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Orlando City vs. New York Red Bulls: Final Score 1-0 as Kljestan’s Goal Buries His Old Team

Lions win first road match since April 29, 2018 with a solid defensive game.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Sacha Kljestan came back to haunt his old team, scoring the only goal in Orlando City’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. Orlando (1-1-2, 5 points) won its first match of the 2019 season and its first road match since April 29, 2018 at Colorado, thanks to Kljestan’s strike in the 73rd minute. It snapped a four-game losing streak at Red Bull Arena, as the Lions improved to 4-5-1 in the all-time series against New York (1-1-1, 4 points).

The Lions didn’t just sit back and bunker. They (mostly) took good care of the ball to avoid giving New York counter opportunities and covered for each other well at the back all night. City also looked to get forward when the opportunities came. Chances were few, but most of the ones the Lions fashioned were good ones. In the end, it only took one goal to grab the win and Kljestan bagged it against his former team.

James O’Connor made some changes to his lineup, going back to a 3-5-2 and giving Robin Jansson and Joao Moutinho their Orlando City debuts and Santiago Patino his first MLS start. Carlos Ascues moved up into the midfield for the injured Will Johnson and Uri Rosell got his first start of the year in place of Sebas Mendez (international duty). The biggest surprise was Dom Dwyer moving to the bench.

The Red Bulls came out as you’d expect, pressing high, taking the ball away in midfield and looking for chances to strike on the counter. This led to a series of early corners and the hosts nearly scored in the sixth minute off such a set piece. Alex Muyl get on the end of a cross and headed a laser on target but Brian Rowe fought it off to keep the game scoreless.

Orlando’s first chance came three minutes later, when Patino made a nice turn in the box and found Rosell, who saw his shot blocked by Tim Parker.

Muyl was forced to move to left back from right wing after Connor Lade was injured after a collision with Ruan. Lade was unable to continue, and since the Red Bulls had no available fullbacks — both Michael Murillo and Kemar Lawrence are away on international duty — Muyl was conscripted for the position and Omir Fernandez came on to take his place in the attacking midfield.

While Lade was still off and the change had yet to be made, Ruan had a golden scoring chance, cutting into the box but firing weakly at Luis Robles. Then Ruan got down the right in the 25th minute and his cross found Patino, but the shot off the rookie’s boot was deflected by former Lion Amro Tarek and flew up in the air. It found Moutinho eventually but the volley attempt was well over the bar.

Rowe made another pair of nice plays on a New York corner in the 29th, punching out the initial cross, and then scrambling back to catch a headed shot on target. Seconds later, Ruan made an error with a bad cross-field pass, which Fernandez cut out. The young midfielder attacked the back line and unleashed a shot but Rowe handled it comfortably.

One of Orlando’s best chances came in the 31st minute. Off a set piece, Shane O’Neill gained possession and sent a long ball for Patino. The rookie was fouled by Kyle Duncan but fought off the New York right back and headed in alone toward Robles’ goal. However, an untidy touch as he tried to set himself up for a shot caused the chance to go away.

The Lions had another good opportunity in the 43rd minute. Nani broke in on goal, but instead of firing, he waited for Kljestan to overlap. Kljestan had little angle to beat Robles but spotted a teammate at the back post. Unfortunately, Tarek knocked his cross attempt out of the air and behind for a corner, and the teams went to the locker rooms locked in a scoreless tie.

New York led in first-half shots, 5-3 (3-0 on target, despite Ruan’s shot seemingly being sent right to Robles in front of goal), possession (51%-49%), and passing accuracy (59%-58%), although neither team passed particularly well in the opening 45 minutes.

The first good opportunity in the second half fell for Ruan, who blazed past the New York defense to get in down the right side. The right back took a loose touch in the box and it allowed Robles to close him down. The keeper blocked the shot with his legs in a desperation sprawl in the 52nd minute.

Three minutes later, the Red Bulls nearly broke the deadlock. Ascues gave the ball away cheaply in the middle of the pitch, and Bradley Wright-Phillips fired a shot toward the back side of goal. Rowe got just a fingertip on it and kept it out.

Dwyer came on in the 60th minute for Patino, and three minutes later the Lions lost Alex De John, who made a nice play to track back, block a cross, and knock it out for a throw. He immediately signaled to the bench for a sub and Lamine Sané made his season debut in his place.

The game turned in the 73rd minute. O’Neill sent a long ball up the middle and Dwyer did well to hold up play, bringing it down with his chest and spraying it wide left to Moutinho. The Portuguese fullback fizzed a cross through the area out of the reach of Parker. Kljestan beat a sliding defender to the ball and slotted home his first goal of the season.

New York nearly answered three minutes later. Off a set piece, the ball pinged toward goal off a Daniel Royer shot and surely would have gone in if Ascues hadn’t bicycle-kicked it off the line to preserve the lead.

Orlando brought Kyle Smith on for Nani to try to see the game out, making a defense-for-offense substitution in the 77th minute. New York’s next scoring chance came in the 81st, when Royer headed wide off a set piece.

The Lions nearly got a second to put the game away in the 88th minute. Dwyer sent in a wicked cross that nearly found Ruan, only to see Muyl make a desperation sliding block to keep the Brazilian from doubling the lead.

Unlike the Chicago game two weeks ago, the Lions held firm, defended resolutely, pushed the ball to the corners and out for throw-ins whenever possible, and held their focus to the end — an end that for some reason included seven (!) minutes of stoppage time.

New York edged out Orlando in shots, 9-6 (4-2 on target) and increased its possession advantage (55%-45%). The Red Bulls hit 61% of their passes while Orlando completed just 58%, with both teams playing safely out whenever possible.

City’s tactics were sound against New York on the road and the game plan was mostly executed well. Jansson was a calm and solid defender all night, looking like he’d been playing for Orlando for years rather than only having been with the team a couple weeks and making his MLS debut. De John and O’Neill played a safe match, with Ruan opting to concede throw-ins out on the right rather than try anything fancy with the ball.

Aside from a couple of loose passes across the field, Orlando executed what it wanted to against last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners, and eventually hit on one of its attacking forays. In the end, one is all it took.

The Lions won’t have an easy time turning tonight’s win into two straight. They return home for a game next Sunday against D.C. United at 6:30 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.



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.



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.



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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