Finally, the Lions got some luck. Orlando City scored twice from the penalty spot, including one six minutes into stoppage time to defeat the Columbus Crew and snap a 13-game winless streak. Yoshimar Yotún and Sacha Kljestan converted from the spot after Federico Higuain had staked the visitors to a 1-0 lead off a free kick in front of an announced crowd of 23,642 in the home finale at Orlando City Stadium.
The method of victory was ironic, given the result the last time these two teams met, when Columbus was erroneously awarded a penalty that allowed the Crew to tie the game late and win it in stoppage time.
“Obviously delighted to get the win,” Head Coach James O’Connor said. “I think it was very important today just to try to win. For the players, especially the supporters, it was important that we give a good performance and get three points. So, pleased that we were able to do that.”
It was just the second win under James O’Connor and the club’s second win in the last 24 matches. The Lions scored more than one goal in a game for the first time since a Sept. 1 draw against Philadelphia, seven games ago.
O’Connor played a similar lineup to Wednesday, bringing Mohamed El-Munir and Yotún into the lineup, pushing Will Johnson into the midfield in place of Tony Rocha, and removing Chris Mueller to make way for Yoshi.
The graphic above aside, the Lions played a three-man back line of Shane O’Neill, Lamine Sané, and Carlos Ascues, with Scott Sutter and El-Munir playing as wingbacks in the midfield.
Former Lion Justin Meram did not play in the match due to a gentleman’s agreement made when the winger was sent back to Columbus from Orlando earlier this season.
The game began slowly with a ton of back passes by both teams as they probed for openings in each other’s defense. Uri Rosell launched a shot from distance that fizzed over the net in the second minute and Columbus looked to be in good shape two minutes later on a terrible back pass from Sacha Kljestan that the defense was able to break up before it became a Crew scoring opportunity.
Yotún tried to catch Zack Steffen off his line in the 14th minute, but his shot from midfield wasn’t close.
The Crew then fashioned a ton of corner kicks and Adam Grinwis made a terrific save in the 16th minute to deny Jonathan Mensah’s header from point-blank range. That save became necessary only because Grinwis’ punch attempt on the corner cross from Higuain was not effective and popped right back up in the air in the penalty area.
Two minutes later, off another corner, Gyasi Zardes fired a shot that Grinwis saved and Sutter cleared off the line as it trickled toward the goal.
In the 19th minute, a good buildup through midfield led to Kljestan sending Sutter down the right and his shot was just wide of goal. Dom Dwyer did well to hold up play for Kljestan to release Sutter on the play but the shot went awry. Steffen made a great diving save to stop a Johnson shot from outside the area in the 22nd minute.
El-Munir gifted Zardes a scoring chance in the 27th with a poor pass attempt, but O’Neill did well to make a sliding block to shield Grinwis from having to make a save.
The game got a bit chippy in the late stages of the first half, starting with a Mensah yellow card for an elbow to Dwyer’s face, which cut the Orlando striker open. The play probably should have gone to review but it didn’t appear any video review took place. A few minutes later, after Dwyer was fouled again, he got a yellow of his own for throwing a shoulder into Mensah as he ran past the Crew defender.
El-Munir forced a Steffen save in the 38th minute on a half-volley shot from the left.
Artur’s weak shot from distance right at Grinwis was the last chance for either side in a scoreless first half. The Crew held a 54%-46% advantage in possession and a 6-5 edge in shots (3-2 on target).
The first good opportunity of the second half came in the 50th minute, when El-Munir cut into the area, but instead of shooting, he peeled back and the Lions eventually lost the ball. The Lions were ruing that chance moments later when Higuain put the Crew up.
O’Neill committed a foul just above the area and Higuain stepped up to take the free kick. Grinwis set up his wall to defend the near post and he defended the back post. The kick sailed just inches over Uri Rosell’s head — the Spaniard didn’t jump on the play — and curled just inside the near post to give the visitors a 1-0 lead in the 54th minute.
