For the fourth time in six matches, Orlando City fell behind but rallied to win. After conceding a Corey Baird goal just 12 minutes into a battle with Real Salt Lake at Orlando City Stadium, the Lions got second-half goals from Dom Dwyer, Lamine Sané, and Yoshimar Yotún to win a club-record sixth straight game since joining Major League Soccer.
Orlando City (6-2-1, 19 points) improved to 2-0-2 in the all-time series with RSL (3-5-1, 10 points), having won the last two in a row. The announced attendance of 23,258 saw the Lions climb to within a point of second-place New York City FC in the Eastern Conference standings with a game in hand.
“Another afternoon or evening that I’m really, really pleased with the players’ mentality and their character,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the game. “It says a lot that we can continue to come back from difficult situations. Being a goal down in the first half after I thought we started so incredibly brightly was difficult for the guys. And I think the beginning of the second half there were some difficulties again but we continued to push, we continued to believe, we continued to stay together and we get the result I think in the end we deserved.”
Amro Tarek was fitted with a face mask this week to protect his broken nose but he was not in the team’s starting lineup, after sustaining a lower body injury in training on Saturday. Chris Schuler made his Orlando City debut — against his old team — alongside Sané on the back line, giving Orlando its fifth different center back combination on the season. The rest of the starting XI was the same as last weekend at Colorado, and the only change on the bench was PC in for Josué Colmán, who was pulled out of the 18 after an undisclosed violation of team rules in the locker room before the game, according to Kreis.
Real started the game brightly, working in an early cross and pressing high up the pitch, creating some nervous moments for the Orlando City defense. At the same time, Orlando was able to create some near chances but couldn’t quite put them away as the wet ball skipped off feet in front of goal.
Yotún found Chris Mueller in space in the seventh minute, and the rookie made mincemeat of left back Pablo Ruiz, working his way into the box before crossing the ball for Justin Meram. Meram was beaten in the air by Justen Glad, but the ball fell perfectly for Yotún, who blasted just wide.
RSL was able to get on the board first in the 12th minute when Damir Kreilach played a through ball that allowed Baird to get in behind Sané. The French-Senegalese defender stuck out a foot but it was inches out of reach and he could not match Baird’s pace. Goalkeeper Joe Bendik was late in recognizing the danger, allowing the RSL forward space to chip the ball into the wide-open goal and give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Orlando responded to the goal with an attack of its own, quickly winning a corner after the restart. The Lions took the set piece quickly and Sacha Kljestan drove into the box and crossed a ball for Dwyer, who mishit his shot then got a second opportunity and saw his second chance beat Nick Rimando, but it was cleared off the line by Brooks Lennon.
Yotún then found Dwyer in the box in the 15th minute. He laid it off for Kljestan, but the shot was well over the bar.
The Lions kept pressing, with Dwyer again whiffing at a pass at his feet. The ball continued on for Will Johnson, who fired his shot straight at Rimando for the easy save in the 18th minute. Joao Plata tested Bendik on the break from 25 yards out with a powerful, swerving shot that Orlando’s keeper fought off and then collected before it could cross the line for a corner just moments later.
Meram’s best opportunity came in the 24th minute when he found himself alone just inside the left edge of the penalty area. He had time to line up his shot but then blasted it just inches wide of the near post.
Ruiz fired over the bar on a good free kick opportunity in the 26th minute, after Baird was brought down from behind by Mohamed El-Munir. Real nearly doubled its lead six minutes later when El-Munir appeared to be fouled near midfield — but when nothing was called, the visitors were able to break two-on-two against the Lions’ center backs. Baird ended up on the right side with the ball from Jefferson Savarino and he beat Bendik with his shot but it found the far post and stayed out.
Much of the remainder of the first half was played in the middle of the park, with Orlando on the attack but breaking down through sloppy passes that were either poorly weighted or behind their intended targets.
The visitors took their 1-0 advantage to the locker room despite owning just 37% of the possession and being out-shot, 10-8. Real Salt Lake did get five of its eight shots on frame compared to Orlando’s two, which was largely the difference in the opening half.
RSL came out of the break looking to put the game to bed, and Albert Rusnak’s blast off the post in the 49th minute was inches from doing so. Rusnak faked to his right, then cut left to create space from Schuler and fired his shot off the woodwork. Two minutes later, Savarino’s header off a Kyle Beckerman pass was well saved by Bendik, conceding just a corner.
“We know that they’re good on the counter attack but a lot of the chances came from angles or from distance so I thought overall it was a pretty good night,” Bendik said of his defense.
