfamiliar scenario for Rowe. He has found himself between the pipes in the playoffs before, playing three games for the LA Galaxy in the 2016 postseason, including a two-legged Western Conference Semifinal against the Colorado Rapids. And Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja has the utmost faith in his goalkeeper.
“Brian is a very professional player, I really want to remark that," Pareja told the media in a virtual press conference on Friday. "It just tells you how much he prepared every single day and even knowing that Pedro is going to start on the next game, he's always working in the first level so don't have any doubt that the game is rewarding him. At this point, just to participate in this one game and we all feel very bad about what happened with Pedro, but we moved on and now, Brian is there. We have plenty of confidence in him."
Rowe was also the starting ‘keeper for the Lions last season, recording seven clean sheets in 32 games. This year, he’s been second to Gallese, a Peruvian international signed with the club in January 2020. Rowe featured in four games in the regular season with one shut out, two draws and a regular-season finale loss to expansion side Nashville SC.
Regardless of who sets foot on the pitch, the bottom line for Pareja is that the Lions are keeping their sights set on playing in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Final.
“The expectations are always high, to keep advancing to our objective, which has just been that final and obviously aim for a trophy," he said. "Every step that we do is different. We're just getting ready and preparing the team and the players are in the same mode of putting themselves in the best form, just to face New England now and advance."
One thing's for sure, all of Orlando will be hoping events play out a little differently than Rowe's last playoff outing — a defeat on penalties.