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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. New York Red Bulls

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After taking a week off to get healthier, Orlando City takes the pitch again this weekend to square off against the New York Red Bulls. There are plenty of storylines going into Saturday’s mid-day match, including Sacha Kljestan meeting up with his former team and Carlos Rivas’ return to Orlando. The Lions are still looking for their first win of the 2018 season while New York is juggling the league and the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. Dom Dwyer should make his long-awaited return to the field this weekend and perhaps we’ll see what Josué Colmán can really do.

And while the Red Bulls continue to play the same brand of soccer, there are a few new key players wearing red and white to get to know. So we touched base with Austin Fido, managing editor of SB Nation’s own Once a Metro to get the scoop on New York’s red team. I also answered his questions and you can find those over at his place.

The Red Bulls’ offense has been clicking even after the departure of Sacha Kljestan. What has been the key to New York’s early success in 2018?

Austin Fido: I think the simple answer — and the one the team might itself endorse — is that RBNY has had a consistent tactical philosophy since 2015 and has single-mindedly focused on recruiting players that fit the desired system and style of play for the last three seasons. So the core of the team knows exactly what it is supposed to do, and the new arrivals and emerging talents know exactly what they need to do to rise up the depth chart. That, plus the fact a few players have started the year in excellent form — BWP and Luis Robles most notably, perhaps — adds up to a team that knows itself very well and has been able to get out to a quick start in 2018.

There’s a little more to it than that, of course. In part, the team has been perhaps fortunate to be matched up against opponents in MLS and CONCACAF Champions League who aren’t playing nearly as fluidly, for one reason or another. In part, RBNY should get credit for a well-planned preseason: it wasn’t really reflected in the results of the squad’s February friendlies, but clearly the plan — which was to have a squad capable of competing in both CCL and MLS from the get-go — has worked. This is particularly praise-worthy because the club scheduled a very similar preseason for itself last year, and didn’t kick off the season nearly as well. The front office and technical staff clearly absorbed a number of lessons from that experience, and the team seems to be much the better for it. 

It’s also very helpful that several of the new arrivals — Tim Parker, Kyle Duncan and yes, even the oft-maligned Carlos Rivas — have settled in quickly and with near-immediate positive impact on the field. Again, credit the technical staff for their own development of their craft. The team signs new players every year, but they don’t always work out as well, as quickly as the 2018 intake appears to have done.

The next challenge is to sustain the run of results as our opponents in MLS and CCL get progressively better. In the league, we’ll soon start running into teams that have shaken off the early-season rust, or never had any in the first place. And in CCL, the challenge gets progressively more difficult, as tends to be the case in knockout competitions. But the first hurdle — the first month of the season — has been cleared with style and confidence.

Bradley Wright-Phillips has started this season hot, scoring three goals in three games even without Sacha. What has been the secret to his success even at this late stage in his career?

AF: For me, there’s no secret: he’s an extremely intelligent player, and that’s been the basis of his success in MLS since he arrived at RBNY. He’ll age out of the game at some point, but he hasn’t been a player relying on exceptional physical gifts at any stage of his career with the Red Bulls; rather, he relies on exceptional movement and reading of the game around him. 

Further evidence of his intelligence: he’s adapted to a significant tactical shift at the club. He’s won two Golden Boots playing for two very different teams — almost two oppositional teams. The side Mike Petke coached was built around Thierry Henry and controlling possession. Jesse Marsch coaches to the principles of RalfBall, which is more about controlling space. Through the turbulent transition between those distinct eras of RBNY soccer, BWP has remained the team’s top-scorer — and an elite scorer by MLS standards (indeed, by most leagues’ standards). 

He’s been able to do that, I would argue, because he’s one of the smartest players at RBNY, and in MLS. His body will eventually let him down, but as long as he can keep up with the physical demands of a pro soccer career, I think he’ll continue to be an elite player because it’s his mind that makes him special, and that might be the one thing a pro athlete can reasonably expect to improve with age, rather than diminish.

Nonetheless, we’re not used to seeing BWP scoring quite this freely this early in the year. He has tended to need a few games to get into form during his time at RBNY. Jesse Marsch has repeatedly mentioned BWP came into preseason prepared and focused (last year, he was juggling preseason with the arrival of a newborn child), and very obviously wants us to know that if Wright-Phillips appears to be in mid-season form in March, it’s because it’s exactly what he spent the winter working toward.

Will the trip to Guadalajara for the CONCACAF Champions League tie with Chivas a few days after the match affect how Jesse Marsch lines his team up this weekend?

AF: Jesse has been quite consistent so far this season: he plays whatever he thinks is his strongest team in CCL. In MLS, he uses whatever he thinks is the strongest team that won’t weaken the CCL lineup. I expect him to stick to that approach for this game. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean Orlando will see a reserve team in RBNY shirts. For a start, the concept of “reserves” gets a little blurred when you have multiple players consistently starting and playing well. Kyle Duncan has started all three of RBNY’s league games so far this season. He’s played well — the team has won two out of three of those games. Is he really a reserve? We’ll find out when Marsch is allowing himself to pick from his full squad, rather than effectively dividing the roster into MLS and CCL lineups. That won’t be this weekend.

