Pedro Gallese knows all about the high stakes of a penalty shootout. The goalkeeper has seen both the agony and the ecstasy in the last six months – in pursuit of two very different Cups.
“Before every shootout I want to make sure I study the opposing team’s players so I know who their primary penalty takers are – their favored foot and the side they like to go to,” said Gallese, Orlando City’s net-minder, ahead of a home Final in the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“I do my homework,” added the shot-stopper, nicknamed El Pulpo, or the Octopus, before adding, with a hint of concern: “But every shootout is a different beast.”
World Cup Penalty Woes
Two weeks before Gallese became City’s undisputed hero with a game-winning save in the Open Cup Quarterfinal in late June, he felt the sharp sting of defeat in a shootout with a place in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar on the line. After 120 minutes of an intercontinental playoff with Australia couldn’t separate the sides, the Peruvian No1 stepped between the posts and must have thought he’d put one foot in the World Cup for his country by saving the first kick of the night’s post-game lottery.
But his efforts were in vain as the Aussies prevailed – with their keeper, Andrew Redmayne, celebrated as the night’s hero. It meant Gallese and his Peru missed out on a second-straight trip to the world’s biggest stage.
“I hope the game [the Open Cup Final, which will be City’s sixth home game in a row in the competition] doesn’t go to penalties,” he admitted to usopencup.com. “But if it does, I’m always going to be ready.”
The Peruvian – who played for his country in the last World Cup in 2018 after helping La Blanquirroja return to the world stage for the first time in 36 years – was most prepared in the dramatic Quarterfinal against Nashville SC.
It was, in many ways, the turning-point for this Orlando City team after starting out with early wobbles.
“I remember that the fans were calling out my name and that really helped me focus and concentrate on doing the job I had to do and to put pressure on their penalty takers,” said Gallese of the Last Eight content against Nashville SC, which needed a late-in-stoppage time equalizer from Rodrigo Schlegel to force extra-time and, eventually, penalties.
Fan Power Pays off in Open Cup
“They [the fans] made it easier for me to concentrate on doing my job and make the saves we needed,” he added about the game that opened their door to the Semis – where Gallese was able to relax as his attacking teammates put on a 5-1 show against the New York Red Bulls. “It really helped to get a key stop in those penalties.”
Gallese guessed right to keep out the night’s final kick, from the unfortunate Eric Miller. It was a spark that sent the diehard fans on the terraces behind the goal, what’s known to locals as The Wall, into purple-tinted hysterics. Gallese walked slowly toward his charging teammates, before screaming at the top of his lungs and kicking off a joint celebration between players and fans.
"It's great to have a keeper with that experience," coach Pareja said about his first-choice Gallese. "With Pedro we feel that we have one of the best, if not the best, keeper in the league."
The fans have been almost as much of a factor in this Cup run as Gallese himself. Orlando City have played every game of this tournament at their Exploria Stadium – and on Wednesday September 7th they’ll cap that rarest of runs with a hometown Final.
“The fans have played an incredibly important role for us as players and as a club. They’ve been with us every game of this run and that’s such a special thing,” said Gallese, who only started in the 2022 Open Cup from the Quarterfinal round on – with Pareja giving back-up keeper Mason Stajduhar a chance in the three previous games. “We know they will be there with us for the Final – and they will know that this is such an incredibly important game for us. We need to be able to deliver for them. “
When asked what he expects the atmosphere to be like for the Final – the first-ever contested in the State of Florida – he smiles wide at the prospects.
“It’s going to be a full stadium, filled all the way with Orlando City fans that are trying to put pressure on our rivals from Sacramento [Republic, the second-division team who’ve gone on a miracle run]. “It’s a massive game for us and so important that we give everything we can for those fans who’ve been with us from the start.”
Orlando City Heavy Favorites
Gallese, and Orlando City’s supporters, will be confident in the knowledge that they are the odds-on favorites heading into the Final. Only one non-MLS team – the Rochester Ragin’ Rhinos of 1999 – have managed to win the Open Cup in the last 26 years.
“My message to the fans is simple: Be ready. Have no doubt that this team wants to win a championship and bring a first trophy in the MLS era [Orlando City joined MLS from the USL back in 2015],” said Gallese, a hero of the 2022 Cup campaign – his first time playing in this country’s oldest soccer tournament and national championship.
“All of my teammates – all of the players – are focussed and concentrated on this game,” he added. “We want to give so much joy and a celebration to our fans.”
Up against the first lower-division team to reach the Final since 2008, Orlando City’s fans will want – demand, even – a win in 90 minutes of play. But the Cup, and Finals in general, can play tricks on the nerves. If a shootout is needed, Gallese is clear with a statement to the fans.
“I’ll always be prepared,” he said, with a knowing nod, on the eve of an historic contest.
Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.