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Orlando City

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.

Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/30/23

Orlando City faces big questions, Matt Miazga suspended, Emma Hayes meets USWNT for first time, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

November is finally coming to a close. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of a month for me, with highs, lows, and many things in between. All in all, I’m pretty glad it’s nearly over, although I expect December to be similarly hectic. At least this weather is allowing me to break out some winter clothes and turn on the fireplace in this new apartment. I’m not sure why a fireplace was installed in a Floridian apartment, but I’m not complaining. Let’s dive into today’s links!

Big Decisions Await Orlando City

With Orlando City’s season over, attention now turns to a critical off-season for the club. Head Coach Oscar Pareja is out of contract after leading the Lions to the playoffs for the past four years. The club will also need to decide if it will exercise the 2024 options on the contracts of both Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi and Technical Director and Assistant General Manager Ricardo Moreira. All three have orchestrated Orlando’s transformation that’s included winning its first trophy, having its best season this year, and qualifying for both the Concacaf Champions League and Champions Cup. Potentially transferring Facundo Torres to Europe, filling the empty Designated Player slot, and deciding which players to bring back for 2024 are also on the agenda. However, figuring out who will lead the Lions into this exciting next chapter is paramount. Personally, I think the club should do everything in its power to keep the people who brought Orlando to this point.

Matt Miazga Suspended for Three Games

FC Cincinnati will be without MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga for Saturday’s Eastern Conference final, as he was suspended by MLS for three games due to his misconduct after the match with the New York Red Bulls on Nov. 4. Miazga was also fined an undisclosed amount and will undergo a behavioral assessment as part of the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Following that aforementioned playoff match, reports surfaced that Miazga gained unauthorized access to an area reserved for the referees and acted aggressively. Any suspended games not served during Cincy’s playoff run will carry over into the 2024 season, although Miazga can petition for a reduction based on compliance with recommended treatment plans.

Emma Hayes Meets With USWNT Players and Staff

Emma Hayes, who was hired as the next United States Women’s National Team Head Coach earlier this month, made the trip to Florida to meet the team for the first time. Although she won’t be coaching the team for its upcoming pair of friendlies against China, she collaborated with interim head coach Twila Kilgore on the latest training camp roster and will continue to work with her until taking over in May. There won’t be much time between Hayes’ official start date and the 2024 Summer Olympics, making these moments of face time between player and future coach all the more important. USWNT captain Lindsey Horan spoke on the team’s goals after meeting Hayes for the first time.

“There’s so much talent in this team, and I don’t think the world has seen enough of it yet just because we need to go out and show it,” Horan said. “We need to be able to mesh together and show everything that we have, and what we’re all about, and how we can really collaborate and play together — be more of a team and be a powerhouse again.

“It’s going to be exciting for us to have her and see what she can do with this team and how she can help us moving forward.”

Ricardo Pepi Sends PSV Into Champions League Knockout Stage

PSV Eindhoven clinched its spot in the next round of the UEFA Champions League in dramatic fashion, with American forward Ricardo Pepi scoring the winner in a 3-2 comeback win over Sevilla in Spain. Trailing 2-0 in the second half, American left back Sergino Dest provided the assist on PSV’s first goal and Pepi found the winner in stoppage time, with fellow American Malik Tillman also coming off the bench. From his little flick to send a teammate forward to his run and clinical header, it was a great goal by the 20-year-old.

Elsewhere in the Champions League, Arsenal beat Lens 6-0 to advance, Real Madrid won 4-2 against Napoli to win its group, and Real Sociedad played to a scoreless draw with RB Salzburg. Manchester United remains in last place of its group after a 3-3 draw with Galatasaray, with goalkeeper Andre Onana unable to stop Hakim Ziyech from scoring off of two free kicks. All’s not lost for United though, as it can still qualify for the round of 16 by beating Bayern Munich at home so long as the other match ends in the group ends in a draw. It all makes for what should be an exciting final matchday in the group stage.

