Last week brought the news that the United Soccer League was continuing its restructure, unveiling plans to create a fourth competition with the introduction of the USL Academy Cup later in the year, the organization’s first formal foray into academy soccer. Having moved the entire academy out to Montverde and with the imminent relaunch of Orlando City B, where does both the restructure and the new Academy Cup leave Orlando City?
It’s no secret that the soccer landscape in America has been far from simple to follow. A convoluted web of separate, yet sometimes equal, leagues have come in and out of existence with varying success. Within the last couple of years, the USL ran parallel with the North American Soccer League, both holding second division status in 2017 as sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation.
This was after the USL was a third tier league even as recently as when OCB was a member in 2016. Since then, a dispute with the USSF forced the NASL into hiatus, where it still remains, while MLS ended its dedicated MLS Reserve league back in 2014, instead requiring teams to enter their reserve teams into the USL or to affiliate with an existing USL team, like Orlando did with Louisville City in 2015.
To add to the matter, a further new third division, the National Independent Soccer Association, has put forward intentions to begin play in August this year. Teams have not been immune to adding to the confusion either, with countless going on hiatus, changing league affiliation, relocating, or folding altogether. In short, there hasn’t been much by way of stability and, as a result, it has proven difficult to properly provide a clear, concise, and reliable pathway from the youth to the professional level.
As of 2019, the USL has created three leagues: USL Championship (USLC), USL League One (USL1), and USL League Two (USL2).
- USLC is simply a rebranded USL, a thriving league that is now the sole second division in U.S. soccer and currently contains 36 teams.
- USL1 is a brand new, fully professional third division that technically contains 12 teams, although only 10 are set to contest the inaugural season beginning later this month, with the newly reformed OCB being one of them. It is the lowest level of professional soccer in the country.
- USL2, unofficially a fourth division, as USSF does not recognize formal levels below the third tier, is now what was formerly known as the Premier Development League. The highest level amateur league was a regular landing spot for elite collegiate talent prior to their MLS draft eligibility. It sits roughly equal to the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), although the NPSL has no age restrictions, unlike the USL2.
When the USL originally launched the reformat, it marketed USL2 as #Path2Pro, but with the new USL Academy announcement, it appears the league already has plans to extend that vision even further. It should be applauded that the USL continues to take such a significant hands-on role in the nation’s youth development. As its partnership with MLS enters its seventh season, 21 of MLS’ 24 teams have USL ties. Twelve teams operate their own reserve sides (nine in USLC and three in USL1), while nine have affiliate agreements, including two with so-called “hybrid” deals (eight in USLC and one in USL1).
Fielding reserve teams in professional leagues is nothing new. In Spain, for example, reserve sides compete in the same league system, although they are not eligible for promotion to the same division as their parent club, nor can they compete in the Copa del Rey. But other countries, such as England, continue to run dedicated and separate reserve leagues, with the English system running a two-tier system across two age groups.
The USL therefore currently sits in an unusual middle ground as an American hybrid of both systems (minus the promotion/relegation, obviously). The biggest teams, like the hugely successful New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers systems, not only have a reserve side capable of challenging in the USLC like a La Liga reserve team, but they also run U-23 teams in the amateur USL2 league for players too old to be in academies but not quite at the level of the USLC.
Meanwhile, teams like Orlando City (along with Toronto and FC Dallas) have essentially condensed both of those levels into one, and will field their U-23/reserve hybrid team in the USL1. Orlando folded its U-23 side in 2015 in lieu of OCB’s creation, with the team initially entering what is now the USLC before the hiatus.
The new OCB squad has an average age of just over 20, with the oldest, Evan John, having just turned 24 earlier this year. Coupled with new Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi’s impeccable record of Homegrown Players with Dallas, there’s hope the latest move to USL1 will lay the groundwork for a similar set of results in Central Florida in the future.
FC Dallas’ 2–1 win over Colorado at the weekend saw the Texas team start five Homegrown Players. Orlando City B’s success will not be measured by the final table standings, but by how many players it manages to develop for the senior MLS side, a process that has already started with the likes of OCB midfielder and academy product Jordan Bender already seeing senior minutes in the Orlando City Invitational during the preseason.
Where the Academy Cup Fits In
The move to create the USL Academy Cup seems like the next logical step in formalizing the USL’s vision for soccer infrastructure, giving the opportunity for all its member clubs to host their own academies and bring a level of continuity to the development ladder. It’s not that academy programs don’t already exist. Many sides already have U.S. Soccer Development Academy (DA) or Elite Club National League (ECNL) teams. Indeed, there is a massive surplus with DAs currently boasting 197 clubs scattered across the country, while ECNL lists 94.
