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Orlando City vs. Atlanta United: Final Score 1-0 as Villalba’s Strike Spoils Good Performance

The Lions played well but couldn’t find a way to put a ball past Brad Guzan and Hector Villalba scored out of nowhere in the second half to give Atlanta the win.



Carlos Romero, The Mane Land

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.

Orlando City

Orlando City Enjoyed the Best Summer Stretch in Team History

Orlando City climbed the table in the club’s best summer since joining MLS.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

June, July, August (plus, most of September), and the dog days of summer are officially in the rearview mirror and Orlando City is set to put a cherry on top of what was the best summer stretch in team history when they face Inter Miami tomorrow night at Exploria Stadium. As the season starts to wind down, I felt it was only necessary to take some time to examine the what we all just witnessed…the best summer in team history.

A quick Google search says that the season of summer in the U.S. traditionally starts June 21 on the summer solstice, which we will use as the starting point. I looked historically at the team’s performance from that point in time through the end of summer each season, a.k.a. today, Sept. 23. As a new expansion team in Major League Soccer, Orlando City dealt with the summer heat fairly well and earned 15 and 17 points in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The next two seasons, on the other hand, were much darker times to be a city fan, as Orlando City racked up seven and 10 losses in 2017 and 2018, respectively, during those two seasons. It does not take Sherlock Holmes-level detection skills to know that those summer stretches did not lead to postseason playoff berths. In 2019, the team amassed a decent 18 points during the summer, but only tallied 37 on the season overall.

It should not come as a surprise to any OCSC fan that the team’s best years of success have all come while Oscar Pareja has been at the helm. Prior to this season, the best summer stretch that the team had enjoyed was back in 2021 — also under Pareja’s reign — when the boys put up 23 points, setting a summer team record with six wins. Despite their great summer success, the 2021 Lions were unfortunately not able to keep their strong summer momentum going as they dropped four straight matches after Labor Day that year. Enter 2022, or as I like to call it “the summer of the trophy.” Technically speaking, in the MLS regular season, it was the team’s second best summer, with 20 points to their name. Orlando also happened to lift the U.S. Open Cup during that span last year, so there is an argument to be made that without the additional fixtures, the Lions may have been able to commit more resources to the regular season and would have wound up with more points. I will take the hardware!

This summer it has seemed as though Papi has pulled all the right strings at the right times. Orlando currently not only sits in second place in the Eastern Conference, but second overall in the Supporters’ Shield race and has only dropped two matches from June 21 to Sept. 23 while sporting a +6 goal differential. The Lions amassed 24 points during the summer this year.

Orlando City finding the back of the net more often than conceding makes for quite fun matches to enjoy. The two losses OCSC has picked up throughout the summer this season both have come on the road (at Real Salt Lake and at NYCFC), despite Orlando City earning an MLS-best 25 points away from Central Florida this year.

Orlando City did a great job getting through the hottest part of the calendar while locking up results left and right. Orlando has already secured a spot in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year in no small part due to the amazing summer the team just enjoyed. As fall comes barreling at us and the MLS playoff home-field advantage race begins to heat up, the performance of the squad this summer should not be taken for granted as championships might not be won in June, July, or August, but poor performances can certainly ensure that they are lost.

Did you have a favorite moment or match from this summer? My favorite moment was what I am calling the Hail Ojeda Mary goal in Charlotte, and my favorite match was the electrifying 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the Columbus Crew. Let us know in the comments below your favorites, and as always, vamos Orlando.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 9/23/22

Lions and Herons meet again, Carly Nelson is writing a book, NWSL free agency opens, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

Happy Founder’s Day, Mane Landers! It was on this day in 2014 that our fearless leader and Managing Editor Michael Citro started our first ever WordPress website. It’s safe to say that I’m sure The Mane Land has impacted your life as much as it has mine over the years, whether that be through daily reading or weekly podcasts. Cheers to Michael and all those who have come before me.

In my own personal news, I have been grinding away on the new EA FC 24 (the franchise formerly known as EA’s FIFA.) So far, the gameplay and updates have been great in my initial 15+ hours of play, and my online Ultimate Team is starting to really take its shape. I’m sure in a couple weeks that I’ll transition to a traditional Career Mode and take the Lions all the way to an MLS Cup and beyond.

Before we dive into today’s links, let’s all wish a very happy birthday to everyone’s favorite defensive midfielder, Wilder Cartagena!

Third Bout for Orlando City and Inter Miami

Orlando City and Inter Miami have already met twice this campaign. Sunday’s match will look to break the deadlock between the two rivals as both clubs have a victory to their name in this year’s series. In May, the Lions grabbed a 3-1 victory over the Fort Lauderdale-based club. The two sides met for a second time in the knockout round of Leagues Cup 2023 with Inter Miami taking the 3-1 result at DRV PNK Stadium. No matter the result this time around, Orlando City has already clinched a playoff spot, however, the Herons need every point they can get to attempt to do the same.

Carly Nelson, Goalkeeper and Author

It isn’t unheard of to learn that an athlete might have tried another sport before finding soccer, Orlando Pride goalkeeper Carly Nelson came from a background of gymnastics, tennis, basketball, and baseball before her father started a club soccer team with her in mind. While Nelson might have idolized USWNT legend Hope Solo as a child, she started her playing days as a forward, winger, and midfielder. Outside of protecting the Pride’s net, Nelson is spending time writing a book about her life growing up in Utah and the issues her family faced to hopefully help others that might find themselves in similar situations.

