Hellooooooooo there, Lion Nation. I just got home from work, the Twizzlers are on my desk, Green Day's "Welcome to Paradise" was the first song to start playing on my iTunes account, and indeed, welcome to paradise. As the byline says above me, I'm Gavin Ewbank, pinch-hitting once again for Lion Links this morning.
Like a hot summer day at the beach in Florida, let's dive right into things on this fine Friday.
Orlando City Must Win On Saturday, Says Kaká
Riding into the weekend on a six-game winless streak, Orlando City’s match against the Montreal Impact is one of the biggest challenges the club has faced yet this season, according to the Lions’ captain.
"This is a tough period for us. We know it is a hard moment," Kaká insisted. "But this moment will determine the rest of the season. If we can come out of this situation stronger, probably we will make the playoffs.
"When we are confident on the field, everything just comes easy, so this is something we have to rebuild. It is not easy but I believe in these guys."
And he's not wrong. While the Lions have struggled to play well this season despite being one of the last two remaining undefeated teams in the league earlier in the year, a win against the second-place team in the Eastern Conference could be a big confidence boost heading into two very tough match-ups against Philadelphia and New York City.
We've Done It, You Guys!
Major League Soccer on Wednesday was named the Sports League of the Year at the 2016 Sports Business Awards, beating out five other prominent North American sports leagues — the American Athletic Conference, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, the National Basketball Association and the PGA Tour. I still can't even believe the NFL wasn't nominated, though. I mean, c'mon, DeflateGate!?! They handled that like pros.
Apparently, Orlando City was also up for an award on the night, but lost out to the Players' Tribune, a sports publication founded by former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, for Sports Breakthrough of the Year.
In addition to the league, the MLS Cup-winning Portland Timbers were nominated for Team of the Year, but lost out to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. The San Jose Earthquakes‘ Avaya Stadium was up for Sports Facility of the Year, which went to the Daytona International Speedway. And Orlando City were nominated for Sports Breakthrough of the Year, awarded to The Players’ Tribune.
Congrats to everybody involved. After all, #WeAreOne.
More Like Nope A Cero, Amirite?
Responding to reports last week that U.S. Soccer and the Mexican Soccer Federation were discussing plans about a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup, USSF President Sunil Gulati completely ruled out the idea, saying:
"We haven't made a decision about the  World Cup. Until we know what the rules are of the bid process — which won't be until October at the earliest — we're not going to be making a decision," he said. "And we certainly haven't had any formal discussions with the Mexican federation at this point."
Anyway, I'll begin the process of deleting my account after that failed sub-header.
Craziness In the U.S. Open Cup
Following their big upset win over the Charleston Battery in the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, The Villages SC have been disqualified from the tournament for fielding an ineligible player. One of The Villages' players, Paulo Vaz, appeared for Boca Raton FC in a qualifying match last November, and even played in the club's previous Open Cup match against the Central Florida Kraze, who must have failed to notice and didn't protest the result.
Charleston, however, did and now they're back in the Cup and will face the Jacksonville Armada on June 1 with a fourth-round match-up against Orlando City on the line.
USL Keeps Rising
It was announced on Thursday that an investment group in Nashville has been awarded a USL franchise to begin play in the USSF's third division in 2018, becoming the 32nd team to join the league. As of now, the club currently has yet to choose a name or potential stadium site. There's still plenty of time to work that out, after all.
Around the Land
The MLS Players' Union released the list of salaries for the 2016 season on Thursday, including Orlando City's…Scott Crumbly broke down Orlando City's defensive numbers.. I gave my 10 thoughts on the Lions through their first 10 games…My boss, Michael Citro, went on the Black and Blue Soccer Podcast to chat about Saturday's match between Orlando City and the Montreal Impact.
The Football League wants to create a new division with 20 teams in each league to begin in 2019-2020…Mike Francesa doesn't know anything about the MLS clubs in New York…Native Americans are apparently not bothered by the Washington Redskins' name, despite what you might think…the NFL Pro Bowl is reportedly coming to Orlando next season.
* * *
That’s all I have for you guys today. Have a great Friday, folks.
Play me out, Justin!
Lion Links: 2/20/24
The Wall sells out, Robin Jansson earns recognition, Concacaf W Gold cup preview, and more.
Happy Tuesday, everyone! We’re now just one day away from the first competitive Orlando City game of the year, and it can’t get here fast enough. As usual, we have plenty to cover this morning, so let’s jump straight into it.