Free Kicks

  • The Kansas City Current announced that American midfielder Sam Mewis will not be returning to the club for the 2024 season. The 31-year-old has not played since 2021 as she continues to recover from a knee injury.
  • The Utah Royals have signed free agent forward Imani Dorsey on a contract through the 2025 season. Dorsey has most recently played for NJ/NY Gotham FC, although she didn’t participate in this past season due to mental health reasons.
  • Manchester United is reportedly ready to move on from Mason Mount just six months after he joined the team from Chelsea.
  • Tomasz Kwiatkowski, the video assistant referee involved in a controversial handball that eventually led to Paris Saint-Germain’s equalizer in stoppage time against Newcastle, was removed from his next scheduled duty by UEFA.
  • Amidst a four-game winless streak, French club Nantes has fired Pierre Aristouy as its manager, immediately replacing him with Jocelyn Gourvennec.
  • We’ll end our links with this interesting article that dives into how Romelu Lukaku unexpectedly arrived at AS Roma and how he’s thriving at the Italian club.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and rest of your week!

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Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Alex Freeman

We start our Orlando City player reviews with a look at a Homegrown fullback who made his MLS debut this season.



Image courtesy of Orlando City B

Orlando City signed fullback Alex Freeman to a Homegrown Player contract on February 15, 2022. He became the Lions’ 12th Homegrown signing and his deal runs through the 2025 season with a club option for 2026, but the youngster did not see action in Major League Soccer last season. With the departure of Ruan, there was an opportunity for Freeman to win a job with the first team in camp but he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump, instead playing an important role with Orlando City B throughout the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season.

Let’s take a look back at Freeman’s 2023 campaign.

Statistical Breakdown

Freeman made his MLS debut on April 29 in a 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. It was not just his debut with the first team, but it was also his only appearance with the senior squad in 2023, although he did make the substitutes’ bench a few times after that. Officially, he logged only one minute, entering in the 93rd minute. He was only on the pitch a matter of seconds, so it’s unsurprising that he registered nothing on the stats sheet.

The son of former NFL receiver Antonio Freeman, Alex starred with OCB in 2023. In MLS NEXT Pro play, Freeman appeared in 24 of OCB’s 28 matches, starting 22, and logging 1,855 minutes. He finished tied for third on the squad in goals (4), adding three assists and passing at a 79.1% success rate. Freeman attempted 25 shots, putting 11 on target, and contributed 10 key passes. He committed 22 fouls, drew 27 on the opposition, and was booked four times. He also started OCB’s playoff match at Columbus, playing 89 minutes in the Young Lions’ 2-1 road loss. Freeman didn’t contribute a goal or assist or attempt a shot in the match, but he passed at an 88% rate, created one scoring chance, and committed one foul.

Best Game

With only one MLS appearance to his credit, the default best game for Freeman came on April 29 in Orlando City’s 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. Freeman didn’t even officially touch the ball in the game, but it’s not every day a teenager gets to play in an MLS match, and I’m sure it was a special moment for him. It was certainly a milestone in his professional soccer career.

2023 Final Grade

As Freeman fell well short of the minimum 450 minutes played mark to receive a rating on our 1-10 scale, The Mane Land has no choice but to mark his grade as incomplete for the 2023 season. There are areas of Freeman’s game that need a bit of refining, but at the same time, it’s easy to see why he landed a Homegrown contract, why Orlando City would find him an intriguing prospect, and why he’s been getting called up by the United States for U-20 international duty. His attacking presence was huge for OCB in 2023 and he was one of the key players that led the Young Lions to the postseason.

2024 Outlook

I would expect Freeman to get more seasoning at OCB in 2024, although he’ll be given opportunities in preseason camp to show whether he’s closed the gap on the likes of Michael Halliday and Kyle Smith (assuming both return). If the club moves on from both Halliday and Smith, it’s not hard to picture Freeman starting the season providing depth at right back for the first team. Having just turned 19 in August, Freeman has a lot of potential and he should start to unlock that within the next year or so.