Columbus didn’t have the lead long. Johnson headed a cross into the area in the 56th minute and defender Gaston Sauro had his arm out away from his body. The ball hit his hand as he swiped at Dwyer running past him and Kevin Stott immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Yotún stepped up to the ball and chipped a cheeky shot over Steffen to make it 1-1 at the 57-minute mark.
“This was my third PK on the season and I had already done one on each side,” Yotún said after the match through an interpreter. “I know that goalkeepers pay attention ahead of games to the players that do PKs, as well as what sides they tend to go through. So I just made a decision and it went through.”
The Lions then controlled much of the second half, turning the possession around and out-shooting the Crew, 11-2, after halftime (5-1 on target).
Amro Tarek replaced Ascues a minute later, as the Peruvian was experiencing some quad tightness by halftime and was struggling in the second half. As well as Ascues was playing, Tarek was just as good, making several vital defensive plays as the Crew — needing points to clinch a playoff spot — pressed to regain the lead.
Yotún made the pass of the game with a long ball in the 63rd minute to El-Munir that completely unlocked the defense. Mo centered the ball for an oncoming Kljestan, who saw his shot get partially blocked and roll in on Steffen, who smothered it before any Lions could pounce on the loose ball.
Johnson sent a shot on frame in the 68th that forced a good diving stop from Steffen. It was Johnson’s last involvement as he departed for Mueller in the 72nd minute.
Higuain had a golden opportunity to fire the Crew back into the lead in the 74th minute. A cross from the left side was deflected through the area and fell for the Argentine, who chested it down and fired on the half volley. However, Higuain didn’t hit his shot cleanly and sliced it well over the bar.
Yotún sent a curling effort on goal in the 78th that again required a diving save from Steffen, who saw Orlando take 10 shots from outside the box. El-Munir (wide) and Mueller (right at Steffen) wasted shots in the 81st minute, as Orlando controlled play and Columbus looked to counter.
The game seemed destined for a draw when a laser blast from Sutter hit the woodwork in the 90th minute. Steffen may have gotten a touch to it before it found the frame.
Sutter then had a free header in the 93rd off a corner kick but sent his shot wide.
The four minutes of stoppage time indicated by the fourth official had just expired when Mueller — who had a tough game, to be honest — paid off his hard work by drawing a second penalty. The rookie drove toward the end line and then cut back, getting caught by Crew and USMNT midfielder Wil Trapp and Stott again immediately signaled to the spot.
Kljestan wanted this one and in the 96th minute he sent Steffen the wrong way and scored the game-winning goal.
“I wanted to take the first one, but Yoshi said he wanted it,” Kljestan said of the two penalties. “He’s been successful and I’ve missed one already this season. So, I gave him the ball and he scored a beautiful one. Second one I just stepped up, the goalie went the wrong way and I just passed it in the corner.”
The Lions and Crew finished just about even on possession for the game (Columbus with a slight edge at 50.2% to 49.8%) and Orlando City led in shots (16-8), shots on goal (7-4), and passing accuracy (85.5%-83.1%).
Both O’Connor and Kljestan said after the match that the Lions didn’t make any real second-half adjustments. They just played better.
“I think when you look at the second half we were getting into some areas that were causing them some problems,” O’Connor said.
Orlando City is now 3-1-0 in home finales during the MLS era.
“It was a nice feeling for us to give back to the fans,” Kljestan said. A lot of the fans stuck by us through the whole season. Let’s be honest, it was a pretty miserable year. So, for them to come out, be loud again today, be very supportive and behind the team and for us to win, it just felt good for us to give them back something.”
The Lions will close out their season next Sunday on the road against Kljestan’s old team, the New York Red Bulls.
Lion Links: 3/1/24
Orlando’s girls teams playing in national event this weekend, USWNT will face Colombia, Paul Pogba banned for four years, and more.
