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Orlando City vs. Atlanta United FC: Final Score 2-1 as Lions’ Win Streak is Snapped at Six

Lions fall behind again and this time the rally falls short.

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Carlos Romero, The Mane Land

Orlando City fell behind again but this time the Lions couldn’t climb the mountain. A soft, first-half penalty against Cristian Higuita allowed Josef Martinez to give Atlanta United an early lead and the visitors doubled through Ezequiel Barco in the first half en route to a 2-1 win in front of 24,232 rain-soaked fans at Orlando City Stadium.

On the plus side, Orlando (6-3-1, 19 points) looked like it belonged on the pitch with Supporters’ Shield-leading Atlanta (8-2-1, 25 points) and Justin Meram opened his account with his first goal in purple.

And, sadly, the Lions lost at least 90 seconds worth of time to find an equalizer due to a shower of debris from fans frustrated by the inconsistency of referee Alan Kelly, who had a poor game but was absolutely right in not whistling a late foul when Will Johnson went down in the final third, out wide of the penalty box. Kelly allowed no extra time for the delay and didn’t even wait for the cleanup before ordering Atlanta goalkeeper Alec Kann to restart play, blowing the whistle seconds later.

The club’s six-match winning streak came to an end, as well as the team’s string of six multi-goal games — both Orlando City MLS bests.

“Obviously an emotional, emotional affair tonight — passionate affair from the crowd to the staff, to the players. I think everybody put everything they had into this game,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “It’s unfortunate, because the way we played the second half I think on a lot of different nights we walk out of here with a draw. But some things went against us, for sure. Some decisions went against us, and some of our thoughts in the first half surely went against us.”

Kreis went with the same lineup from the win last weekend over Real Salt Lake except Chris Schuler was replaced by Amro Tarek. Schuler was in the 18 and Donny Toia was left off the team sheet.

The game was only nine minutes old when an officiating decision gave the visitors a leg up. Greg Garza went down after contact with Higuita and Kelly deemed it a foul in the penalty area. Higuita did get his hands up on Garza, who went down far too easily. Martinez stepped up and took a cheeky spot kick that put Atlanta up, 1-0.

“I saw Cristian, and he did raise his hands,” Kreis said. “And I don’t know whether there was physical contact or not — let’s hope that there was some contact — but the player went down extremely softly and for me that kind of penalty kick should never be called in a game like this.”

Orlando responded with a long-range attempt by Yoshimar Yotún that went wide, a Mohamed El-Munir effort that was deflected by the defense to Kann, and won a couple of corners. The second of those saw the Lions shouting for handball, and it did look like Atlanta’s attempted clearance came off a defender’s hand during an attempted clearance. No call was given and it was not reviewed.

Atlanta then started making Orlando pay for a few sloppy moments. Jeff Larentowicz sent a training ground set piece wide in the 23rd minute. Eight minutes later, Atlanta doubled its lead after a midfield giveaway. Miguel Almiron sent a ball through to ignite a counter that Higuita failed to deal with and Barco sent it wide to Garza. The Atlanta fullback sent it back to the top of the box, and Barco finished the play off by knocking one in off the crossbar to make it 2-0 at the 31-minute mark.

The Lions got forward a few more times in the late stages of the first half. Dom Dwyer earned a free kick just outside the penalty area, but Kljestan sent the set piece off the wall and out for a corner. The best Orlando City chance came in the 44th minute off a nice buildup that saw Chris Mueller cross for Higuita, who headed the ball right at Kann at point-blank range.

The teams each had five shots, with Orlando getting two on frame to Atlanta’s three. The Lions held 51% of the possession and both teams completed 82% of their passes in what was an evenly played first 45 minutes, but Atlanta’s lightning-fast counter made the visitors the more dangerous side.

If Atlanta was more dangerous in the first half, it was Orlando’s turn after the break. Uri Rosell replaced Higuita to start the second half and it seemed to help calm things down for the Lions.

