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Orlando City vs. Montreal Impact: Final Score 3-1 as Early Mistakes Doom Lions

Ignacio Piatti crushes his favorite punching bag team yet again.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

The Lions are no longer unbeaten in 2019. The Montreal Impact (2-1-0, 6 points) capitalized on two quick errors in the first half and took control en route to a 3-1 win over Orlando City (0-1-2, 2 points) in front of an announced crowd of 22,352 at Orlando City Stadium.

The Lions were sloppy throughout what turned out to be a chippy and contentious match, and made numerous mistakes to give Montreal scoring opportunities.

Orlando fell to 3-6-2 against Montreal in the all-time series and 2-3-1 at home. The Impact are unbeaten in the last six meetings (5-0-1). The Lions at least finally scored against the Impact after getting shut out in both meetings last year.

“Our mentality needs to be way stronger,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “To play for this football club you need to have a really strong mentality. When you defend the way we did, you make it practically impossible to give yourself a chance of going and winning the game. You can’t defend like that and expect to get something out of the game.”

O’Connor dropped Alex De John from the starting XI in order to insert Carlos Ascues on the back line. Kamal Miller was dropped from the 18 as the coaching staff would like to manage the rookie’s minutes. As expected, Dom Dwyer stepped into the starting lineup for the injured Tesho Akindele, with rookie Santiago Patino making the game day 18 for the first time in his career.

Despite the graphic, the team played in what appeared to be a 4-3-3 with Nani, Dwyer, and Chris Mueller at the top above Will Johnson, Sebas Mendez, and Sacha Kljestan. The back four (left to right) were Danilo Acosta, Ascues, Shane O’Neill, and Ruan.

Orlando started the game by nearly conceding, which was a sign of things to come. Ascues had a giveaway that created an early chance for Montreal.

“I felt very positive going into the game. I felt very confident. And then we started the game in the worst possible way,” Kljestan said. “Nearly off the kickoff we almost gifted them a goal, off our possession, just passing it right to their forward almost. That kind of set the tone for the rest of the day and we never really got better from that point and we weren’t good enough in the attacking third.”

Despite the early gaffe, Orlando could have scored the first goal. Johnson stole a ball in the fourth minute and worked his way forward but got taken down from behind at the top of the box on what should have been a free kick. Three minutes later, Dwyer blasted a shot over the bar off a Nani feed.

Moments later, Ruan sent either a shot or a cross wide of the far post. But things unraveled quickly in the span of two minutes. Ascues was slow to close down Orji Okwonkwo after a partially blocked cross found the Montreal forward, and Mendez also didn’t do well enough in defense on the play. Okwonkwo turned quickly and fired off the inside of Brian Rowe’s far post to make it 1-0 in the 14th minute.

The Lions then gifted a second goal to the visitors moments later. O’Neill’s horrible back pass was halfway between Rowe and two Montreal attackers. Rowe came off his line to try to clear it but got only Maxi Urruti. That left Ignacio Piatti to deposit his ninth goal against Orlando into an empty net to make it 2-0 in the 15th. Rowe was booked for taking down Urruti.

“You cannot start games like that,” O’Connor said. “And then, if you are going to start the game like that you need to have to have a stronger mentality.”

Making matters worse was that Johnson was forced to the locker room for concussion protocol. He had returned from the early collision in which he was knocked down from behind by Samuel Piette and his head hit on Victor Cabrera as he fell. Despite returning to the match, Johnson must not have felt right, and he left the pitch with his team down, 2-0, eventually being replaced by Cristian Higuita.

“It looks like he’s suffering from a blow to the head, so I think the safest thing obviously was to take him off,” O’Connor said of Johnson’s injury. “It was a blow for us, because obviously he’s someone who has been playing very well. Even in the first couple of minutes, he steals the ball in the midfield, drives to the top of the box…it looked like a free kick, but it wasn’t given.”

