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Orlando City vs. New York City FC: Final Score 2-2 as Lions Rally From Two Down

Another controversial video review goes against Orlando City late.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City recovered from giving up two first-half goals but could have won had yet another controversial video review not gone against the Lions. Maxime Chanot’s handball on a Dom Dwyer attempt was not called and then not overturned on video review, as the Lions drew New York City FC 2-2 at Orlando City Stadium. The Lions (0-0-1, 1 point) snapped a four-game losing streak to NYCFC (0-0-1, 1 point) and are now 5-5-3 in the all-time series.

“We felt we didn’t deserve to be two-nil down, but we were two-nil down,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the game. “So, like we said, you either sit and feel sorry for yourself or you get out and you keep believing and you keep pushing and you keep doing the things that we’d spoken about. And I think we were very unfortunate not to go on and win the game at the end. I think there was some kind of controversy or some handball or something, so we go from two-nil down to having a real opportunity to go and win the game.”

O’Connor opted to start mainly the same team that faced NYCFC two weeks ago in the Orlando City Invitational. With Nani having missed a few days of training and flying back a day before the match, the Portuguese star began the game on the bench. He was alongside Dwyer, who was fit enough to be available but not 90-minute match fit after missing the bulk of preseason. Lamine Sané didn’t even make the 18, as O’Connor’s back line featured rookie Kamal Miller, newcomer Alex De John, and Shane O’Neill.

City began the game with good spells of possession but the Lions weren’t really able to generate a lot of clear-cut chances, as the New York City defense and midfield kept the lads in purple away from goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Still, the first shot of the half came five minutes in when Will Johnson fired just inches wide of the post.

New York scored in the 13th minute through Ebenezer Ofori, who was given too much space about 25 yards out, straight above the penalty area. Sebas Mendez was slow to close Ofori down and his shot was hit with power and was well placed just inside Brian Rowe’s post to make it 1-0.

Chris Mueller should have tied the game two minutes later. He was slipped into the top of the area by O’Neill and had either side to choose from but he fired wide of the right post in a chance he’ll no doubt want back.

A minute later, Sacha Kljestan shot from just inside the top of the area but didn’t get all of it and hit it right at Sean Johnson.

Will Johnson (no relation) took a nice layoff pass from Kljestan above the area in the 25th minute but got under it and fired well over the bar, as the Lions missed the net on seven of their eight first-half shot attempts. Eventually the attack started to become just lumping the ball over the top for Tesho Akindele, but he was a lone wolf against three defenders most times, and that was never going to work.

Assistant referee Kevin Klinger appeared to pull a hamstring late in the half and had to switch out with the fourth official in an incident you don’t see every day.

Orlando was lucky not to give up a goal in the 41st minute when Chanot’s free header on a corner kick was sent wide of goal. But the Pigeons got a second just before halftime through Alexander Ring, who took a pass from Alexandru Mitrita, which nutmegged De John, and got in behind the defense before beating Rowe to make it 2-0.

Minutes later, the first half mercifully ended. Orlando City held 62% of the possession to just 38% for NYCFC, but the Lions had little purpose in their attack, despite also being the better passing side (82%-75%). Shots were 8-6 Orlando (1-3 on target, however).

“I thought we were extremely unlucky to be going in two-nil down,” O’Connor said. “I think when you look at the balance of play first half, we had a lot of possession, we were camped in their half, we had multiple good opportunities — I think we were all a little frustrated to go in two-nil down.”

The tide turned in the second half, but it took a few minutes. Kyle Smith had the first good opportunity of the second half, forcing a good Sean Johnson save in the 51st minute. De John got under the cross on the ensuing corner and couldn’t direct Mueller’s pass on frame, as it was just a bit high.

But Mueller pulled the Lions back into the game in the 59th minute. After Kljestan was pulled down out on the left side, just above the penalty area, Mueller stepped up to the ball. The second-year player delivered a dangerous ball into the box that took a bounce and found its way inside the back post. The delivery forced Sean Johnson to decide between playing the oncoming attackers or the ball, and he could only watch as Mueller made it 2-1.

“I just wanted to put it into a dangerous area,” Mueller said. “And I made sure that if no one got a touch onto it, it would creep into that back post area and that’s exactly what ended up happening. So it was good to get the team back into the game.”

Mueller’s goal was the first scored by any Lion in a competitive game against NYCFC since Cyle Larin’s second goal in a 2-1 win on April 23, 2017.

