Orlando City played well overall but offensive finishing continues to be an issue. The Lions’ lack of final product allowed Atlanta United to hang around and win the game, 1-0, on a late wonder strike from Hector Villalba in the 86th minute in front of a raucous crowd of 25,527 at Orlando City Stadium.
Villalba’s goal came out of nowhere off a throw-in to spoil what was otherwise a strong showing — even without the aforementioned offense — by the Lions. Orlando City (8-8-5, 29 points) missed a golden opportunity to jump ahead of expansion Atlanta (10-7-3, 33 points), despite out-firing the visitors by a 14-8 margin and looking like the better side much of the night.
“Obviously very disappointed with the result but this is one where I would say I’m really pleased with the performance,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “This is the tough job about being a professional soccer coach is that nobody remembers the performance except for the coaching staff and the players. When you lose, you lose, so really disappointed to have lost this one, especially the way in which we lost it.”
It was a cagey first half with both teams getting a few decent chances but nothing clear cut. Orlando got a couple of near chances early with Carlos Rivas getting to the end line but losing the ball over the end line off a heavy touch two minutes in. Kaká had a nice cross into the box cut out in the sixth minute as the Lions probed for an early breakthrough.
Jonathan Spector returned the favor by cutting out a cross from Anton Walkes at the 15-minute mark. The first real shot came from Giles Barnes in the 17th minute but he hit his effort just wide. Three minutes later, Kaká’s cross for Barnes was cut out by desperate Atlanta defending. Jose Aja flicked a header wide off a corner at 22 minutes, as the Lions sought the game’s first goal.
Scott Sutter nearly found Barnes with a beautiful cross in the 25th minute off an equally lovely long ball from Aja, but a bit of last-ditch defending forced a corner kick. At 27 minutes, a nice give-and-go between Kaká and Barnes went unrewarded as the English-Jamaican’s pass for the captain was a tad off line and erased by Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.
A shot finally hit the target in the 32nd minute when Barnes fired from distance right at Brad Guzan, however, he ignored a good run from Rivas that could have had the Colombian in alone on goal. Four minutes later, Rivas got into the box and blasted a shot, but it was right at Guzan.
Meanwhile, Atlanta tried to make something happen in the offensive end with an endless series of flicks, dummies, and creative runs that didn’t quite come off, either by a pass off line or an offside call. The visitors weren’t missing those opportunities by much, showing why they’ve got one of the most prolific offenses in the league.
The Lions got their best chance of the half in the 39th minute when a long free kick from Kaká found Spector’s head. His flick on was kept out at the last second by a diving stop by Guzan. That almost came back to haunt Orlando at the 41-minute mark, when a horrific back pass by Will Johnson fell to Miguel Almiron. He wasn’t able to get his shot off and the follow by Yamil Asad was weakly hit at Joe Bendik. The half ended seconds after Bendik stopped Almiron’s shot from the top of the box.
Atlanta held most of the possession in the opening period, but Orlando held a 7-3 edge in shots (3-3 on target) and looked to be the more likely team to score.
The second half looked much like the first, with the exception of Orlando seeing more of the possession and Atlanta fashioning a few more shots off the counterattack. The Lions held 52.6% of the ball in the second period.
After a strong build-up by Barnes in the 55th minute, Donny Toia ran onto a bouncing ball, but his half-volley shot was delivered well off target from just above the box. Two minutes later, Rivas tried to turn the corner on Michael Parkhurst and sent in a cross that appeared to deflect off the Atlanta defender’s arm but shouts for a penalty went unheeded. Atlanta had their own penalty shout when Bendik came off his line and collided with Villalba in the box but referee Jose Carlos Rivero ruled that Joe got a touch and awarded a corner.
Guzan again robbed Spector in the 63rd minute on a long-range set piece. The Lions’ defender got his head to a well-placed delivery and got his shot on target but Guzan got down in time to make a sprawling save.
Second-half sub Brandon Vazquez forced a near-post save by Bendik in the 70th minute on a quick Atlanta counter. Two minutes later, Kreis sent on Cyle Larin, who had been playing with Canada 24 hours prior in Arizona, looking to steal the game late.
The introduction of Larin did seem to create some space for the Lions, with Cristian Higuita getting into the right side of the penalty area twice but his shots/crosses — whichever they were — were off the mark both times and the chances went wanting in the 73rd and 75th minutes.
In the 79th minute, you could cross off the free space on your Orlando City bingo card as Rivas launched one well over the net from at least 30 yards away. He nearly atoned at the 80-minute mark when he blew past Parkhurst, who pulled the Colombian down and took a booking rather than let Orlando spring the attack.
