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Orlando City vs. Sporting Kansas City: Player Grades and Man of the Match

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Orlando City threw a homecoming party, and it was fun, but it wasn’t quite as fun as it could have been (or maybe should have been). The Lions drew Western Conference foe Sporting Kansas City, 2-2, at Orlando City Stadium on a night that could have seen the hosts take more, or fewer, points.

In the end, maybe a draw was fair.

Jason Kreis’ team certainly wanted to wash away the memories of a two-game road swing without taking a point. But instead of taking all three — which has been the norm at the club’s new stadium — the Lions got only one before they head to San Jose for a midweek meeting with the Earthquakes.

Here are my individual ratings for Orlando City’s participants in the match.

Starters

GK, Joe Bendik, 7 — There wasn’t much Joe could do about either of the goals, which simply pinged to the wrong person at the wrong moment. He finished the match with six saves. He found himself in a tangle of bodies on both and couldn’t do much other than get a touch. In the 32nd, he made a diving punch on an effort from Fernandes. made another big save in the 51st and punched a Feilhaber effort over the crossbar three minutes later. In the 90th, he stopped another Gerso effort.  

D, Donny Toia, 5.5 — Although he mostly played well, Toia can be partly culpable on both goals, as they originated on his side of the field. But his man appeared to come back from an offside position on the first and he was a bit unlucky to stumble on the second while tracking Gerso Fernandes. He finished with three tackles, two interceptions and three clearances, and passed at a 73.3% rate, but he didn’t have a single cross in a more defensive posture than we’ve seen in recent games.  

D, Jonathan Spector, 7 — His highlights started early when he made a saving tackle to break up an attack in the third minute. He conceded a free kick in a dangerous area in the eighth minute that led to the first SKC goal but it wasn’t a great call as he went shoulder to shoulder and we saw the first of many instances of a Sporting player going down easily. Prevented Feilhaber from getting onto a Fernandes cross on the goal but the ricochet fell perfectly for Latif Blessing. He recovered defensively after a Cristian Higuita turnover in the 36th to put out the fire. Spector led the team with six clearances, and tallied one tackle, a blocked shot, and two interceptions. His passing was good (86.7%) and seven of his 10 long balls were accurate.

D, Jose Aja, 6.5 — It was an eventful night for Aja, who was booked just 11 minutes in although it merely looked like he got tangled up with his man. If Ricardo Salazar was sending a message that he would put up with no nonsense on this night, well…he put up with a lot of nonsense after showing Jose yellow. He struggled to get back to help deny the first goal (more on this below). He lost his man on the second goal but thought he’d made up for it by scoring on a beautiful header two minutes later, but the play was whistled dead and a goal kick awarded. He passed well (95% with 5/6 accurate long balls), and finished with two interceptions, a clearance, and a blocked shot and was pretty good in the air.  

D, Scott Sutter, 6.5 — He couldn’t have made a more accurate cross than the one he served in to Kaká in the 26th minute. He had zero other options in the box but picked out the captain, who had three men on him, from way out on the right wing. It was a deserved assist. He got caught watching a bit on the first goal but got fooled by the deflection momentarily. He rightly tried to point out that just before the goal, this happened without a call:

Sutter had one interception and three clearances defensively, and passed at an 85.7% clip. Unlike his assist to Kaká, the accuracy on his long balls was off, only hitting one of five.

MF, Antonio Nocerino, 6.5 — It was a fairly quiet night for the Italian, which is what you want from your defensive midfielder. His passing rate was good (90.3%), He was dispossessed in his own end once but overall played a much safer game than he did last Saturday. He stepped in front of a shot in the 64th minute to block it and he finished with three tackles and a clearance. He even made a nice run into the box early but Cristian Higuita didn’t see him. 

MF, Will Johnson, 7 — Will’s service was good but came with an asterisk on this night. His 29th-minute corner found Spector at the back post but the whistle blew for an infraction. His late cross was perfectly placed for Aja but curled out before cutting back in for Jose…apparently. His shot in the 60th minute didn’t miss by much and would have been a great goal. His 93.2% passing rate was top notch for his team-high 44 passes, and he completed two key passes on the night, with 6/7 accurate long balls. He made one tackle, two interceptions and three clearances on defense, was not dispossessed and had no bad touches. A solid night for Will.

MF, Cristian Higuita, 5.5 — The Colombian did a good job of recovering the ball, but he also had moments of sloppiness that were costly. He coughed up the ball in his own half in the 36th minute but Spector bailed him out. Four minutes later he was booked for a chop to the ankles. He made a fantastic — and utterly unexpected — run in the 48th minute and forced Graham Zusi to pull him back and take a yellow card, or he’d have been in on goal. He teamed up with Sutter to foil Jimmy Medranda’s attack in the 63rd. Higuita was dispossessed three times and had two bad touches, and recorded an uncharacteristically low one tackle. He added two clearances and completed 83.3% of his passes.

