Saturday night’s contest against the Montreal Impact was an especially important one for Orlando City. The Lions (7-5-4, 25 points) were coming off a listless showing in their mid-week U.S. Open Cup match, and that effort, combined with Cyle Larin’s DUI arrest the morning after, left a cloud hanging over the club for the past several days.
It wasn’t the full three-point outing that the club and its fans were hoping for, but it was entertaining and the Lions showed a lot more what-for — albeit against a ninth-place side — in a dramatic 3-3 draw vs. Montreal Impact (4-4-6, 18 points) capped by a Jonathan Spector goal in second-half stoppage time.
There were legitimate concerns about Orlando’s ability to score without its main man up top (Larin had scored 50% of the club’s goals this season entering the game), but those concerns were at least temporarily eased by a fast offensive start against the Impact.
Despite playing without its leading scorer, Orlando City didn’t waste much time getting things going on the offensive end. Kaká — making his first start since a May 21 calf injury vs. NYCFC — sent in a cross from the left wing that Will Johnson took a stab at with a volley, but the Canadian was unable to keep his effort down enough and sent it sailing over the bar. It didn’t take long for Orlando to open the scoring, however, as five minutes later Kaká managed more impressive work down the left side, getting past Hassoun Camara with ease and pulling back a cross that Matías Pérez García was able to adjust to — he found it about a half-yard behind him as his momentum took him toward goal — and finish left-footed for his first goal in an Orlando City shirt.
While well-worked, the goal was not without a bit of controversy, as the ball was very close to being over the end line when Kaká chased it down and sent it back to MPG. It was tough to tell live and from certain camera angles on replay, but it’s safe to say our Canadian counterparts at Mount Royal Soccer weren’t as pleased with the end result as we were.
Nevertheless, City found itself up a goal just seven minutes in.
Perhaps a bit of karmic retribution was repaid in minute 16 by Jose Aja, who, instead of clearing the danger while being closed down by Ignacio Piatti, decided to dance around and was subsequently stripped by the Argentinian, who took full advantage of the defender’s gaffe and found an open Blerim Dzemaili in the box, who confidently slotted home near-post to knot the game at 1-1.
Continuing the trend of an exciting first half, though, Orlando answered less than 10 minutes later.
Giles Barnes played MPG into the box nicely, and the Argentinian laid it back to Johnson, whose first-time shot was parried back by Evan Bush and into the legs of his own center back Laurent Ciman just off the goal line, but the deflection off the Belgian fell perfectly for Rivas to smash home a go-ahead goal and make it 2-1 in minute 23 for Orlando. While Ciman’s knees kept Johnson from getting credit for the score, the Colombian Rivas left no doubt with his rifle of a finish on the rebound.
All of a sudden, an Orlando team that had averaged fewer than 1.1 goals per match coming in had netted two in the opening 25 minutes, and without Larin.
After another series of chances that included a beautiful one-two combination play from the likes of Rivas and Barnes, as well as a backheel nutmeg of Camara by Kaká, Orlando City finished the first half with a 14-2 shot advantage and 60% of the possession, but the one-goal advantage felt like it could’ve, and perhaps should’ve, been greater.
The failure to capitalize on chances in the first half predictably came back to bite Orlando City, as Montreal’s dynamic midfielder Piatti sprung for two goals in a two-minute span, with Lions center back Spector being bested both times.
Piatti used a clever touch on the first goal to set himself up on his right leg, side-stepping Spector in the process before finishing with a low burner that made it through Joe Bendik’s legs. Piatti struck again almost instantly in minute 59 when he cut to the inside of Spector to the left this time and fired another shot at Bendik. This time the Lions’ keeper was able to make the save, but Piatti was the only man left standing among a pile of three Orlando City players who had gone to ground to try to defend the first shot, and he easily tapped home his eighth goal of the season to put the Impact ahead 3-2, just like that.
The flow of the game had suddenly been flipped, and the energetic attacking we saw from the Lions in the first half was dampened quite a bit. Lacking Larin up top, the Lions didn’t have too many options to go to for an offensive boost off the bench, but the attacking crew of Kaká, Rivas, Barnes, and Pérez García continued to fight to create chances to equalize.
After several more missed opportunities to produce chances — Barnes launched an awkward left-footed shot well wide despite having an open Johnson rushing down the middle, and played a through ball just too far for a charging Kaká minutes later, to name a couple — it seemed like hope was lost for Orlando.