Almiron tried his luck from the top of the box in the 81st but hit his shot wide. It appeared to come off of Toia but a goal kick was awarded. Four minutes later, Bendik made a diving save to deny Almiron again as the visitors continued to look for chances off of quick counters whenever Orlando got numbers forward.
A minute after that, Villalba hit his stunner and silenced the crowd. Off a throw-in, Villalba found a pocket of space from about 30 yards out and decided to have a go. His strike was almost entirely unlike Rivas’ earlier effort, curling into the far upper 90 past Bendik’s outstretched hand.
“It came off of a throw-in, which we fell asleep for just one second. That one second will hurt you every time when you play against a quality team and quality players like Atlanta,” said Kreis.
The late goal was a body blow from which Orlando couldn’t recover, even after the introduction of Richie Laryea and Luis Gil in place of more defensive-minded midfielders. Kaká had a curling effort stopped by Guzan in the 87th minute and then hit the wall in the 90th on a set piece in a good area that Higuita won before being subbed off.
The last gasp for Orlando came in the 91st minute when Johnson found himself alone on the right side. With the defender closing in, he tried blasting it into the upper corner on the near post side but he missed his shot well off target.
“The guy was closing me down and obviously Brad’s a top goalkeeper so you have to try to get it in one of the corners, otherwise he’ll save it,” Johnson said. “I tried to go high to the near post to catch him off guard and I had him beat. Just the excitement got to me a little bit and I pushed it a little high and into our wonderful supporters’ section.”
Guzan got to a couple of crosses sent in toward Larin in the dying moments and the full-time whistle blew with the ball in the air after it was launched toward Atlanta’s penalty area.
The Lions are now winless in their last four at home (0-2-2), and despite playing better than before the break, got nothing to show for a good effort against one of the league’s most prolific offensive teams. But as long as this Orlando side continues to struggle to put the ball in the net, results will be hard to come by.
“For me it’s not so much about personnel at the moment,” Kreis said of his offense. “I think we’ve done a really good job of getting ourselves in and around the opponent’s penalty box. And then I think we’re getting the ball into some really dangerous spots. We’re talking a lot about trying to get the right number of players involved in our attacking movements and all the way into the penalty box. At the moment, we’ve got a lot of guys who are happy to hang around the top of the penalty box but not get themselves into the penalty box, and we’re going to need more options in there in order to score goals.”
“We’re trying to get numbers in the final third — more numbers — to support our two strikers. It just didn’t happen for us,” Johnson said. “It’s something we’re conscious of. Obviously we need to score more goals to give ourselves better opportunities to win games. It’s frustrating. It’s something we continue to work on.”
Orlando City will immediately get a chance for revenge, visiting Bobby Dodd Stadium next Saturday, July 29, at 5 p.m.
Lion Links: 2/23/24
Orlando Pride’s Megan Montefusco placed on season-ending injury list, Orlando City’s chances to win it all, USWNT plays Argentina tonight, and more.
Happy Friday! It’s the final Friday before we spend pretty much every weekend screaming our hearts out for Orlando’s soccer teams. Although I won’t be in Orlando for tomorrow’s game, I’ll be cheering along from Tampa and am looking forward to a strong start to the season from the Lions. Before we get into today’s links, let’s all wish a happy birthday to our favorite octopus, Pedro Gallese!
Megan Montefusco Placed On Season-Ending Injury List
The Orlando Pride suffered a blow to their defense as center back Megan Montefusco was placed on the season-ending injury list after undergoing surgery on her right foot. Montefusco joined the Pride through a trade before the 2022 season and did well coming off the bench last season to keep Orlando’s defense strong as the year wore on. The Pride have options to fill the void, as Carrie Lawrence is back in the fray after missing last season due to injury and Tori Hansen will be back once her time on loan in Australia is up. Orlando could also go out and bring in a veteran to replace Montefusco or sign Cori Dyke, who was drafted by the Pride in the second round. Regardless, losing Montefusco is rough, considering Rafaella will likely be with Brazil for the Olympics this summer.
Orlando City’s Championship Credentials
Joseph Lowery of MLSsoccer.com detailed the strengths and weaknesses of each MLS team in terms of having what it takes to win it all this year. Orlando City followed up a pretty stellar off-season with a nearly perfect preseason. Head Coach Oscar Pareja, winger Ivan Angulo, and midfielder Wilder Cartagena are all sticking around, while Robin Jansson, Facundo Torres, and the front office brain trust of Luiz Muzzi and Ricardo Moreira were locked down as well. Additions of David Brekalo, Luis Muriel, and Nico Lodeiro also ensured this team has few holes. There’s concern that there are too many mouths to feed though, and that no single player can take the reins of the offense. I disagree on that being much of an issue though, as the attack is fluid enough to beat different teams in different ways. The Lions may go without All-Star representation as a result, but they should rack up plenty of points spreading the wealth on offense.
