After an unfortunate stoppage-time penalty for CF Montreal, the 2022 Orlando City season died in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium. A year filled with disappointment and inconsistency ended the way it had gone, with disappointing offense and a lackluster finish.
However, to erase the '22 season as a failure for Orlando City would be disingenuous.
Year three of Oscar Pareja, year four of Luiz Muzzi and Ricardo Moreira, and year one of the Wilf family's ownership was a rousing success for Orlando City and a launching point for the club.
Orlando City won a major trophy for the first time in club history. Because it was the US Open Cup and the final was against a USL club, that accomplishment is somewhat overlooked, but this is such an enormous accomplishment for this organization.
This is a club that was in the deepest doldrums of Major League Soccer for five years and finally was able to crest the final hill and win a major trophy. MLS Cup and the Supporters' Shield are the biggest goals, but winning the cup is an incredible achievement for this club and this team.
It'd be dishonest to say the league performance was up to expectation. Early in the season and before the year, it looked like this team could potentially challenge for the Shield or at least have an opportunity to host a playoff game in Exploria Stadium.
A season-long battle with inconsistent form decided that wasn't to be. The season-ending injury to Alexandre Pato certainly hurt the Lions' chances to compete at the highest level, as did the loss of Robin Jansson down the stretch.
Even with those unfortunate injuries, it's fair to expect at least a little more from this group of players given the talent we've seen from them. However, even if it should've been better, Orlando City is not a club that can afford to be disappointed with just making the playoffs.
This is just the third playoff appearance in MLS for Orlando, and the third consecutive season making the field. Being able to build a streak like that is a massive accomplishment for Pareja and the players. A season like this, underwhelming but still in the playoffs, helps establish a consistent culture and foundation of winning and success.
2022 was the greatest season in Orlando City history. It definitely didn't feel like it at times, but the combination of an honest-to-god major trophy and a third-consecutive playoff appearance easily vaults this campaign to the summit.
With ambitious new owners and a proven track record of success, this should just be the beginning of what Orlando City can do in the 2020s.