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Orlando City

The Great Pretenders II: For the Second Straight Year Orlando City Squandered an Outstanding Start

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For the second consecutive season, the promise of a great start to the MLS campaign devolved into a relentlessly brutal summer and fall that saw Orlando City set new club marks for futility since joining the top flight prior to 2015. The Lions began the season with injuries and suspensions, then put together a club record six straight wins before setting a new club mark for consecutive losses, with nine, and ultimately finishing the year in a 2-20-3 free fall.

A year ago I wrote about how the Lions squandered a 6-1-0 start to the 2017 season and eventually collapsed and it was nearly the same story in 2018 — only worse. So how did it happen (again)?

Orlando City GM Niki Budalic and then-coach Jason Kreis overhauled the roster in the off-season and nearly every move seemed like a good one. The club brought in a variety of players who seemed to offer improvement across every position group. The attack was bolstered with the additions of veterans Sacha Kljestan and Justin Meram from top Eastern Conference rivals. A Young Designated Player was signed in the person of Josué Colmán, who was expected to be ready to step in and play right away despite being a teenager.

The SuperDraft brought in exciting rookie Chris Mueller and the Lions took a chance that Brazilian Stefano Pinho could translate two NASL Golden Boot-winning efforts to the MLS level and that another year of pro soccer would have Richie Laryea and Pierre Da Silva ready to contribute when needed. Additionally, the club took a flier on promising former LA Galaxy Homegrown Player Jose Villarreal. The lack of striker depth was obvious behind Dom Dwyer, but, through some combination of Pinho, Mueller, Meram, and Colmán, it seemed there were players who could fill in as a second striker in Kreis’ 4-4-2 or a shape change to a 4-2-3-1 could mitigate the issue.

In the defensive midfield, the club signed former MLS star Oriol Rosell, a standout on a championship team with Sporting Kansas City, who seemed to be the perfect player to play the bottom of the diamond midfield or partner with Yoshimar Yotún in central midfield. With Will Johnson, Cristian Higuita, and Tony Rocha on the roster, defensive midfield seemed set with both talent and depth.

The back line, a problem area for the club since joining MLS, was given a lot of attention. Fullback strength was added through presumed new starter Mohamed El-Munir and depth was added in RJ Allen on the right side. Donny Toia could slide into a backup role on the left in a battle with PC behind El-Munir. The club brought in multiple center backs in Bundesliga starting caliber defender Lamine Sané, MLS veteran Chris Schuler, and journeyman Amro Tarek — a player with international experience with Egypt. It seemed some combination would partner well with Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter to form a solid MLS back line.

Even more depth was added by re-signing former MLS Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers and trading for promising rookie Cam Lindley. The roster seemed formidable, but the obvious problem was getting all the new faces to jell.

But nothing seemed to go right in 2018. It began with late arrivals and key preseason injuries — notably to Dwyer and Rosell — along with a two-game suspension for Kljestan due to an incident in the previous year’s playoffs while he was with New York.

Despite that, Orlando earned a dramatic late draw in the season opener on a Pinho goal while the Lions were down a man for a significant portion of the match. A close loss to Minnesota United and a road defeat at New York City were concerning but not overly so.

Then things started to click. Players began to return to the lineup and the club went on a six-game run from March 31-May 6, beating four eventual 2018 playoff teams in that span. The loss that snapped the streak was a well-played match against Atlanta United that saw an iffy penalty on Higuita and a few other questionable decisions figure heavily in a 2-1 final. Then came another narrow 2-1 loss — this time on the road at Toronto on late mistakes by El-Munir and Johnson that allowed the Reds to steal all three points near the end of normal time. The third consecutive 2-1 loss was a late dagger from distance by Alan Gordon against the Chicago Fire in another match in which Orlando mostly performed well, but couldn’t quite finish.

Those results weren’t good but at least the performances were there. Then the wheels fell off.

