Orlando City was in a tough spot on Saturday night. The Lions were looking to put an end to a seven-game league losing streak, but they were challenged to do it against the top club in the MLS table, Atlanta United (11-3-4, 37 points), on the road in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Those aren’t exactly the ingredients for a turnaround performance, but stranger things have happened.
Well, they didn’t happen on Saturday. Orlando (6-10-1, 19 points) left Atlanta with its eighth straight MLS loss, this time a 4-0 loss led by a brace from Miguel Almiron.
Bobby Murphy stuck with the 3-4-3, opting to play defensively and look for counter-attack opportunities.
Atlanta United didn’t let City hang around and build confidence at all, getting the party started right out of the gate in the third minute, thanks to the right foot of Josef Martinez. Orlando’s plan to absorb pressure quickly backfired as Julian Gressel played a pretty, curling ball in from the right flank that found its way past Amro Tarek and Lamine Sane before connecting with the on-running Martinez, who slotted it home into the bottom corner as he slid to ground. Joe Bendik had virtually no chance to stop it, and Atlanta went ahead very early.
The mission for the Lions very quickly became to withstand the onslaught, as United looked threatening after the early goal and appeared ready to bust the match wide open a number of times. After a careless Orlando turnover in minute five, Atlanta hit on the counter and missed a chance to make it 2-0 when a streaking Martinez played a low cross from the left that rolled all the way across the face of goal without finding a red and black foot. Once again, in minute 12, United created a dangerous situation that the Lions were fortunate to get out of when Almiron played a ball across the face of goal that deflected behind the goal off Jonathan Spector’s leg.
Things continued in the same vein for a while, with Orlando City playing on the back foot and Atlanta looking by far the more dangerous side. There were moments in the first half where the Lions appeared listless, reeling from their seven-game skid and deflated even more by Atlanta’s early goal. Things improved a bit toward the end of the half, however, and the Lions were actually a bit unlucky to go into the break a goal down.
In minute 38, Chris Mueller won a corner after corralling the ball off a set piece, spinning away from a defender, and sending the ball towards goal before it was deflected out behind for a corner. On the resulting corner, Mueller got a head on the ball that fell in the six-yard box for Spector, whose shot was deflected by Guzan and bounced around for Tarek to charge onto. The center back couldn’t put it home, however, as former Lion Mikey Ambrose got to it first and cleared it off the line. On the ensuing corner, Guzan charged out to punch the in-swinging cross but misjudged its path as he was beaten in the air by Tarek, whose header sailed just wide of the right post, and Atlanta escaped the sequence unscathed.
Will Johnson got a chance at a header at the death of the half after Hector Villalba turned it over and Tarek took advantage and sent a ball in from the left side. Johnson’s header looped over the bar, however, and the half ended 1-0 to Atlanta.
The Lions may have steadied the ship (relatively) in the first half, but a team like Atlanta, which is the highest-scoring club in MLS, can flip a game on its head quickly. A few minutes into the second half, that’s exactly what happened.
After Mueller and Tarek managed to get to the end line in the box for Orlando on back-to-back sequences, the latter managed to win a corner. The set piece went awry when Johnson whiffed on a pass and United was out on the break, and a few seconds later Almiron made it 2-0 after slotting past Bendik. Martinez had received the ball near midfield, charged forward, and dished the assist.
Just two minutes later, Ezequiel Barco made it 3-0, putting back a rebound after Almiron curled one onto the crossbar, and the rout that felt close early in the game was officially on.
Almiron put a bow on the win for Atlanta in the 78th minute when he beat a stumbling Spector and got himself into another 1-v-1 situation with Bendik, which he converted with a five-hole finish between Bendik’s legs from an acute angle.
Almiron was denied a hat trick by a Mohamed El-Munir block on a breakaway in the 85th minute and the AR’s flag was up anyway.
The Lions just couldn’t get on the scoreboard, missing a couple chances toward the end of the first half and blowing their most clear-cut chance of the night in minute 61 as well. After Uri Rosell fired a shot from distance that a diving Guzan parried back in front of goal, Johnson was unable to simply slot home into the resulting open net, instead scuffing it wide of the goal. So it went for Orlando on the evening, continuing the long run of futility that has now seen the Lions outscored 23-5 on aggregate since a loss to Atlanta started the losing streak in May. The shutout this week was the third on the spin for Orlando, which ties the club’s record.
Saturday’s match was the last that Orlando will play under Interim Head Coach Bobby Murphy, as new hire James O’Connor will take the reins and look to get things back on track following the dismissal of former Head Coach Jason Kreis. Murphy went 0-2-0 in MLS play and saw his team out-scored 6-0, but he did manage to get the team into the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals with a penalty shootout win.
Orlando City’s last league win came way back on May 6 against Real Salt Lake.
Things could yet get worse before they get better for the Lions, who travel to Los Angeles next Saturday to face a tough LAFC side.
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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