The Lions had chances to pull one back before halftime but couldn’t execute. Ruan got loose in the box in the 31st minute and sent a cross through traffic, but none of his teammates made a back post run, and the ball fizzed harmlessly through the area. Four minutes later, Ruan found Dwyer with a cross, but Dom headed down and right at Evan Bush from point-blank range.

Mueller cut from left to right and fired just inches over the bar at the back post in the 42nd minute.

Montreal got the last decent chance of the half when Okwonkwo got down the right channel and fired, but Rowe made the save.

First-half shots were 10-3 in favor of Montreal (5-1 on target), with the Impact holding a 56%-44% edge in possession. Montreal was also the more accurate passing team, completing 80% of all passes, compared to Orlando’s 75%.

Rowe came up big on an Okwonkwo shot in the 47th minute after another Orlando turnover, as the Lions continued to be much looser with the ball all day than in the first two games.

The game started to get more physical and heated after that, with Mendez and Saphir Taider both staying down after a challenge and then Acosta getting booked after a hard aerial challenge against Bacary Sagna, in which it looked like he was simply playing the ball. Montreal took exception and Okwonkwo was booked for retaliating on Acosta moments later.

Orlando should have been back in the game in the 58th minute. Mueller blocked a Cabrera pass and it fell at Dwyer’s feet. With a gaping wide net and only Bush to beat, Dwyer got his shot around the keeper but missed the target completely.

Orlando kept pressing numbers forward to try to claw back into the game and it allowed Montreal to pile up chances. Rowe had to come off his line to thwart Taider on the rush in the 59th minute and Ascues had to clear the ball out after it trickled in behind.

A minute later, Okwonkwo got a shot off while well covered that hit Ascues’ shin and blooped just over the crossbar.

In the 68th, Okwonkwo again got in down the right after a soft pass out of the back never reached Kljestan, but Rowe came out and made a crucial save. Two minutes later, Rowe came out again to beat Piatti to a ball to prevent a scoring chance.

Dwyer had his third excellent scoring chance in the 74th. Nani made a nice play on the left and sent a cross into the 6-yard box. Dwyer got a toe onto it but it trickled just wide of the far post.

After that, O’Connor sent on rookie Santiago Patino — making his MLS debut — and Josué Colmán to try to add something to the attack. Instead, the Montreal lead grew to 3-0 in the 80th minute. Piatti scored his 10th career goal against the Lions. Kljestan tried to turn and clear the ball forward but second-half sub Harry Novillo closed him down and deflected the ball in behind, where it became a Montreal 2-v-1. Piatti doesn’t miss those, especially when there’s only one defender back — Ascues, in this case. With Acosta and Ruan both pressing forward, Piatti easily dispatched Kljestan and slotted home.

“Towards the end we’ve made changes and we’ve got Ruan playing right center back and Sebas playing left center back,” O’Connor said. “So, over the last 15-20 minutes or whatever it is, we’ve made changes to try and get ourselves back into the game because we’re two-nil down. I think when you do that you leave yourself wide open.”

The Impact should have made it 4-0 in the 89th, when Zakaria Diallo got a free header right in front of goal, but he got under it and sent it well over the bar.

Two minutes later, Orlando, and Dwyer, finally finished a chance.

City won the ball in midfield and worked out wide right to Mueller. The second-year Lion put a perfect ball onto Patino’s foot and the rookie drew Bush out off his line and slid a pass over for Dwyer to swipe into the empty net for his second goal of the season.

“Chris played me a great ball,” Patino said of his first MLS assist. “I took a touch. I saw Dom making a run and I just gave it to him.”

As it got late into stoppage time, the Impact took exception to a through ball played on what was a drop ball situation. O’Connor apologized to Montreal after the game, saying “that’s not a good representation of this football club.”

Diallo was sent off during the fracas after grabbing Dwyer’s head and shoving him to the ground. Higuita was booked on the play.

That was about it. The whistle blew and Orlando City had its first loss of 2019.