The Wall Sells Out for Orlando City’s Season Opener
The Wall, the supporters section of Orlando City’s stadium, has sold out of single-match tickets ahead of Saturday’s home opener against CF Montreal. Limited tickets for the match are still available for the rest of the stadium, and hopefully it will fully sell out for the first match of the season. This Saturday will be the 10th consecutive time in which the Lions start their MLS season at home. It should be a great match and a chance for Orlando to get its season off to a good start between Concacaf Champions Cup matches against Cavalry FC.
Robin Jansson Praised as a Top Defender in MLS
Orlando City center back Robin Jansson was recognized as one of the best center backs in MLS by MLSsoccer.com‘s Joseph Lowery. The 32-year-old has been an integral part of Orlando’s defense since joining the league in 2019 and should continue anchoring the team’s back line this season. Not only is he excellent in terms of defense, but the Beefy Swede can also make an impact on offense with his passing and surprising runs up the field. Jansson is one of the most consistent defenders in the league and agreed to a new contract with the club earlier this month.
MLS Transfer News Roundup
The 2024 Major League Soccer season might kick off tomorrow, but transfers are still flying thick and fast, which means we have things to catch up on. We start with one of the teams opening the season tomorrow, Inter Miami, which has officially transferred midfielder Gregore to Botafogo in the Brazilian top flight. We move on to NYCFC, which has completed the signing of striker Jovan Mijatović from Red Star Belgrade. The 18-year-old Serbian youth international has inked a deal that runs through the 2028 season, with an option year for 2029. We finish up with the Houston Dynamo, which have signed Coco Carasquilla to a contract extension. The Panamanian midfielder’s deal now runs through the 2025 season and has option years for 2026 and 2027.
Concacaf W Gold Cup Preview
The inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup kicks off later today, so make sure you get up to speed on everything you need to know about the competition. The United States Women’s National Team has been grouped with Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, and will be looking for a strong showing following a disappointing campaign at last summer’s World Cup. The tournament will feature a total of 12 teams, with eight Concacaf representatives and four from CONMEBOL. The top two finishers in each of the three groups advance to the knockout round, along with the top two third-place finishers. The USWNT begin play tonight against the Dominican Republican at 10:15 p.m. from Dignity Health Sports Park.
Americans in Midweek Action
With a number of American players taking part in games during the working week, get everything marked down on your calendar so you don’t miss anything. Things get started this afternoon with a huge game, as Malik Tillman, Ricardo Pepi, Sergino Dest, and PSV Eindhoven take on Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League. European competition continues on Thursday as well, with Christian Pulisc, Yunus Musah, and AC Milan facing Rennes in the Europa League play. Things finish out on Friday as the red-hot Brandon Vazquez and Monterrey face Juarez in Liga MX competition.
Minnesota United Close to Coaching Hire
A coaching search that will surely go down as one of the most thorough in MLS history is nearing its conclusion, as Minnesota United is reportedly close to naming Manchester United assistant Eric Ramsay as the team’s new skipper. While nothing is official yet, Ramsay is said to be the leading candidate, and The Athletic‘s Tom Bogert says that the team is closing in on the hire. If he joins, Ramsay will become the youngest coach in league history at the tender age of 32, and he will also become Minnesota’s second coach following Adrian Heath’s departure in October of last year.
- Orlando City forward Luis Muriel thanked Atalanta fans who made a banner to bid him farewell this past weekend.
- The folks over at MLSsoccer.com have predicted Orlando City will finish third in the Eastern Conference this year.
- The U.S. Open Cup has reportedly gotten the green light to take place this year, although it will have a format different than in past years.
- Thorgan Hazard dedicated a goal celebration to his family’s parakeet that passed away.
- Crystal Palace has hired Oliver Glasner as the team’s new coach after Roy Hodgson stepped down from the role.
- Napoli announced the firing of Walter Mazzari just two days before the team’s Champions League tie against Barcelona, making him the second coaching casualty of the Italian Champions’ campaign.
- Continuing the coaching carousel trend, Marseille has fired Gennaro Gattuso after just five months into the job.
That’s all I have for this morning. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 2/19/24
Orlando City wins preseason finale, post-match concert artists named, U.S. Open Cup in jeopardy, and more.