USWNT Takes on Argentina Tonight
The United States Women’s National Team will face Argentina tonight at 10:15 p.m. in its second game of the inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup. The U.S. did well in its 5-0 win over the Dominican Republic, but there were opportunities to score even more. Since there will be reseeding for the knockout stages, scoring plenty of goals will benefit the USWNT. Midge Purce was excellent in the opener and the USWNT will need to be sharper at putting away good service from the wings. Argentina held Mexico to a scoreless draw in its opener and will likely be hungry to score its first goal of the tournament.
Keeping Up With the Europa League
The first round of the Europa League’s knockout stage came to a close after a drama-filled day of soccer. Only one game went to penalty kicks, as AS Roma beat Feyenoord after a 1-1 draw thanks to two saves from Mile Svilar in the shootout. There was a thriller in Azerbaijan as well. A red card reduced Qarabag FK to 10 men and Braga took full advantage, scoring twice to send the game into extra time. They then traded goals until 19-year-old winger Nariman Akhundzade gave Qarabag the winner in stoppage time. In Germany, SC Freiburg came back from a two-goal deficit to beat Lens in extra time as well.
Elsewhere, a red card doomed Galatasaray as Sparta Prague rallied late to win, and AC Milan survived a hat trick from Rennes midfielder Benjamin Bourigeaud to advance on aggregate. Sporting CP, Marseille, and Benfica all booked their spot in the round of 16 as well, with the draw set for today.
- New food vendors will be available for fans at Orlando City and Orlando Pride home games this year, with Flippers Pizzeria Company now a permanent addition. New options for the rotating carts include Pardon My Cheesesteak and Omusubee Japanese Rice Balls.
- Congratulations to Pride defender Emily Madril on getting married!
- Former Barcelona right back Dani Alves was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison after being found guilty of sexual assault.
- Former Lion Greg Ranjitsingh has re-signed with Toronto FC through the 2024 season, with an option for 2025. The 30-year-old sticks around in Toronto’s goalkeeping corps, which also includes Sean Johnson and Luka Gavran.
- The Philadelphia Union loaned forward Joaquin Torres to Club Deportivo Universidad Catolica in Chile’s top flight.
- English goalkeeper Joe Hart will retire following this season with Celtic, ending a 20-year career.
- Luis de la Fuente’s contract as the manager of Spain’s men’s national team was extended through the 2026 World Cup.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!
Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Three Keys to Victory
What does Orlando City need to do to secure all three points in the home opener against CF Montreal?
Orlando City will host CF Montreal in the club’s first match of the 2024 MLS regular season this Saturday night. The Lions are coming off the Concacaf Champions Cup match against Cavalry FC Wednesday night. Orlando City will want to get things started the right way as expectations and aspirations are higher than ever for the club.
What does Orlando City need to do to secure a victory in the home opener against their Canadian opponents?
Orlando City has four matches in 11 days — the previously mentioned Wednesday match against Cavalry in Canada, the match against Montreal on Saturday, the return match against Cavalry in Orlando next Tuesday, and then a trip to Ft. Lauderdale to take on Inter Miami. That is quite a start to competitive play in 2024.
Because of the schedule congestion, Oscar Pareja will need to rotate players. That means we’re not likely to have the preferred starting 11 as much as any of us will like. Kyle Smith, Michael Halliday, Jeorgio Kocevski, and others will likely see playing time. How well Pareja manages when to use which players, and for how long, will determine not just the result of this match against Montreal, but for each of the other matches as well.
Rodrigo Schlegel is serving a suspension in this first league match and will not be available. That means Orlando City’s newest center back, David Brekalo, will probably get the start alongside Robin “The Beefy Swede” Jansson. Having a good center back pairing is absolutely essential to the success of any defense. We know that because once Jansson and former Lion Antonio Carlos worked together for a while, they became an absolute fortress on the back line.
Now, Jansson will need to build the same chemistry with Brekalo if the Lions want to maintain their position as one of the best defenses in the league. With Schlegel unavailable, there is no question that Jansson and Brekalo will have the opportunity to start building that relationship. Hopefully, it will be good enough to keep Montreal — especially Josef Martinez — out of the goal.
Keep Torres Scoring
Facundo Torres had a great preseason. Orlando City’s new owner of the No. 10 shirt needs to keep doing the same. He’ll need to score goals, provide assists, and create problems for Montreal’s defense. Traditionally, Montreal has put out a three-man back line. While that means it’ll be a five-man back line when Orlando City has the ball, during changes of possession there should be space for Torres to get free and get scoring opportunities.