“There was a general nervousness to our play,” O’Connor. “The start certainly didn’t help. We seemed to be edgy. Honestly it’s not good enough. The first two games we feel we were able to set a standard and we were way off today. We were nowhere near the level of what we want.”

“I expect us to come back stronger,” Kljestan said after the game. “We’ve got to react in a positive way. Bad performance tonight but hopefully we learn our lesson and do better next time.”


The Lions go back on the road next Saturday but getting their first win won’t be easy, as they visit the New York Red Bulls at 7:30 p.m.

Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Final Score 5-0 as Meek Lions Trounced in Comprehensive Road Defeat

Lions get crushed from the jump in South Florida.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City conceded two ridiculously easy goals in the first 11 minutes and another easy one before the end of the half en route to an embarrassing 5-0 loss to Inter Miami (2-0-1, 7 points) at Chase Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. The Lions (0-1-1, 1 point) gave Luis Suarez his first two MLS goals and an assist in the opening half (and another assist later). Lionel Messi also scored a brace and Robert Taylor added a goal.

Orlando generated some scoring chances, but struggled to hit the target when the game was still within reach. With the loss, Orlando City fell to 5-4-3 in league play against their Tropic Thunder rivals from the south. It was the first time the Lions have been shut out in Fort Lauderdale, and this season marks the first time in club history that Orlando City has failed to score a goal through the first two matches in regular-season play.

“Obviously a disappointing day for us, recognizing from minute one to the end of the game that didn’t look like us in many areas,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “A team like them, you cannot permit them to have that many spaces, and lose that many duels, and give them that possibility to be sitting in our box in those counterattacks. Really disappointed, but we’re pushing as a group. You know I have big respect for this group, their professionalism in what they do, and if there is any possibility, we’ll search to find answers but this group’s professionalism will never be denied. We’re not going to leave this experience just to happen without taking the benefits of this, the reasons, and learn from it.”

Pareja’s starters included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena took their usual spots in the central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Martin Ojeda, and Facundo Torres with Duncan McGuire up top.

It didn’t take long for the hosts to get on top and it was Orlando City helping the Herons score the first goal. Araujo made a terrible mistake with a blind back pass, turning the ball over. It ended up out wide on Julian Gressel’s foot and the winger found Suarez, who fired first time into the corner where Gallese couldn’t get to it, making it 1-0 in the fourth minute.

“From there, I feel we couldn’t really turn the game in our favor,” Jansson said.

Orlando had two great opportunities to answer quickly. The first came when Thorhallsson fed McGuire in front in the seventh minute. The striker couldn’t get his feet set properly and when the ball arrived he sent it well off target from just eight yards out. A minute later, it was Araujo with a blast from just outside the box but his shot sailed just wide of the upper left corner.

The Lions, predictably, paid for those misses. Miami got a fortunate bounce off of Cartagena’s tackle attempt. As a result, Suarez was sent in on a fairly routine through ball but Araujo had stopped tracking him and Schlegel got pulled out of position with an overly aggressive move, giving the former Barcelona man room to slip through the line. He beat Gallese to make it 2-0 in the 11th minute.

Orlando City finally settled into the match a bit after that, although the damage had been done already. The Lions won a couple of corners and Schlegel sent a header wide on one of them. On the other, the ball was knocked to Torres near the top of the box. The Uruguayan tried a volley shot but couldn’t keep it down and it sailed well over the goal in the 21st minute.

Ojeda tried to pick out McGuire in the 23rd minute but Drake Callender came off his line and may have gotten a slight touch to the excellent cross. At the very least, he put McGuire off with his presence and aggressiveness.

Miami unlocked the defense for an easy third goal in the 29th minute. Schlegel was slow to step up to spring an offside trap and the through ball found Suarez behind the back line. Gallese came off his line to try to disrupt the play, but Suarez squared it to Taylor for an empty-net goal.

Messi came close to making it 4-0 with a free kick in the 34th minute. He sent his shot off the outside of the left post and Gallese may have had it covered anyway, moving quickly to his right.