After that opening flurry to start the second period, the Lions started getting more of the game, but continued to lack the quality in the final third they’d shown throughout the first half. Meram had a shot deflected out for a corner in the 56th minute and Kljestan fired wide off a quickly taken free kick a minute later. A dangerous corner kick cross from Yotún needed just a touch in the 59th but it sailed harmlessly through the six-yard box.
The Lions finally broke through in the 60th minute, but it was off another opportunity that was nearly wasted. Kljestan got forward and had an opportunity to shoot but instead tried to cross for Dwyer and his pass was blocked. But the acting captain regained possession and lifted a ball to the back post that Dwyer nodded home to tie the score. That’s six goals in six matches played on the year for Dom.
Kljestan has either scored a goal or assisted on one in every game of the Lions’ six-game win streak.
RSL nearly pulled the goal right back. Plata’s cross cleared Schuler by inches and fell onto Baird’s foot. The Real Salt Lake forward settled it with a deft first touch and blasted a shot that forced a sliding kick save from Bendik. It was a huge stop in the 62nd minute, because the Lions took the lead seconds later. Yotún’s corner kick cross found Sané’s head, and the defender powered his first MLS goal past Rimando to make it 2-1 in the 63rd minute.
“I’m very happy for the team. For us it was a glad day, particularly for me, it was a first goal and it helped,” Sané said when asked about his goal.
The goal by Sané gave Orlando City six consecutive games scoring more than one goal, which is another club record since joining MLS. The overall record is seven by the USL Lions in 2014. Yotún earned his fifth assist on the year by delivering a perfect ball.
Orlando City wasn’t done, controlling the ball and the play, against the young RSL side. Shortly after Mueller was subbed out for Stefano Pinho after cramping up, the Lions put the game away. Kljestan sent Dwyer down the left in the 78th minute and Dom saw his shot saved by a diving Rimando. The ball fell perfectly for the onrushing Yotún, who smashed it into the gaping net to make it 3-1.
A few substitutions didn’t change much. Real Salt Lake seemed to lose its energy after the third Orlando goal and in fact the Lions had a couple of half chances, with Uri Rosell firing over the bar on one occasion and forcing a Rimando save on another shot.
Bendik saw very little attack from the visitors over the final 10 minutes, plus four more minutes of injury time. The whistle finally blew and Orlando held all three points yet again.
“As a coach you’d probably much prefer not having to come back so many times — not to be suffering the first goal in so many matches — but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. It’s about 90 minutes,” Kreis said. “Over the 90 minutes our guys continued to work and stay together and get the result. I think we deserved that result and we got it.”
“Our power is a good character and in the second half we did the job to win this game,” Sané said.
The Lions finished with 53% of the possession, allowing more of the ball to RSL after the second goal, but staying organized and allowing very little room in the defensive third. Orlando out-shot the visitors, 19-16 (but 7-9 on target), passing at an 84% rate to RSL’s 81%.
The Lions return to the pitch next Sunday when first-place Atlanta United visits at 6 p.m. ET.
Wide Players Made the Difference in Victory Over Cavalry FC
Orlando’s fullbacks and wingers had great games against Cavalry, and it helped propel the Lions to victory.
Orlando City began its 2024 season with a resounding and confident 3-0 win over Cavalry FC on the road up in Canada. The Lions grabbed control of the game with an early goal and never let up, and now go into next week’s home leg in excellent position to advance to the next round. Everyone who played out wide for OCSC can and should take a well-earned bow for their performances, as it was their excellent games that pushed the Lions to a big advantage after the first leg.
The first goal looked easy enough, but it was a product of good vision and better execution. After collecting the ball near midfield, Wilder Cartagena turned into space and played a quick ball out to Ivan Angulo on the left wing. Martin Ojeda began his run in a fairly central position, but recognized that there was space behind fullback Shamit Shome, and immediately went to it. He was rewarded when Angulo took one touch to collect the ball, another to settle it, and used his third to play Ojeda into the space behind Shome, with defensive midfielder Jesse Daley coming back to cover. However, the pass from Angulo was perfectly weighted and Ojeda was able to use his first touch to play a cross into the box, preventing Daley from getting in the way of his delivery. Ojeda laid the ball on a plate, and Duncan McGuire made no mistake from close range.
The second goal also came as a result of play out wide, although it was more a goal of individual brilliance than team skill. Dagur Dan Thorhallsson drove at the heart of the retreating Cavalry defense, and pulled three players to him before releasing the ball at precisely the correct time to Facundo Torres on the right wing. Once there, the man defending Torres, William Akio, made the cardinal sin of allowing Facu to cut in on his left foot, and Orlando’s new no. 10 made the opposition pay with a shot to the near post that skipped off the turf and beat Marco Carducci, who admittedly maybe should have done better with it than he did.