Welcome to March! It always feels like a good sign when a month starts on a Friday. Spring may not officially be here, but it definitely feels like winter is truly behind us. I plan on getting plenty of spring cleaning done this weekend before a fairly busy month. Let’s get this month started with today’s links!
ECNL Girls National Event Kicks Off Today
Some of the best youth soccer players are coming to Florida this weekend for the Elite Club National League’s spring event at Lakewood Ranch. It’s a great chance for clubs to play teams outside of their conference and there are plenty of scouts to impress as well. Orlando City will have four youth teams take part and each team will play at least three games over the three days. Orlando’s G07 squad has notably won five of its eight games in conference play and will take on Real Colorado National today. Orlando’s squads in the other age groups have some strong opponents lined up as well, so it should be a great experience for the club.
USWNT Will Face Colombia in Concacaf W Gold Cup
After finishing second in its group after a loss to Mexico, the United States Women’s National Team will take on Colombia this Sunday in the Concacaf W Gold Cup quarterfinals. The U.S. and Colombia squared off in friendlies last fall, with the teams playing to a scoreless draw in Utah before the U.S. won 3-0 in San Diego a few days later. Colombia also finished second in its group, conceding just once so far this tournament. The winner of Sunday’s match will play whichever team advances from tomorrow’s game between Canada and Costa Rica. On the other side of the bracket, Orlando Pride players square off when Rafaelle, Adriana, and Brazil play Mariana Larroquette and Argentina tomorrow. The winner of that match will play the victor between Mexico and Paraguay.
Portland Timbers Cut Ties With Jersey Sponsor
The Portland Timbers have dropped DaBella Exteriors as their jersey sponsor amid allegations that the company’s CEO, Donnie McMillan, Jr., sexually harassed employees. The accusations did not become public until Feb. 23 and the Timbers have removed DaBella’s image from their website as well. It makes sense that the Timbers would want to distance themselves from this. There was an investigation by U.S. Soccer in 2022 regarding former Portland Thorns head coach Paul Riley, and the club was also fined by MLS for not reporting an incident of alleged domestic violence involving former Timbers player Andy Polo in a timely manner. DaBella replaced Alaska Airlines as the team’s shirt sponsor for this season and the Timbers will now go without one until a new sponsor is chosen.
Paul Pogba Banned for Four Years
After testing positive for testosterone while playing for Juventus, French midfielder Paul Pogba was banned for the maximum four years by Italy’s anti-doping court. In response to the ruling, Pogba stated that the verdict was “incorrect” and that he will appeal this decision.
“I am sad, shocked and heartbroken that everything I have built in my professional playing career has been taken away from me,” Pogba said. “When I am free of legal restrictions the full story will become clear, but I have never knowingly or deliberately taken any supplements that violate anti-doping regulations.”
It’s fair to wonder just where this news leaves his career if his appeal is denied and he serves the full ban. Pogba turns 31 later this month and he is still under contract with Juventus through 2026, although this ban may obviously change that. Injuries have limited him in recent years as well, as he missed out on the most recent World Cup with France.
- Toronto FC signed English midfielder Matty Longstaff to a contract through the 2025 season. Longstaff has previous played for Newcastle United and should help improve a Toronto team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2020.
- LA Galaxy midfielder Mark Delgado’s second yellow card he received in his team’s opener has been rescinded and he’s eligible for Saturday’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Delgado was sent off while the Galaxy were up against Inter Miami, and the Herons then went on to score and leave with a point.
- The New England Revolution beat Independiente to advance to the Concacaf Champions Cup’s round of 16.
- Bay FC forward Racheal Kundananji had to exit Zambia’s Olympic qualifier against Ghana due to an injury.
- The United States Men’s National Team’s next away kit was reportedly leaked and it sure is something. It’s like a Bomb Pop got mixed into the team’s laundry.
- The USL Super League’s Fort Lauderdale United unveiled its branding and the colors are pretty nice. However, the logo has a bit too much alphabet soup going on for my liking.