The score almost got more embarrassing late in the half. Suarez again got in behind and scored but this time the flag came up and the offside call was upheld on review. It was extremely close, but the score remained 3-0.

That was the last close call of the first half and the Lions limped to the break down three goals.

The Lions held the advantage in possession (55.7%-44.3%) and corners (2-0). But Miami passed more accurately (90.6%-85.1%), fired more shots (5-4), and put more on target (3-0).

“Not good enough,” Jansson said of the performance. “It’s a derby and we’re coming out there with no energy, I feel. We don’t take control of the game like we normally try to do. Tonight was a rough one. It was not good enough on any part of the field, including myself, and I feel sorry for the fans who traveled here, and they deserve better.”

Pareja withdrew McGuire and Cartagena at the half, replacing them with Luis Muriel and Nico Lodeiro.

Ojeda appeared to pull a goal back just after the restart, playing his way through and slotting past Callender. However, Angulo was just offside in the buildup, negating the goal.

Messi came within inches of a fourth Miami goal in the 54th minute, sending a shot just outside the right post from the top of the area. The play was started by a turnover by Santos. A minute later, Santos didn’t pick up Gressel and Angulo stopped tracking him. That wasn’t optimal and Gressel ended up smashing a shot off the crossbar.

Things got worse for Orlando in a hurry after those chances. The Lions simply had no answers, giving up a pair of goals to Messi, as Miami continued to easily play into space behind the back line.

Schlegel again got pulled out of shape on a Miami transition attack. That allowed Jordi Alba to get in behind and shoot. Jansson cleared the ball off the line but could only knock it off the woodwork. Messi got the last touch of the ping-ponging ball and it trickled in to make it 4-0 in the 57th minute.

Four minutes later, Suarez blazed down the left and sent a good cross for Messi’s headed finish.

The Lions should have pulled a goal back in the 76th minute when Ramiro Enrique got in behind the defense. The Argentine left his shot too close to the center, where Callender still had to make a good save to prevent the goal.

Although Orlando City held more possession (52.8%-47.2%) and won more corners (5-1), Miami had the advantage in shots (11-8), shots on target (6-2), and passing accuracy (89.2%-85.6%). The Herons were much more lethal in front of goal, and Orlando was much sloppier in both final thirds. With the quality Miami has, that’s a poor combination and, as shown on this night, a game can get away quickly.

“We have to look at the game and see where we didn’t get our stuff done,” Jansson said. “We do it all the time, when we win and when we lose. We have to go through what we’re doing good and what we’re doing bad, because otherwise we will never become better. This was a bad take, and we’ve got to get the review, and get the analysis, and see where we had the most errors, and then we just have to take it from there.”

“We are responsible for a performance like this one, where nothing came right, and we will surely see what are the reasons and how can we improve it,” Pareja said. “We will continue with our heads up, and again, for me, I back this group up 100 percent. It’s a group that’s very professional. Didn’t play well today and nothing came right. We will take that responsibility, especially the coach. It’s not an easy result to absorb, but also we have the responsibility to bounce back immediately, and proximity (of the next game) helps give us the opportunity just to reshape again. But surely this will be in our memory for a little longer than normal.

“It’s just that they were better than us, and we didn’t do a good job today. We didn’t show up today the way we are…the start of the league doesn’t dictate the end of it.”


Orlando City has another quick turnaround before hosting Tigres in Concacaf Champions Cup action Tuesday night at home. The next league game is next Saturday when Minnesota United visits Inter&Co Stadium.

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Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More

The Lions meet the Herons in the first Tropic Thunder battle of 2024.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Welcome to your match thread for a Saturday afternoon Tropic Thunder matchup between Orlando City and the team’s Publix Enemies, Inter Miami CF at Chase Stadium (4:30 p.m., FOX, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+). It’s the first of two scheduled meetings between the sides this season with the return leg in Orlando set for Wednesday, May 15. It is the only scheduled meeting in Fort Lauderdale.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the match.

