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Orlando City vs. Atlanta United FC (Round 2): Player Grades and Man of the Match



With all the people on both sides trying to play down talk of a rivalry, Hector Villalba just tried his best to make it one. After Villalba’s 87th-minute goal which beat Orlando City at home last week, revenge was on the agenda for tonight’s game.

For a lot of the match, it seemed as if Orlando was going to get that revenge, and that would put the rivalry talk to rest at least a bit (or potentially heat it up, one of the two). The two teams would have simply traded three points in a two-leg affair. Yet, when Villalba scored in the 92nd minute, it made every true Lion in the world feel at least a tingle of hatred for Atlanta — as if they needed a reason.

Although the game will be defined by two great goals, there was plenty action in between, so let’s take a look at the grades.


GK, Joe Bendik, 6.5 — The stats say five saves, but that doesn’t really tell the story of Bendik’s game. We didn’t really get to see any of the spectacular saves that are normally witnessed anytime he steps on the field, but he did play a part in the Lions’ goal by sending a near perfect long ball to Larin who laid it off for Kaká to strike home. He made a couple routine saves, a couple difficult ones, a mistake that could of tied it up in the 62nd minute — luckily it rolled out for a goal kick after it slipped under him — and just wasn’t able to do anything about the goal.

One of the more difficult saves came in the 74th minute when Greg Garza charged down the left off a quick free kick. Bendik came running out of his goal and blocked the shot confidently with his body. He will likely be criticized for getting beat near post by Villalba but it was a close range shot, so he should get a pass on that one. As for his passing, it wasn’t the best today as he averaged 54% compared to Brad Guzan’s 79% — it also factors in that Guzan had 16 less passes.

D, Donny Toia, 7 (MOTM) — Toia played very well on the defensive left side, getting the better of Julian Gressel, Anton Walkes, and, later on, Brandon Vázquez on almost every occasion they went toe to toe. This was shown by his team-leading eight tackles on the night. He didn’t get forward much in the game, although he had a shot blocked in the offensive box two minutes in, but that seemed to just be part of Kreis’ game plan and no fault of his, as the Lions were very comfortable to let Atlanta possess the ball. In the 12th minute, Toia had his first of many good defensive moments when he ran back after getting beat to block a cross in a dangerous position.

D, Jonathan Spector, 7 — I was going to give Spector MOTM and an 8, until the goal. Spector played great the whole game, but he had to do better on the last-minute goal. After Aja stepped, Spector didn’t realize that was his cue to mark Villalba who ended up putting it in the back of the net. Although he led both teams in clearances, with eight, what really set him apart in terms of his good play were two crucial moments in the game. The first came in the ninth minute when it looked like Villalba had beat him for pace and was in on goal, but then after a bad touch Spector recovered and made a fantastic tackle which would make Paulo Maldini proud. His second moment came in the 74th minute when he fouled Villalba running into space. This foul was crucial because if Villalba was able to play a through ball to the right then Atlanta’s pacey attack would have been off to the races.

D, Jose Aja, 6.5 — Aja didn’t do anything of too much importance, but overall he had a pretty solid game with four tackles and three clearances. In the 86th minute, he committed a foul right in front of the 18-yard box which could have been the equalizer. On the goal, there’s nothing he really could do because he had to step when Yamil Asad burst into that gap between the midfield and defense, but that left the passing lane open for Asad to hit Villalba. The midfield should have been tighter to both Almiron and Asad — two of Atlanta’s most dangerous players — on the play.

D, Scott Sutter, 7 — If for some reason, Toia was ineligible for MOTM, I’d give it to Sutter. He made an impact early in the game, getting forward and hitting the crossbar on a shot just outside the box. He also registered a team-leading five interceptions and four clearances which is not too shabby. He was caught sleeping at one point but it was at the half line and didn’t lead to anything. It seems like almost every player on the field could be blamed for Atlanta’s goal, and Sutter is certainly one of those, but if you look at where Asad picked up the ball you’ll realize that he was too far inside for Sutter to be responsible for picking him up.

MF, Cristian Higuita, 6 — Another day, another yellow card for Cristian Higuita. It seems there’s two things he just can’t do: stay out of trouble and not turn over the ball. Today he was his usual self, racking up turnovers and tackles, the worst coming in the 64th minute, where Atlanta came rushing on the counter. Higuita picked up his yellow card in the 56th minute, after supposedly hitting a player in the face, in a scuffle after a light foul on Cyle Larin. He came off in the 76th for Richie Laryea and I’d say it was actually an improvement for the team. All negatives aside, you can’t neglect his five tackles, four interceptions, and 81% passing accuracy.

