Major League Soccer is, without question, one of the oddest football leagues in the world. With it’s weird team names, blend of random aging European veterans and young prospects, as well as all the random Americanisms tacked on like the salary cap, college draft and play-offs, all of these things end up combining into a league that will always be entertaining regardless of if what your watching is actually good or not. And on the 21st of November, at Exploria Stadium in Orlando (of course this had to happen in Florida), MLS hosted what maybe either the stupidest penalty shoot-out of all time, or the greatest. Allow me to walk to you through it.
It’s the opening game of the first round of the 2020 MLS Play-Offs. Orlando City, in their first ever play-off game, are hosting New York City FC. The home side took the lead thanks to an early penalty by Nani (yes, that Nani), but that goal was almost immediately cancelled out by centre back Maxime Chanot burying a header in the net. The rest of the game was very physical, 7 yellow cards were given out with 28 fouls combined between the teams, Orlando City’s right back Ruan was even sent off for kicking New York’s Gary Mackay-Steven right in the nuts after the Scottish winger had shoved him to the ground.
Largely though, New York were the team on top, being kept out thanks to the work of Orlando’s keeper Pedro Gallese, which included an excellent double save and some timewasting aswell at the end (which did earn him a booking). After 120 minutes, the referee Allen Chapman blew his whistle. Penalties.
Penalty 1 – New York City FC – Maximiliano Moralez
The 33 year old Argentinian steps up first, but his shot fired straight towards the middle bangs off the crossbar.
He awkwardly raises his arms in celebration to make it look like it crossed the line.
No one believes him.
Penalty 2 – Orlando City SC – Tesho Akindele
The Canadian striker doesn’t make the same mistake. Sending Johnson the wrong way, the ball nestles in the bottom right corner.
Penalty 3 – New York City FC – Jesus Medina
The midfielder waits a bit, staring down the keeper and, after a long run up, buries the ball in the same corner as Akindele.
Penalty 4 – Orlando City SC – Andres Perea
Johnson once again is sent the wrong way, and the Florida native jogs back to the halfway line, massive smile on his face.
Penalty 5 – New York City FC – Tony Rocha
Tony Rocha clearly does not want to be taking a penalty this early. Looking nervous, he aims towards the bottom right. Gallese guesses correctly… but just doesn’t get there quickly enough and the balls worms it way behind him. Rocha jogs back to his teammates, looking just a bit sheepish.
Penalty 6 – Orlando City SC – Antonio Carlos
Antonio Carlos steps up and fires his penalty in the top left corner with so much ease you’d think he was a striker and not a centre back.
Penalty 7 – New York City FC – Ismael Tajouri-Shradi
The Libyan attacking midfielder strides forward and strikes the ball towards the same corner as Rocha. Despite it being much better hit, once again Gallese almost gets there, but the ball still slips through his fingers.
Penalty 8 – Orlando City SC – Junior Urso
Another non-stereotypically good penalty from a defensive player. Same placement as Antonio Carlos, save direction of dive from Sean Johnson, same result.
Penalty 9 – New York City FC – Valentin Castellanos
Castellanos knows he needs to score this. The season, which has been a largely disappointing debut season for new coach Ronny Deila, is on the line. New York City and Orlando City came into the world together, starting their first season in the same year of 2015. Both struggled at the beginning but while New York built themselves into a regular play-off team, Orlando only got worse. Finally, with the arrival of Colombian Head Coach Oscar Pareja, they’re where New York have been since their 2nd season. It’s fitting that these two teams meet in Orlando’s first time in the postseason.
The whistle is blown, Castellanos curls the ball towards the bottom left. Gallese palms it away. Orlando are through.
The Stadium erupts. Pareja sprints down the touchline, jumping, screaming, and pumping the air along the way as he runs down the tunnel.
The players run towards Gallese and crowd around their hero. Orlando City had won their first ever play-off game in their history and are on their way to the eastern conference semi-fina- VAR’s checking it.
The referee, finger to his ear, calls everyone back. Pedro Gallese was off his line when he saved the shot.
Now according to IFAB, encroachment is where both feet of the goalkepeer are over the goal line when the ball is kicked by the penalty taker, one foot over the line is allowed as long as the other is on the line. under the rules for the 20/21 season, once a game goes to a penalty shootout, all yellow cards from the rest of the game are nullified for the duration of the shootout. If during a penalty, the goalkeeper encroaches over the line to save the shot, the penalty is retaken and the goalkeeper is given a warning the first time, levelling up to a yellow card on his 2nd offence of encroachment.
But MLS didn’t start when those rules came into place. They started in March and are therefore using the 19/20 version of the IFAB rules, where if the goalkeeper encroaches on a penalty… it’s a yellow card. Pedro Gallese, as you might remember, has already been booked.
With a guilty look in his eyes, Allen Chapman produces the yellow quickly before holding the red card above his head.
And if you thought that was stupid. Oh mate, We’ve only just started.
For some reason, Allen Chapman looks toward his fourth official and does the substitution signal above his head. You are not allowed to substitute players during penalty shootouts.
Ignoring this, Gallese drags Rodrigo Schlegel, a back-up centre back brought on during extra time who has volunteered to go in goals, over to the side to give him his gloves and presumably a lot of encouragement before being stopped by one of their teammates. On the sidelines, Brian Rowe, Orlando’s backup goalkeeper, walks over to the sideline getting ready to come on. You are not allowed to substitute players during penalty shootouts.
Finally, Oscar Pareja has appeared back onto the pitch, confused and fucking raging. The fourth official flashes his board, 15 in red, 23 in green, Schlegel is being subbed off for Rowe.