History

Orlando City is 5-4-4 in the series in all competitions, 2-3-0 on the road in the MLS regular season, and 2-4-0 away in all competitions. The most recent meeting resulted in a 1-1 draw in Orlando on Sept. 24, 2023. Duncan McGuire brought Orlando back from a 1-0 deficit after David Ruiz had given the Herons a 1-0 lead early in the second half.

The most recent meeting in South Florida took place on Aug. 2 of last year in Leagues Cup action. The Herons were fortunate to not see Lionel Messi sent off with a second yellow late in the first half and even more fortunate to get a soft penalty call on Antonio Carlos as they won, 3-1. Messi opened the scoring after being ignored in the box early. Cesar Araujo made up for his uncharacteristic defensive lapse by scoring 10 minutes later. Josef Martinez put Miami back on top with the Downy-soft penalty just after halftime and Messi sunk in the dagger in the final 20 minutes.

The teams also met in Fort Lauderdale in MLS play on May 20, 2023, with Orlando City winning, 3-1. Ercan Kara’s early goal was canceled out by Leonardo Campana shortly before the hour mark, but Martin Ojeda and Rafael Santos found the net in the second half to power the Lions.

Inter Miami won at home, 4-1, on Oct. 5, 2022. Campana scored in the game’s first minute and Orlando City never settled in. Gonzalo Higuain added two goals — one from the spot — and Ariel Lassiter also scored before Kara pulled one back to spoil the shutout.

The first regular-season meeting of 2022 resulted in a 1-0 Orlando City win at Exploria Stadium on July 9, as a stoppage-time own goal by Damion Lowe was the difference between the Lions earning just one point or all three. The ball was sent into the box by Jake Mulraney.

The teams also met at Exploria Stadium on May 25, 2022 in U.S. Open Cup action, with the two sides needing extra time after a scoreless 90 minutes. In extra time, Miami got a goal from Jean Mota against the run of play, but Facundo Torres quickly equalized for Orlando. The match ended 1-1 and Orlando won the ensuing penalty shootout, 4-2. Bryce Duke was denied by Mason Stajduhar and DeAndre Yedlin missed the net during the spot kicks, while all four Orlando shooters scored.

The intrastate rivals played to a scoreless draw in Orlando on Aug. 27, 2021. Tesho Akindele missed a penalty in the match, but the Lions had several other good opportunities to score (but didn’t) in a wasteful performance. Orlando and Miami battled to a 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium on Aug. 4, 2021. Carlos scored in first-half stoppage time but was knocked into concussion protocol on the play by Kelvin Leerdam. Kieran Gibbs equalized in the 66th minute on a header in front of a less-than-attentive Ruan. Akindele had a goal called back after video review for being offside and the teams split the points. Earlier in the season, the Lions came from behind in Fort Lauderdale to win 2-1 on a pair of brilliant goals by Chris Mueller and Nani on June 25, 2021.

In the final meeting of 2020, the Lions saw their 12-match unbeaten streak end on Oct. 24 in a 2-1 road loss in Fort Lauderdale. Miami defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez’s header in the 89th minute was the difference after a Daryl Dike goal and an own goal off Robin Jansson saw the game tied up at halftime. The teams met in Orlando on Sept. 12, 2020 with Orlando battling to a 2-1 win on Mauricio Pereyra’s goal. The Lions had taken the lead on an own goal by Andres Reyes. Former Lion Brek Shea tied things up in the 65th, before Pereyra answered with a nice goal off the left post in the 69th minute.

The first meeting in Fort Lauderdale opened Phase 1 of Major League Soccer’s return to regular-season play after the MLS is Back Tournament. That one was an uncharacteristically sloppy match for the Lions, who fell 3-2 in Inter Miami’s first-ever home match. It was Miami’s first franchise win after an 0-5-0 start. Orlando trailed by more than one goal for the first time all season in that game. Dike and Nani provided the offense for Orlando, but Julian Carranza’s brace and Rodolfo Pizarro’s insurance goal were enough to lift the Herons.