By this time, Meram’s struggles to find his form were coming to a head and injuries started to pop up again en masse. It got so bad that the club’s fourth center back, Chris Schuler, played through a broken arm and Kreis was playing a center back pairing of Allen and Rocha. In addition, Yotún departed for World Cup duty with Peru. It was the perfect storm, and Orlando lost by multiple goals in six consecutive league games, including scores of 3-0, 5-2, 3-0, 2-0, 4-0, and 4-1. Before that streak ended, Orlando had run Kreis out of town while the club still lingered above the playoff line and just as some of those injured stars were returning to either form or the lineup.

Since there was no immediate replacement, the Lions struggled under interim coach Bobby Murphy, falling further off the pace. By the time James O’Connor took the helm, Orlando was below the line and the losses were piling up.

O’Connor had to quickly deal with a Meram situation that had become untenable and figure out what the players he had could do and which ones were willing to buy in. A 2-1 win over Toronto FC in O’Connor’s home debut on July 14 offered promise, with only a consolation goal conceded at the death marring a complete performance.

That was it. From that point on the club finished on a 1-11-3 skid and lost in every way imaginable, and at least two that weren’t fathomable at all (at D.C. and Columbus). Meram was shipped back to Columbus, the club added center back Shane O’Neill and defender/midfielder Carlos Ascues, and did nothing to address the attack, possibly owing to being up against the cap or just not being able to land the players the Lions wanted.

Nobody seemed to have the answers. The front office assured fans and media that the roster was not the problem, hence the firing of Kreis. The assurance was that the next coach could win with the players in place and no major rebuild would be necessary. Either the front office vastly overrated the work done in the off-season or hired a coach who could not, in fact, win with the roster in place. But it’s difficult to see how O’Connor could field a workable lineup with such a dearth of attacking talent — because by then it was obvious that Pinho had not adjusted to the MLS level, Mueller had been struggling after a promising start, no replacement for Meram was brought in, and Colmán was obviously not ready to play significant minutes.

O’Connor was playing interesting lineups comprised mainly of defensive midfielders with the hope that Yotún and the fullbacks could replace the missing creativity. They certainly tried (Yotún reached double digit assists and Sutter scored three goals) but usually Dwyer seemed on an island, stranded far from his service.

As I write this, we’re awaiting the news of which Lions will have their contract options picked up and which will not. Budalic has stated there is some roster flexibility but the top end of the roster seems etched in stone. Rumor has it that El-Munir won’t be retained, and while I feel he could be a good wingback in a 3-4-3, his defensive lapses don’t translate well to a four-man back line and he’s pricey, so his might be a sacrifice with both another move in mind and with an eye on spending his salary elsewhere. But that’s all conjecture at this point.

What we do know is that Orlando City is coming off a historically bad season and that change is needed. O’Connor has been hired, so it’s only fair he have an opportunity to build a team in the mold he envisions. Whether that will ultimately be successful remains to be seen. This off-season will be another busy one and it’s unlikely O’Connor can fix everything that was broken in just one transfer window, so we’re likely in for another long season in 2019. Whether ownership and the front office will allow O’Connor the requisite time or blow everything up by midseason again if things aren’t going well…time will tell.

Orlando City

Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Player Grades and Man of the Match

How did your favorite Lions perform in Orlando City’s 2-2 draw with CF Montreal?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City / Mark Thor

Orlando City scored in second-half injury time for the second consecutive weekend to claim points. However, this time it was an equalizer as the Lions drew CF Montreal 2-2 north of the border. The Lions ended their two-game road trip with four points and extended their points streak to four games after dropping three straight. It’s an improvement as they look to climb up the Eastern Conference standings.

Here’s how I saw the individual performances in the draw.

Starters

GK, Pedro Gallese, 5.5 — Gallese conceded a pair of goals in this game, though neither were necessarily his fault. The first was a breakaway after Robin Jansson kept Mason Toye onside and the second was blocked wide, but Kyle Smith was caught flat-footed. However, he did concede twice while saving three of Montreal’s five shots on target. Additionally, the Lions’ goalkeeper completed 55.6% of his 27 passes, including eight of his 20 long balls.