MF, Kaká, 7.5 (MotM) — The secondary goal scorer everyone was looking for during the first month of the season has arrived. The Brazilian calmly chested down Sutter’s cross in traffic in the 26th minute, took a dribble toward center, and stroked home a beautiful back-post goal to put the Lions ahead. His free kick in the 50th from just above the box didn’t sail high by much and his nifty moves earned a corner a minute later. His silky move in the 79th minute forced Ilie Sanchez to grab him and take a yellow card. He hustled back after taking a free kick in the 89th minute to break up a counter attack with a nice defensive play in space. His 81.3% passing rate was OK but not stellar, but he was two for two with long ball accuracy. He contributed a tackle and an interception, with one key pass.  

F, Carlos Rivas, 7 — Carlitos made an early impact with a tremendous defensive play off a short SKC corner to force a goal kick. Nearly got onto a long ball in the fifth minute but Tim Melia just got there first. His scrumptious cross in the 16th minute gave Cyle Larin little to do but stick out a toe to score. In the 28th minute, Rivas stole the ball right off the foot of Ike Opara, one of the best center backs in MLS, but his cross for Larin was deflected away. As usual, the stat sheet doesn’t show how much he influenced the game. He took a lot of attention of Opara on the night and was always a threat on the counter. He was dispossessed three times and had three bad touches, and completed only half his six (!) passes. He sent his lone shot high over the bar. His main contribution was the space he created for Larin and Kaká and the attack seemed to go nowhere after he was lifted for Giles Barnes, which kind of gives him a case for Man of the Match. Two of his three crosses were accurate.

F, Cyle Larin, 6.5 — The Canadian returned to the score sheet in the 16th minute, doing what he couldn’t do in Toronto by finishing a nifty cross from Rivas. Stole the ball with some good defensive work in the 21st minute and got into the box before being dispossessed by Roger Espinoza, who may have gone through his back before getting a foot to the ball. He nearly got a second goal in the 71st but couldn’t get his shot over Melia, and the two collided, which ended up requiring treatment for Larin. Both his shots were on target, he contributed a clearance, and completed 75% of his passes. He showed a good work rate but couldn’t consistently worry SKC’s back line. 

Substitutions

F, Giles Barnes (64’), 4.5 — After relieving a beat-up Rivas, Barnes came on but didn’t have much chance to get involved in the match. His 83.3% passing rate seems pretty good but he only attempted six passes. He didn’t attempt any shots or create any chances, and recorded no defensive statistics at all. Quiet night for the Jamaican, who just couldn’t leave his mark on the game. 

F, Luis Gil (65’), 6 — It was a steady performance in relief for Gil, who came on for Higuita, who was on a yellow. His passing rate wasn’t stellar (55.6%) but it was a small sample size. He finished with a tackle and a couple of crosses on the night. He sent a ball that put Larin in on goal for a scoring chance in the 71st and he fired on target off a corner in the 95th. 

That’s how I saw it. What did you think? Vote for your Orlando City MotM below and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Polling Closed

PlayerVotes
Jonathan Spector23
Joe Bendik10
Will Johnson0
Kaká84
Cyle Larin2
Carlos Rivas21
Other (tell us who in the comments)1

Orlando City

Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew

Find out what you should expect from the Columbus Crew on Saturday, courtesy of someone who knows them best.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

After returning from a successful trip to the West Coast, Orlando City will be staying in town for Memorial Day weekend. Next up on the schedule for the Lions is a visit from the reigning MLS Cup Champions, the Columbus Crew.

A date with Columbus means I spoke with Collin Johnson of the always excellent Massive Report, and he was kind enough to help bring us up to speed on what to expect from the Crew this year. I also answered some of Massive Report’s questions about Orlando City, which you can find over at their place.

Talk me through the Crew’s off-season transfer business. Who were some of the big departures, and who has been brought in to replace them?

Collin Johnson: It was a pretty quiet off-season from the Crew. They focused on extending current contracts (and getting rid of bad contracts) rather than bringing in a big name acquisition. The bigger news were the contracts they were able to get rid of. Kevin Molino’s $700k+ salary was bought out before the season started, while Julian Gressel ($900k+) opted to take a deal with Inter Miami after losing his place in the starting lineup during the 2023 MLS Cup playoffs.

