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Intelligence Report: Scouting Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire

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Just five days after a thrilling stoppage time two-goal rally, the Lions have to lace up their boots and get back after it. They won’t have Kaká (thigh injury) or Darwin Ceren (red card suspension) but they may have Antonio Nocerino rounding into match fitness as well as Cristian Higuita, who has returned from international duty with Colombia.

Orlando City had a mixed bag of results against the Chicago Fire last season, winning two, drawing one and losing in a U.S. Open Cup match. What will Year 2 hold in store? It’s tough to say. Chicago has undergone a whole lot of change since 2015.

Here to help us scout Friday’s opponent is Jeff Engelhardt, editor-in-chief of our Chicago Fire sister blog, Hot Time in Old Town.

What were the Fire’s key off-season acquisitions and departures and how have they affected the team so far?

Jeff Engelhardt: There were so many key departures this offseason it is hard to keep track. Because the team was dead last in 2015, it’s hard to say any departure has negatively affected the team. But when Mike Magee plays a role in all four L.A. goals on opening night, it does rub a little salt in the wound. Along with Magee, the departures of Jeff Larentowicz, Joevin Jones, Patrick Nyarko and Harry Shipp were all significant losses.

On the other hand, some of the key additions seem promising. Arturo Alvarez was arguably the best player on the field against New York City FC Sunday and John Goossens had a tremendous preseason and will look to debut Friday. Brandon Vincent is a promising rookie with national team potential, but still learning the MLS game. Our international center backs in Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira are still learning to play with each other. Kappelhof seems promising but Meira has been shaky in most appearances so far.

Goalkeeper Matt Lampson seemed like a depth signing at first but now appears to be the starter between the posts for the foreseeable future.

What kind of tactics has Veljko Paunović brought to the Fire and what can we expect Friday night in terms of shape?

 

JE: As you can see, all the new faces have done more than affect the team. They are in essence the team itself. With new coach Veljko Paunovic’s system, there is still optimism the new pieces can come together.

Paunovic deploys an aggressive, high pressing system. He likes to play out of the back and draw the opposing defensive line higher up the field. Generally, he starts with a 4-2-3-1 but is not afraid to switch to a version of the 3-5-2 as he did on Sunday. Technically, he called it a 3-4-1-2 but three-center back line is the key either way and allows the attack to flood the midfield when on offense.

Gilberto is questionable for Friday and if he is not good to go, I would not be surprised to see Paunovic start right away with the 3-4-1-2 in order to allow David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike to work together up top, which worked Sunday.

Chicago’s opening loss to NYCFC was a high-scoring affair. Were the defenses that bad or were the offenses that good?

JE: The defenses were awful and there is just no other way around it. Joao Meira dropkicked his own teammate in the head on one goal, Polster slipped on another. Communication between the back line and Lampson was all off. New York was no better as the fullbacks turned the ball over at will, central defenders lost their marks, and breakaways were easy to come by.

It is no excuse, but both sides struggled the most when playing against the wind. It was a very gusty day and for two teams trying to play out of the back, that caused a lot of chaos that ultimately fell on the defense to try and clean up. Not to take away anything from the offenses, which were entertaining, but I doubt either will look that overwhelming all season.

What is your expected starting XI and predicted score for Friday’s match?

 

JE: There is an injury question with Gilberto and potential jet lag issue with Goossens, but this is how I think the XI will look in a 3-4-1-2, assuming Gilberto is out:

Lampson; Meira, Campbell, Kappelhof; Vincent, Cocis, Polster, Alvarez; Goossens; Accam, Igboananike

Unfortunately, I have a hard time seeing Chicago pulling this one out. Orlando should be extra motivated after needing to pull off a great escape during its home opener against Real Salt Lake. This is a mulligan and chance for redemption. The Fire will have a better chance if Kaká remains sidelined, obviously, but either way I see this ending 2-1 for Orlando.

The Fire will want to focus on defense and limit the goals after conceding four. Orlando will want the ball, a lot. Cyle Larin keeps his train rolling while Kevin Molino shows why he is a breakout candidate and scores the other. David Accam proves too fast as always and gets the Fire on board.

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Big thanks to Jeff for giving us some insight on Orlando City’s next opponent. Let’s hope his prediction is right on the nose, for Kevin Molino’s sake.