Merry Monday morning, Mane Landers. We’re about to get to see Orlando City play matches in both the MLS regular season and the Concacaf Champions Cup. Cavalry FC is up first on Wednesday and CF Montreal on Saturday. That’s a whole lot of Canada to start things off, eh? Before we get to the links, please join us in wishing a happy birthday to Orlando Pride star Marta, who turns 38 today.
Orlando City Defeats the Rapids in Preseason Finale
The Lions won their final preseason match against the Colorado Rapids 3-2 at Inter&Co Stadium on Saturday. Kyle Smith got the scoring going mere seconds into the match and Facundo Torres doubled the lead on a penalty kick before the end of the first half. The Rapids tied it up in the second half, but Orlando City rookie Jeorgio Kocevski scored a late winner in stoppage time to keep the Lions unbeaten in the preseason. Orlando ended the preseason schedule with a record of 4-0-1.
Orlando Postgame Concert Announced
As I get older, I see each decade get its time in the nostalgic spotlight. Evidently, it is the 1990s’ turn. Orlando City announced a concert that will follow the Austin FC match at Inter&Co Stadium on March 23. You didn’t ask for it — and neither did anyone else — but Vanilla Ice, Rob Base, and Montell Jordan are headlining an “I Love the 90s” post-match concert. I’m not entirely certain if everyone will be required to stop, collaborate, and listen, but it’s certainly a possibility.
PRO Referee Strike Looms
Normally, if I told you that Orlando City didn’t have to worry about the Professional Referees Organization (PRO), I’m willing to bet you’d be pretty happy. Now it’s a real possibility that the Lions’ first match will likely have stand-in referees. The Professional Soccer Referees Association rejected a new collective bargaining agreement with PRO, meaning that there will be a lockout. PRO has identified “qualified replacements” ready to make sure that matches will be able to be played.
Open Cup in Jeopardy
The start of the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is only a month away, although that isn’t a certainty. U.S. Soccer and MLS are still not seeing eye to eye regarding how many of the senior squads will participate. On the other side of the equation, the USL is pushing back against the demands from MLS.
Ultimately, this is a power struggle between the upper levels of organized soccer in this country. If a compromise solution can’t be found, it could mean that the Open Cup won’t take place this year. If that happens, it won’t help any of the involved parties and it will be devastating to the supporters of all the clubs at every level.
- Thanks to Zakaria Taifi’s mother, Alyssa Taifi, we know that Orlando City B defeated Philadelphia Union II by a score of 4-0 in a preseason scrimmage, and that there was some chippiness in the match.
- Inter Miami is under pressure to get roster compliant. As such, Federico Redondo will not be joining the Herons due to Miami’s inability to bring him in because of MLS regulations regarding payment methodology.
- Inter Miami midfielder Victor Ulloa announced he is retiring, which will also help Miami’s roster cap problems.
- Someone needs to tell Lionel Messi that there are financial roster rules in MLS. I know he probably doesn’t know, given how many rules were bent to bring him to MLS. Now he wants Neymar too. It’s getting ridiculous.
- Bundesliga fans don’t want a proposed private equity investment in the league and they let everyone know it at Bayern Munich’s 3-2 loss to Bochum. The protest delayed the match by 13 minutes and involved tennis balls.
- Luton Town defender Tom Lockyer has not ruled out a return to Luton Town after he suffered a cardiac event in a match against Bournemouth last December.
That will do it for today. Check back for our coverage of Orlando City’s two matches this week. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 2/16/24
Luis Muriel becomes a Lion, Orlando City’s new kit revealed, Ally Lemos called up, and more.
How’s it going, Mane Landers? I hope this work week has treated you well as we get ready for the weekend. I don’t have many plans, but am looking forward to relaxing a bit. It’s insane that this is our last weekend without competitive Orlando soccer matches for quite some time. Let’s dive into this Friday’s links!
Orlando City Officially Signs Luis Muriel
In a move that’s been reported on throughout this month, Colombian striker Luis Muriel officially signed with Orlando City from Atalanta in Italy. The 32-year-old joins Orlando as a Designated Player and signed a three-year contract through 2026. He has plenty of experience against some of the best Europe has to offer, scoring over 100 Serie A goals and playing in both the Champions League and Europa League. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to impress with Orlando, as he fills the void left by Ercan Kara’s departure last year. Duncan McGuire sticking around should help take some of the pressure off of Muriel early on as well. I’m pretty excited about this signing and think he could thrive alongside so many other talented attackers in Orlando.