MF, Antonio Nocerino, 5.5 — Nocerino didn’t have a particularly good game last week and he didn’t redeem himself in Atlanta. The Italian picked up three fouls and was lucky not to get a yellow for persistent infringement. His passing accuracy was also a low 64%, but it wasn’t all bad. He had a great chance at the 29-minute mark to put Orlando ahead, but his header was just wide. On the late goal, he takes a small amount of the blame for not stepping and pressuring Almirón, who delivered the pass to Asad.

MF, Will Johnson, 6 — Johnson seemed to take a page out of Higuita’s playbook as he didn’t contribute much to the attack but made up for it with his defensive prowess. In the 29th minute, Johnson actually played a part in a good attacking move when he whipped in a beautiful cross which provided Nocerino’s header just wide. Just like the team as a whole, the Canadian will not be remembered for a good defensive performance but rather for his part in Atlanta’s goal. Johnson, like Nocerino, could and should have stepped up to Almirón.

MF, Kaká, 6 — It’s always hard to assess a goal scorer’s performance, but its especially hard when the goal scorer plays poorly for most of the match, which is exactly what Kaká did. Before his 40th-minute wonder goal that rattled the top right corner of Guzan’s net, and was Orlando’s only shot on target in the entire match, Kaká was virtually nonexistent. Every good buildup play came on the right side, and the Brazilian was also pretty ineffective defensively. In the second half, he was a little more involved, but I stress a little. Overall, his performance would have been defined by his great goal, if he didn’t play such a large role in the equalizer. This may sound harsh, but I blame Kaká the most because he didn’t put out any effort to tackle Miguel Almirón, while he was actually the closest to him. Sure he’s the most expensive player in MLS, but he still has to work hard for the team.

F, Dom Dwyer, 5.5 — It was a pretty disappointing debut for the English-American though it wasn’t really his fault. Dwyer made good runs, but the service just wasn’t there with the limited time that Orlando possessed the ball. One weakness that really showed was that the team could really use a number 10 to help out with the chance creation department, but I’m sure Jason Kreis and Niki Budalic already knew that. Dwyer did have two mini chances, but both were blocked by Michael Parkhurst.

F, Cyle Larin, 6.5 — Larin also suffered from the lack of chances but he did show that even when he’s not scoring he can influence the match. In the 40th minute, the Canadian wunderkind received a long ball from Bendik and played a good lay off to Kaká which of course ended in a goal to remember. Larin was off and on in terms of hold-up play but he came through when it counted. In the 49th minute, Larin took the ball down the line and sent a low cross to Dwyer which was cut out.


MF, Giles Barnes (62’), 6 — Barnes did what he had to defensively. In attack, he had a shot and a pass across goal, but both were just a bit off.

F, Carlos Rivas (73’), 6 — Rivas didn’t have to do much as he came in at striker at a time where the Lions were pinned back and defending. He got off two shots which were both blocked and forced a corner in the 89th minute. Also blocked a dangerous free kick with a header late.

MF, Richie Laryea (76’), 6.5 — Laryea impressed again in another short cameo. He showed good control on the ball and registered two tackles and an interception in about 20 minutes. Perhaps if he stayed tighter to the to center mids then Asad couldn’t have received the ball, but you can’t really blame him for that because there were a lot of other things that went wrong.

That’s what I thought. Drop a comment voicing your opinion whether or not you agree or disagree with me and vote for your Orlando City Man of the Match below.

Polling Closed

Joe Bendik7
Jonathan Spector11
Donny Toia36
Scott Sutter16

Lion Links

Lion Links: 6/12/24

Leagues Cup forgets Orlando’s U.S. Open Cup win, USMNT U-23 loses to Japan, NWSL expansion options, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Welcome to Wednesday, Mane Landers. The USMNT plays tonight in Orlando, and I hope that you have tickets. If not, we can still watch as we wait for the Orlando City and Orlando Pride matches this Saturday. On a personal note, this Friday will mark my ninth anniversary with The Mane Land. It’s been a heck of a ride, and I’m glad you’ve been there with us. Here’s to many more years to come. Let’s get to the links.

Leagues Cup Forgets Orlando’s U.S. Open Cup Win

Orlando City is playing in the Leagues Cup starting at the end of July and here’s a nice guide to Orlando’s group for the tournament. Of course, the Leagues Cup organizers want you to be pumped so that you watch and buy tickets. I think that is something we should do simply to support the club. However, I don’t think they went about promoting the competition in quite the right way. In a tweet that has since been deleted, the tournament’s social media team stated the Leagues Cup would be Orlando’s chance to win its first trophy. Did you catch the mistake? Taylor Twellman did.

