On Saturday the Orlando City Soccer Club suffered its first home loss in 20 matches at the worst possible time.
The Lions, the USL Pro regular season champions, lost 1-0 to eighth-seeded Harrisburg City in the first round of the playoffs at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports. The setback ended a bid at capturing a third title in four years for the defending champs before moving up to Major League Soccer in 2015.
Defender Tommy Redding, just 17-years of age, played the entire 90 minutes. He compared the loss to how he felt when he and current teammate Tyler Turner played together on the U-17 National Team and became the first group to fail to qualify for the World Cup a year ago.
“It was tough, but because of that process it makes this a little bit easier, but not too much,” Redding said. “I’ve felt this pain, but not as high of a scale. I was brothers with the guys at Bradenton (home of the U-17 residency program) but wasn’t as close as all my teammates here in Orlando, so it’s really tough.”
Harrisburg City forward Antoine Hoppenot got past Orlando City defender Rob Valentino at the top of the 18-yard box in the 40th minute and drilled a shot into the right corner past goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski for the deciding goal.
“We were so focused on pushing up that we got transition on the counterattack too quickly,” Redding said of the goal. “Our midfield was high up and our defensive line was a little too far back and one guy just ran straight down the middle and he crossed right in front of me and went behind Rob. It was a great ball, but we just turned it off for a couple of seconds. That’s the thing I’ve learned this season with professional soccer, is you can’t turn off or the game’s over.”
It was the first goal the Lions had yielded since stringing together three-straight shutouts behind Woszczynski to close out the season. Orlando City (19-5-5) held an 11-9 advantage in shots but appeared out of sorts for much of the match, specifically in the first half.
“We started very slow. We gave a poor goal away, and then we really chased the game all evening, which is not the way we play.” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said. “We like to play composed, control football.”
“We came out already expecting to win,” Redding said. “We were already thinking ahead, which is not something you want to [do] in the playoffs. We overlooked them and we came out slow. At halftime it got to us, we realized we really need to win this game, but at that point it was already too late.”
Harrisburg City celebrated just as any major underdog would. During a season where the bulls-eye was marked squarely on the Lions, it was the Islanders that delivered the best shot when it counted for their second win over Orlando City this year.
“I’ve said it for the last few years, they’re the class of our league. No doubt about it,” Harrisburg City coach Bill Becher said. “What they’ve done here in the last four years is incredible. They’re a team that, when they came, we looked at what they did and said that’s what we’d like to emulate on the field and off the field.”