Rudy Camacho, Steven Moreira, Darlington Nagbe, Mohamed Farsi, and Sean Zawadzki all signed new deals. Academy and Crew 2 midfielders Cole Mrowka and Taha Habroune signed full first-team deals, though both are expected to jump back and forth between the second team and the first team. Derrick Jones was signed as a free agent. Many thought the very tall defensive midfielder would slot in as a center back in the Wilfried Nancy system, but all of his time has been spent as a DM (and it has gone relatively well aside from a shocking red card against Charlotte).

The only transfer fee paid this off-season was, ironically, to Pachuca for Marino Hinestroza. Hinestroza is an MLS U22 Initiative player who plays a similar style to Alex Matan but is faster and a bit better at finishing. With Hinestroza on the field, Columbus looks to stretch defenses in a different way than the typical wingback defensive stretching.

Columbus has been excellent defensively, with the 13 goals conceded on the season tied for second-fewest in the league. What’s been working so well at the back?

CJ: The defensive recovery extends back to the 2023 season and probably has two factors. First is the team getting comfortable in the Wilfried Nancy system. The expectation is that players will hold onto the ball until the last second before playing a pass to get out of trouble. At times last year that resulted in turnovers and goals by opponents. You can really see this in the play of Yeven Cheberko. Cheberko struggled in his half season with the Black & Gold in 2023 but this season has played like a new signing, splitting time as the starting left center back. Cheberko has the ability to break multiple lines with his passing, and now that he has improved in his Nancy system confidence, he has begun to live up with the potential he had as a new signing.

The other factor is Rudy Camacho. Camacho joined in the summer transfer window from Montreal, so he was already familiar with the Nancy system. Immediately he slotted into the center spot of the back three and conducted the rest of the defense. As soon as he joined the team, the defense took a huge step forward.

The Crew have done about as good a job balancing Concacaf Champions Cup play and the MLS schedule as possible, and currently sit above the playoff line. How have they been able to find a good balance, when most teams struggle mightily in one competition or the other?

CJ: Realistically it has been a bit of a struggle. Columbus is getting results now but most of the matches during the meat of the Concacaf Champions Cup run were draws. When the Crew beat Montreal on May 16, that was their first league win since March 16. Still, grabbing some draws during that run and staying alive in the playoff hunt are absolutely accomplishments for this team. Part of the reason for this success is the team’s depth. Hinestroza adds another attacking option up top while Derrick Jones is able to spell Aidan Morris/Darlington Nagbe in the midfield. Zawadzki has been a Swiss Army knife for the Black & Gold, slotting in at nearly every position on the field aside from goalkeeper. Nancy has also been willing to use his substitutes after a 2023 season when his sub pattern was frustratingly limited.

The Black & Gold also have the good fortune to get a bye through the group stage of this summer’s Leagues Cup, so they can push a bit harder during a congested few months with the expectation of multiple weeks off in July.

Are there any players who will be unavailable due to injury, suspensions, etc.? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?

CJ: Cucho Hernandez is officially out for Saturday’s match. He has had a nagging back injury and it is expected that he is being held out as a precaution and to be healthy for the Concacaf Champions Cup final in June. Without Cucho these last two weeks, the Crew have grabbed back-to-back road wins for the first time in what seems like forever. Without Cucho, the attack is a bit more multi-faceted. Diego Rossi has picked up the slack and started to look like the former Golden Boot winner that he is.

Rossi will start with a target striker, assuming this is Christian Ramirez, and likely Alex Matan. Depending on the game state, Nancy will slot Jacen Russell-Rowe into Matan’s spot to attack with two target strikers up top. The midfield duo of Nagbe and Morris is a mainstay, though the team has tried to manage Morris’ minutes as the season has gone on. Expect to see Zawadzki or Jones replace Morris/Nagbe around the 75th or 80th minute. In the back we’ll see Yaw Yeboah, Malte Admundsen or Cheberko, Camacho, Steven Moreira, and Mohamed Farsi.

I’m guessing the below is what they roll out:
Patrick Schulte; Malte Amundsen, Rudy Camacho, Steven Moreira, Yaw Yeboah, Mohamed Farsi; Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe; Alex Matan, Christian Ramirez, Diego Rossi.

I don’t see Columbus grabbing a third straight road win but they are playing well right now so I’m guessing we see a hard-fought draw. Columbus 2-2 Orlando. 


Thank you to Collin for providing the scoop on the Crew. Vamos Orlando!

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 5/24/24

Orlando City prepares for the Crew, Barbra Banda an NWSL MVP favorite, Orlando Pride announce sleeve sponsor, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

Happy Friday! The gauntlet of Orlando soccer home games starts tonight when the Orlando Pride take on the Portland Thorns in a clash of win streaks. I’m working for most of the weekend, but am looking forward to watching some soccer and playing my way through the Ace Attorney games during my spare time. For now though, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.