The USL’s issue is the lack of alignment. Many of those teams do not have a direct link to professional sides and there are plenty of USL teams across all three levels that currently have no youth setup whatsoever. Only 32 of the USL’s 118 clubs currently have teams competing in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and a only 10 have teams that compete in other competitions. Meanwhile, a side like Louisville City, which is coming off the defense of its USL title still has no youth program at all.
The USL’s intention, therefore, is not to eliminate those academies but instead to realign them by getting pro teams to engage with community clubs in their shared mission of developing professional players locally and providing a realistic vision of a path to pro soccer. Whether it be by absorbing them into their professional brand, creating formal affiliations, or pooling regional talent in Centers of Excellence, this is what the USL is aiming for.
In theory, having a collective approach with the support of a professional team has very little downside, as pro teams help offset costs. This approach also grows the potential of selling leagues, increases local fan engagement, and helps to accelerate those teams’ timelines that haven’t been able to write a blank check to fully fund a youth program, top to bottom.
Orlando City already has academy sides though, so how does this help OCSC? Well, it does little to affect the OCSC pipeline on a macro level in comparison to other clubs that have no existing academy. However, it could potentially extend the team’s reach and do a better job at identifying local talent earlier and providing these players with better facilities and coaching. What’s more appealing is the competition itself, even in its soft launch.
Initially, the USL Academy Cup looks similar to what the U.S. Open Cup is to professional sides and mirrors what MLS does with the Generation Adidas Cup. Spread across two age groups, it brings academies from the clubs across all three levels of the USL into one tournament.
The U-17s will compete in two regional qualifiers split between the Eastern and Western Conference. Regional results will determine seeding and placement ahead of the national event in May.
The U-13 age group will just compete at the national events. USL Senior Director of Youth Development Liam O’Connell stressed that the USL doesn’t want to cull existing competitions and monopolize the youth market. The competition will merely help flesh out the calendar with an elite competition while keeping costs as low as possible, hence the U-13s not having to go through regional qualifiers. Targeting two key pre-professional age groups, and under the guise of the USL and its professional partners, the competition has the potential to reinforce ideals and aspirations for players hoping to make it in professional soccer without moving abroad.
It might all seem like a pipe dream right now and, frankly, the scale is vast, with the individual nuances of each region, club, or even player far too complex to examine individually. Nor is there any way of predicting the impact the new competition will have both in its debut year and down the road. But in the simplest of terms, it’s a step or two in the right direction for Orlando City and soccer in this country.
OCB closed out the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro regular season with a 2-1 win over FC Cincinnati 2 in Kissimmee.
KISSIMMEE — Orlando City B (13-10-5, 46 points) beat FC Cincinnati 2 (7-17-4, 27 points) 2-1 in its regular-season finale at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee this afternoon. Jack Lynn gave OCB the lead in the 16th minute with his league-leading 19th goal of the season. Ryan Belal equalized in the 61st minute, but Shak Mohammed scored shortly after, netting the winning goal. The win secures the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro playoffs.
OCB Head Coach Martin Perelman made three changes to the team that drew 1-1 with Chicago Fire II on Sept. 15. Abdi Salim and Lynn returned to OCB from the first team and were joined in the lineup by Wilfredo Rivera. They replaced Thomas Williams, Moises Tablante, and Mohammed.
The back line in front of goalkeeper Javier Otero was Imanol Almaguer, Nabi Kibunguchy, Salim, and Franco Perez. Alex Freeman, Cristian Medina, Juninho, and Jhon Solis were in the midfield with Rivera and Lynn up top.
OCB dominated this game from the start, creating far more chances than Cincinnati. The Young Lions should have put the game away in the first half, but let the visitors hang around. It looked like they would pay for that when Cincinnati found an equalizer in the second half. But an inspired substitution right after the goal resulted in a quick response and the winning strike.
As usual, the Young Lions tried to get off to a fast start. Solis played Perez down the left inside the first minute with Lynn and Rivera making runs into the box. It was hard to tell if Perez was trying to shoot or cross, but he sent the ball wide of the near post.
OCB had its second chance of the game in the sixth minute when Salim Adams fouled Juninho near the top of the Cincinnati box. The OCB captain stood over the ball with Medina before Juninho stepped up to take the kick. He got the ball over the wall, but it was into the arms of Cincinnati goalkeeper Hunter Morse.
