ORLANDO, Fla. -- The beautiful game dealt Orlando City an ugly heartbreak on Wednesday.
On the Exploria Stadium scoreboard, the result of the Lions' Concacaf Champions League Round-of-16 second leg against Tigres UANL read as a 1-1 draw at the full-time whistle. But on the pitch, it was the Liga MX side deep in celebration and Orlando eliminated from the tournament on away goals.
A tough, sudden end to a storybook journey.
“We are proud of the effort that we showed in the game," said Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja, whose team qualified for the tournament for the first time after winning the U.S. Open Cup championship last fall.
"Obviously, emotions are there ... they played against a good rival, and we were there. We will go on, but we were upset as well."
Following a scoreless opener eight nights ago in Monterrey, Mexico, the clubs entered the deciding leg with the away-goal rule in effect. Another 0-0 result would have sent the match immediately to a penalty shootout at the conclusion of 90 minutes. But any other tied score would mean Tigres moving on to the quarterfinals.
Sebastián Córdova gave Tigres that all-important advantage early, finding twine behind Orlando City's Pedro Gallese in the 21st minute. But in the second half, the Lions pushed hard for the equalizer, finally connecting when Ercan Kara came off the bench and converted Facu Torres' corner kick with a world-class, bicycle-kick goal in the 90th to pull even.
GOAL: Ercan Kara hits the bicycle kick to put Orlando City on the board
It was as close as Orlando would get.
Some controversial time-wasting by Tigres, a last-ditch volley from rookie Duncan McGuire sailing over the crossbar in stoppage time and a quick final whistle by the referee sealed the result.
"I know the players were upset with what had happened in the last seven minutes," Pareja said. "Obviously, we are not bad losers. We are respectful, but we are not stupid. Congratulations to Tigres, it is a club that I respect a lot, but we played hard."
Tigres will now move on to face Pachuca or Motagua of Liga Betcris de Honduras in the next round. Orlando City will look ahead to Saturday's MLS home match against Charlotte FC as it aims to remain unbeaten on the young season.
Still, Pareja said, there's a lot for these young Lions to be proud of.
“It shows," he said, "that this team does not give up at all."