- An Atletico Madrid supporter was arrested for racially abusing an eight-year-old who was wearing a Vinicius Junior jersey last year. I’m glad they were able to find the person responsible for this. It’s disgusting behavior that needs to be removed from the sport.
- Vladimir Petkovic was hired as Algeria’s next head coach and will manage the team through 2026 World Cup qualifying. Algeria failed to make it out of the group stage of the recent Africa Cup of Nations and has not qualified for the past two World Cups.
- Grace Wilson became the first Australian soccer player to come out as non-binary. Hopefully this helps make things a little easier for other athletes wishing to come out in the future.
- Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn was named as a part owner of the Utah Royals.
- Wayne Rooney stated that he wants to manage either Manchester United or Everton in the next 10 years. He was just fired by Birmingham City in January.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!
Orlando City at Inter Miami: Three Keys to Victory
What does Orlando City need to do to defeat Inter Miami in Fort Lauderdale this Saturday?
This Saturday Orlando City travels to Fort Lauderdale to take on in-state rival Inter Miami. Despite having to pay for a part of Lionel Messi’s salary, the Lions will not get to have him play any time for Orlando City, which is kind of messed up, isn’t it? Regardless, the Lions will look to maintain their undefeated start to the year with a win down South.
What does Orlando City need to do to bring home all three points from Chase Stadium?
Get a Midfielder on Messi
It isn’t easy to stop Messi, but that is what defensive midfielders Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena must do in this match. They are arguably the best defensive midfield pairing in MLS and will need to prove it against one of the best to ever play the game. When Orlando City played Messi and Miami in the U.S. Open Cup last year, they were able to frustrate him and he should have been sent off just before halftime for a second yellow-worthy foul he committed to stop Araujo from getting to a loose ball first to start the counter. He is very entitled and doesn’t like being challenged by the likes of those two. Doing so smartly will be the key because of our next key below.
Don’t Give the Refs Anything
MLS and the referees will never admit that they made calls that benefit Miami and Messi in particular, but that’s because they want us to not believe our lying eyes. It’s unfair and wrong, but also a fact of life. As such, the Lions need to make sure that they don’t do anything even remotely close to the type of foul that will allow the refs to swing things the Herons’ way. Of course, that might not stop them from doing so, but playing clean and smart is the best chance to limit the impact the officiating has on the match. Balancing that will being aggressive enough to stop them will be tricky to say the least.
Score, Score, Score
You can be sure we will see a first-choice lineup from Oscar Pareja this Saturday. That means that the Lions need to press for goals early and often. Score enough goals and the referees can’t hurt you. Whether it’s Duncan McGuire, Facundo Torres, Luis Muriel, Ivan Angulo, Nico Lodeiro, or even Kyle Smith, the team needs to put the ball in the back of the net. Getting the early lead — especially if it’s two goals — will mean a lot to the flow of the game. Once again, I don’t particularly care where those goals come from, just that they happen.
That is what I will be looking for this Saturday. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 2/29/24
Lions reportedly won’t play in U.S. Open Cup, Cavalry FC reflects on its defeat, gauging the USWNT’s panic meter, and more.
Happy Leap Day, Mane Landers! It’s the rarest day of the year, as we all lean into our procrastination a bit and collectively tell March that we’ll get to it tomorrow. It’s been a pretty busy week for me, but knowing the MLS season is in full swing has helped fuel me a bit. Let’s dive into today’s links!
Orlando City Reportedly Won’t Play in 2024 U.S. Open Cup
The latest reports involving Major League Soccer’s participation in this year’s U.S. Open Cup indicate that Orlando City, along with a majority of MLS teams, won’t be playing their first teams in the tournament. According to ESPN‘s Jeff Carlisle, the Houston Dynamo and the seven best teams from last season that aren’t taking part in the Concacaf Champions Cup will have their first teams take part. The format will reportedly be announced soon and we’ll see if Orlando City B and other MLS NEXT Pro teams will be in the tournament.