The teams battled back and forth, mostly in the middle of the pitch, for the next 10 minutes or so, and then the game changed again when O’Connor sent Dwyer and Nani onto the pitch in exchange for Smith and Mendez.

“You could hear it, couldn’t you, in the stadium?” Mueller said when asked if he could feel the energy change when Nani and Dwyer checked in. “It got pretty loud in the stadium and I think that just gave us a little bit of an extra boost. Guys were getting tired and they came on and they created a very nice goal together. It was awesome.”

Just five minutes after coming on, Nani — on one of his first few touches as a Lion — unlocked the NYCFC defense with one long pass, sending Dwyer behind the back line on the left. Dom drew Johnson over toward him and slipped a centering pass to Akindele, who tapped it in to open his Orlando City account.

“I thought they came in and they made a huge impact,” Akindele said of Nani and Dwyer entering the game. “I think one of Nani’s first touches was the pass to set Dom through. One of Dom’s first touches was an assist. So that just shows the quality they bring and the depth we have up top.”

Akindele had to leave the game after the goal but said he was just cramping up due to the heat and the effort put into the match.

“I was like, happy (after scoring the goal), but then my body was cramping, so it was kind of weird,” he said, laughing. “I was trying to be like real happy and celebrate but I couldn’t. So, next time maybe I’ll have a better celebration.”

With the game tied, Orlando looked for the winner and it appeared the Lions had their chance to grab it in the 80th minute. Mueller sent in a good cross that Dwyer knocked toward goal. The ball hit Chanot’s arm and Dwyer emphatically screamed for a penalty. Once there was a stop in play, video assistant referee Jose Carlos Rivero buzzed down to referee Baldomero Toledo, who stopped the game and reviewed the play on a monitor.

Although replays show Chanot’s hand out away from his body and moving in a way so as to block the flight of the ball, Toledo did not overturn the play and no penalty was awarded. Following the game, the game officials issued this statement to the pool reporter covering the game:

“The VAR recommended a review for a potential handling in the penalty area. After review, the referee determined that the defender did not deliberately handle the ball.”

O’Connor clarified that he hadn’t seen a good replay of the incident in the box but several players had told him it was a clear-cut handball.

The Pigeons had one more good opportunity, but Rowe was able to deny Mitrita from a tight angle late in the game, and, after 90 minutes plus four minutes of stoppage time, neither team had a win.

Shots for the match were even at 13 apiece, with New York City putting six on frame to Orlando’s four. The Lions held 58% of the possession to NYCFC’s 42%, and Orlando connected on 80% of its passes to the visitors’ 73%.

“I felt like overall the team’s performance was really good. It definitely hurts not to get the three points on the first day but I think that we showed a lot of character fighting back.,” Mueller said.

“I think it’s cool to see the response but obviously you don’t want to put yourself in a position where we go down at all,” Akindele said. “And to be honest, I think that start to finish, I think we outplayed them. I think they had two chances against the run of play that they did really well, that they took advantage of, but honestly I think we completely outplayed them.”

Nani said after the game that he was feeling the effects of the travel but he hopes to be able to start “after a very good week of training.” O’Connor said he went through several instances in his mind of when he’d bring in Nani and Dwyer, who hadn’t trained much with the team this preseason.

“I think if I’m being honest I didn’t envision the two lads getting the minutes that they did,” O’Connor said of his plan on when to use Nani and Dwyer. “But I knew in the back of my mind if we needed a goal or we needed something to change the game, then them two were going to go on. They both deserve a lot of credit because they’ve not done a lot of training. To go on and impact the game like they did, some of the play and the heart that they showed was really encouraging.”

With yet another first-game draw, the Lions are now 1-0-4 in their opening day matches since joining the league.


Orlando City will be back in action next Saturday at the Chicago Fire. Game time is 1 p.m.

Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/30/23

Orlando City faces big questions, Matt Miazga suspended, Emma Hayes meets USWNT for first time, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

November is finally coming to a close. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of a month for me, with highs, lows, and many things in between. All in all, I’m pretty glad it’s nearly over, although I expect December to be similarly hectic. At least this weather is allowing me to break out some winter clothes and turn on the fireplace in this new apartment. I’m not sure why a fireplace was installed in a Floridian apartment, but I’m not complaining. Let’s dive into today’s links!