In the 10th minute, Nicholas McHenry cleared the ball out of play, giving OCB another chance from the corner. Perez’s set piece found the head of Kibunguchy in the box, but the center back couldn’t get over it, sending the attempt over the crossbar.
The visitors got their first chance of the game in the 13th minute when Gerardo Valenzuela took a long-distance shot from well outside of the box. It didn’t cause any trouble for Otero, going well over the goal.
The Young Lions finally converted in the 16th minute. Haroun Conteh fouled Perez to the left of goal and about 25 yards away. Rivera stepped up to take the set piece, sending the cross to the top of the six-yard box where Lynn outjumped everyone, reaching it first and heading it past Morse to give OCB the 1-0 lead.
The goal was Lynn’s 19th of the season, passing NYCFC II’s Matt Myers to give the striker the MLS NEXT Pro golden boot lead, although Myers went on to score from the penalty spot in his team’s win over Inter Miami 2.
“My teammates are putting me in good positions to score,” Lynn said about his 19 goals. “That’s the most important thing.”
OCB nearly had another goal two minutes later when Juninho was sent behind the Cincinnati defense. He took a couple of touches before unleashing a shot, but those touches provided enough time for a defender to slide in and block it away.
Cincinnati had trouble gaining possession in the OCB half during the first 20 minutes, but Adams found space for a pair of long-distance shots in the 24th and 28th minutes. The midfielder was able to keep both shots down, but they went well wide of the target. Between those chances, Valenzuela attempted to play Belal into the OCB box, but Kibunguchy did well to get his foot in front of the pass.
Rivera showed off his individual skill in the 34th minute, using a nifty spin to create space for a shot. The move left Adams on the ground, but Rivera’s shot was over the crossbar.
In the 38th minute, Cincinnati used some quick passing that enabled Jesus Castellano to play Belal through. However, the ball was too close to Otero and the OCB goalkeeper collected it.
On the other end, Perez made a long run towards the Cincinnati box and played the ball through for Rivera. Morse reacted quickly, jumping off his line to reach the pass before Rivera could get to it.
OCB created a couple of chances in first-half stoppage time, but weren’t close. A foul on Rivera resulted in a short free kick to Solis. The midfielder took a shot at goal, but sent it high. Shortly after, Medina played Lynn into the Cincinnati box. The striker cut inside to lose his defenders, but slipped. He attempted to recover and shoot, but was off balance and sent the ball high and wide of the target.
The Young Lions dominated the first half and probably should’ve had a multi-goal lead. After 45 minutes of action, OCB had more possession (61.9%-38.1%), shots (9-4), shots on target (2-0), corner kicks (3-0), and crosses (3-1), and passed more accurately (91.1%-84.8%).
OCB had the first attack of the second half and a great chance to double the lead. Rivera flicked the ball into the box, where Perez had gotten behind his defender. The left back was first to the ball, but waited too long to shoot. Center back Joey Akpunonu was able to get in front of the shot, blocking it out of play.
Looking to seal the golden boot, Lynn took a chance in the 50th minute. He was sent forward by Freeman and took a curling shot on the run from outside of the box, but sent it well wide of the target.
FC Cincinnati 2 had its first good chance shortly after, when Kibunguchy fouled Castellano outside of the OCB box. Valenzuela stepped up to take the free kick and went for goal, but sent the attempt over the target.
The Ohio-based team had another set piece just outside of the OCB box in the 56th minute when Castellano was taken down by Rivera. Castellano took the set piece, but sent it straight into the wall, enabling OCB to clear.
In the 58th minute, a low Cincinnati cross into the box was blocked out of play by Kibunguchy. The ensuing corner kick was cleared and OCB broke on the counter attack. Morse was off his line and Rivera took the opportunity to send a long shot from midfield. It got over the head of the Cincinnati goalkeeper, but drifted wide.
Despite being outplayed, FC Cincinnati 2 found an equalizer in the 61st minute. Valenzuela played Belal to the top of the OCB box and the forward did well to cut back, losing the sliding Salim. His first touch after the move was a hard shot past Otero to even the game at 1-1.
Immediately after the goal, Perelman made his first two changes of the game. Tablante and Mohammed came on for Freeman and Rivera.
It didn’t take long for the Young Lions to respond, retaking the lead two minutes later through one of the substitutes. Receiving a short pass from Juninho just inside of the box, Mohammed felt the defender closing in on him and spun to create space for a shot. It was a difficult angle, but he beat Morse to give the Young Lions a 2-1 lead.