It will be pretty disappointing if Orlando’s first team doesn’t end up playing. Even though the Lions suffered an early exit last year, they won in 2022 and Head Coach Oscar Pareja has a penchant for excelling in the U.S. Open Cup.
Cavalry FC Reflects on Loss to Orlando City
Although Cavalry FC lost in both legs against Orlando City in its first Concacaf Champions Cup campaign, the Canadian club can hold its head high. Cavalry Head Coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. spoke on the team’s tactics in the second leg in Orlando to overcome the hefty aggregate deficit.
“Strategically, we wanted to frustrate them in the first half with an extra defender, and often at times we were in a back five,” Wheeldon said. “And second half, we wanted to unleash with more attackers and have a go, because it was 0-0. We thought … one, we wanted to make history with our first goal, and two, we wanted to get a result here.”
That first goal did come with Myer Bevan making some history for his team to take back to Canada. All in all, Cavalry did pretty well as the underdog and it’s unfortunate it didn’t get a true home game in Calgary. Cavalry’s defense is the real deal and I doubt this is the last time it makes an appearance in the Champions Cup.
Assessing the Fallout From the USWNT’s Defeat
The United States Women’s National Team suffered a shocking defeat to Mexico earlier this week that’s brought on varying levels of panic. The clock is ticking before the Olympics and the USWNT struggled to bounce back after trailing in the first half and had difficulties on both sides of the ball. While the issues at center back will likely be solved once Naomi Girma and Tierna Davidson play, the midfield has plenty of question marks and a weird balance of youth and experience. It’s an awkward stage for the USWNT, as Emma Hayes doesn’t arrive until May and won’t have much time to get the team ready for Paris. Of course, the USWNT could still win this tournament and the return of Mallory Swanson may heal most wounds this summer, leaving this loss as just a minor blemish when the year is up. Only time will tell and the USWNT has plenty of opportunity to right the ship.
FA Cup Quarterfinals Are Set
It was a pretty wild day in the FA Cup, with some of England’s top teams fighting their way into the quarterfinals. Chelsea needed a late winner from Conor Gallagher to beat Leeds United 3-2 at Stamford Bridge. Manchester United’s match against Nottingham Forest also had a dramatic finish, as United’s Casemiro scored the game’s only goal in the 89th minute. Wolverhampton ousted Brighton thanks to an early goal, and Liverpool got the job done against Southampton.
In the quarterfinals, Newcastle will travel to take on Manchester City, Wolverhampton will host the second division’s Conventry City, Chelsea will take on Leicester City, and Manchester United will face off against Liverpool. All four matches will take place on March 16.
- After getting married, Orlando Pride defender Emily Madril will have a new name on the back of her jersey this season.
- Former Pride midfielder Becky Edwards is an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee and shared details about her time as both a player and coach with the U.S. U-20 team.
- Enjoy this captured moment of Orlando midfielder Wilder Cartagena being awesome.
- LAFC forward Mateusz Bogusz’s strike against the Seattle Sounders won the first MLS Goal of the Matchday of the season, claiming 35.4% of the vote.
- FC Cincinnati beat Cavalier 4-0 in the Champions Cup to advance to the round of 16, where it will take on Brandon Vazquez and Monterrey.
- Spain beat France 2-0 to win the inaugural Women’s Nations League final, with Aitana Bonmati and Mariona Caldentey both scoring.
- American midfielder Johnny Cardoso was named La Liga’s U-23 Player of the Month after a strong February with Real Betis.
- After missing the past weekend, American forward Folarin Balogun will no longer be taking penalty kicks for AS Monaco.
- Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly the frontrunners to land striker Victor Osimhen, who just had a hat trick in Napoli’s 6-1 win over Sassuolo.
- Former Manchester United defender John O’Shea will serve as Ireland’s interim head coach for a pair of friendlies in March.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a pretty great Leap Day and that the rest of the week goes smoothly.
Lion Links: 3/1/24
Orlando City at Inter Miami: Three Keys to Victory
Lion Links: 2/29/24
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