D, Kyle Smith, 5.5 — Smith had a solid game other than one specific play. The left back had a team-high 86 touches and completed 78.3% of his 60 passes, including five of his 12 long balls. Defensively, he recorded two tackles, two clearances, an interception, and a blocked shot. Unfortunately, his most impactful play was getting caught watching on a Gallese block while Ariel Lassiter beat him to the rebound to give the hosts a late lead. That play lowers his grade for this otherwise quality performance.

D, Robin Jansson, 5.5 — Similar to Smith, Jansson had a solid game apart from one play. He had 72 touches and completed 79.7% of his 59 passes, including a key pass and three of his 14 long balls. He added a tackle, an interception, a blocked shot, and a team-high seven clearances to his stat sheet. But his failure to step up in the 16th minute enabled Toye to get behind the back line and score the opening goal, lowering his grade.

D, David Brekalo, 6 — Brekalo has proven himself to be the first-choice partner for Jansson and he was arguably the better center back in Montreal. The Slovenian international had 53 touches and completed 85.1% of his 47 passes, including two of his five long balls. The defender recorded two tackles, an interception, and three clearances defensively in a strong performance.

D, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, 6 — Thorhallsson was in his usual right back position for this game, playing 90 minutes and recording 44 touches. He completed 82.8% of his 29 passes, but only one of his four long balls and neither of his two crosses. He cleared the ball twice and didn’t really get into the attack, but was solid in his defensive duties.

MF, Wilder Cartagena, 6.5 (MotM) — This was possibly Cartagena’s best performance of the season. His 85 touches were second-most on the team and he completed 76.5% of his team-high 68 passes, including a key pass and two of his six long balls. It was his shielding of Nathan Saliba and strong pass forward for Duncan McGuire that started the last goal, though he didn’t get an assist. The defensive midfielder was also active defensively with five tackles and three interceptions, and he won a pair of aerial duels. His overall performance earns him my Man of the Match.

MF, Cesar Araujo, 6.5 — Araujo had a similar performance to Cartagena, but fewer touches and more accurate passing. He recorded 55 touches and completed 93.9% of his 49 passes, including a key pass. He was less active than his partner defensively, recording three tackles, and was booked in the 63rd minute.

MF, Ivan Angulo, 6 — Angulo had one of his better performances in this one, recording 48 touches and completing 82.1% of his 39 passes. His biggest impact on the game came two minutes into second-half stoppage time, when he connected with an excellent Martin Ojeda cross to even the game at 2-2. He nearly scored a winner five minutes later, but the pass from Ojeda was just a bit too far for him. His goal was one of his two shots and the only one on target.

MF, Nico Lodeiro, 6 — Lodeiro’s 45 touches were the fewest of the Orlando City midfield, but he did the most with them. The playmaker completed 91.4% of his 35 passes, including a key pass, but couldn’t connect on his long ball or either of his two crosses. He was also caught offside and dispossessed twice before being replaced by Ojeda in the 77th minute.

MF, Facundo Torres, 6 — Torres’ 65 touches were the most in the Lions’ midfield and the fourth most on the team. He completed 83.7% of his 49 passes, but didn’t connect on his two crosses or four long balls. The attacker took three shots and put one on target. In the 22nd minute, the midfielder stepped up and buried his second penalty of the season and ninth as a Lion, continuing her perfect record from the spot.

F, Luis Muriel, 6 — While Oscar Pareja had previously been starting Muriel behind McGuire, the forward got the start alone up top for the second consecutive game. He had 34 touches and completed 68.4% of his 19 passes, including his lone long ball but neither of his two crosses. His biggest impact on the game came in the 20th minute, when he tipped the ball past Montreal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois, drawing the penalty that resulted in the first equalizer. He also had a shot of his own, but it was off target.

Substitutes

F, Duncan McGuire (63’), 6 — McGuire came on in the 63rd minute for Muriel. He had 16 touches in 27 minutes, completing eight of his 10 passes (80%) with a key pass. His lone shot came in the 90th minute, when Jansson headed the ball over to him and he probably should’ve equalized, but his volley was just wide. The striker also won three aerial duels.