If Montreal smartly tried to contain Torres, then it will have to deal with Duncan McGuire, Nico Lodeiro, and Ivan Angulo. Orlando City’s offense has the potential to score quite a few more goals this season, and it all starts Saturday night against Montreal. Get two on the board and I think it will mean three points in the standings.
That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 2/22/24
Orlando City beats Cavalry FC, Lions receive General Allocation Money for Junior Urso’s rights, USWNT gets ready for Argentina, and more.
How’s it going, Mane Landers? It’s nice to start the morning fresh off of a huge win and I’m hoping that becomes a regular occurrence this year. Hopefully the work week has been kind to you as we ride the high of the Concacaf Champions Cup into Orlando City’s first game of the MLS season this weekend. For now, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.
Lions Win in Concacaf Champions Cup Opener
Orlando City kicked off its Concacaf Champions Cup campaign with a solid 3-0 win against Cavalry FC in Canada. Some players did better playing on the turf of Starlight Stadium in British Columbia than others, but the Lions ultimately did well on the road to make things less stressful for themselves for the second leg on Tuesday in Orlando at 6 p.m. Orlando’s offense showed little rust and the defense did its part in its first competitive match of 2024. Before the match, Head Coach Oscar Pareja announced that Robin Jansson will serve as the team’s captain this year, so it’s nice to see his tenure start with a clean sheet.
Junior Urso Signs With Charlotte FC
Orlando City received $50,000 in 2025 General Allocation Money from Charlotte FC in exchange for Brazilian midfielder Junior Urso’s right of first refusal. This transaction cleared the way for Urso to sign with Charlotte, joining on a deal through 2024, with an option for 2025. The Bear became a Lion back in 2020 and was an integral part of Orlando’s transformation under Head Coach Oscar Pareja that included winning the 2022 U.S. Open Cup. The 34-year-old impressed as a trialist with Charlotte during the preseason and should give Dean Smith’s side a veteran presence both on and off the field. While it’s never fun seeing a fan favorite playing for another Eastern Conference foe, I wish nothing but the best for Urso and hope he gets a warm reception when Charlotte visits Orlando this season on Sept. 18.
MLS Coaching Changes for 2024
There was a considerable amount of coaching turnover in MLS since last season, adding some intriguing storylines for this year. After a rough time in Miami, Phil Neville has a chance at redemption with a Portland Timbers side that narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year. The Colorado Rapids’ Chris Armas, D.C. United’s Troy Lesesne, and the New England Revolution’s Caleb Porter are other familiar faces in new places who could impress. As for those new to the scene, Dean Smith joined Charlotte from England, while Sandro Schwarz is now at the helm of the New York Red Bulls after years in Germany and Russia. I’m also interested to see how long it takes for John Herdman to turn things around with Toronto FC.
Analyzing Argentina Ahead of USWNT Clash
After a dominant 5-0 win over the Dominican Republic, the United States Women’s National Team will take on Argentina tomorrow in the Concacaf W Gold Cup’s group stage. The U.S. has won the past four meetings between the past two nations, and Argentina is coming off of a scoreless draw with Mexico. The Orlando Pride’s Mariana Larroquette spearheads an Argentine attack that can be a bit inconsistent when it comes to creating chances. That being said, Vanina Preininger can pull strings from the midfield and Argentina has multiple players capable of scoring from distance. Laurina Oliveros will likely start in goal after her clean sheet in the opener, and the defense also includes Kansas City Current center back Sophia Braun.
- The Orlando Pride’s Rafaelle and Adriana both started in Brazil’s 1-0 win over Puerto Rico.
- The LA Galaxy signed Ghanaian winger Joseph Paintsil as their third Designated Player. The 26-year-old joins from Genk in Belgium and signed a contract with the Galaxy through 2027.
- The Revolution beat Panama’s Independiente 1-0 on the road in the Champions Cup opener for both teams.
- The new changes to MLS’ competitive rules, such as in-stadium VAR announcements and off-field treatments, have been postponed amid the league’s referee situation.
- The United Soccer League announced that all 47 of the teams under its umbrella will take part in this year’s U.S. Open Cup.
- Bayern Munich officially announced that Thomas Tuchel will leave once this season is over. Although Bayern is second in the Bundesliga standings, it’s lost its past three games, including a defeat to Lazio in the Champions League.
- Porto scored a stunning goal in stoppage time to shock Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League.
- Manchester United left back Luke Shaw may be done for the season due to a leg injury.
- In the Europa Conference League, Israeli club Maccabi Haifa secured a 1-1 draw with Belgium’s Gent to advance to the round of 16.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and rest of your week!
Lion Links: 2/23/24
Orlando Pride Place Megan Montefusco on Season-Ending Injury List
Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Three Keys to Victory
Lion Links: 2/19/24
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