NWSL Opens 2024 Free Agency

The National Women’s Soccer League has officially opened the league’s unrestricted and restricted free agency periods. In accordance with the NWSL Players’ Association’s collective bargaining agreement, eligible free agents can begin negotiations for their 2024 Standard Player Agreements. Players eligible for unrestricted free agency include all who have at least five years of service within the NWSL and contracts expiring in 2023, while players eligible for restricted free agency include those who have at least three years of service. For the Orlando Pride, defender Kylie Strom is set to be an unrestricted free agent and midfielder Jordyn Listro is under restricted terms. Any club that currently holds the rights of a restricted free agent has a seven-day period to match an incoming offer from another club or else the player may sign with the new club under the terms of the offer.

USMNT’s Tyler Adams Nearing Return

Tyler Adams will not make his Bournemouth debut this weekend, but he could return as early as next week. Bournemouth’s manager, Andoni Iraola, provided a positive update on the U.S. Men’s National Team captain as he finishes up rehabbing a long-term hamstring injury.

“He has started this week at least to train partially with the group, so probably we can have a chance of having him next week or two weeks, something like this. Tyler is really close because once you start training partially with the group, it’s a matter of sensations, and if you are physically good enough. He has a very good physical base. So I think it will take not a long time to see Tyler with the team.”

Adams has not played since March after having a hamstring surgery. Even with a known injury, the 24-year-old still completed a move from Leeds United to Bournemouth following Leeds’ relegation to keep him in the top flight.

MLS Weekend Preview

Aside from the Florida derby, there are plenty of matches to be excited about around the league this weekend. Personally, I’m looking forward to catching a bit of the D.C. United and New York Red Bulls match. Manager Wayne Rooney’s club is right on the bubble in a tight Eastern Conference race while the Red Bulls can do themselves a huge service and come back into the playoff picture with a win. Out in the Western Conference, there is a real buzz around a Portland Timbers squad after a manager sacking. It could be a huge win for the Timbers and likely push them above the play-in round should they find a result against the Colorado Rapids.

Free Kicks

That’s all I have for you today, Mane Landers. I hope you all have a fantastic Saturday. Be safe on Sunday at the match. Stay hydrated and look out for those around you. Vamos Orlando!

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Three Keys to Victory

Here are three things the Lions need to do in order to set themselves up for a win over Inter Miami.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Wednesday’s match didn’t go the way anyone hoped it would, but now it’s time to turn our attention to a Sunday matchup with Inter Miami back in the comfortable confines of Exploria Stadium. What follows are three things that I believe will go a long way toward helping the Lions emerge victorious from the Tropic Thunder derby and keeping Florida purple.

Close Down Sergio Busquets

As many headlines as Lionel Messi has rightfully been getting since joining Major League Soccer, I think Busquets is just as important to Miami’s success. He remains an excellent midfielder and his ability to transition the team from defense into attack and link the two lines together is crucial. He has two assists and eight key passes in six MLS appearances and is passing with 92% accuracy —if you give him time, he will make you pay. Even if Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena mark him tightly, he’ll still manage to find space at times and affect the game because he’s that good of a player. But the Lions cannot afford to repeatedly give him time and space to get on the ball, pick up his head, and play a pass or he’ll cut OCSC to ribbons. Getting tight to him and making his life difficult won’t stop him every time, but it’ll make life a hell of a lot easier. As soon as Orlando loses the ball in Miami’s half, someone needs to find no. 5 and close him down.

Play With an Edge, but Don’t Go Over It

This is likely going to be an extremely, fast, physical and heated game. These two teams don’t have any love lost for each other, and if last game is any indication, then Orlando is going to try to use its physicality to disrupt Miami from playing its brand of soccer. That’s not a bad strategy, and it’s one that was largely working during the aforementioned Leagues Cup match until the penalty kick call in the second half. If the Lions are going to try to repeat the tactic, then they need to play with physicality and intensity while toeing the line of what’s acceptable to do during a soccer game. Going down a man isn’t going to do OCSC any favors, so the boys in purple are going to have to flirt with the edge of the cliff without falling headfirst over it.

Stay Organized Defensively

We’ve seen some shaky defending during Orlando’s last two matches. Runners in behind were a particular problem during the match against the Columbus Crew, while Wednesday’s loss to NYCFC saw Talles Magno largely unmarked between two Orlando defenders to score the header that sealed the Lions’ fate. OCSC will likely still be without Antonio Carlos, but the Lions are capable of much better defending than they’ve done during the last week and they need to show it. Even if Lionel Messi doesn’t play, Miami has a whole host of guys who can hurt you in Josef Martinez, Leonardo Campana, Benjamin Cremaschi, Robert Taylor and Facundo Farias. The Lions need to be much more keyed in on defense than they have been the last two games, otherwise one or more of those guys is going to make them pay. Orlando has the firepower to put the ball in the back of the net, but it won’t matter if the team is giving up multiple preventable goals at the other end of the field.

If the Lions execute those three things then they’ve got as good a chance as any of getting a result on Sunday. Vamos Orlando!

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