Lion Links

Lion Links: 4/16/24

Nico Lodeiro earns recognition, Marta up for Goal of the Week, MLS stock watch, and more.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Happy Tuesday, everyone! I hope you had a good weekend and got your taxes filed correctly and on time. It was a good weekend for Orlando soccer, as the Orlando Pride, Orlando City B, and Orlando City went undefeated and picked up seven of the nine points on offer. As always, we have a lot to talk through today. Before we get into today’s links, let’s all wish Luis Muriel a happy birthday!

Nico Lodeiro Makes Team of the Matchday Bench

Midfielder Nico Lodeiro has earned recognition for his part in Orlando City’s 3-2 win over D.C. United, making the bench of the latest edition MLS Team of the Matchday. The Uruguayan entered the fray in the 72nd minute and helped OCSC come back and take all three points. He took the corner kick that David Brekalo equalized from, (even though he was not initially credited with the assist) and provided an outstanding through ball for Duncan McGuire’s game-winner. Sean Rollins graded him a 6.5/10 and named him Man of the Match in his player grades as well. Here’s hoping he keeps up the good work!

Marta’s Goal Nominated

Marta’s game-winning strike during Friday’s contest against Utah Royals FC has been nominated for NWSL Goal of the Week. On the road and in the game as a substitute, it didn’t take long for the Brazilian to make her mark on the match. She was barely on the field for five minutes when she met a ball that was rolling across the box with a first-time strike that she powered in off the back post. It proved to be the game’s only goal and was enough to give the Pride their first win of the season. Make sure you vote for her to win this week’s honor!

MLS Stock Watch

The fortunes of Major League Soccer teams are in constant flux, and it’s always nice to keep track of how your enemies are doing. Former Lion Sacha Kljestan weighed in on which clubs’ stock went up and which went down after the weekend’s games. We start on a good note, as a resilient performance from Orlando City saw the good guys pick up their second win of the season. The LA Galaxy hammered the Vancouver Whitecaps by a score of 3-1, and proved that their place atop the Western Conference standings is no fluke. On the other side of the coin, Toronto FC has given up 10 goals in its last three matches, and Jon Herdman needs to find a way to keep things from getting worse until the Reds’ group of injured players can return to the field.

Americans in Midweek Action

There are two big matches featuring American players this week, so get them marked down on your calendar and don’t miss any of the action. Thursday sees Christian Pulisic, Yunus Musah, and AC Milan travel to the Italian capital to try to overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit to Roma in the Europa League quarterfinals. Musah started Sunday’s match against Sassuolo and Pulisic subbed on in the second half as Milan clawed its way back to a 3-3 draw. Friday then has Juventus and Weston McKennie traveling to Cagliari for a Serie A tilt. Juve is currently third in the league and needs to keep picking up results to secure a UEFA Champions League place for next season.

UEFA Champions League Preview

Speaking of the Champions League, the quarterfinals wrap up today and tomorrow and there are a number of storylines to keep an eye on. Luis Enrique is strong in his belief that Paris Saint-Germain can overcome a 3-2 loss in the first leg to advance past Barcelona. Xavi has promised that Barca will look to attack rather than sitting and protecting its lead. Elsewhere, Bayern Munich will be without the suspended Alphonso Davies and likely Kingsley Coman due to injury, and their replacements will be hard pressed to contain Ben White and Bukayo Saka. Finally, Edin Terzic’s substitutions gave Borussia Dortmund a spark in the team’s 2-1 loss to Atletico Madrid in the first leg, which means the coach may have a selection headache on his hands as he tries to lead his side to a comeback.

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That’ll do it for me this morning. Vamos Orlando!

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. D.C. United: Player Grades and Man of the Match

How did your favorite Lions perform in Orlando City’s 3-2 win over D.C. United?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City came back from two deficits against D.C. United to claim a huge 3-2 win this weekend — the team’s second victory of the season. It looked like it would be a long night for the Lions in the first 20 minutes, but they turned it around. Down a goal late, David Brekalo and Duncan McGuire converted to earn Orlando City three points.

Here’s how I saw the individual performances by the Lions.

Starters

GK, Pedro Gallese, 6 — Gallese took his usual position in goal and had a strong night. He allowed himself to get pushed out of the play on the opening goal by Christian Benteke, though it arguably should’ve been a foul on D.C. He ended the game with four saves from six on-target shots, including two huge saves in second-half stoppage time. In addition to his shot stopping, Gallese completed 51.9% of his 27 passes, including seven of his 20 long balls. He was also credited with three clearances on the night.

D, Kyle Smith, 5.5 — Smith got the start at left back in this game over Rafael Santos, recording 53 touches. He had three tackles, three clearances, and a blocked shot. Going forward, he only completed 76.5% of his 34 passes, but connected with his lone cross and five of his nine long balls. He also won two aerial balls and was booked just before coming off for handling a ball that he should’ve cleared, giving D.C. a free kick in a dangerous position. The defender was replaced by Santos in the 73rd minute.