Cincinnati almost had a second equalizer in the 67th minute when Valenzuela had space to shoot from inside of the OCB box. The midfielder didn’t miss by much, sending a hard shot just over the crossbar.
Solis was even closer in the 69th minute. Receiving the ball just outside of the Cincinnati box, the midfielder sent a curling shot beyond the outreached arms of Morse and off the crossbar.
Otero didn’t have a lot to do in this game, but he was called into action in the 73rd minute. Valenzuela received the ball at the top of the box from Jiovanny Mora and sent a low attempt that was heading inside the near post. The OCB goalkeeper dove to his right, tipping it wide.
Solis had another good chance in the 75th minute when he took a shot from outside of the Cincinnati box. The ball appeared to be heading in, but Morse got his fingertips to it, tipping it over the crossbar.
A minute later, OCB hit the crossbar for the second time in the second half. This time it was Mohammed, looking for a brace. The forward received the ball on the right and was aiming for the far corner, but the ball bounced off the crossbar, keeping the score at 2-1.
The Young Lions continued to push for a third goal to put the game away. In the 85th minute Perez took a shot from distance. It was on target but right to Morse. A minute later, Juninho made a nice run into the box, split his defenders, and shot on goal. However, Morse was up to the challenge, getting down to block the attempt out of play.
Attempting to hold onto the one-goal lead, Perelman made three defensive changes in the final minutes. Zakaria Taifi and Dominic Bell entered the game in the 88th minute for Juninho and Medina. The final change came in the 90th minute as Thomas Bowe replaced Solis.
The fourth official showed three minutes of second-half stoppage time and the Young Lions controlled the final minutes. FC Cincinnati 2 was unable to get any possession and OCB saw the game out, winning its final regular-season game of 2023.
At full time, OCB had more possession (58.6%-41.4%), shots (18-12), shots on target (6-3), corners (7-3), and crosses (7-6), and passed more accurately (89.5%-84.6%). Cincinnati was much more threatening in the second half but rarely put Otero under pressure. It should’ve been a more comfortable win, but the Young Lions took all three points.
“It was a difficult game to play. We wanted to finish the regular season with a win at home because I think and I believe that the victories here were a big part of the regular season and allowed us to clinch the five position,” Perelman said. “So, we’re happy with the result and the performance as well and are ready for the playoffs.”
“It was good. It was a hot one,” Lynn added. “I think we did a good job controlling our energy. You know, picking our moments when to play fast, when to play slow. And it’s always good to get a win.”
More importantly, the win saw the Young Lions clinch the fifth seed in the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro playoffs. As a result, they’ll face whoever the second and third seeds don’t choose as their opponent.
“I want to achieve the maximum possible with this team. I believe in this group of players. I believe in all the staff, our managers, our first team here in Orlando,” Perelman said. “There’s a big family with a team mentality doing strong work. So, I hope we can put this team as high as possible because I believe it will be fair for all of us.”
“I think we can play better than anyone. It’s just if we show up on the day or not,” Lynn added about the team’s chances in the playoffs. “So, being focused going into every game is going to be super important for us.”
OCB will begin its first MLS NEXT Pro playoff campaign, and second postseason ever, next weekend on the road against a yet-to-be-named opponent.
Orlando City B at Chicago Fire II: Final Score 1-1 as OCB Clinches Playoff Spot
OCB clinches its first MLS NEXT Pro playoff appearance with a 1-1 draw and shootout win over Chicago Fire II.
Orlando City B (12-10-5, 43 points) secured its first playoff appearance in MLS NEXT Pro and second in team history with a 1-1 draw against Chicago Fire II (9-8-10, 41 points) in Illinois. Sergio Oregel gave the hosts the lead in the 17th minute, but Chicago was unable to double the advantage. OCB had a much better second half, and substitute Wilfredo Rivera equalized in the 71st minute. The Young Lions won the ensuing penalty shootout, 4-3, to return home with two points.
OCB Head Coach Martin Perelman made two changes to the team that drew 1-1 with New England Revolution II last weekend. It appears that Abdi Salim and Jack Lynn are both with the first team preparing for the match tomorrow night, replaced in the lineup by Thomas Williams and Jhon Solis, who returned after serving his suspension against New England.
The Young Lions went with their typical 4-4-2 formation in this game. The starting back line in front of goalkeeper Javier Otero was Franco Perez, Williams, Nabi Kibunguchy, and Imanol Almaguer. Cristian Medina, Juninho, Alex Freeman, and Moises Tablante were in the midfield with Shak Mohammed and Solis up top.