The dagger came as a result of more excellent play down the left-hand side. Nicolas Lodeiro, Angulo, and Ramiro Enrique used some slick one-touch passing that resulted in Enrique sending Angulo in behind on the left. Enrique’s ball to free his fellow Colombian was perfectly weighted, and Angulo was able to use his first touch to play a perfect lofted cross to the back post, where Torres dispatched it with a beautiful diving header for his second of the match.
Numbers don’t lie, and they back up the assertion that the wide players had good games. Thorhallsson promptly picked up where he left off at right back, finishing with 81% passing accuracy, one key pass, one assist, one clearance, and one interception. If he keeps this up, then Mikey Halliday is going to have a fight on his hands when it comes to the starting job. Kyle Smith quietly had a good game on the opposite side of the defense, completing one dribble, winning a tackle, and recording four clearances, although his 72% passing accuracy could have been better.
Ivan Angulo was an absolute terror, and looked even more dangerous on the slick turf than he normally does on grass fields. He gave the Cavalry defense fits, and completed four dribbles, recording two key passes, a cross, two long balls, an interception, a tackle, and an assist while completing 84% of his passes. As in seasons past, the big question for him this year surrounds his decision-making in the final third and his finishing. If both of those attributes continue to improve, then he’ll be an almighty handful for opposing defenses.
Torres was, well, Torres. He’s been the straw that stirs Orlando City’s drink for two years now, and Wednesday night was no different. Facu took three shots and scored with the two he put on target, completed 86% of his passes, logging one key pass. He also completed a dribble and chipped in with a clearance and an interception on defense. Time will tell if he’s managed to add the use of his right foot to his game yet, but he was a pleasure to watch, as usual.
I also want to take a moment to shout-out Ojeda. While he was deployed through the middle in the no. 10 role, rather than out wide, where we’re used to seeing him, he was excellent. The Argentine repeatedly drifted into the half-spaces between center back and fullback and had a field day pulling the strings, as he finished with a whopping five key passes. If he can translate that sort of performance to MLS, then a lot of pressure will be taken off the aging legs of Nico Lodeiro.
In short, the Lions made their living on Wednesday by stretching the field, getting the ball to their dangerous players out wide, and then making and executing the correct decisions once it was there. There were a lot of things to like offensively about the performance, and it provided plenty to build on when OCSC opens MLS play against CF Montreal tomorrow. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 2/23/24
Orlando Pride’s Megan Montefusco placed on season-ending injury list, Orlando City’s chances to win it all, USWNT plays Argentina tonight, and more.
Happy Friday! It’s the final Friday before we spend pretty much every weekend screaming our hearts out for Orlando’s soccer teams. Although I won’t be in Orlando for tomorrow’s game, I’ll be cheering along from Tampa and am looking forward to a strong start to the season from the Lions. Before we get into today’s links, let’s all wish a happy birthday to our favorite octopus, Pedro Gallese!
Megan Montefusco Placed On Season-Ending Injury List
The Orlando Pride suffered a blow to their defense as center back Megan Montefusco was placed on the season-ending injury list after undergoing surgery on her right foot. Montefusco joined the Pride through a trade before the 2022 season and did well coming off the bench last season to keep Orlando’s defense strong as the year wore on. The Pride have options to fill the void, as Carrie Lawrence is back in the fray after missing last season due to injury and Tori Hansen will be back once her time on loan in Australia is up. Orlando could also go out and bring in a veteran to replace Montefusco or sign Cori Dyke, who was drafted by the Pride in the second round. Regardless, losing Montefusco is rough, considering Rafaella will likely be with Brazil for the Olympics this summer.
Orlando City’s Championship Credentials
Joseph Lowery of MLSsoccer.com detailed the strengths and weaknesses of each MLS team in terms of having what it takes to win it all this year. Orlando City followed up a pretty stellar off-season with a nearly perfect preseason. Head Coach Oscar Pareja, winger Ivan Angulo, and midfielder Wilder Cartagena are all sticking around, while Robin Jansson, Facundo Torres, and the front office brain trust of Luiz Muzzi and Ricardo Moreira were locked down as well. Additions of David Brekalo, Luis Muriel, and Nico Lodeiro also ensured this team has few holes. There’s concern that there are too many mouths to feed though, and that no single player can take the reins of the offense. I disagree on that being much of an issue though, as the attack is fluid enough to beat different teams in different ways. The Lions may go without All-Star representation as a result, but they should rack up plenty of points spreading the wealth on offense.