MF, Martin Ojeda (77’), 6.5 — Ojeda came on in the 77th minute for Lodeiro and, similar to Lodeiro last week, made a big difference. He had 15 touches and completed four of his six passes (66.7%), including a key pass. Two minutes into second-half injury time, his excellent cross found Angulo, who touched it in for the equalizer. Five minutes later, he had another great cross that nearly found Angulo for the winner, but was just out of his reach.

D, Rafael Santos (85’), 6 — Santos came on in the 85th minute for Torres as the Lions looked to see out a point. He had nine touches and completed two of his three passes (66.7%), but didn’t connect on his cross or long ball. Coming on to assure the defense, Santos did his job as he recorded a tackle, an interception, and two clearances.


This is how I saw Orlando City’s 2-2 draw with CF Montreal. Let us know how you saw the game and don’t forget to vote for your Man of the Match.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 4/22/24

Orlando City draws CF Montreal, Pride and OCB win, FA Cup drama, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

Hello, Mane Landers. I hope all is well with you down in Florida. Orlando City drew, while the Pride and OCB both won over the weekend. I had friends in town, so I went to Wrigley Field to check out a Cubs game and show them around Chicago. Let’s wish former Orlando City midfielder Kaka and Pride defender Brianna Martinez a happy birthday! There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.

Lions Draw at CF Montreal

Orlando City again had to overcome a 2-1 deficit on the road when it faced CF Montreal Saturday night. The Lions needed a late stoppage-time goal from Ivan Angulo to walk out of Stade Saputo with a 2-2 draw. Orlando has now picked up points in each of the last four matches. Orlando City will face CF Montreal again on July 26 in the MLS Leagues Cup during the competition’s group stage. The Lions’ next match will be Saturday at Inter&Co Stadium as it takes on Toronto FC.

Orlando Pride Defeat San Diego Wave

The Orlando Pride shut out the San Diego Wave 1-0 on Friday at Inter&Co Stadium and got their second consecutive win with that same scoreline. Summer Yates scored the lone goal in the first half to seal the win for Orlando. Zambian international striker Barbra Banda made her debut for the Pride, coming off the bench in the second half. The Pride remain undefeated through five league matches and are fifth in the NWSL table with nine points. The team will be on the road to face the Washington Spirit Friday.

OCB Wins on the Road at Crown Legacy FC

Orlando City B got a 2-0 win against Crown Legacy FC at the Sportsplex at Matthews on Friday. Alex Freeman and Shak Mohammed scored for the Young Lions, and Javier Otero made six saves. OCB completed its two-match road trip, securing four out of a possible six points, and has kept its unbeaten streak on the road alive at four matches. OCB is in fifth in the MLS NEXT Pro Eastern Conference with nine points, while Crown Legacy is winless in five matches. OCB will be back in action this Sunday as it hosts Toronto FC II at Osceola County Stadium.

Manchester United and Manchester City Advance to FA Cup Final

Manchester United won 4-2 on penalties after a 3-3 draw against Coventry City in the FA Cup semifinals to advance to the final. It was a thrilling match at Wembley as United had a 3-0 lead before Coventry City rallied to get back into the match. USMNT forward Haji Wright scored the equalizer to tie the match 3-3 late into stoppage time. Coventry City thought it scored the game-winning goal late into extra time from Victor Torp, but it was ruled offside after video review. Casemiro missed his penalty for United, while Wright and Torp gave Coventry City a 2-1 advantage. United converted four straight penalties while Coventry City missed two to seal the win for the Red Devils. Manchester City edged past Chelsea 1-0 in their semifinal matchup, with Bernardo Silva scoring the lone goal in the second half. The FA Cup final will be played at the end of May and will feature a Manchester Derby for the second consecutive time.

Free Kicks

  • In case you missed it, check out this video on Orlando City’s social media page on Ivan Angulo’s equalizer to tie the match in stoppage time against CF Montreal on Saturday.

According to OptaJack, the Pride have secured the most points at home during the regular season since last May, with 26.

