The Orlando City U23s (PDL) fell to VSI Tampa Bay (USL PRO) in penalty kicks Tuesday night at the Seminole Soccer Complex in Sanford, Fla. in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup. After a hard-fought match in which the U23s equalized in the 90th minute to send it into extra time, the Lions ultimately fell to the upper-division side.

“We worked extremely hard and gave everything we had,” said U23 Head Coach Paul Shaw. “We haven’t been together long so I can’t fault their effort and work rate but I think overall we did well in our first competitive match.”

The young Lions got off to a slow start and would concede early to the visiting VSI side. In the 7th minute of play, Alex Freitas was left free on the right hand side of the pitch and whipped in a cross to Striker Andriy Budnyy, who nodded the ball into the back of the net to give Tampa a 1-0 lead.

The U23s got their first real scoring chance in the 25th minute as Striker Tyler Blackwood used his pace to get in behind VSI’s defense. Blackwood controlled the bouncing ball well and attempted to lob Goalkeeper Dave Martin, but his effort missed the target by mere inches. Blackwood’s speed created multiple chances for the Lions in the first half and was a continual problem for the VSI defense.

Despite the early goal from VSI, the U23s had their fair amount of chances but were unable to produce in the final third. Captain Nicolas Russo and former Orlando City first team player and Lake Mary High School alum Nick Sowers were very active in creating chances, with the Lions demonstrating brief spells of first team Head Coach Adrian Heath’s notable system. However, despite the U23s relentless effort to produce an equalizer, the first 45 would remain scoreless.

The second half began with a similar tempo to the first half, as both the Lions and VSI controlled an equal amount of time on the ball. The U23s began combining passes more effectively in the attacking portion of the field and forced pressure on the Tampa defense.

The Lions’ persistent efforts would yield their first chance in the second half when Defender Evan Greenbaum got down the right side and played a through ball to Midfielder Itode Fubara, who was surging in the 18-yard box. Fubara got past the VSI defense and pulled the ball into the six-yard box but Martin once again intercepted the pass, preventing Blackwood from scoring.

As the match progressed, the U23s would continue to venture forward in search of the equalizer and were rewarded for their efforts. In the 90th minute of play, substitute Ian Svantesson, a former standout at Lyman High School, turned and rifled a shot from just inside the box, forcing Martin to make a great save. Russo was lurking in the area and headed home the rebound, equalizing the match and forcing two 15 minute overtime periods.

The Lions began the first overtime period strongly as Fubara once again played Blackwood in behind the Tampa backline in the 93rd minute. Blackwood employed his pace to elude the Tampa defense, but was unable to slot the ball past Martin to give the Lions a one-goal lead. The second overtime period began similar to the first, however tired legs seemed to catch up to both sides, and the match headed into penalty kicks tied at 1-1.

Going into penalties, Orlando City and VSI both converted the first three attempts. VSI Midfielder J.T Noone dinked the fourth past Goalkeeper Tomas Gomez, with Sowers’ up next for the Lions. VSI Goalkeeper Dave Martin once again came up big and made a crucial save, giving Tampa the advantage. In light of Martin’s save, Mauricio Salles blasted the ball home giving VSI the 5-3 victory in penalty kicks.

With the win, VSI advances into the second round and will play the 2012 NASL Champions Tampa Bay Rowdies in the second round of the US Open Cup. The Lions now turn their attention to their first game of the PDL season on May 19, at Seminole Soccer Complex in Sanford Fla. For more information on the U23s and their upcoming home match, visit

-courtesy Jhamie Chin & Chris Jones/Orlando City S.C.