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Intelligence Report: Orlando City at Toronto FC

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It will be a quick turnaround for Orlando City this week as the Lions arrived in Toronto just four days after their intense match with Atlanta United. To make things more interesting, City will look to bounce back to its winning ways against reigning champion and Concacaf Champions League runner-up Toronto FC tonight at BMO Field.

It’s a daunting task on paper, but with the champs in a poor run of form, and missing a slew of key pieces, there’s hope that Orlando can do something the club has accomplished just once in three years: beat TFC.

To give us an update on the Reds, Charlie O’Connor-Clarke, Managing Editor of SB Nation’s Waking the Red, has stopped by to answer some questions:

Toronto spent most of the first months of the season focusing on the Concacaf Champions League, which set the team back a bit in the league. Although the continental campaign is over, things haven’t improved much. What’s been the reason for the setbacks?

Charlie O’Connor-Clarke: Everybody is broken. Through a mix of travel, heightened game intensity, schedule congestion, and poor playing conditions, it feels like almost every first-team player has dealt with an injury. A few players are starting to work their way back into training, but for the past three weeks or so TFC have had their best midfielder and their right back playing center back, because they literally had no healthy center backs. They need to get Michael Bradley back into midfield ASAP, because his presence in the transition game has been sorely missed while he’s been playing at the back. It sucks to have to throw out excuses like that, but I feel like it’d be very wrong to think the way the team has been playing is in any way indicative of its ability. They’ve looked great at times, especially in attack, but for a team that often plays with three central defenders and wide wingbacks, it’s very hard to get much done while your top four center backs, and your MLS Best XI left back (Justin Morrow) are out injured.

TFC’s star forwards will both be sidelined on Friday. It’s hard to replace what Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore bring to the table but how do you expect Greg Vanney to cope with their absence?

CO-C: It could be ugly up front. TFC’s attack wasn’t very good on the weekend against New England before Giovinco and Victor Vazquez came onto the pitch. They’ve tried various combinations with Tosaint Ricketts and/or Jordan Hamilton up front, but neither of them has been impressive so far this year, and both have seemed plagued by terrible finishing. Thankfully, Jonathan Osorio is still in tremendous goal scoring form. He’s nominally a midfielder, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pushed a little further forward in the absence of Seba and Altidore. He and Vazquez will be tremendously important on Friday; there’s no way they’ll be able to score without both of those two at the top of their games. That, or Ager Aketxe will finally score that 20-yard screamer he’s come close with like five times. 

Gregory van der Wiel and Ager Aketxe were two major signings brought in during the winter that looked like they would make a record-setting side even better. How have they settled in so far?

CO-C: Both had slowish starts, being thrown off the deep end into very competitive Champions League games in bitterly cold weather. Van der Wiel has clicked into the team very quickly, though. He’s probably played more at center back than in his traditional spot on the right, which is all right because he’s been a very stable, safe presence back there in the midst of a whole lot of defensive chaos. Van der Wiel has been pretty much as advertised, and hasn’t really set a foot wrong defensively. His experience and pedigree are pretty clear to see; things just seem to be calmer with him on the pitch. Aketxe is a bit of a more polarizing figure, especially since we found out he makes $1.25 million. He’s had some very strong performances, especially when he sits a little deeper and goes searching for the ball in midfield, but fans seem to be frustrated with his zero in the goal scoring column so far. He’s an immensely talented player, and every time he and Vazquez link up in midfield something special is going to happen. He’s also the only player on the team who can have a legitimate crack from well outside the box — we’ve seen him hit the post like three times with those shots, one has to go in eventually. His defensive play has been pretty suspect, but that’s not really his role. I think the longer he has to settle into the team, the more fans will start to come around on him. 

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

CO-C: Giovinco is, of course, suspended for his dumb red card on the weekend. In the injury department, TFC will probably be missing (deep breath) Jozy Altidore, Nick Hagglund, Justin Morrow, Drew Moor, Eriq Zavaleta, and Nicolas Hasler. A couple of those defenders, Zavaleta especially, have been training recently, but may only be used as substitutes on Friday. Chris Mavinga only just returned on Saturday, but hopefully he’s able to start. 

I think Greg Vanney might go with the 4-1-4-1 formation he’s used a few times during this injury crisis. 

Starting XI: Alex Bono; Ashtone Morgan, Chris Mavinga, Gregory van der Wiel, Auro; Michael Bradley; Jay Chapman, Ager Aketxe, Victor Vazquez, Marky Delgado; Jonathan Osorio


Thanks again to Charlie for taking the time to answer our questions.

Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Alex Freeman

We start our Orlando City player reviews with a look at a Homegrown fullback who made his MLS debut this season.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City B

Orlando City signed fullback Alex Freeman to a Homegrown Player contract on February 15, 2022. He became the Lions’ 12th Homegrown signing and his deal runs through the 2025 season with a club option for 2026, but the youngster did not see action in Major League Soccer last season. With the departure of Ruan, there was an opportunity for Freeman to win a job with the first team in camp but he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump, instead playing an important role with Orlando City B throughout the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season.

Let’s take a look back at Freeman’s 2023 campaign.

Statistical Breakdown

Freeman made his MLS debut on April 29 in a 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. It was not just his debut with the first team, but it was also his only appearance with the senior squad in 2023, although he did make the substitutes’ bench a few times after that. Officially, he logged only one minute, entering in the 93rd minute. He was only on the pitch a matter of seconds, so it’s unsurprising that he registered nothing on the stats sheet.

The son of former NFL receiver Antonio Freeman, Alex starred with OCB in 2023. In MLS NEXT Pro play, Freeman appeared in 24 of OCB’s 28 matches, starting 22, and logging 1,855 minutes. He finished tied for third on the squad in goals (4), adding three assists and passing at a 79.1% success rate. Freeman attempted 25 shots, putting 11 on target, and contributed 10 key passes. He committed 22 fouls, drew 27 on the opposition, and was booked four times. He also started OCB’s playoff match at Columbus, playing 89 minutes in the Young Lions’ 2-1 road loss. Freeman didn’t contribute a goal or assist or attempt a shot in the match, but he passed at an 88% rate, created one scoring chance, and committed one foul.

Best Game

With only one MLS appearance to his credit, the default best game for Freeman came on April 29 in Orlando City’s 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. Freeman didn’t even officially touch the ball in the game, but it’s not every day a teenager gets to play in an MLS match, and I’m sure it was a special moment for him. It was certainly a milestone in his professional soccer career.

2023 Final Grade

As Freeman fell well short of the minimum 450 minutes played mark to receive a rating on our 1-10 scale, The Mane Land has no choice but to mark his grade as incomplete for the 2023 season. There are areas of Freeman’s game that need a bit of refining, but at the same time, it’s easy to see why he landed a Homegrown contract, why Orlando City would find him an intriguing prospect, and why he’s been getting called up by the United States for U-20 international duty. His attacking presence was huge for OCB in 2023 and he was one of the key players that led the Young Lions to the postseason.

2024 Outlook

I would expect Freeman to get more seasoning at OCB in 2024, although he’ll be given opportunities in preseason camp to show whether he’s closed the gap on the likes of Michael Halliday and Kyle Smith (assuming both return). If the club moves on from both Halliday and Smith, it’s not hard to picture Freeman starting the season providing depth at right back for the first team. Having just turned 19 in August, Freeman has a lot of potential and he should start to unlock that within the next year or so.


This is the first of our 2023 Orlando City Season in Review articles. Every player who played minutes this past season and who finished the year on the club roster will be reviewed (exceptions may be made for players let go when the club officially announces its roster moves). Players who logged fewer than 450 minutes (combined regular season plus playoffs, Concacaf Champions League, U.S. Open Cup, and Leagues Cup) will receive a composite score between 1 and 10 as determined by a panel of The Mane Land writers, while those who did not reach that threshold will receive an incomplete grade.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/29/23

Orlando Pride players called up by Brazil, MLS announces 2023 Best XI, latest MLS roster moves, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Hello, Mane Landers I hope all is well down in Florida. I’ve been very busy working throughout the holiday weekend at Under Armour. This week I’ll be working at Wrigley Field for Winterland while getting ready to cover high school wrestling tomorrow night. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.

Pride Players Called Up By Brazil for Friendlies

Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle and forwards Marta and Adriana have been called up to the Brazil Women’s National Team for its upcoming friendlies.

Brazil will play two matches against Japan on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 in Sao Paulo before playing Nicaragua on Dec. 6 at Estadio Fonte Luminosa in Araraquara.

MLS Announces the 2023 Best XI

Major League Soccer announced its 2023 Best XI, recognizing the league’s top players at each position. There were no Orlando City players selected for the team and eight players received the honor for the first time. Those players are St. Louis City’s Roman Burki and Tim Parker, FC Cincinnati defender Matt Miazga, Atlanta United duo Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis, Houston Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera, LAFC’s Denis Bouanga, and Columbus Crew forward Cucho Hernandez. Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar made the Best XI for the third consecutive time, while teammate Walker Zimmerman was named to it for the fifth time. MLS MVP Luciano Acosta of FC Cincinnati rounds out the list.

Latest MLS Off-season Roster Moves

The Colorado Rapids announced their latest roster changes as they prepare for the the 2024 season under new Head Coach Chris Armas. The club exercised its options for defender Andrew Gutman, midfielder Ralph Priso, and forward Calvin Harris. The Rapids declined contract offers to seven players, with the most notable names being defender Steven Beitashour and goalkeeper William Yarbrough, although the Rapids are in discussions about re-signing Yarbrough. Elsewhere, the New England Revolution exercised the permanent transfer option on forward Tomas Chancalay, signing him to a Designated Player contract through 2026, with a club option for the 2027 season.