D, Robin Jansson, 6 — Jansson was a strong point for Orlando City once again in this game. He recorded one tackle, two interceptions, a blocked shot, and three clearances. Going forward, the center back completed 80.4% of his 46 passes, including four of his seven long balls. Arguably his biggest play of the game was drawing a foul late at the top of the box when D.C. was pushing for an equalizer.

D, David Brekalo, 6 — Brekalo had 60 touches and completed 76.6% of his 47 passes, including three of his 13 long balls. Defensively, he recorded one tackle, one interception, and two clearances. He made his first significant offensive impact as a Lion by getting his head to a Nico Lodeiro corner kick in the 82nd minute to even the game at 2-2.

D, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, 6 — Thorhallsson only had 58 touches in the game, but the right back made the most of them. He completed 76.7% of his 30 passes and three of his six long balls, but failed to connect on his lone cross. Defensively, he recorded two tackles and three clearances. However, his biggest impact came in the 28th minute, when he got his head onto Ivan Angulo’s cross to even the game at 1-1.

MF, Cesar Araujo, 5 — Araujo’s 70 touches were the most on the team for this game. He only completed 78.2% of his 55 passes, but connected on two of his four long balls. Defensively, he won two tackles and blocked one shot while committing a team-high four fouls. He was also late getting over to cover Gabriel Pirani on the second goal for D.C. Overall, it wasn’t one of Araujo’s best games.

MF, Wilder Cartagena, 5.5 — Cartagena started in the defensive midfield alongside Araujo. He recorded 41 touches and completed 81.3% of his 32 passes, including a key pass, his one cross, and one of his three long balls. Defensively, he recorded two clearances. As is common with the midfielder, he was booked in the first half for standing over Jared Stroud after a foul by Angulo. He was taken off during a triple substitution in the 72nd minute, replaced by Lodeiro.

MF, Ivan Angulo, 6 — Angulo was the least involved of the midfielders, only recording 35 touches. However, he completed 76.2% of his 21 passes, including a wonderful cross to Thorhallsson on the Lions’ first goal of the night. His lone shot was off target, but he helped defensively with a tackle and team-high three interceptions.

MF, Facundo Torres, 5.5 — Torres recorded 50 touches in this game and completed 90.9% of his 33 passes with no key passes. He was accurate on only one of his three crosses, which was an issue. His lone shot was off target but not by much, as he sent his effort just wide of the right post from outside the area. He came off in stoppage time after the Lions took the lead for center back Rodrigo Schlegel.

MF, Martin Ojeda, 5.5 — Ojeda started in the attacking midfield for this game, recording 46 touches. He completed 71.4% of his 21 passes, including two key passes, one accurate cross on his four attempts, and two of his four long balls. He also had four unstable touches and an off-target shot. Defensively, the attacking midfielder had a team-high four tackles, helping his team retain possession before being replaced by Duncan McGuire in the 72nd minute.

F, Luis Muriel, 5 — Muriel got the start alone up top, but had a difficult night. He got involved in the game with 36 touches and completed 64.7% of his 17 passes, including two key passes. He took two shots, with one on target, and completed two dribbles, but had five unstable touches. He could’ve had a much better performance, but attempted to dribble through the opposition in the box rather than finding a teammate, losing possession. The forward’s night ended in the 87th minute when he was replaced by Felipe.

Substitutes

D, Rafael Santos (73’), 5.5 — Santos came on in the 73rd minute for Smith at left back. He had 14 touches and completed seven of his 10 touches (70%), but failed to connect on his one long ball and three crosses. He also didn’t record any defensive stats in his 17 minutes of action.

MF, Nico Lodeiro (72’), 6.5 (MotM) — Lodeiro came on in the 72nd minute for Cartagena, looking to make a difference. The midfielder touched the ball 18 times and completed 75% of his 12 passes, including two key passes, two of his three crosses, and one of his three long balls. Both of his shots were on target and his through ball for McGuire in second-half stoppage time gave him the assist on the game-winning goal. Although the stats sheet credited Torres with the assist on Brekalo’s goal, it was the veteran who took the set piece, which should result in a two-assist night once the league has had a chance to review the tape (see below…even Evan Weston calls him ‘Torres’ on his call). Lodeiro was a game-changer when he came on so, despite his lack of minutes, he earns my Man of the Match.