Orlando City Gets Ready to Host the Crew

Orlando City is on a three-game unbeaten run and will take on the Columbus Crew Saturday night in an Eastern Conference showdown. The last time these two sides met was in the 2023 Eastern Conference semifinals with the Crew winning in extra time to eliminate the Lions. It’s the third consecutive road game for the Crew after winning 3-1 against both CF Montreal and the Chicago Fire. Saturday’s match is also the Crew’s last match before the Concacaf Champions Cup final on June 1. Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja spoke on how the Lions will be up to the task regardless of which players take the field for Columbus. Pareja also spoke about how Duncan McGuire is working his way back from the injury he suffered last week.

Barbra Banda Named MVP Frontrunner

ESPN updated its rankings of players in contention to be named NWSL MVP this season and Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda tops the list. The Zambian forward hasn’t been with the Pride for long, but she has scored six goals in six games to help the Pride win seven straight games. Opposing defenses haven’t figured out a way to stop her, and it’s fair to think of her as an MVP favorite alongside fellow attackers in the league like Sophia Smith and Temwa Chawinga. Pride defender Emily Sams also earned herself a spot on the list, ranking 11th. It’s nice to see her get some deserved recognition for her role in the Pride’s stellar defense this year.

Orlando Pride Announce Sleeve Sponsor

A partnership was announced between the Orlando Pride and Heart of Florida United Way, a charity that’s supported families in Central Florida for the past 85 years. As part of the partnership, Heart of Florida United Way will become the first sleeve sponsor for the Pride and its logo will be on the right sleeve of both of the Pride’s jerseys this year. A new ticket program is also being created for 50 tickets to be donated to a local charity for each Pride home game.

Orlando City Unveils Watch Party Schedule

The schedule for this Orlando City season’s watch parties is out, along with the lineup of this year’s included pubs. Each pub will have MLS Season Pass access for fans to watch Orlando’s games this year and there will be chances to win tickets and autographed items at the watch parties as well. There are three new pubs added to the lineup this year, including The Castle Irish Pub at College Park, Paddywagon Irish Pub in Dr. Phillips, and Winter Garden’s Hagan O’Reilly’s. The first watch party will be at The Hammered Lamb in Ivanhoe Village on June 1 when the Lions face off against the New York Red Bulls.

Free Kicks

  • Pride midfielder Evelina Duljan was called up to join Sweden’s U-23 team for the upcoming Four Nations Tournament.
  • NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman became the first woman to be named Sports Business Journal‘s Sports Executive of the Year.

That’s all I have for you this time around. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Three Keys to Victory

What does Orlando City need to do to earn all three points at home against the Crew?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City earned seven points during a three-match stretch over eight days. Now the Lions will look to keep things rolling against the Columbus Crew this Saturday night at Inter&Co Stadium. The Crew are currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 21 points compared to Orlando City in 10th with 16 points.

What do the Lions need to do to get a victory at home against the Crew?

Switch Focus

Orlando City has lucked out because Columbus striker Cucho Hernández will not play, as he is nursing a back injury. Hernández has often been a thorn in Orlando’s side when the clubs play, so his absence is definitely good news. However, that doesn’t mean that the defense can relax. The Crew still have a potent attack with players like Diego Rossi, Jacen Russell-Rowe, Aidan Morris, and others. Columbus has scored 19 goals so far this season, which is four more than Orlando’s 15. I think it is likely that Oscar Pareja will stick with the 3-5-2 formation, meaning the pressure will be on the back three of David Brekalo, Wilder Cartagena, and Rodrigo Schlegel.

Goals Needed

Orlando City left it late against San Jose before Jack Lynn scored in the 89th minute to give the Lions a victory. That’s not to say there weren’t wasted chances — because there were — but it was enough that night. It likely won’t be enough against Columbus. We don’t know the status of Duncan McGuire’s injury as of this writing, but I would be surprised to see him in the lineup, let alone getting the start. That means we will likely see Jack Lynn alongside Luis Muriel up top. Lynn is no McGuire, but he is able to get into good spaces in the box and has a nose for goal. Another goal from him or Muriel could make a big difference.

Scheduling Factors

I’m not saying that Wilfried Nancy will be looking ahead to the Concacaf Champions Cup final against Pachuca the following week, but a trophy is a trophy, and it could impact who he plays and for how long. He might be keeping Hernández out for precautionary reasons to allow him time to be ready for the final. It’s possible that he risks points against Orlando City in pursuit of hardware. Pareja doesn’t have it any easier with Orlando City playing a midweek match at the Chicago Fire next Wednesday before heading to New Jersey for a match against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, June 1. May has been brutal for the Lions, and though the team has made the most of it so far, it doesn’t get any easier. How much will rotation affect Orlando’s ability to get all three points?


That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!

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