Lions Unveil Legacy Kit for 2024 Season
Orlando City’s new away kit is here and it is spectacular. Known as the Legacy Kit, it pays homage to Orlando’s time in the USL before joining MLS. It’s a subtle lavender rather than white, and features red, purple, and gold accents as well. The shorts and socks also sport the same red stripes as the ones on the jersey’s shoulders, making for a pretty consistent look. The crest is a showstopper to say the least, as it’s based on the team’s three-lion crest from back in the day, but taken up a notch. The Legacy Kit also includes a single button and “Honor Thy History” written on the inside of the neckline. I really wasn’t expecting to feel so nostalgic at the sight of it, but it does make me remember all of my friends and I cramming into whoever’s car was biggest and painting ourselves purple and red on the drive to the game. I’m really happy with the design and hope there’s plenty more merchandise with that crest coming.
Ally Lemos Called Up for U.S. U-20 Training Camp
The United States U-20 Women’s National Team is holding a training camp in Colombia and Orlando Pride rookie midfielder Ally Lemos was one of 20 players called up by Head Coach Tracey Kevins. Lemos was selected by the Pride with the ninth overall pick in the 2024 NWSL Draft, and then signed with the club last month. The training camp will include a pair of friendlies against Colombia, which will host the U-20 Women’s World Cup later this year. Lemos played for the team during Concacaf qualifying for that World Cup, along with other fellow call-ups like Ally Sentnor, Gisele Thompson, and Savy King.
In related news, the Pride opened their preseason schedule Thursday against the North Carolina Courage, but no one seems interested in releasing any results from the scrimmage. Hopefully, everyone had fun and got plenty of exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.
USMNT Drops One Spot in Latest FIFA Rankings
In the latest men’s FIFA rankings, the U.S. fell one spot to 13th, with Morocco moving up to 12th. It’s not too indicative of the quality of the U.S., as the latest rankings strongly reflect the performances by many nations who took part in the AFC Asian Cup and Africa Cup of Nations. Qatar, which won the Asian Cup, skyrocketed up 21 spots to 37th, the highest it’s ever reached. Meanwhile, the Ivory Coast also moved up 10 spots to 39th after winning the Africa Cup of Nations. Jordan, South Africa, and Nigeria received similar post-tournament boosts, while Tunisia, Vietnam, and Algeria fell. The Nations League, Gold Cup, and Copa America present plenty of opportunity for the U.S. to reclaim its spot, and possibly climb higher.
Europa League Knockout Stage Kicks Off
My favorite part of the Europa League is here, as the runners-up from the group stage clash with the teams kicked out of the Champions League. Playing at home, AC Milan cruised to a 3-0 win over Rennes, thanks to a brace from Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Americans Yunus Musah and Christian Pulisic both started and helped put Milan in the driver’s seat heading into next week’s second leg. Romelu Lukaku scored his sixth goal of the tournament to secure a 1-1 draw for Roma on the road against Feyenoord. Galatasaray won 3-2 over Sparta Prague in a wild match that included red cards for both sides. The biggest surprise of the day was in Portugal, as Azerbaijani club Qarabag FK beat Braga, 4-1. Qarabag will have a chance to complete the upset at home when the action continues next Thursday.
- The MLS Season Pass broadcast teams for the upcoming season were revealed. Congratulations to former Lion Miguel Gallardo, who will be part of the Spanish broadcast of MLS 360. Former Lion Sacha Kljestan will return as part of the English broadcast of MLS 360 as well.
- Nashville SC signed free agent forward Woobens Pacius to a two-year contract. The 22-year-old heads to MLS after three seasons with Forge FC in Canada, scoring 32 goals in 93 appearances while there.
- The Philadelphia Union loaned 19-year-old defender Brandon Craig to El Paso Locomotive FC in the USL Championship.
- Midfielder Gregore is reportedly headed to Botafogo in Brazil, as Inter Miami works on getting its roster compliant before next week’s deadline.
- The U.S. lost 3-1 to Italy in its first match of the 2024 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. The Americans will aim to bounce back when they take on the United Arab Emirates tomorrow.
- Roy Hodgson is in stable condition after going to the hospital due to illness during Crystal Palace’s training.
That’s all I have for you today. Let me know what you think about Orlando’s new kit and how it compares to Orlando’s others over the years.
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