  • USMNT defender Sergino Dest suffered a knee injury during training with PSV Eindhoven over the weekend. Dest will miss the remainder of the Eredivisie season and could miss the 2024 Copa America this summer.
  • Real Madrid came back from being 2-1 down to defeat Barcelona 3-2 and stay ahead of its rivals by 11 points with six league matches left.
  • Bayer Leverkusen extended its unbeaten run to 45 matches after scoring a late goal from Josip Stanisic in stoppage time to get a 1-1 draw against Borussia Dortmund.
  • Serie A side Udinese is reportedly set to hire former Juventus and Real Madrid player Fabio Cannavaro as its next head coach.

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

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Five Takeaways

What did we learn from a 2-2 road draw against CF Montréal?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City drew CF Montréal 2-2 on the road at Stade Saputo. It was a dominating first-half performance for the Lions, when the club finally showed some consistency with how potent the players could be up top. While there is a difference in prolificity and potency, it is the first match this campaign where the spark was there from all players in the attack. If the team can continue to find linkups in the final third as they did Saturday night, we might just see the team’s 2023 form return with plenty of 2024 season left to play.

Here are my five takeaways from the draw with the team of Club Foots.

Designated Players Can Score

It took Facundo Torres six matches, but he has finally opened his 2024 scoring account to prove that Orlando City Designated Players do in fact know where the enemy net is. Central midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro dinked a ball forward towards the penalty spot for striker Luis Muriel, who ran on with pace before being brought down in the area for a spot kick. Torres stepped up and continued his four-for-four streak from the penalty spot. While it would be great to see him score in the run of play, this might just be what he needed to really get going for the rest of the year.

Muriel Shows Serie A Spark

When Muriel joined Orlando City from Atalanta in Italy’s top flight, it was never a question of if he would be good enough for MLS but rather when his adjustment period would be over. This might have just been the performance we have been waiting for him to unleash. Throughout the first half, Muriel found the half-spaces to get on the ball as a target striker in holdup play but also making runs into the channel as needed as well. His first half was capped with a 70% passing success rate and ultimately drawing the penalty that leveled the score before the break.

Orlando Needs Nico

When Nicolás Lodeiro replaced his Uruguayan countryman Mauricio Pereyra, it seemed like an instant upgrade despite going up in age to a 35-year-old. However, a slow start in league play seemingly left question marks as to whether it was the right move after all. Lodeiro is part of the problem that is keeping Designated Player Martín Ojeda off of the pitch and starting XI, but the midfield maestro showed why Luiz Muzzi went after him this off-season with his passing proficiency against CF Montréal. Lodeiro set up the penalty and finished with 35 passes with a success rate of 91.4% across the night. He was able to connect the play from the back line to Torres and Muriel.

Super Substitutes Silence Stade Saputo

The Cardiac Cats once again proved their resiliencey, coming from behind not once, but twice, in the match. The second goal to draw level at 2-2 was inspired by the substitutions of Duncan McGuire and Martín Ojeda. McGuire laid off a perfect wall pass to Ojeda, who placed a brilliant low cross in front of goal, where Iván Angulo used his pace to beat the defender and tap one home late in the 92nd minute. It was yet another match in which McGuire came on late to impact the game. Just moments before, he barely missed a full volley that would have drawn the match level on his own, as a headed ball from Robin Jansson fell fortunately to him on the right side of the area.

Orlando Loves to Come From Behind

Yet again, Orlando City failed to find the game’s first goal. In this match, it was a 2-2 stoppage time draw, coming from behind CF Montréal. Last Saturday, it was a 3-2, stoppage-time victory, coming from behind to beat D.C. United. Before that, we witnessed a 1-1 draw gifted by the New York Red Bulls with an 89th-minute own goal. You have to look almost an entire month ago, to March 23, to see a match in which Orlando scored first and bagged a result. This isn’t to say that scoring first is required to win, but it is a whole lot easier to take home valuable points when you are the team doing so. If the Lions have any hope of making a deep playoff run, they will need to find a way to be the protagonists in the matches to come.


That’s what I saw in Orlando City’s come-from-behind draw against CF Montréal. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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