Chicago was by far the better team in the first 30 minutes and could’ve been up multiple goals before OCB took its first shot. But it remained 1-0 at halftime, enabling the Young Lions to get back into the game. A strong second-half team all year, OCB did it again, dominating the second 45 minutes to pull level.
The game got off to a slow start with neither team creating any dangerous chances. Charlie Ostrem took a long-distance shot in the second minute and Eric Leonard in the 11th minute, but both were blocked. In the 12th minute, Oregel played the ball to the top of the box for Missael Rodriguez, but his shot missed wide.
The hosts nearly opened the scoring in the 15th minute when Billy Hency dribbled into the OCB box for the second time. He cut inside to lose Perez — who reached his right leg out but didn’t get enough of the ball — and shot for the near post. Otero dove to his left, tipping the ball wide.
Chicago broke through in the 17th minute when Rodriguez received the ball in the middle of the field. He played it for Oregel, who continued the ball out right for Hency. The midfielder’s pass for Rodrigeuz was behind and it looked like OCB might clear. Dylan Borso and Juninho both went after the ball and it bounced off Borso’s arm, but referee Calin Radosav didn’t call it. The ball went back to Oregel, who put it past Otero to give the Fire a 1-0 lead.
In the 22nd minute, Hency found Luka Prpa at the top of the OCB box. Prpa’s shot was rising as it neared the OCB goal and Otero reached up for it, but the attempt ultimately went over the crossbar.
The Young Lions finally created their first attack in the 26th minute. Juninho made a long run into the Chicago box and centered the ball for Mohammed near the penalty spot. The pass was behind the forward, so Mohammed played it to Tablante on his left. Tablante made some moves to create space for a shot, but Hency did well to stay in front and blocked the attempt.
OCB was able to create some more opportunities from set pieces but was unable to convert. In the 31st minute, Prpa fouled Freeman, earning a yellow card. The free kick by Almaguer was into the box, but cleared away.
Three minutes later, Borso fouled Solis about 25 yards from goal. Almaguer was expected to lift another cross into the box, but quickly stepped up to the ball and fired on goal, attempting to catch the defense off guard. However, his shot skied over the crossbar and was never a threat for Chicago goalkeeper Jeff Gal.
Juninho found Tablante to his left in the 35th minute, but the midfielder’s second shot of the half was blocked. That was the last first-half chance for either team as the game went to the break with Chicago leading 1-0.
Possession was almost even in the first 45 minutes, with Chicago holding a slight edge (50.1%-49.9%). But the Fire created most of the chances, ending the first half with more shots (6-3), shots on target (2-0), and crosses (4-1). OCB passed more accurately (88.4%-85%) and both teams won two corner kicks.
Perelman made a surprising halftime change, replacing the team’s second-leading goal scorer Mohammed with Cristofer Acuna. Immediately after the kickoff, the Fire created a chance when Oregel sent Rodriguez behind the OCB defense. The forward was pushed wide, but got away a shot on target. Otero was guarding his near post and got down to make the stop.
OCB created its first shot on target in the 49th minute from Perez just outside of the Chicago box. It forced Gal to dive to his left and tip the ball wide for a corner kick. The ensuing short corner resulted in an Oregel foul on Juninho just outside of the Chicago 18. Almaguer sent a curling cross towards the back post, but it was too high for Williams to put it on target, glancing off the top of his head.
As he’s done several times this year, Juninho attempted to drag his team back into the game as it neared the hour mark. In the 51st minute, the OCB captain dribbled into the box and shot, but it was right at Gal. Five minutes later, the midfielder took an ambitious shot from outside of the box. He kept it low, but it was right to Gal who made the easy save.
Perelman made his second change in the 61st minute and it was a forward for a defender. Rivera came on for left back Perez, resulting in Tablante dropping back to left back, where he’s played frequently since 2020.
It looked like OCB would have a great chance in the 64th minute when Juninho was sent forward to the top of the Chicago box. After a challenge with the defender, Juninho went down. Both teams stopped, expecting Radosav to call the foul, but he decided there wasn’t enough contact.
An unusual and confusing situation occurred in the 67th minute when Kibunguchy and Rodriguez got together near the OCB box. The Young Lions ended up with the ball and went on the counter attack. After failing to create anything, Radosav halted the game as Rodriguez was still down. He gave Kibunguchy a yellow card for the collision and Perelman a yellow for dissent after the play.
