Photo courtesy Orlando City SC
The first five seasons of the USL’s history have included a number of memorable moments on the field. As we build up to crowning a new champion, this series takes a look back at the upsets, the memorable performances and the championships that have come before.
When it was announced on November 19, 2013 that Orlando City SC would become an MLS club for the 2015 season, the stage was set for a final year in the USL that the Lions hoped would leave a lasting impression on the league.
But after claiming the regular-season championship with a record number of points, wins and goals score, the dream final season came to an end at the hands of the side whose hopes of a championship had been dashed by Orlando three seasons before.
The Harrisburg City Islanders weren’t really looking like much of a threat for a championship for the first three months of the season, and sat with a record of 3-7-4 at the end of June. But then, with the club sporting red socks for the Fourth of July, the side sparked to life with a 4-1 win against Charleston.
The red socks stuck around as the City Islanders went 9-5-3 over the remainder of the season to grab the eighth and final seed in the USL Playoffs, clinching the spot with a win in their penultimate game of the season against Charlotte.
Despite the City Islanders’ strong second half of the season, though, it was still considered a major underdog as it visited the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex just outside Orlando for a quarterfinal matchup with the Lions. Looking for a third title in four seasons, the Lions opened the season with an 18-game undefeated streak, at one point reeling off eight consecutive victories, and 14 wins in 15 games.
The game proved an open one, however, as both sides looked to get forward quickly on the attack with Harrisburg using the speed of players like current FC Cincinnati midfielder Jimmy McLaughlin and Saint Louis FC playmaker Jamiel Hardware to try and break down the Lions’ defense. Five minutes before halftime, Harrisburg found a breakthrough as Hardware’s through-ball released Antoine Hoppenot behind Orlando’s defense, and his first-time finish found the right corner of the net.
From there, Orlando pushed forward throughout the second half with a packed crowd roaring them on to an equalizer. The goal never came, however, as the City Islanders held on to take a remarkable victory and send the Lions on to their inaugural season in Major League Soccer without one final trophy.
The City Islanders continued to find magic in the semifinals, as the side took a 3-2 victory against the Richmond Kickers to reach their second USL Championship Game in four seasons. There, however, the run would end as Sacramento Republic FC took a 2-0 victory at a sold-out Bonney Field to cap its inaugural season with a championship.