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Orlando City vs. D.C. United: Final Score 3-2 as Lions Drop Eighth Straight Road Game

Lions fall again in an inventive new way to get punched in the gut.

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Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

A hell of an effort went to waste by Orlando City at Audi Field in a 3-2 loss to D.C. United. Down a man for more than 40 minutes, the Lions saw Luciano Acosta complete a controversial hat trick at the death, providing D.C.’s game-winner in the 96th minute.

Orlando City (7-15-2, 23 points) had Cristian Higuita sent off after video review in the 55th minute, Acosta’s second goal was initially called offside and then awarded after another video review on a close play, and a final video review of Acosta, who appeared to be offside when Wayne Rooney delivered a cross from midfield, was not overturned, as the calls all went the way of United (5-9-6, 21 points) whether they were clear and obvious errors or not.

The really frustrating part is that the winning goal for D.C. came seconds after an opportunity for Orlando to steal an improbable win. United goalkeeper David Ousted came up for a corner kick with about a minute to play. The Lions cleared the ball way out and Will Johnson busted his lungs to try to reach the ball just ahead of Rooney. Rather than try a low-percentage left-footed effort from midfield, he tried to spray a pass across the field for Stefano Pinho, who had a much more open look, but Rooney blocked the pass, got up first, and made the game winning assist.

It was maybe the toughest of all the 2018 losses to swallow, but it was yet another loss in a growing season of them. Orlando City lost its ninth consecutive road match in league play and the current winless streak is five games (0-4-1).

James O’Connor had no Sacha Kljestan (ankle) or Yoshimar Yotún (suspension) available, so he decided to free all of his defensive midfielders with this formation:

An often dull and plodding first half was just what Orlando City was going for, as the majority of play took place between the two penalty areas. Orlando dropped into a five-man back line on defense and took on a bunker mentality. Moving forward, the attack, such as it was, looked like a 4-3-2-1 or a 4-2-3-1, depending on how many Lions got forward. But in that final third, things often broke down, as they often do. The passing quality of Kljestan and Yotún was definitely missed, and, as you’d expect from a plethora of defensive midfielders, very few runs were made into the area.

It was a back-and-forth opening period. The Lions got the first look at goal in the game’s opening minute, with Higuita smashing a shot that stung Ousted’s palms.

D.C. countered six minutes in with a shot over the bar by Yamil Asad. Tony Rocha tried to go straight at goal on a set piece but his shot wasn’t close in the eighth minute and Zoltan Stieber fired well wide for D.C. in the 11th minute.

Stieber again missed the target in the 22nd minute off a Higuita turnover in the defensive half. After a few crosses from Chris Mueller were either deflected away or were off target, Mueller had a go himself in the 28th minute, and his blast forced a good save from Ousted at the near post.

The hosts thought they went ahead in the 44th minute on a Rooney header but the pass to Rooney came from an offside Asad. The flag came up but the referee went over himself to check the replay and correctly ruled no goal.

That was only momentary, however. With just seconds remaining in the three minutes of first-half stoppage time, Mohamed El-Munir got cute near the sideline rather than blast the ball down the field. It was costly. On the throw-in, the ball found Acosta, who worked a give-and-go with Rooney, continuing his run into the box and beating Amro Tarek and El-Munir. Rooney’s return pass found him but he still had a lot to do from a tough angle. Joe Bendik left Acosta too much room at the near post and the United midfielder blasted the first of his three goals inside that post to put D.C. ahead 1-0 at the death of the first half.

Shots in the first half were even at 6-6, with Orlando holding a 3-1 advantage in shots on frame. United held a slight possession advantage, with 51%, and Orlando connected on 88% of its passes to D.C.’s 85%.

Stieber nearly doubled the lead in the 47th minute but his left-footed effort found the post instead of the net.

The Lions equalized in the 50th minute out of nowhere. Uri Rosell made a good play to push the ball into a wide area, then ran it down and tried to cross for Dom Dwyer. Ousted stuck out a leg to block the cross and it deflected into his own net to make it 1-1.

The game changed in the 54th minute, when Orlando City came forward and Higuita crossed the ball over everyone and out of play. Behind the play, Asad was on the ground and after referee José Carlos Rivero spoke with Video Assistant Referee Jorge Gonzalez, he went over to take a look at the replay. He decided that Higuita intentionally swung an elbow at Asad and sent the Colombian off. Whether Higuita was trying to elbow Asad or trying to get inside of him into the counter doesn’t matter now — he’ll miss the Atlanta United match along with Yotún.

Oniel Fisher fired over the bar off a corner kick in the 61st minute as D.C. began to dominate possession with the manpower advantage. Three minutes later, the ball was served to the back post where Acosta scored his second goal. Only he didn’t. The flag was up for offside and no goal was given. Again Rivero spoke with Gonzalez and went to look at the video. He awarded the goal on what looked to be a very close play. Personally, I think it was onside, but it doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is whether a clear and obvious error was made. Rivero decided it was, and United led, 2-1.

It didn’t seem Orlando had a chance at that point but the Lions kept fighting (and mostly defending). City struck back in the 71st minute off a brilliant run by Dwyer. Rosell found him and the striker scooped a shot over Ousted and into the net for his 11th of the year to make it 2-2. It was the kind of pass we’ve been expecting from Rosell when he was signed in the off-season and he delivered perfectly. Everything looked good at full speed and on replay but Rivero took a look at the replay anyway and quickly decided the goal was good.

Orlando was a bit energized by the goal and made a few efforts to try to take the lead. Substitute PC had his shot blocked just wide in the 77th minute. Then Scott Sutter fired off a short corner a minute later and his effort was also just outside the post.

After that flurry, D.C. brought on Darren Mattocks and Ulises Segura, changed shape, and went for the win. The moves put Orlando on the back foot and Bendik was forced into big saves in the 83rd and 85th minutes. Dwyer got forward on the counter and looked to steal the three points in the 86th minute but Kofi Opare blocked his shot.

Bendik made another big save off a Russell Canouse header in the 93rd minute as the Lions tried to hold onto a big road point. Defending heroically, Orlando City was about a minute from getting that point when D.C. won a corner in the 95th minute. Despite having a good minute remaining, United brought Ousted up and went all out for the win. It should have backfired.

The ball was cleared out to the left, where Johnson ran it down just ahead of Rooney. He took a touch to cross midfield and saw Pinho across the field. With Rooney closing him down, Johnson tried to knock it across the field to a wide-open teammate but the former Manchester United and England star blocked the attempt, then got up and carried the ball back into Orlando territory. He looked up and sent a back-post cross to Acosta. Mueller tracked the ball in the air but didn’t sufficiently close down Acosta, who nodded it back across and into the goal. Rivero again went to the review but this time he decided he did not make a clear and obvious error, although Acosta did look a step offside this time.

It was just a brutal and awful finish to a game that saw a tremendous road effort from the Lions, missing several key players. The silly mistake by El-Munir just before halftime, the failure to get a shot off on the open net from distance, and several officiating decisions helped send Orlando City to yet another defeat.

Shots ended up 19-11 to D.C. (6-4 on goal) and United won the possession battle, with 60%, mostly due to being up a man for about 42 minutes. D.C. was more accurate in passing, 88%-83%.


After getting next weekend off, Orlando City will look to regroup at home against Atlanta United on Friday, Aug. 24. But seriously, how does a team regroup from that?

Orlando City

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.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 2/20/24

The Wall sells out, Robin Jansson earns recognition, Concacaf W Gold cup preview, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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.

Free Kicks


That’s all I have for this morning. Vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

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.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

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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