For now, Jesse is trying to keep legs fresh for CCL and we’re basically watching two near-separate RBNY squads. My impression is he decides on the team he wants to play in CCL and then works backwards to what that means for MLS games. The formation — RBNY flips pretty comfortably between a three-at-the-back formation supplemented by wing backs, and a more conventional four-man back line — will depend on whichever players are picked for the match, with perhaps some slight concession to the opponent. 

Having said that, few things are more consistent about RBNY these days than the capacity of its head coach to surprise fans with his team selections. Very often, when we think we’ve figured out where Jesse’s head is at with respect to the roster, he changes something. So expect a Red Bull “reserve” team, and don’t be shocked if that isn’t the case.

Also note that the second-string squad currently includes senior players like Aurelien Collin and newly-signed DP Kaku (still finding his way into the team’s system), and club captain Luis Robles hasn’t missed a game yet this season.

What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend and what is your predicted lineup and final score? 

AF: Fidel Escobar is returning from international duty with an injury. Kaku missed RBNY’s last outing with a previously undisclosed knock, though not one thought to be particularly serious. Amir Murillo, Tyler Adams, and Kemar Lawrence will also be recently returned from national team outings and they are considered likely starters for CCL, so consider it a mild surprise if any of them even appear on the bench.

Predicted lineup: Luis Robles; Connor Lade, Aurelien Collin, Aaron Long, Kyle Duncan; Marc Rzatkowski, Florian Valot; Derrick Etienne, Kaku, Ben Mines; Carlos Rivas.

Score: On the road with more or less a second-string lineup against a team due a win, I think we’ll do well to get a draw. I also think we won’t get a draw — Orlando to win, 2-1


Thanks again to Austin for taking the time to answer our questions and giving us some insight on the Red Bulls.

Orlando City

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.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 2/20/24

The Wall sells out, Robin Jansson earns recognition, Concacaf W Gold cup preview, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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.

Free Kicks


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

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Opinion

Orlando City’s 10th Anniversary is the Time to Remember the Club’s Originals

Orlando City’s 10th year in MLS should be used to honor the players who built the club.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

The 2024 season is Orlando City’s 10th in Major League Soccer. The club has scheduled several events throughout the year to celebrate having been in the country’s top division for a decade, but the season should also be a time for fans to reflect on the people who made it happen without getting to experience the result.

Orlando City arrived in Orlando in 2010 with the goal of reaching MLS. However, it was the first professional soccer team in the city since the 1990s and resides in a football hotbed, leaving many to wonder if the team would be successful. The most famous doubt came at the team’s inaugural media day, when longtime WESH 2 sportscaster Pat Clake told club founder Phil Rawlins and inaugural Head Coach Adrian Heath that, while he wished them luck, a professional soccer team in Orlando would never work.

The Orlando project got off to a much better start than the Austin Aztex, Rawlins’ former project. During the team’s first season in 2011, Orlando City substantially outdrew its predecessor, proving there was an appetite for soccer. But there was another factor to the team’s popularity. The Lions won…a lot.

The success of a team at home has a significant impact on the enjoyment of attending games. In four USL Pro seasons, Orlando City was 40-3-9 (W-L-D) at the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) and Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports, winning three regular season titles and two USL Pro championships. Seeing the local team win and score frequently is much more likely to result in people returning for more games. That’s exactly what the Lions did, and it helped to create a following.

When MLS considered Orlando City for expansion, the league looked at average attendance, season ticket numbers, and community involvement. All of these factors were directly related to the team’s success on the field. For this reason, the key players on those teams are responsible for Orlando City being in MLS in the first place. 

In addition to their work on the field, the players from the USL Pro era worked in the community to build a following. They spoke with local groups and were active throughout Central Florida, convincing people to attend games. It was all about the effort of getting the team into MLS. Unfortunately, many of those players didn’t get to experience the results of their labor.

The core of Orlando City’s team from 2011 to 2013 remained the same, with Miguel Gallardo in goal, Luke Boden at left back, Rob Valentino at center back, Kevin Molino and Jamie Watson in the midfield, and Dennis Chin up top. The success they had resulted in the club being announced as the newest expansion side on Nov. 19, 2013. However, of those six stalwarts, only Boden and Molino continued with the team into MLS.

Over the past 10 years, Orlando City has had several star and fan favorite players come and go. As the club’s USL Pro era gets further in the rearview mirror, the players who built the organization are forgotten or unknown by a large portion of the fanbase that didn’t experience the early seasons.

To the club’s credit, Orlando City worked to keep the memory of the team’s foundation alive in recent years. This preseason, Chin, Lewis Neal (a 2011 original who returned to the team in MLS), and Dom Dwyer (who was on loan with the team in 2013 and returned in 2017) were involved in the popular away jersey unveiling. Additionally, Chin signed autographs and took part in a Q&A session during the Society XXI preseason game against the New England Revolution. They’ve had other events, like the 2022 U.S. Open Cup games against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, when former players have been invited back.

Additionally, the club raised banners last year for the 2011 and 2013 USL Pro championships and announced this year that it will display the trophies in a new permanent exhibit called “The Vault.” The club also released an updated version of the three-lion USL Pro logo from those first four seasons.

When people consider the factors that resulted in Orlando City joining MLS in 2015, the fan support during the USL Pro years is the first thing that comes to mind. But without the success of those teams and the work the players put into building the following, the club likely never would’ve made it to the top division. This 10th anniversary season is a good time to remember those club legends.

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