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Orlando City vs. New York City FC, Preseason: Final Score 2-1 as Akindele and Mueller Lead Lions to Victory

The Lions opened the Orlando City Invitational with a win over the Pigeons.

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Scott Carnevale, The Mane Land

New York City FC scored first against the run of play but the Lions came back to win 2-1 at Orlando City Stadium on the first day of the Orlando City Invitational. Tesho Akindele and Chris Mueller scored for Orlando, which notched more than one goal in a game for the first time all preseason. It was also the first time the Lions have scored against the Pigeons since 2017.

Sacha Kljestan, Will Johnson, and Sebas Mendez combined to control the middle of the pitch most of the night and the Lions dictated the tempo and flow of the game nearly from start to finish.

“I thought the quality at times was very good,” Head Coach James O’Connor said. “We wanted to try to get 90 minutes into the guys. I thought you could see there was really positive reaction. The players deserve enormous credit. They worked exceptionally hard through preseason. For a lot of them that was their first (full) 90 minutes. So to put in that level of performance after all the work they’ve done is a testament and they deserve enormous credit for that.”

O’Connor’s lineup included rumored new signing Brian Rowe at goalkeeper, behind a three-man back line of Kamal Miller, Alex De John, and Shane O’Neill. Wingbacks Danny Acosta and Ruan flanked a midfield of Kljestan, Johnson, and Mendez, while Akindele and Mueller — sporting his new number nine shirt — manned the forward line.

Orlando City controlled the first half with the exception of only a few scattered moments.

The Lions fashioned the first decent chance of the night just four minutes in. Kljestan fed a good through ball to Akindele on the right but his near-post effort was saved by Sean Johnson. Kljestan himself had a go from the left side of the box two minutes later, but Johnson made another diving save to keep the game scoreless.

Mueller had a shot blocked in the 12th minute from the top of the area and Acosta sent a dangerous cross through the six that no one could latch onto. Kljestan, who had a great half, blasted a shot from outside the area two minutes later but Johnson got across and got a hand on it to keep the game scoreless. Orlando took the ensuing corner short, and Mendez fired a shot right at the New York City FC keeper. Ruan got through on an excellent ball from Kljestan a moment later, but the flag was up as the speedy right back left early.

Ruan used that speed to get to a long ball over the top a couple minutes later and sizzled a cross through the area that was cut out for a corner kick. Miller got his head on the ensuing cross but hit his shot right at Johnson in the 23rd minute.

New York City took the lead at the half-hour mark, completely against the run of play. Maxi Moralez fired from around 30 yards out and got his shot up and over Rowe from distance to make it 1-0. It was NYCFC’s first shot of the match.

The visitors then saw a Jonathan Lewis shot blocked and scored again three minutes later but the flag had come up well before the shot. That was about all of New York’s attack for the first half.

Akindele tied the game in the 34th minute. Acosta sent a cross into the area that Kljestan nodded across the face of goal. Tesho was there to redirect it into the net to make it 1-1.

“I think the most important thing today was our press,” Akindele said. “Our press was really on and I think that kind of set the stage for the rest of the attack, because they were just scrambling to get out of their half in the first place. We were winning the ball in their half and then creating chances quickly.”

Three minutes later, Mendez won the ball in the defensive half and was taken out by Jesus Medina. The referee played advantage and Orlando made it pay off. Kljestan found Akindele, who sent the ball to Mueller, who then dribbled into the left side of the box and scorched one inside the near post to make it 2-1.

“The defender just kind of kept backing away and it was kind of a 2-v-1 (with Akindele) so as I was approaching the goal, I just kept coming a little bit closer,” Mueller said. “Usually from there the back-post finish is usually the one that’s on, but I saw the goalie shift a little bit and I just slotted it to the near side. I got to give (Akindele) credit for the goal because he dragged that defender with him away from me.”

“I was just trying to get up there and help him,” Akindele said of Mueller. “Luckily, he didn’t need me and I was just happy that he was able to score the goal. But I think he would do the same for me. Everybody’s got to work hard to create chances for everyone else.”

The Lions took their deserved lead into the locker room at halftime as they controlled the majority of first-half play.

The second half was more evenly played and New York City looked more dangerous on the counterattack. Still, Orlando seemed more likely to score from the run of play, winning several more corner kick opportunities. Mueller was pulled down by Lewis in the 58th minute, earning the NYCFC/USMNT forward a booking. Kljestan hit the ensuing free kick off the top of the wall and out for a corner, but nothing came of it.

Mueller got a free header on an Acosta cross in the 65th minute and missed the net by inches, as the Lions nearly found a third goal. It looked like it would be a costly miss moments later when the visitors flashed a cross through Orlando’s penalty area that hit off either a defender or the post and barely stayed out.

Ten minutes later, Lewis went down in the area trying to win a penalty and saw his second yellow card of the night — this time for simulation. As a result, he was sent off and New York City was forced to play with 10 the rest of the way.

Orlando played out the string with lots of passing. Ruan picked up a cramp late and was replaced by OCB teenager Jordan Bender, but aside from that, the final 15 minutes went by uneventfully and the Lions held on for the win.

“There’s a couple of areas we can be sharper at. We could be crisper at,” O’Connor said. “But I think overall if you look at where we started from…to see the understanding of attacking and defensive principles was very, very encouraging.”

The Lions improved to 2-1-1 on the preseason. Orlando City will host the New England Revolution on Wednesday in Round 2 of the Orlando City Invitational at 7:30 p.m.


In the early game, Minnesota United got a gift howler from New England goalkeeper Brad Knighton and beat the Revolution, 1-0. Miguel Ibarra took away a bad touch outside the area by Knighton in the second half, rounded the keeper and passed the ball into the net for the game’s only score. The Loons nearly doubled the lead moments later when Revs defender Michael Mancienne deflected a Romain Metanire cross off his own goal post. New England couldn’t find an equalizer and the Loons won the first match in Orlando City Invitational history.

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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