This is the first of our 2023 Orlando City Season in Review articles. Every player who played minutes this past season and who finished the year on the club roster will be reviewed (exceptions may be made for players let go when the club officially announces its roster moves). Players who logged fewer than 450 minutes (combined regular season plus playoffs, Concacaf Champions League, U.S. Open Cup, and Leagues Cup) will receive a composite score between 1 and 10 as determined by a panel of The Mane Land writers, while those who did not reach that threshold will receive an incomplete grade.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/29/23

Orlando Pride players called up by Brazil, MLS announces 2023 Best XI, latest MLS roster moves, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Hello, Mane Landers I hope all is well down in Florida. I’ve been very busy working throughout the holiday weekend at Under Armour. This week I’ll be working at Wrigley Field for Winterland while getting ready to cover high school wrestling tomorrow night. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.

Pride Players Called Up By Brazil for Friendlies

Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle and forwards Marta and Adriana have been called up to the Brazil Women’s National Team for its upcoming friendlies.

Brazil will play two matches against Japan on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 in Sao Paulo before playing Nicaragua on Dec. 6 at Estadio Fonte Luminosa in Araraquara.

MLS Announces the 2023 Best XI

Major League Soccer announced its 2023 Best XI, recognizing the league’s top players at each position. There were no Orlando City players selected for the team and eight players received the honor for the first time. Those players are St. Louis City’s Roman Burki and Tim Parker, FC Cincinnati defender Matt Miazga, Atlanta United duo Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis, Houston Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera, LAFC’s Denis Bouanga, and Columbus Crew forward Cucho Hernandez. Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar made the Best XI for the third consecutive time, while teammate Walker Zimmerman was named to it for the fifth time. MLS MVP Luciano Acosta of FC Cincinnati rounds out the list.

Latest MLS Off-season Roster Moves

The Colorado Rapids announced their latest roster changes as they prepare for the the 2024 season under new Head Coach Chris Armas. The club exercised its options for defender Andrew Gutman, midfielder Ralph Priso, and forward Calvin Harris. The Rapids declined contract offers to seven players, with the most notable names being defender Steven Beitashour and goalkeeper William Yarbrough, although the Rapids are in discussions about re-signing Yarbrough. Elsewhere, the New England Revolution exercised the permanent transfer option on forward Tomas Chancalay, signing him to a Designated Player contract through 2026, with a club option for the 2027 season.

UEFA Champions League Roundup

Champions League action returned in Europe, as we get close to wrapping up the group stage in a couple of weeks. Manchester City overcame a two-goal deficit to beat RB Leipzig 3-2 and win Group G. Newcastle United had a chance to qualify for the round of 16 but gave up a late penalty to Paris Saint-Germain, which Kylian Mbappe converted to end the match in a 1-1 draw. Borussia Dortmund beat AC Milan 3-1 to book its spot in the knockout stage. PSG, Newcastle, and AC Milan are all still alive in Group F heading into the final matchday in December. Shakhtar Donetsk won 1-0 against Royal Antwerp and also still has a shot to advance on the final matchday. Lazio, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Young Boys all won their respective matches as well. Today’s matches include Manchester United on the road against Galatasaray, Real Madrid taking on Napoli, and Sevilla facing off with PSV Eindhoven.

Free Kicks

  • Concacaf has announced that BMO Stadium, Dignity Health Sports Park, Shell Energy Stadium, and Snapdragon Stadium will be the four venues that will host matches for the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup.
  • Barcelona midfielder Gavi will be sidelined for up to 10 months after undergoing knee surgery after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee.
  • The International Football Association Board approved a trial for sin bins, meaning players punished for dissent or specific tactical offense would be temporarily removed from the match for a set amount of minutes.
  • You have got to see this goal from Cwrt Rawlin FC in the Welsh seventh division.

That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Wednesday and I’ll see you next time.

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