USWNT Takes on Argentina Tonight
The United States Women’s National Team will face Argentina tonight at 10:15 p.m. in its second game of the inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup. The U.S. did well in its 5-0 win over the Dominican Republic, but there were opportunities to score even more. Since there will be reseeding for the knockout stages, scoring plenty of goals will benefit the USWNT. Midge Purce was excellent in the opener and the USWNT will need to be sharper at putting away good service from the wings. Argentina held Mexico to a scoreless draw in its opener and will likely be hungry to score its first goal of the tournament.
Keeping Up With the Europa League
The first round of the Europa League’s knockout stage came to a close after a drama-filled day of soccer. Only one game went to penalty kicks, as AS Roma beat Feyenoord after a 1-1 draw thanks to two saves from Mile Svilar in the shootout. There was a thriller in Azerbaijan as well. A red card reduced Qarabag FK to 10 men and Braga took full advantage, scoring twice to send the game into extra time. They then traded goals until 19-year-old winger Nariman Akhundzade gave Qarabag the winner in stoppage time. In Germany, SC Freiburg came back from a two-goal deficit to beat Lens in extra time as well.
Elsewhere, a red card doomed Galatasaray as Sparta Prague rallied late to win, and AC Milan survived a hat trick from Rennes midfielder Benjamin Bourigeaud to advance on aggregate. Sporting CP, Marseille, and Benfica all booked their spot in the round of 16 as well, with the draw set for today.
- New food vendors will be available for fans at Orlando City and Orlando Pride home games this year, with Flippers Pizzeria Company now a permanent addition. New options for the rotating carts include Pardon My Cheesesteak and Omusubee Japanese Rice Balls.
- Congratulations to Pride defender Emily Madril on getting married!
- Former Barcelona right back Dani Alves was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison after being found guilty of sexual assault.
- Former Lion Greg Ranjitsingh has re-signed with Toronto FC through the 2024 season, with an option for 2025. The 30-year-old sticks around in Toronto’s goalkeeping corps, which also includes Sean Johnson and Luka Gavran.
- The Philadelphia Union loaned forward Joaquin Torres to Club Deportivo Universidad Catolica in Chile’s top flight.
- English goalkeeper Joe Hart will retire following this season with Celtic, ending a 20-year career.
- Luis de la Fuente’s contract as the manager of Spain’s men’s national team was extended through the 2026 World Cup.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!
Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Three Keys to Victory
What does Orlando City need to do to secure all three points in the home opener against CF Montreal?
Orlando City will host CF Montreal in the club’s first match of the 2024 MLS regular season this Saturday night. The Lions are coming off the Concacaf Champions Cup match against Cavalry FC Wednesday night. Orlando City will want to get things started the right way as expectations and aspirations are higher than ever for the club.
What does Orlando City need to do to secure a victory in the home opener against their Canadian opponents?
Orlando City has four matches in 11 days — the previously mentioned Wednesday match against Cavalry in Canada, the match against Montreal on Saturday, the return match against Cavalry in Orlando next Tuesday, and then a trip to Ft. Lauderdale to take on Inter Miami. That is quite a start to competitive play in 2024.
Because of the schedule congestion, Oscar Pareja will need to rotate players. That means we’re not likely to have the preferred starting 11 as much as any of us will like. Kyle Smith, Michael Halliday, Jeorgio Kocevski, and others will likely see playing time. How well Pareja manages when to use which players, and for how long, will determine not just the result of this match against Montreal, but for each of the other matches as well.
Rodrigo Schlegel is serving a suspension in this first league match and will not be available. That means Orlando City’s newest center back, David Brekalo, will probably get the start alongside Robin “The Beefy Swede” Jansson. Having a good center back pairing is absolutely essential to the success of any defense. We know that because once Jansson and former Lion Antonio Carlos worked together for a while, they became an absolute fortress on the back line.
Now, Jansson will need to build the same chemistry with Brekalo if the Lions want to maintain their position as one of the best defenses in the league. With Schlegel unavailable, there is no question that Jansson and Brekalo will have the opportunity to start building that relationship. Hopefully, it will be good enough to keep Montreal — especially Josef Martinez — out of the goal.
Keep Torres Scoring
Facundo Torres had a great preseason. Orlando City’s new owner of the No. 10 shirt needs to keep doing the same. He’ll need to score goals, provide assists, and create problems for Montreal’s defense. Traditionally, Montreal has put out a three-man back line. While that means it’ll be a five-man back line when Orlando City has the ball, during changes of possession there should be space for Torres to get free and get scoring opportunities.
If Montreal smartly tried to contain Torres, then it will have to deal with Duncan McGuire, Nico Lodeiro, and Ivan Angulo. Orlando City’s offense has the potential to score quite a few more goals this season, and it all starts Saturday night against Montreal. Get two on the board and I think it will mean three points in the standings.
That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!
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