One thing we’ve learned about these Lions, though, is that they’ll continue to fight until the last breath. That held true again, as Spector managed a bit of redemption in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time, beautifully redirecting a header off an MPG corner across the face of Bush’s goal and into the top left corner to salvage a point and a 3-3 finish. The corner was one in a series that Orlando earned with its all-out siege of Montreal’s 18-yard box in search of an equalizer.
Despite the disappointing sequence where Piatti scored twice in as many minutes — something Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis described post-match as his team shooting itself in the foot — the late equalizer represented a silver lining and showed the resilience of this Lions side again.
“For me, a big, big positive was the guys continued to work really hard,” Kreis told the media. “On most nights with most teams, they would’ve packed it in [after two quick goals]. But our guys kept fighting and kept believing, so we get to walk out with at least a point.”
The Lions controlled 58% of the ball on the evening and generated 17 shots, not bad at all for a team that had struggled to score consistently even with Larin in the lineup. The back-to-back Piatti goals took a lot of luster off the final result, but the three goals scored were a big positive for City and the effort and fight until the end was a needed response following Wednesday’s result vs. Miami FC.
Lions fullback Donny Toia, who spent two seasons with Montreal, echoed his coach’s sentiments following the match, acknowledging the excitement of the finish while admitting he and his teammates could’ve sealed it much earlier.
“It’s one point versus zero, so we’re happy with one,” Toia said. “We had opportunities to make it 3-1 and we didn’t put it away and then we gave up those silly goals. So it’s definitely frustrating, but at the same time you’ve got to look at it as a positive because we didn’t lose, we came out with a point.”
The Lions, who remain in fourth place in the Eastern Conference behind New York City FC, are back to it on Wednesday in the Pacific Northwest as they travel for a 10:30 p.m. ET showdown with the Seattle Sounders.
Lion Links: 2/21/24
Orlando City takes on Cavalry FC tonight, Lions sign Jeorgio Kocevski, USWNT wins in Concacaf W Gold Cup, and more.
Hello, Mane Landers. I hope all is well with you in Florida as we get to watch the Lions in action tonight in the Concacaf Champions Cup. There’s not much new with me this week other than staying busy covering high school basketball and hockey. Let’s also wish a happy birthday to Orlando Pride forward Amanda Allen. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.
Orlando City Takes on Cavalry FC Tonight
Orlando City will be in action tonight in the first round of the Concacaf Champions Cup, as it takes on Cavalry FC at Starlight Stadium at 10 p.m. This matchup will be the Lions’ first competitive match of 2024, with their MLS season opener against CF Montreal set for Saturday. The Lions were knocked out by Tigres due to away goals in last year’s Concacaf Champions League. Cavalry FC will make its debut in this competition tonight and qualified by winning the 2023 Canadian Premier League Shield. The second leg between these two sides will be on Feb. 27 at Inter&Co Stadium.
Orlando City Signs First-Round Draft Pick Jeorgio Kocevski
Orlando City signed 2024 MLS SuperDraft pick Jeorgio Kocevski to a contract through the 2024 season, with club options for 2025, 2026, and 2027. Kocevski scored the game-winning goal in stoppage time in Orlando’s final preseason match against the Colorado Rapids this past weekend. The midfielder was selected 21st overall in the first round of the 2024 MLS SuperDraft by the Lions in December. He played four years for Syracuse, recording seven goals and 18 assists in 71 matches. Kocevski is the only player the club has signed from the Lions’ 2024 draft class and will likely get some minutes with Orlando City B this season.
St. Louis City and Philadelphia Union Win in Champions Cup
Orlando City isn’t the only MLS team kicking off its Concacaf Champions Cup campaign this week. St. Louis City edged out the Houston Dynamo 2-1, with rookie Hosei Kijima scoring the winner in stoppage time. The Philadelphia Union were on the road in Costa Rica to face off against Deportivo Saprissa and won 3-2 thanks to a hat trick from Julian Carranza in the second half. As for other tournament matches this week, the New England Revolution face Independiente in Panama tonight, with Nashville playing Moca FC in the Dominican Republic and FC Cincinnati taking on Jamaica’s Cavalier SC tomorrow.
