Orlando City SC, mainly behind an eight-save performance from goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, are only a 90-minute home match away from advancing to the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals.
That performance from the Peruvian international occurred late Tuesday night at the vaunted Estadio Universitario – nicknamed El Volcán – in a 0-0 draw against mighty Tigres UANL.
An away goal at the Liga MX powerhouse side would have done wonders, and the Lions had several probing looks through Designated Player wingers Martín Ojeda and Facundo Torres.
But, all things considered, head coach Oscar Pareja’s group is in a favorable spot for the Round of 16 return leg next Wednesday at Exploria Stadium (8:15 pm ET | FS2, TUDN). Penalty kicks might be required if the aggregate score is still deadlocked.
“We had moments where we suffered, and I’m very happy because we understood how to guard them well and defended their sequences and their football,” Pareja said postgame. “We had to get through to the times when we had our chances and we did that. A very good game tonight.”
The job’s not done – Pareja stressed “it’s a game that lasts 180 minutes” – and Tigres boast plenty of attacking firepower. There’s also speculation French striker André-Pierre Gignac may not travel stateside next week, having reportedly missed out on participating in the 2022 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target due to vaccination concerns.
Whether Gignac is available or not, a club dubbed Concacaf’s Team of the Decade has more than enough talent to punish Orlando. Uruguay international Fernando Gorriarán and Colombian winger Luis Quinones were constant threats on the wings, while Mexican internationals Diego Lainez and Francisco Cordova came off the bench.
That depth, quality and squad value is the envy of many MLS clubs. It’s mainly why Tigres are favored to win this series, and possibly earn their second CCL title after defeating LAFC in 2020. Yet all’s to play for from Orlando’s point of view.
“It looked more like the Orlando we used to see,” said center back Robin Jansson. “Better with the ball, controlled with the ball, then we were very smart when we didn't have the ball. … We played a very mature game.”
Tuesday also marked Orlando’s CCL debut, qualifying for the prestigious continental competition via last year’s US Open Cup title. That victory, secured with a win over USL Championship side Sacramento Republic, sealed the club’s first MLS-era trophy since joining as an expansion team in 2015.
Perhaps a memorable CCL upset, and new heyday, awaits next week?
“Coming into this atmosphere, it's crazy, something I've never played in before,” said homegrown fullback Michael Halliday. “It's a huge draw, now going home next week. It's big, it's up for grabs.”
Added Pareja: “We’re happy. It’s not easy to come to Monterrey and leave with a result.”