He stands on the goal line, readying himself for the whistle, despite only making 4 appearances this year, he now has the chance to make himself the hero. Behind him, the few Orlando fans allowed in due to coronavirus restrictions bang and scream and wave, doing anything they can to distract the opposition.
You are not allowed to substitute players during penalty shootouts.
Penalty 9 (take 2) – New York City FC – Valentin Castellanos
The ref hasn’t blown his whistle. It’s only been seconds but it feels like hours, days. Chapman, hand to his ear and looking like a dog that’s about to get shouted at by his owner, walks over to Brian Rowe and leads him off the field. Because you are not allowed to substitute players during penalty shootouts.
Now, some assumed this was Pareja playing mind games, fucking with the referee in the middle of all the chaos. But that makes no sense because he was still walking back to the dugout when Rowe was getting ready to come on. The reality is that Chapman, a professional referee in MLS for 8 years, genuinely thought that you could substitute players during penalty shootouts. Somehow, fucking somehow.
To make things even more ridiculous, Chapman briefly allows Rowe back onto the park before some presumably panicked high pitched screeching was heard through his ear and he turned around to drag him back off. Rowe, who to his credit has been the calmest person in the stadium through of all of this, is completely done with the referee’s shit at this point.
One of the Orlando staff members, either sincerely or to just take the absolute piss, googles the rules on his phone and shows them to the referee. I am not that making that part up.
Rodrigo Schlegel, A 23 year old Argentinian centre loanee back who only played 10 games all season, ties his hair, puts on borrowed gloves and a nameless black top, and walks out onto the pitch.
Penalty 9 (take 3) – New York City FC – Valentin Castellanos
During all of this, Valentin Castellanos has just been standing there, in the same spot for 10 minutes. Therefore, he’s had a lot of time to think about where to place the ball the second time around. The ball is fired into the bottom right corner and into the net. Schlegel, more focused on staying on his line than where the ball is going, doesn’t even dive.
Penalty 10 – Orlando City SC – Nani
So, New York scored their penalty. Who cares? It doesn’t matter anyway, as long as Nani, there captain and dedicated penalty taker scores, they’ll be through. He’s already scored a penalty today, and there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again. Finally, Orlando City can celebrate their first ever play-off win-Saved.
Sean Johnson correctly dives to his right and palms it out.
Stays on his line too.
So then. Sudden death.
Penalty 11 – New York City FC – Nicolas Acevado
While an Orlando fan somewhere in Florida starts typing out a long-winded article about how this game was clearly rigged in favour of the big city New York team, Acevado steps up and scores his penalty into the bottom left corner. Schlegel, in spite of everything, does almost get a hand on it.
He was also miles off his line when the ball was kicked so it would’ve been a bit pointless but still.
Penalty 12 – Orlando City SC – Robin Jansson
The Swedish centre back, in spite of the pressure of needing to score and all the bullshit his team had to put up with today, does what Nani couldn’t do and sends the keeper the wrong way.
Penalty 13 – New York City FC – Gudmundur Thórarinsson
Now, anyone who has had to go in goal for a penalty knows that one of the things your told to do is make yourself looks as big as possible, stand up straight with arms and legs out wide diagonally so there’s no obvious place to aim for. This is what every goalkeeper does before a penalty, to the point that I’m sure most non-keepers would also do that in the same situation just by remembering what they see. With that being said, lets now look at Schlegel’s standing position and Jesus Christ what the fuck is that?
This is literally the exact opposite of what you’re meant to do. He looks like a rabbit that’s bracing itself to get run over by a car. If Thorarinsson somehow fucks this up, he needs to retire immediately. The defender aims his shot for the top right corner and… no way.
Holy fuck he actually did it.
Schlegel goes fucking mental. His teammates go fucking mental. I, in my room watching this game ignoring my flatmates banging on my door telling me they’re starting pre’s, go fucking mental. After checking VAR and finding out that yes, the backup centre back with no penalty experience did actually manage to stay on his line. The referee blows for full time. Wait what?
Exploria Stadium, for some reason, erupts once more. “Well they’re celebrating, but there’s another penalty to go surely?” says Wayne Boyce, the very confused commentator for Sky Sports’ MLS coverage. Not only has the referee forgotten the basic rules of football today, he’s also forgotten how to count. The players walk back on the field after being stopped from celebrating for the second time.
Penalty 14 – Orlando City SC – Benji Michel
Benji Michel steps up for Orlando City. Somewhat hilariously, Sean Johnson does dive the right way but his opponent powers it so hard into the left side of the goal you’d be forgiven for thinking he might be bit frustrated. And finally, this stupid, stupid penalty shootout comes to an end.
Orlando City celebrate their penalty shootout victory for the third and final time. They’re through to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
This game kicked off at 12pm EST. it took so long to finish by the time that Michel was flinging his shirt off in celebration, 8 minutes had been played in the 3pm kick off between Columbus Crew and the New York Red Bulls. I didn’t even mention the 10 minutes of added time for the 2nd half.
a day after the game, it was confirmed that Allen Chapman and the rest of the official team involved in this game would not be involved in any of the rest of the MLS play-offs games this season. Pedro Gallese’s suspension for their Semi-Final game against New England Revolution was appealed by the club but in the end was rejected. They lost that match 3-1. That entire crazy penalty shootout ended up meaning nothing for either teams.
Look, I could go into massive diatribe about how this shows the ridiculousness of VAR and how it removes control from the referees on the ground but I’m not gonna do that because that’s more serious than this incident really deserves. All that matters is this: MLS is a silly, silly league. And I really wouldn’t have it any other way.