Dwyer earned a corner in the first minute of the second half, blasting a shot that deflected out. In the 52nd minute, Meram fired toward the near post, forcing a good diving save from Kann to keep it out. But five minutes later, Meram got his goal.

A long shot by Johnson knuckled in on frame and Kann could only fight it off with his fists. Meram beat Miles Robinson to the rebound, stepped around the Atlanta defender, and slotted it past Kann to pull the Lions back into the game in the 57th minute.

“It felt good to silence the haters,” Meram said of the goal. “Obviously I want to score and help the team but I want to win and that’s the main focus on this group. Maybe I should have scored two tonight and helped out. I think I had another chance as well.”

After Orlando’s goal, Atlanta had a brief spell where it tried to put the game away. Martinez nearly did so with a header that he sent wide in the 60th minute.

The Lions regrouped, with Josué Colmán coming on for Mueller in the 66th minute. Two minutes later, Orlando nearly found an equalizer. Dwyer fizzed a cross in for Meram but the defense did just enough to keep Orlando’s goal scorer from making good contact.

Colmán brought something extra to Orlando’s attack, getting down the right wing to send crosses into the box, playing quick passes with Rosell and Kljestan in the middle of the pitch, and earning a few corner kicks.

Meram was feeling his oats with a sneaky half-cross/half-shot that fooled Kann but missed the target in the 72nd minute. But the left wing was getting tired, and his turnover two minutes later allowed Almiron a good scoring chance. Atlanta’s No. 10 shot wide, however. Noted Lion killer Hector Villalba — a second-half sub for Barco — forced a good save from Bendik moments later.

Lamine Sané nearly got onto a corner kick cross in the 81st minute, arriving at the ball at the same time Kann did. Seconds later, Dom scorched a cross through the area that was just a smidge behind substitute Stefano Pinho, who had come on for Meram.

The emotions of the match began to boil over while Darlington Nagbe was down on the pitch and both Villalba and Yotún were booked. Yoshi will miss the Lions’ next match for yellow card accumulation. The emotions weren’t restricted to team vs. team, either. Kljestan and El-Munir barked at each other shortly thereafter and came together momentarily.

Perhaps the most egregious missed call of the evening took place in the 90th minute when Pinho was completely wrapped up and pulled down at the edge of the penalty area. It would have only been a free kick, but it was a definite foul and Kelly opted not to call anything.

Dwyer got his head on a corner in stoppage time but couldn’t get any power behind it and Kann collected it easily. That turned out to be the last opportunity for the Lions, who continued to throw bodies forward, but when Johnson went down to the right of the box and no call was made, the bottles and cups rained down onto the pitch and Kelly opted to call the match complete.

“We can’t be that. We can’t do that,” Kreis said. “We certainly want to be a very, very difficult place to play but we need to show the right amount of restraint at that moment to not be throwing things on the field. We just can’t do that.”

The Lions ended up with 55% of the possession and an 11-8 shots advantage (6-4 on target). Both teams passed well, with Orlando City completing 83% and Atlanta 80%. The fouls were pretty even, with Orlando called for 12 and Atlanta 10, but the disparity in what was called was evident, as Higuita’s obstruction of Garza affected the game just 10 minutes in and several such instances on the other end — not even in the area — went uncalled.

The club released a statement after the match regarding the fan behavior in stoppage time, stating: “Orlando City SC does not support or condone the actions taken by fans at Orlando City Stadium during Sunday’s match against Atlanta United. Fans are strictly prohibited from throwing debris or objects onto the field. The club is using available resources to identify offenders, who will be penalized for their behavior in accordance with Major League Soccer and Orlando City Stadium regulations.

Orlando City SC takes great pride in the passion of its supporters and how they make Orlando City Stadium the most difficult venue to play at in MLS, but the safety of fans, players, officials and staff members is our top priority.”


The Lions will try to bounce back Friday when they visit BMO Field to take on Toronto FC at 8 p.m.

Opinion

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.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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!

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Lion Links

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.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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.

Free Kicks

  • 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!

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!

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Orlando City

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?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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?

Roster Management

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.

Defensive Communication

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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