The first Tropic Thunder match went Orlando City’s way, with Nani scoring late to lift the Lions to a 2-1 win over the upstarts from South Florida in the opening match of the MLS is Back Tournament. Despite it being a tournament match, it was also a league game. Juan Agudelo opened the scoring for the Herons, but Mueller equalized, setting the stage for Nani’s 97th-minute winner.

Overview

The Lions are coming off a 3-1 win over Canadian Premier League side Cavalry FC Tuesday. That victory gave Orlando City a 6-1 aggregate score across two legs and the Lions advanced to the Round of 16 in Concacaf Champions Cup. Despite heavy rotation, Orlando got goals from Nico Lodeiro, Ramiro Enrique, and Kyle Smith to advance.

Orlando City last played in a regular-season match a week ago at home against CF Montreal, drawing 0-0. Tonight’s match represents Orlando’s first road game of the 2024 MLS season.

Inter Miami is coming off a 1-1 draw on the road against the LA Galaxy last Sunday. The Herons (stop me if you’ve heard this before) got an enormous break when Mark Delgado was sent off with a second yellow in the 87th minute. Messi scored five minutes later against the shorthanded Galaxy and Miami claimed a point. Delgado’s second yellow was, of course, overturned unanimously by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, but the damage has been done.

The Herons are 1-0-0 at home, having dispatched Real Salt Lake 2-0 in Inter Miami’s home opener Feb. 21.

Miami is one of the favorites in 2024 and is playing confidently under Gerardo Martino and is one of the league’s heavy favorites to win MLS Cup. The Lions must do what they can to limit Messi’s involvement as much as possible. Miami’s attack is formidable enough that it helps the team’s defense, as it is often difficult to dispossess the Herons and maintain extended spells of possession long enough to get at Inter Miami’s back line. That’s exactly what the Lions love to do, so today’s match will be an interesting battle of wills.

It’s a rivalry game, so anything can happen. History suggests it’ll be tight.

“We’re very optimistic after advancing in the Champions Cup and in the performance that we had (at home) in the opener,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said. “We’re very confident to keep going in this journey. I know we’ll be busy in the next few weeks, but the boys are ready. We’re ready to compete. Now, we’re refocusing on going to Miami, the first time against our rival and getting a result there. Then we’ll think about the game on Tuesday (against Tigres), but first is focusing on our next rival. We already have our feedback, already have our reviews in, but now we’re ready.”

The Lions don’t have any players listed on the team’s availabilitly report. Miami will be without Benjamin Cremaschi (sports hernia), Facundo Farias (knee), Ian Fray (knee), Franco Negri (knee), and Robbie Robinson (medical evaluation), while Ryan Sailor (oblique) is questionable.

Match Content


Official Lineups:

Orlando City (4-2-3-1)

Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese.

Defenders: Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson.

Defensive Midfielders: Cesar Araujo, Wilder Cartagena.

Attacking Midfielders: Ivan Angulo, Martin Ojeda, Facundo Torres.

Forward: Duncan McGuire.

Bench: Mason Stajduhar, Kyle Smith, Michael Halliday, David Brekalo, Felipe, Jeorgio Kocevski, Nico Lodeiro, Ramiro Enrique, Luis Muriel.

Inter Miami (4-3-3)

Goalkeeper: Drake Callender.

Defenders: Jordi Alba, Tomas Aviles, Nicolas Freire, DeAndre Yedlin.

Midfielders: Diego Gomez, Sergio Busquets, Julian Gressel.

Forwards: Robert Taylor, Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi.

Bench: CJ dos Santos, Ryan Sailor, Sergii Kryvtsov, Shanyder Borgelin, Jean Mota, Lawson Sunderland, David Ruiz, Noah Allen, Leonardo Campana.