OCB had been the more threatening team in the second half and found the equalizer in the 71st minute. Receiving the ball from Tablante near the end line, Juninho sent a low pass to Rivera at the top of the six-yard box. But it hit the foot of Prpa and popped up for Rivera. The second-half substitute’s diving header went past Gal to even the game at 1-1.
The Young Lions had more chances in the 75th minute when Tablante saved the ball from going out of play, but his pass into the middle was blocked out by Ueland for a corner kick. The short set piece ended up with Freeman in the box and his shot was blocked for another corner. This one didn’t result in an OCB shot as Chicago won a goal kick.
In the 81st minute, Hency found Rodriguez going forward. Rodriguez took a shot shortly after entering the box, but it was blocked out of play by Williams for a corner kick. That was the last action for Rodriguez as he was immediately replaced.
The corner ended up with Matteo Kidd, who took a hard shot from distance. It looked like it would’ve been on target, but Williams came charging in to block it, enabling OCB to clear the danger.
On the other end, OCB nearly took its first lead of the night. With his back to goal at the top of the box, Juninho laid the ball off for the oncoming Solis. The midfileder’s first touch was a hard shot towards the near post, but it went just wide.
In the 90th minute, Hency cleared the ball out of play for an OCB corner kick. The set piece found the foot of Kibunguchy in the box and the center back’s first touch was a shot. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get over it, sending the ball well over the target.
The Young Lions nearly scored a winner in the third minute of stoppage time when Tablante sent a cross towards the back post. It looked to be too close to Gal, but went over his head and off the far post. The Chicago defense nearly headed it into the goal but it went just wide for a corner. That was the last chance as the game ended 1-1.
At full time, OCB had more possession (54.2%-45.8%), shots (12-11), corners (9-2), and crosses (7-5), and passed more accurately (87%-83.8%). Chicago put more shots on target (4-3), but only one past Otero.
NYCFC II’s draw and shootout win over Toronto FC II earlier in the evening meant that the Young Lions only needed a point to clinch a spot in the MLS NEXT Pro playoffs. It’s the first time they’ve seen the postseason in the young league and the second time they’ve made the postseason in team history.
While they did their job and clinched a playoff spot, the draw meant the game would go to penalties to see which team got an extra point. Freeman started the shootout by putting his attempt into the corner. Prpa stepped up for Chicago and also went for the corner. But Otero guessed correctly and stopped it to give OCB the lead after one round.
Medina took the second attempt for the Young Lions and went right down the middle. Gal dove to his left, but left his legs back enough to block the attempt. Defender Noah Egan put his penalty past Otero to make it 1-1 after two rounds.
The shootout settled down after that with Juninho, Solis, and Acuna comfortably netting their penalties. Michael Nesci sent Otero the wrong way, but the 20-year-old goalkeeper nearly ended it in the fourth round when he got a hand to Justin Reynolds’ attempt. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get enough of it to keep it out.
After Acuna put his shot into the roof to give the Young Lions the fifth-round lead, Ostrem stepped up needing to convert. He put his attempt down the middle, nearly identical to Medina earlier. However, Otero was able to keep his legs back, blocking the shot and OCB took two points on the night.
OCB remains in fifth place with one game remaining in the regular season and can’t catch Columbus Crew 2 for fourth. However, the Young Lions still have plenty to play for next weekend. They can still finish fifth, sixth, or seventh, potentially determining if they can get a home game in the postseason.
The Young Lions will return home to end their second MLS NEXT Pro regular season next Sunday when they face FC Cincinnati 2 at Osceola County Stadium.
Orlando City B vs. New England Revolution II: Final Score 1-1 as OCB Draws and Falls in Penalties
OCB erases a halftime deficit to draw 1-1 with New England Revolution II, but the hosts grab the extra point for winning the shootout.
Orlando City B (12-10-4, 41 points) played poorly in the first half, but fought back valiantly in the second to draw New England Revolution II (14-5-8, 56 points) 1-1 at Gillette Stadium. The hosts dominated the first half, taking the lead through Victor Souza in the 14th minute. But they missed several golden opportunities to double the advantage, and Jack Lynn equalized in the 65th minute. The game went into penalties to decide the extra point, with New England winning the shootout 3-2.
OCB Head Coach Martin Perelman made two changes to the team that lost 6-3 to Crown Legacy FC Sunday night. Moises Tablante entered the starting lineup at left back in place of Franco Perez, who started on the bench. Jhon Solis, who had started every game this season, was suspended after being sent off the last time these two teams met on Aug. 9. He was replaced in the lineup by Lynn.