UEFA Champions League Roundup

Champions League action returned in Europe, as we get close to wrapping up the group stage in a couple of weeks. Manchester City overcame a two-goal deficit to beat RB Leipzig 3-2 and win Group G. Newcastle United had a chance to qualify for the round of 16 but gave up a late penalty to Paris Saint-Germain, which Kylian Mbappe converted to end the match in a 1-1 draw. Borussia Dortmund beat AC Milan 3-1 to book its spot in the knockout stage. PSG, Newcastle, and AC Milan are all still alive in Group F heading into the final matchday in December. Shakhtar Donetsk won 1-0 against Royal Antwerp and also still has a shot to advance on the final matchday. Lazio, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Young Boys all won their respective matches as well. Today’s matches include Manchester United on the road against Galatasaray, Real Madrid taking on Napoli, and Sevilla facing off with PSV Eindhoven.

Free Kicks

  • Concacaf has announced that BMO Stadium, Dignity Health Sports Park, Shell Energy Stadium, and Snapdragon Stadium will be the four venues that will host matches for the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup.
  • Barcelona midfielder Gavi will be sidelined for up to 10 months after undergoing knee surgery after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee.
  • The International Football Association Board approved a trial for sin bins, meaning players punished for dissent or specific tactical offense would be temporarily removed from the match for a set amount of minutes.
  • You have got to see this goal from Cwrt Rawlin FC in the Welsh seventh division.

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

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/28/23

Luciano Acosta named MVP, Americans in action, scheduling news for U.S. national teams, and more.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Happy Tuesday, everyone. I’m dragging a little today after having an extended period of time off for the Thanksgiving holiday, but there’s no rest for the wicked and the only way out is through. With that being the case, let’s get into today’s news.

Luciano Acosta Wins MLS MVP

In a piece of news that plenty of people likely saw coming from several miles away, Luciano Acosta has been named Major League Soccer’s Most Valuable Player. Acosta racked up 34 goal contributions during the regular season, finishing the 2023 campaign with 17 goals and 14 assists as the driving force behind his team’s run to the Supporters’ Shield. He was voted the best player in the league by quite some margin and won the award in a landslide, taking 60.37% of the votes to Denis Bouanga’s 14.97% and Thiago Almada’s 6.46%.

American Stars in Midweek Action

There are a number of United States Men’s National Team players that will be in action this week, with several UEFA Champions League clashes highlighting the viewing slate. Christian Pulisic, Yunus Musah and AC Milan will face Giovanni Reyna’s Borussia Dortmund today in a game with huge ramifications for both teams. Malik Tillman, Ricardo Pepi, and Sergino Dest may play in PSV Eindhoven’s match with Sevilla tomorrow, and a win would likely go a long way to securing a place in the Round of 16. Additionally on Wednesday, Brenden Aaronson and Union Berlin have a chance to make a big move towards a place in the Europa League, as a win over Braga would leapfrog the German club into third place in Group C.

USMNT & USWNT Scheduling News

The USMNT will open its 2024 slate of games with a match against Slovenia on Jan. 20 in San Antonio. The match will fall outside of an international window, meaning that the January camp roster will largely be made up of domestic-based players. The USMNT has faced Slovenia twice before, with the most recent time being a 3-2 win in Ljubljana courtesy of a Jozy Altidore penalty kick.

While we already knew that the United States Women’s National Team would play China PR on Dec. 5 in Frisco, we now know that one of the team’s legends will be honored before the game. The U.S. Soccer Federation has announced that former Orlando Pride defender Ali Krieger, who stated in March that she will retire following the NWSL season, will be honored before the match. Krieger played 108 games for the USWNT and is a two-time World Cup winner with the team.

Notable Women’s Players to Miss International Matches

A pair of high profile women’s players will miss upcoming international games. First up, Sam Kerr will not feature in Australia’s back-to-back friendlies against Canada due to a foot injury. Kerr has struggled with injuries this year and her availability was limited during this summer’s World Cup.

Alexia Putellas will miss Spain’s two Nations League matches against Sweden and Italy after picking up a left knee injury. Putellas had missed Euro 2022 due to an ACL tear, but was back to help her side win the World Cup several months ago. Fortunately for Spain, the team is well positioned atop its group and has enough players in the squad that it shouldn’t feel her absence too keenly.

Free Kicks

  • A pair of Willian penalties and an early Alex Iwobi goal helped Fulham beat Wolverhampton, with American defenders Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream also starting.
  • New York Red Bulls forward Tom Barlow is reportedly headed to the Chicago Fire.

That’s all I’ve got for you this morning. Y’all stay safe out there.

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