Rodrigo Schlegel didn’t know Saturday if he was going to play a part in Orlando City’s first playoff match, but the defender wound up playing a key role, and in a position he had never played as a professional.
Schlegel got the call in the Lions penalty shootout with NYCFC and made a deciding save in a 6-5 victory in the opening round of the MLS Cup Playoffs. After seeing starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese sent off in the fourth round for receiving a second yellow card, Schlegel stepped up and filled in to propel his team to victory.
“I wasn’t really able to think about too much,” said Schlegel. “When I was able to make the stop, I thought that we had won and it was a lot of happiness, but then we had to wait for Benji to take his kick, and then just a bunch of happiness and thinking what luck we had.”
“Rodri told [Gallese], ‘I was a goalkeeper when I was in the academy.’ So we just gave him the gloves and prayed,” Lions head coach Oscar Pareja said.”
With the score tied at 5-5, Schlegel, a defender on the Lions roster, parried away Gudmundur Thorarinsson’s effort, kicking off premature celebrations by Orlando City, which still needed to make one more kick to win the shootout. Benji Michel slotted home the winning penalty kick, ending what was a crazy opening match of Saturday’s two-match slate.
Schlegel, a 23-year-old loanee from Racing Club in Argentina, made 10 prior appearances this season from his natural defensive position, but had to fill in at goalie due to the club not being allowed to substitute backup goalkeeper Brian Rowe.
It was the first MLS match which featured an outfield player filling in as goalie since 2016 when Pareja saw Ryan Hollingshead take the gloves in an FC Dallas-Toronto FC match. It was also a crazy ending to what was a highly-aggressive playoff match at Exploria Stadium, a match which many Orlando City fans and players will remember for a long time.
“I think we’ll need more time to calm down and reflect on what happened tonight,” said Pareja postmatch. “The analysis of the game, it may wait for tomorrow when we can analyze the soccer side. What just happened at the end, I never saw it before. And this is the beauty of this game, that we’re humans and full of emotions and mistakes and good things and all of that. But today the ball [was] bouncing our way.”
“After what just happened I can laugh, but believe me, this is insane tonight.”
The Lions have showed tremendous growth in Pareja’s first season as head coach and now face a trip to face the Columbus Crew in the second round of the playoffs. After doing everything they could to eliminate NYCFC, the Lions will have even more confidence going into a matchup against Columbus where they’ve won the last four meetings.
“The boys showed today the heart of this franchise. They showed with all that intensity, sacrifice after we lost Ruan,” Pareja said. “Obviously we need to make many corrections and many things that happened in that last part, but we are proud to represent this community. We are proud to win and beat one of the best teams in Major League Soccer…We will prepare [for] the next game, because this doesn’t stop, but what happened today, that will keep in my memory forever.”