Starting in their usual 4-4-2 formation, the back line in front of Javier Otero was Imanol Almaguer, Nabi Kibunguchy, Abdi Salim, and Tablante. Alex Freeman, Cristian Medina, Juninho, and Wilfredo Rivera were in the midfield, with Lynn and Shak Mohammed up top.
This was a game of two halves for the Young Lions. They were lifeless in the first 45 minutes and should’ve been down multiple goals if not for some poor finishing by the opposition. They took advantage of the opportunity and played much better in the second half, resulting in an equalizer. Despite failing to secure a playoff spot tonight, they brought themselves closer to making the postseason for just the second time in team history.
OCB controlled possession in the first few minutes, but it was New England that created the chances. In the fifth minute, Colby Quinones found Damian Rivera running behind the OCB defense. It looked like the midfielder would get a shot off, but Kibunguchy did well defending and knocked it out for a corner kick. Jake Rozhansky’s ensuing set piece was too close to Otero, who caught it.
In the seventh minute, forward Joshua Bolma got his first attempt when he cut back inside from the right to lose Tablante and create enough space for a shot. However, it was right to Otero, who made the easy save.
Rivera had his second opportunity in the eighth minute when he received the ball at the top of the OCB box. The 20-year-old midfielder cut inside to lose Almaguer and shot towards the near post, but it skipped just wide.
OCB had its first chance of the game in the 12th minute when Juninho made a long run into the New England box. He had Mohammed and Lynn flanking him, but decided to take it himself. With two defenders closing in, Juninho shot to the near post but missed wide, which became a theme for the Brazilian throughout the match and into the shootout.
In the 14th minute, Almaguer got in front of a New England shot, blocking it out for a corner kick. Rozhansky took the set piece, sending over the head of Noble Okello and Jordan Adebayo-Smith at the near post and into the center of the six-yard box. Souza darted to the ball, beating Medina and Kibunguchy. It was an awkward attempt by the defender and difficult to tell whether it came off his head, chest, or foot, but went inside the near post to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
The Young Lions tried to play the ball out of the back, but a turnover in his own third by Lynn provided another opportunity for New England. Rivera took possession, sprinted to the top of the OCB box, and found Bolma to his left. The forward attempted to curl the ball inside the far post beyond the reach of Otero, but missed just wide.
New England should’ve scored a second goal in the 22nd minute when Bolma received the ball on the right side of the box. He quickly sent a low cross in for Adebayo-Smith, who was left uncovered at the far post. The ball popped up on the artificial turf, bouncing off the striker and wide. It was a fortunate bounce for the Young Lions because the ball just as easily could’ve bounced off his chest and in.
Rivera had his third chance of the game in the 25th minute when he received the ball on the left. The midfielder took two touches to lose his defender and took a snap-shot on goal. Fortunately, the strong shot was right to Otero, who blocked it away with both hands. No attacking players were nearby, so OCB was able to clear.
In the 27th minute, Rozhansky entered the box and got behind Juninho. The OCB captain didn’t recognize the New England midfielder sneaking behind him, enabling Rozhansky to get his head on the Bolma cross. Otero’s positioning was perfect for the wide-open attempt and the header was right to the OCB goalkeeper.
Juninho made his second long run to the New England box in the 43rd minute. Similar to his earlier run, the OCB captain shot from the top of the 18, but sent it wide. It didn’t appear to touch any defenders, but the referee awarded a corner kick. OCB struggled to create chances from the set piece, eventually sending a shot right to New England goalkeeper Max Weinstein.
Otero has been solid for OCB this season but almost made a huge blunder in the 45th minute. The goalkeeper came out of his box, but was beaten to the ball by Marcos Dias. Cutting inside to create space for a shot, the midfielder sent the ball on goal. Fortunately, Salim was there to head it over the top and out of play, keeping the halftime deficit at one.
OCB had more first-half possession (56.7%-43.3%) and crosses (5-2) and passed more accurately (88%-86.5%). However, most of the Young Lions’ possession and passes were in the midfield rather than the final third. Rather than crossing into the box, New England found pockets of space for chances, resulting in more shots (11-5) and shots on target (6-0).
Perelman made one halftime change, replacing Wilfredo Rivera with Perez. The substitution pushed Tablante from left back into the midfield.
OCB nearly had a chance in the 49th minute when Mohammed played the ball out wide for Freeman. The Homegrown midfielder sent a low cross into the box, where Lynn attempted to turn and shoot, but the ball got caught in his feet.
Lynn had another chance in the 51st minute when Tablante found him in the box. The striker took a first-touch shot that skied over the target. Lynn had more time than he realized for a touch before shooting, but took it first time.