USWNT Beats the Dominican Republic in W Gold Cup
The United States Women’s National Team got its Concacaf W Gold Cup campaign off to a great start with a 5-0 win against the Dominican Republic in Group A. Olivia Moultrie scored her first USWNT goal to give her team an early lead, with Lynn Williams giving the U.S. another goal before halftime. Moultrie scored another in the second half to earn her brace, and Jenna Nighswonger converted a penalty for her first USWNT goal as well. Former Pride forward Alex Morgan replaced Mia Fishel on the roster due to injury and scored from the penalty spot in stoppage time. The USWNT’s next game will be against Argentina on Friday at 10:15 p.m.
UEFA Champions League Roundup
The UEFA Champions League had plenty of drama as the round of 16 continued. Inter Milan won 1-0 in its first leg against Atletico Madrid at home, with Mark Arnautovic scoring the only goal in the match. In the Netherlands, PSV Eindhoven and Borussia Dortmund played to a thrilling 1-1 draw. The second legs for both matchups will be played on March 13. There is more Champions League action today, as FC Porto hosts Arsenal while Napoli takes on Barcelona.
- The Orlando Pride’s Mariana Larroquette started in Argentina’s scoreless draw with Mexico in the Gold Cup.
- The latest MLS power rankings are out just before the regular season begins. Orlando City begins the season in the fifth spot.
- Orlando City and the Orlando Pride announced fan experience upgrades at Inter&Co Stadium featuring Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology in merchandise shops, stadium Wi-Fi upgrades, and a jersey history experience.
- The MLS Players Association released a statement on the ongoing referee lockout.
- Here is the list of MLS Season Pass commentator assignments for opening week.
- Toronto FC has acquired center back Kevin Long from Birmingham City FC. The deal is through the 2024 season, with an option for 2025.
That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Wednesday and I’ll see you next time.
Orlando City Signs First-Round Draft Pick Jeorgio Kocevski
Orlando City signs its first-round draft pick Jeorgio Kocevski to a one-year deal with three option years.
Orlando City SC announced the signing of first-round 2024 MLS SuperDraft pick Jeorgio Kocevski today. The deal is through the upcoming 2024 season with club options for 2025, 2026, and 2027. The Lions selected the Syracuse midfielder with the 21st overall pick in the draft in December.
“Jeorgio has had a really strong preseason camp with us, demonstrating everything we saw in him when we were scouting him and analyzing his game in college,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “He’s done well working his way into the group, even starting in our friendly against Flamengo and holding his own against some of the best in Brazil, and we’re excited to have him with us this season.”
The box-to-box midfielder made three appearances this preseason, starting against Brazilian club Flamengo and the following scrimmage against USL Championship side Rhode Island FC. He came on at halftime against the Colorado Rapids last weekend, scoring the winning goal in the 90th minute.
Prior to being selected by the Lions, the Liverpool, NY, native made 71 appearances with 65 starts and logged 5,599 minutes for Syracuse in four years. He scored seven goals and recorded 18 assists, putting 33 of his 93 shots on frame. Additionally, he was part of Syracuse’s 2022 NCAA national championship team, playing 90 minutes in the 2-2 draw, but missing in the team’s victorious shootout over Indiana.
Kocevski had a breakout junior year, being named to the United Soccer Coaches’ All-South Region third team, All-ACC third team, NCAA All-Tournament team, and ACC All-Tournament team. During his senior year, he wore the armband for the Orange and was named All-ACC first team and ACC Co-Midfielder of the Year.
What It Means for Orlando City
Kocevski was the most likely pick from this most recent draft to be signed by Orlando City. The departure of club captain Mauricio Pereyra left a spot in the midfield and Head Coach Oscar Pareja seemed to feel the rookie could fill it from early on. His start against Flamengo was in the place of regular starter Cesar Araujo, who was on international duty with the Uruguay U-23 national team. He played against Flamengo’s best lineup and did quite well in almost an hour on the field in his first minutes of play at the professional level.
While a spot was open for the signing of Kocevski, he likely won’t see much of the field for the first team this season. In addition to being behind starters Araujo and Wilder Cartagena, the defensive midfielder will be behind Felipe on the depth chart. In all likelihood, the rookie will slot in with Orlando City B in MLS NEXT Pro to get some minutes, but there is room for him to start regularly with that team.
Kocevski is currently the only player signed by the club from the Lions’ 2024 draft class. West Virginia midfielder Yutaro Tsukada, Pittsburgh midfielder Filip Mirkovic, and Charlotte midfielder Riyon Tori remained unsigned, with the latter opting to return to school for his senior season.
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!
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