The Cardiac Cats struck again with a dramatic 3-2 win over the Portland Timbers, scoring all three goals in the final 10 minutes. After a strong first half, the team looked dead during the first 35 minutes of the second half before stunning everyone with three goals at the end. Let’s take a look at the individual performances in the game.
GK, Joe Bendik, 6 — Neither of Portland’s goals were the fault of Joe Bendik, but he was saved by the crossbar in the game and once by Jonathan Spector sweeping in behind him to clean up a shot that got through. He only had one bad giveaway when attempting to clear the ball, following a pass back from Lamine Sané, but it was far enough away to avoid any danger. When called upon late, Bendik was strong, coming off his line to collect balls before the attacker could connect. Overall, it was a strong performance from the goalkeeper.
D, Scott Sutter, 5.5 — Scott Sutter defended pretty well throughout the 57 minutes he played. When going forward, he had some nice crosses, something that Orlando City fans have come to expect from the starting right back. His departure shortly into the second half was a bit of a surprise because he was playing decent and was far from the worst Orlando City player on the field.
D, Jonathan Spector, 6 — In his first game back since suffering a concussion in New York two weeks ago, the captain was strong in the back. His shielding of the ball, particularly late in the second half, prevented Portland from extending its lead beyond reach. He also had that goal-line clearance early in the game. Given that it was his first game back, Spector played very well.
D, Lamine Sané, 6 — Like Spector, it was a strong performance by Lamine Sané. In just his second start for the club, and his first alongside Spector, he did well to hold off attackers and was quick to get back when pushing forward. A notable play followed a poor ball by Yoshimar Yotún, but Sané quickly played a strong pass to Bendik who was able to clear. He did concede a free kick on which Portland scored its second goal, however.
D, Mohamed El-Munir, 4 — It was another forgettable game for Mohamed El-Munir, who was at fault for the Timbers’ first goal. In the 20th minute, a very poor challenge saw him take down Sebastián Blanco in the box. Despite the referee initially calling a dive, it was a clear penalty and was confirmed as such by video review. El-Munir has been strong at times going forward, but he even struggled with that in this game.
M, Will Johnson, 5 — It was a rough day for Will Johnson. In addition to struggling to add much to the attack, his insistence on holding onto the ball far too long allowed the Timbers to break down multiple opportunities. He finished the game completing an impressive 97 percent of his 44 passes, but wasn’t very good overall.
M, Yoshimar Yotún, 6 — As much as anyone, Yoshi Yotún was a pivotal part of the Lions’ attack in the first half. His play in the midfield helped to create many opportunities during the first 45 minutes. His corner kick in the 80th minute resulted in Orlando City’s first goal by Chris Mueller.
M, Josué Colman, 5 — Despite his pace and skill, Josué Colmán struggled in one-on-one situations. He did play well with Scott Sutter, RJ Allen, and Sacha Kljestan in creating opportunities, especially in the first half, but failed to create many on his own. He’s young, but more will be expected out of the midfielder.
M, Sacha Kljestan, 6 — Sacha Kljestan had a strong game in the midfield for Orlando City. He did well connecting with Dom Dwyer to create opportunities in the first half, though he had a poor free kick from just outside the box and held onto the ball too long on another opportunity. His most important contribution to the game was converting on the penalty in the 83rd minute, tying the game at 2-2.
M, Justin Meram, 5.5 — It wasn’t Justin Meram’s best game, but it also wasn’t his worst. He had a few opportunities to score in the first half, missing just wide on two of them. He appeared to tie up the game just before the break, but Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson made an excellent save. His departure in the 76th minute for Stéfano Pinho came just before the comeback began.
F, Dom Dwyer, 6.5 (MotM) — My man of the match for this one has to be Dom Dwyer. He played his usual hard-nosed style today and, while failing to convert on chances in the first half, ended up making the biggest impact. He drew the penalty that resulted in the equalizing goal in the 83rd minute and scored the winner, featuring an unmatched amount of determination.
D, RJ Allen (75’), 6 — Coming on for Scott Sutter in the 57th minute, RJ Allen played his best game since joining Orlando City this past off-season. He was strong in the back and was dangerous going forward, working well with Chris Mueller to create crosses into the box late. His late run into the box and vision to find Dom Dwyer for the winning goal was exquisite, and deserves recognition.
F, Chris Mueller (67’), 6 — Nobody turned their game around in this one more than rookie forward Chris Mueller. In the 78th minute, RJ Allen made a beautiful run up the right side and laid the ball off for a waiting Mueller who should’ve scored. Instead, he put the ball off the outside netting, nearly killing any hope of a comeback. Just two minutes later, it was Mueller’s header that gave the Lions life cutting the deficit in half. More than that, Mueller was the energy in the team in the last 10 minutes. His emotion was contagious by the crowd and his teammates, and definitely had an impact on the comeback.
F, Stéfano Pinho (76’), 5 – The last substitute of the game was the entrance of Stefano Pinho for Meram. While Pinho didn’t have the same impact as Mueller, his provided a similar energy. In the 84th minute, he played a beautiful ball across the six-yard box that nearly found Dwyer for the winner. Overall, it was a solid appearance from the striker.
This game was a tale of two halves. The Lions were the more dangerous team in the first half and should’ve had the lead going into halftime. The first 35 minutes of the second half were dreadful for the home side, who gave the ball away far too easily and never looked as though they would equalize. They finally showed life in the final 10 minutes, pulling out the win, but the struggles of the team should not be ignored. However, a win is a win and the Lions take home a vital three points.
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.
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.
Lion Links: 2/20/24
The Wall sells out, Robin Jansson earns recognition, Concacaf W Gold cup preview, and more.
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.
- Orlando City forward Luis Muriel thanked Atalanta fans who made a banner to bid him farewell this past weekend.
- The folks over at MLSsoccer.com have predicted Orlando City will finish third in the Eastern Conference this year.
- The U.S. Open Cup has reportedly gotten the green light to take place this year, although it will have a format different than in past years.
- Thorgan Hazard dedicated a goal celebration to his family’s parakeet that passed away.
- Crystal Palace has hired Oliver Glasner as the team’s new coach after Roy Hodgson stepped down from the role.
- Napoli announced the firing of Walter Mazzari just two days before the team’s Champions League tie against Barcelona, making him the second coaching casualty of the Italian Champions’ campaign.
- Continuing the coaching carousel trend, Marseille has fired Gennaro Gattuso after just five months into the job.
That’s all I have for this morning. Vamos Orlando!
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.
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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