Good on you, Taylor. Facundo Torres was indeed brilliant in that match, as was Benji Michel. Of course, there were others that caught the faux pas as well.

I think we should also be mentioning the USL Championships, but what do I know? Evidently, more than the Leagues Cup’s social media team.

USMNT to Honor Pulse Victims

There’s plenty of fake, corporate shows of support for Pride Month , but in general I think that the USMNT and USWNT have done a good job of being legitimate allies to the LGBTQIA+ community. Tonight, the USMNT will play a friendly against Brazil at Camping World Stadium on the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The players will be wearing Pride jerseys to honor those that lost their lives so senselessly eight years ago.

In terms of the game, the USMNT will be without Josh Sargent for the match, and Tyler Adams will only get limited minutes if he plays, as both are coming back from injuries. Get well before the Copa America, lads.

Lions on International Duty

The United States U-23 Men’s National Team lost 2-0 to Japan in its final friendly match before the Olympics. Orlando City’s Duncan McGuire found himself on a bit of an island up top as the U.S. had difficulty moving the ball through the midfield. Hopefully, the U.S. got such play out of their system heading into the Olympics.

OCB’s Wilfredo Rivera made the most of his time playing in Puerto Rico’s World Cup qualifier against Anguilla, scoring a brace in the 8-0 victory. This win comes after a scoreless draw with El Salvador last week and Puerto Rico’s remaining group games during this round of qualifying will be next June.

Exploring NWSL Expansion Options

The NWSL will be expanding to 16 teams in 2026 with many cities vying for the next franchise. The leaders include Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Minneapolis. Atlanta, Denver, and Jacksonville are potential choices as well. If it was to be given to either Atlanta or Jacksonville they would be regional rivals for the Orlando Pride. The league is expected to make a decision by the fourth quarter of 2024.

Free Kicks

  • Congratulations to the United States U-15 Women’s National Team, which won 4-0 over Germany.
  • Did you ever have one of those dreams that was a little scary, but also absolutely hilarious? This preview of Inter Miami’s new mascot is a bit like that. To misquote Jaws: “Ever seen an Inter Miami mascot’s eyes, Chief? He’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes.”
  • The Cayman Islands Men’s National Football Team forfeited its match against Cuba because many of its players are on visas in the United States. If those players were to travel to Cuba, the U.S. may have canceled those visas due to travel restrictions.
  • This is one of the most ridiculous no-calls I’ve ever seen. India got royally hosed.

That will do it for today. Check back as we get you ready for the Orlando City and Orlando Pride matches this Saturday night. Vamos Orlando!

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 6/11/24

Julie Doyle up for Goal of the Week, scouting Brazil ahead of USMNT match, Valencia fans convicted of racial abuse, and more.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Happy Tuesday, everyone. After a brief break, Orlando City will be back in action when it takes on LAFC at home on Saturday. The Orlando Pride will visit a struggling North Carolina Courage side on the same day, while Orlando City B will have an oddly placed Thursday match against Chattanooga FC. With such a busy week ahead of us, it’s little surprise that we have a lot to talk over this morning. Let’s get into it.

Julie Doyle Up for Goal of the Week

Pride forward Julie Doyle has been nominated for NWSL Goal of the Week for her strike against the San Diego Wave during Friday’s 1-1 draw. Doyle opened the scoring in the 36th minute with an extremely well taken goal that came from a Barbra Banda assist. The Zambian forward made a run down the right wing and crossed for Doyle, but the ball was a little behind her and the chance looked to have gone. It hadn’t though, because Doyle contorted her body, hung out a foot, and let the momentum from the ball carry it into the back of San Diego’s net. Make sure you go vote for her to win!

Brazil Scouting Report

The United States Men’s National Team will play its final friendly before Copa America tomorrow at Camping World Stadium, right here in Orlando. The idea of any USMNT game is slightly nauseating after the Yanks were throttled 5-1 by Colombia on Saturday, but the fact that they’ll square off against a loaded Brazil side means things aren’t going to be any easier. While Brazil has struggled early on in World Cup qualifying, it will likely run out a front three of Rodrygo, Vinicius Jr., and Raphina that’s capable of causing plenty of damage. Brazil prefers to control the ball and build from the back with short passing movements, but has no qualms about ceding possession and breaking on the counter, something that caused no shortage of issues for the U.S. against Colombia.

Valencia Fans Convicted of Racial Abuse

A trio of Valencia fans will serve eight months in prison after being convicted of racially abusing Vinicius Jr. Additionally, they are barred from entering soccer stadiums for two years and will pay for court proceedings. The convictions are the first for racism in professional soccer in Spain, and a case was opened after the fans made monkey noises and gestures during a game in May of 2023. The Brazilian forward in particular has faced racial abuse during his time playing in Spain, but he’s far from the only player, as the trial for a fan accused of abusing Inaki Williams during a match in 2020 has still yet to even begin.