Referees:

REF: Jaime Herrera.
AR1: Bruno Rizo.
AR2: Regis Cardoso.
4TH: Ivan Cid Cruz.
VAR: Sandro Ricci.
AVAR: TBA.


How to Watch

Match Time: 4:30 p.m.

Venue: Chase Stadium — Fort Lauderdale.

TV/Live Stream: FOX, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+.

Radio: Real Radio 104.1 FM (English), Acción 97.9 FM, 810 AM (Spanish).

Twitter: For rapid reaction and live updates, follow along at @TheManeLand, as well as Orlando City’s official Twitter feed (@OrlandoCitySC).


Enjoy the game. Go City!

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Luis Muriel Flashed Playmaking Ability vs. Cavalry FC

Luis Muriel showed signs of what he can do with a strong performance in his Orlando City debut.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Luis Muriel is the newest man to wear the no. 9 shirt for Orlando City, taking over for Ercan Kara after the big Austrian left the City Beautiful for the Turkish top flight last summer. Muriel arrived just before the season officially got underway, and we had to wait until the third game of the year against Cavalry FC to see him take the field, as the necessary paperwork had to be completed first.

Once he was on the field, he was a joy to watch. While Cavalry isn’t the toughest opposition that OCSC will face this year, the Canadians (et al) aren’t slouches either, and the Colombian gave them all sorts of trouble as soon as the game got underway. With 14 minutes gone, he directed a header on target, and moments later he broke through the defense with a great run, and only last-gasp closing down from two defenders and an excellent save from Marco Carducci denied him a goal on his debut. He also fizzed a dangerous shot just outside the post with a little under 30 minutes played, continuing his high level of involvement to start the match.

He wasn’t limited to just taking shots though. When Muriel’s signing was announced, Luiz Muzzi went out of his way to highlight the striker’s “…ability to combine with and make his teammates better.” That’s something that we got to see quite a bit of on Tuesday night, as the no. 9 repeatedly dropped into the midfield in search of the ball, showing up as far back as the defensive midfielders at times. Doing so pulled Cavalry players out of position, opened up space in the center, and made it easier for him to either connect with teammates or drive at the defense once he had collected the ball. He spoke after the game about how he liked to go find the ball and get into unexpected areas, and he certainly did a lot of that.

Muriel’s playmaking chops eventually paid dividends on the scoreboard when the Lions grabbed the opening goal of the game. He collected the ball on the right side of the box, and cut onto his left foot where he could have had a shot at goal. Instead, he picked his head up and squared a perfect ball for Nico Lodiero at the top of the 18-yard box, who made it look easy as he hit the well-weighted ball first time and put it off the inside of the left post and into the back of the net.

If you did your research, you had a pretty good idea of what the Lions would be getting when they signed the Colombian international to a three-year deal. Per FBref.com, in the last year, Muriel is in the 99th percentile for passes attempted per 90, progressive passes per 90, expected assisted goals per 90, shot-creating actions per 90, and successful take-ons per 90. He’s in the 98th percentile for shots per 90, and the 86th percentile for non-penalty goals per 90. Those numbers all paint the picture of a forward who scores but is also comfortable as a playmaker, doesn’t hesitate to get his teammates involved, and does so at a high level.

His numbers on Tuesday night only served to reinforce what the scouting told us. Muriel finished with three shots, two of which were on target, and completed 87% of his passes while recording a key pass and an assist — in his first competitive minutes with his new teammates. It was a well-rounded performance that allowed more traditional playmakers like Facundo Torres and Lodeiro to be limited to substitute appearances, helping to preserve their legs at a time when fixture congestion is high.


Tuesday night was a nice preview of what fans can expect when Muriel is on the field. His tendency to go looking for the ball and willingness to bring his teammates into play means that Orlando has the sort of striker that the club hasn’t really had before. It gives the team more options and tactical flexibility, and that’s going to be something to watch as the season continues. Vamos Orlando!

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