F, Duncan McGuire (72’), 6 — McGuire came on with Lodeiro as the Lions were chasing the game. He had 14 touches and completed 44.4% of his nine passes. However, the striker was brought on to score and did so in stoppage time, timing his run perfectly and finishing well on the breakaway. He also recorded a tackle and clearance but gets a high grade from me for doing exactly what he was brought on to do in scoring the winning goal.

MF, Felipe (87’), N/A — Felipe came on for Muriel as the Lions looked to see out a point, but he only touched the ball three times. He completed both of his passes, but didn’t record any other stats in his minimal time on the field.

D, Rodrigo Schlegel (90+2’), N/A — Schlegel came on right after the game-winning goal for Torres as the Lions looked to see out the win. He had two touches and an incomplete pass, but no other statistics.


That’s how I saw the individual performances in Orlando City’s win over D.C. United. Let us know how you saw the game and vote for your Man of the Match below.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 4/15/24

Lions beat D.C. United, Pride pick up road win over Utah Royals, Barbra Banda arrives in Orlando, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

Hello, Mane Landers. I hope all is well with you down in Florida. Orlando City and the Pride both won over the weekend, and there has been plenty of action in European soccer. Over the past week, I’ve been busy covering high school sports like lacrosse and softball. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.

Lions Top D.C. United

Orlando City overturned a late 2-1 deficit to win 3-2 against D.C. United at Audi Field over the weekend. David Brekalo scored the equalizer in the second half to tie the match at 2-2. Duncan McGuire came off the bench in the second half and scored in stoppage time, as the Lions beat D.C. United for the first time since Oct. 2, 2021. The Lions were 0-3-1 against D.C. United over the last two seasons prior to Saturday’s win. Orlando has now picked up points in each of the last three matches. Orlando City will be on the road again this weekend when it takes on CF Montreal on Saturday.

Orlando Pride Defeat Utah Royals; Help Arrives

The Orlando Pride got their first win of the 2024 NWSL last Friday with a 1-0 against the Utah Royals. Marta came off the bench in the second half and scored the lone goal to seal the win for Orlando. The Pride drew each of their first three matches to start the season against Racing Louisville, Angel City FC, and the Chicago Red Stars. Friday’s result means the Pride have six points through four league matches and are fifth in the NWSL table.

Despite needing four matches to pick up their first win of the year, the Pride are ahead of last year’s pace at the same point in the season, and remain undefeated (1-0-3) despite still waiting to play with this off-season’s marquee signing, Zambian international striker Barbra Banda. The new Pride forward arrived on Sunday to a warm welcome at Orlando International Airport.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Seb Hines can get Banda acclimated to the club and the league. Orlando could use Banda’s offensive firepower, as the club has struggled to score goals in the early part of the season. The Pride will be back in action against the San Diego Wave this Friday.

Bayer Leverkusen wins Bundesliga; Manchester City Leads EPL Title Race

Bayer Leverkusen cruised to a 5-0 win against Werder Bremen on Sunday to win its first ever Bundesliga title with five league matches left to spare. Xabi Alonso’s side won the league title by a 16-point margin, ending Bayern Munich’s 11-year run as title holders. Leverkusen is also unbeaten through 43 matches across all competitions. Meanwhile, in England, we have a new Premier League title race leader as Manchester City crushed Luton Town 5-1 on Saturday. On Sunday, Arsenal lost 2-0 to Aston Villa and Liverpool lost 1-0 to Crystal Palace. There are six match days remaining and this race could go down to the wire. Manchester City is at the top of the table with 73 points, while Arsenal and Liverpool remain two points behind in second and third, respectively, with 71 points.

Free Kicks

  • Houston Dash winger Maria Sanchez has reportedly requested a trade four months after signing a record-breaking deal in NWSL history in the off-season to remain with the club.
  • Manchester United edged Chelsea 2-1 to beat the Blues for the first time ever. Making the win even bigger was that it took place in the Women’s FA Cup semifinal. United will play Tottenham in the final at Wembley on May 12.
  • The EFL Championship is three weeks away from its finale, with a few clubs featureing Americans still in the mix for promotion. Josh Sargent’s Norwich City side holds the final playoff spot, while Haji Wright’s Conventry and Duane Holmes’ Preston North End in the hunt for a shot at promotion.
  • The AS Roma versus Udinese match was suspended after defender Evan Ndicka collapsed away from play and had to be stretchered off. The game was tied at 1-1 with about 20 minutes remaining when Ndicka went down. The club shared this update on social media.

That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Monday, and I’ll see you next time.

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