The Soccer Tournament Concludes

The Soccer Tournament wrapped up last night with a pair of engrossing championship matches. In the women’s bracket, US Women defeated the North Carolina Courage by a score of 6-3, with Talia Dellapuerta scoring the winning goal. US Women featured United States Women’s National Team greats Heather O’Reilly and Ali Kreiger, and the team won the first women’s edition of the tournament and the $1 million prize that comes with it.

On the men’s side, former Orlando City player Nani and his team Nani FC fell to La Bombonera, which scored mere minutes into the match and never looked back on its way to a convincing 4-0 win. La Bombonera becomes the second team to win it all following Newtown Pride FC’s victory in last year’s inaugural tournament.

Free Kicks

That’s all I have for you this morning. Vamos Orlando!

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 6/10/24

Facundo Torres and Cesar Araujo won’t play for Uruguay in Copa America, Pride and OCB draw, USMNT drilled by Colombia, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Alex Corrie

Hello, Mane Landers! I hope all is well down in Florida. I was busy at Under Armour all weekend and managing the broadcast operations for the NISA league’s matches last night. The Lions were off this weekend, but we had the Orlando Pride and OCB in action. We’ve got plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links. 

Torres and Araujo Not On Uruguay Squad for Copa America

Uruguay National Team manager Marcelo Bielsa confirmed his roster for the 2024 Copa America over the weekend, and Orlando City’s Facundo Torres and Cesar Araujo didn’t make the final roster.

Torres and Araujo played briefly in the second half in Uruguay’s 4-0 win over Mexico in a friendly match last week. Uruguay will now prepare for its upcoming group stage matches in the Copa America against Panama, Bolivia, and the United States. Torres and Araujo will be back with Orlando City this week to get ready for their upcoming matchup against LAFC on Saturday.

Orlando Pride, San Diego Wave Play to 1-1 Draw

The Orlando Pride drew 1-1 Friday against the San Diego Wave at Snapdragon Stadium and saw their NWSL record win streak end at eight matches. Julie Doyle scored the opener for the Pride, but the Wave were able to grab an equalizer in the second half as both sides got a point. The Pride remains unbeaten this season in the NWSL. After this weekend’s results across the league, Orlando and the Kansas City Current are tied with 28 points, but Kansas City is in first on goal differential. The Pride will be on the road again this weekend to take on the North Carolina Courage Saturday.

OCB Draws at Home vs. Carolina Core FC, Snags Shootout Point

On Friday, Orlando City B drew 2-2 against Carolina Core FC at Osceola County Stadium. The Young Lions were off to a poor start early in the match, trailing 2-0 in the first half. In the second half, OCB got things back on track with goals from Alex Freeman and Imanol Almaguer to tie the match. It went to penalties after finishing tied. OCB won the extra point with a 6-5 shootout win over Carolina. That result puts the Young Lions back in the playoff hunt in seventh in the Eastern Conference with 18 points. OCB will be back in action Thursday at home against Chattanooga FC.

Colombia Dominates USMNT in Friendly Action

The U.S. Men’s National Team fell 5-1 to Colombia Saturday at FedEx Field and suffered its heaviest defeat under Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. It wasn’t good from the start as the USMNT conceded two goals in the first 19 minutes of the match in the first half. Tim Weah pulled one back for the U.S. before Colombia added three more goals towards the end of the second half to seal the win. Colombia is on a seven-match winning streak and is unbeaten in 22 matches. The last time the USMNT gave up this many goals was in the 2009 Gold Cup final in a 5-0 defeat to Mexico. The U.S. needs to improve fast with its Copa America opener less than two weeks from now. It will be a quick turnaround for the Americans as they take on Brazil Wednesday at Camping World Stadium in their final friendly match before Copa America starts.

Free Kicks

  • FC Dallas has announced the departure of Head Coach Nico Estevez. Assistant Coach Peter Luccin will lead the team on an interim basis while the club begins its search for a new head coach. FC Dallas is 13th in the Western Conference with 14 points.
  • The Chicago Red Stars broke an NWSL attendance record in their match over the weekend as 35,038 fans showed up at Wrigley Field, but the Red Stars lost 2-1 to Bay FC.
  • Wrexham co-owner Rob McElhenney is renewing his efforts to lure former Real Madrid star Gareth Bale out of retirement to join the club. He also stated that the club’s offer is still on the table.
  • In Jesse Marsch’s second match as Canada’s head coach, Canada held France to a scoreless draw in a friendly match on Sunday.

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

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