Big Decisions Await Orlando City

With Orlando City’s season over, attention now turns to a critical off-season for the club. Head Coach Oscar Pareja is out of contract after leading the Lions to the playoffs for the past four years. The club will also need to decide if it will exercise the 2024 options on the contracts of both Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi and Technical Director and Assistant General Manager Ricardo Moreira. All three have orchestrated Orlando’s transformation that’s included winning its first trophy, having its best season this year, and qualifying for both the Concacaf Champions League and Champions Cup. Potentially transferring Facundo Torres to Europe, filling the empty Designated Player slot, and deciding which players to bring back for 2024 are also on the agenda. However, figuring out who will lead the Lions into this exciting next chapter is paramount. Personally, I think the club should do everything in its power to keep the people who brought Orlando to this point.

Matt Miazga Suspended for Three Games

FC Cincinnati will be without MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga for Saturday’s Eastern Conference final, as he was suspended by MLS for three games due to his misconduct after the match with the New York Red Bulls on Nov. 4. Miazga was also fined an undisclosed amount and will undergo a behavioral assessment as part of the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Following that aforementioned playoff match, reports surfaced that Miazga gained unauthorized access to an area reserved for the referees and acted aggressively. Any suspended games not served during Cincy’s playoff run will carry over into the 2024 season, although Miazga can petition for a reduction based on compliance with recommended treatment plans.

Emma Hayes Meets With USWNT Players and Staff

Emma Hayes, who was hired as the next United States Women’s National Team Head Coach earlier this month, made the trip to Florida to meet the team for the first time. Although she won’t be coaching the team for its upcoming pair of friendlies against China, she collaborated with interim head coach Twila Kilgore on the latest training camp roster and will continue to work with her until taking over in May. There won’t be much time between Hayes’ official start date and the 2024 Summer Olympics, making these moments of face time between player and future coach all the more important. USWNT captain Lindsey Horan spoke on the team’s goals after meeting Hayes for the first time.

“There’s so much talent in this team, and I don’t think the world has seen enough of it yet just because we need to go out and show it,” Horan said. “We need to be able to mesh together and show everything that we have, and what we’re all about, and how we can really collaborate and play together — be more of a team and be a powerhouse again.

“It’s going to be exciting for us to have her and see what she can do with this team and how she can help us moving forward.”

Ricardo Pepi Sends PSV Into Champions League Knockout Stage

PSV Eindhoven clinched its spot in the next round of the UEFA Champions League in dramatic fashion, with American forward Ricardo Pepi scoring the winner in a 3-2 comeback win over Sevilla in Spain. Trailing 2-0 in the second half, American left back Sergino Dest provided the assist on PSV’s first goal and Pepi found the winner in stoppage time, with fellow American Malik Tillman also coming off the bench. From his little flick to send a teammate forward to his run and clinical header, it was a great goal by the 20-year-old.

Elsewhere in the Champions League, Arsenal beat Lens 6-0 to advance, Real Madrid won 4-2 against Napoli to win its group, and Real Sociedad played to a scoreless draw with RB Salzburg. Manchester United remains in last place of its group after a 3-3 draw with Galatasaray, with goalkeeper Andre Onana unable to stop Hakim Ziyech from scoring off of two free kicks. All’s not lost for United though, as it can still qualify for the round of 16 by beating Bayern Munich at home so long as the other match ends in the group ends in a draw. It all makes for what should be an exciting final matchday in the group stage.

Free Kicks

  • The Kansas City Current announced that American midfielder Sam Mewis will not be returning to the club for the 2024 season. The 31-year-old has not played since 2021 as she continues to recover from a knee injury.
  • The Utah Royals have signed free agent forward Imani Dorsey on a contract through the 2025 season. Dorsey has most recently played for NJ/NY Gotham FC, although she didn’t participate in this past season due to mental health reasons.
  • Manchester United is reportedly ready to move on from Mason Mount just six months after he joined the team from Chelsea.
  • Tomasz Kwiatkowski, the video assistant referee involved in a controversial handball that eventually led to Paris Saint-Germain’s equalizer in stoppage time against Newcastle, was removed from his next scheduled duty by UEFA.
  • Amidst a four-game winless streak, French club Nantes has fired Pierre Aristouy as its manager, immediately replacing him with Jocelyn Gourvennec.
  • We’ll end our links with this interesting article that dives into how Romelu Lukaku unexpectedly arrived at AS Roma and how he’s thriving at the Italian club.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and rest of your week!

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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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