In the 55th minute, Mohammed took an ambitious shot from long range that appeared to be heading well wide. Weinstein dove to his left anyway and blocked the ball out of play, giving OCB a corner kick.
New England headed the ball away, which went to Adebayo-Smith and only Perez back. The striker touched the ball past the left back to get behind the entire defense. Otero came out of his box to near midfield, where he collided with Adebayo-Smith, heading it the opposite direction. Otero popped right up after the big collision, but Adebayo-Smith remained down and required medical attention.
Playing with a man advantage while Adebayo-Smith was treated on the sideline, OCB had a chance to equalize in the 61st minute when Mohammed played the ball wide for Juninho. The midfielder dribbled inside until he found some space and aimed for the far post. The shot was beyond the reach of the diving Weinstein, but skipped wide yet again.
Two minutes later, Tablante sent a long-distance attempt that was blocked out of play by Weinstein for a corner kick. The set piece ended with a chance for Lynn about three yards from goal. But the striker somehow managed to hit the post. OCB players wanted a handball, but the referee disagreed. Meanwhile, Perez got into the box and shot from close range, but it was saved by Weinstein.
In the 65th minute, Almaguer found Juninho in the box and the midfielder’s shot was blocked wide by Weinstein. The ensuing corner was played short to Juninho, who dribbled into the box and shot. Weinstein again blocked the attempt with his right hand, but put it right in front of goal. Lynn was in the right position to tap it in for his league-leading 18th goal of the season.
New England attempted to respond quickly when Olger Escobar received the ball from Adebayo-Smith. The halftime substitute took a shot from well outside of the box, but it didn’t cause any trouble for Otero.
The hosts nearly got the lead back in the 82nd minute when Dias received the ball at the top corner of the box from Escobar. Just after entering the 18, the midfielder sent the shot towards the upper corner. Otero dove to his right, but it was too far from him. Fortunately, the ball went just wide of the far post.
In the 85th minute, Escobar took a long shot of his own, but this one went well over the target. Perelman took the opportunity to make two changes for the final minutes. Cristofer Acuna and Zakaria Taifi came into the game for Lynn and Freeman.
Four minutes into second-half stoppage time, New England had a chance for a winner when substitute Patrick Leal was played behind the OCB defense. The midfielder entered the six-yard box from the left, but Otero came out to make himself big. The goalkeeper got down with his legs spread and blocked it to keep the game at 1-1.
OCB quickly went the other way and won a corner kick. It was taken quickly to Juninho, who sent a curling ball towards the back post. The ball ended up at the feet of Kibunguchy with enough space for a shot, but it bounced off of his leg and out for a goal kick. That was the last chance for either team and it ended 1-1.
OCB had less possession in the second half, ending with a slight advantage (51.5%-48.5%). However, the Young Lions were much better in the second 45 minutes. New England ended with more shots (17-16) and shots on target (7-5), but OCB outshot the hosts (11-6) and put more on target (5-1) in the second period of play. OCB also had more corner kicks (9-6) and crosses (11-6) and passed more accurately (89%-86.6%) during the game.
Per MLS NEXT Pro rules, each team took a point from regulation and went to penalties to decide who got the extra point. It didn’t start off well for OCB as Juninho sent Weinstein the wrong way, but fired his shot wide. After Leal and Medina converted, Jacob Akanyirige had a similar situation as Juninho, sending Otero the wrong way but missing wide.
OCB took the advantage after three rounds when Moises Tablante scored and Otero saved Souza’s penalty. But Weinstein stopped Kibunguchy on the next attempt, enabling Escobar to even the shootout at 2-2 after four rounds.
Despite having Acuna and Mohammed available, OCB continued to go with defensive players, sending Taifi to the spot. Weinstein guessed correctly on the first-year professional, making a comfortable save. Otero got his hand to Dias’ subsequent attempt, but didn’t get enough of it, and New England took the extra point.
The point gets OCB closer to claiming a playoff spot for the first time in MLS NEXT Pro and the second time in team history. But it also means the Young Lions can no longer catch Columbus Crew 2 for the top spot in the Central Division and the fourth seed in the playoffs.
OCB could still claim a playoff spot this weekend if NYCFC II and Philadelphia Union II lose in regulation or a shootout tomorrow night. If either gets at least two points, OCB will need to wait until next weekend for another chance to secure a playoff spot.
The Young Lions will take the field again next Friday night when they face Chicago Fire FC II at SeatGeek Stadium in Illinois.
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