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Orlando City vs. D.C. United: Final Score 2-1 as Lions Remain Winless at Home

Set piece defending did the Lions in against the league leaders.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City couldn’t rally from a 2-0 hole and eventually saw its comeback attempt fall short in a 2-1 home loss to league-leading D.C. United. The Lions conceded twice on set pieces in the first half and simply couldn’t convert enough chances to come from behind in front of 22,481 fans at Orlando City Stadium.

D.C. United (3-0-1, 10 points) won on the road at Orlando (1-2-2, 5 points) for the first time since 2015, snapping the Lions’ 3-0-1 home streak against the Black and Red. Dom Dwyer pulled a goal back in the second half and City had plenty of good scoring chances to equalize but just couldn’t put a second past Bill Hamid.

The game hinged on two set pieces and each had its share of controversy, although the second was by far the more questionable and it left Head Coach James O’Connor livid in his post-game press conference. Normally someone who downplays questions about officiating, O’Connor was visibly upset about the second goal in particular and it was clear that several of the controversial calls from last year are still on the coach’s mind.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve had it in game after game — Columbus away last year, D.C. had an incident, New York at the start of this year,” he said pounding the table in his postgame press conference. “How many more times? The players go out and give an incredible second-half performance — absolutely incredible — and yet we come off and we lose the game again through no fault of our own. How many more times?

“So for me, when I look at it, it’s like yeah we’ve got VAR, but why bother? They don’t even look. And you look at it and the whole stadium can see. It’s mind boggling stuff.”

O’Connor made only two changes from the starting lineup that won at New York last Saturday, inserting Lamine Sané in for the injured Alex De John and Dwyer for rookie Santiago Patino.

Before some fans had found their seats, the visitors were up 1-0. Robin Jansson was called for a handball out near the sideline on a wicked hard cross attempt that caught his arm on the way in. You know Orlando’s history with handball calls, so you can guess what happened next. D.C. scored on the ensuing free kick as Ruan was overmatched trying to defend Steve Birnbaum, who headed in the Wayne Rooney cross from point-blank range in the sixth minute.

“When you look at the first set piece, we’ve fallen asleep on the set piece,” O’Connor said.

Orlando City should have equalized almost immediately. Dwyer’s cross found a wide-open Nani in the eighth minute but the Portuguese star sent his thunderous header over the bar from less than 10 yards out, squandering an excellent scoring opportunity.

Nani got another header chance in the 17th minute off a corner kick but he sent the attempt straight at goalkeeper Bill Hamid.

D.C. doubled the lead in the 30th minute after a challenge in the corner gave United a free kick. Dwyer had gone out to hound Rooney and swiped at the ball with his right foot. Despite not making contact, Rooney immediately appealed to referee Armando Villarreal and was awarded a free kick.

After the match, Villarreal answered the pool reporter’s written questions about the foul and stated that he viewed Dwyer’s action as an attempt to kick Rooney — not the ball — and awarded the free kick. Although contact isn’t strictly required for a foul to be given, Villarreal avoided the question of whether he saw any contact by petulantly replying “see above answer.”

Rooney himself said Dwyer didn’t make contact with him on the play that led to the goal but he agreed with the referee’s decision of intent.

“I seen him coming and I got out the way because if I didn’t it could’ve been a serious injury and again, as the referee said, it’s intent,” Rooney said. “I’m not stupid enough to stand in there and let him take my knee off. I got out the way. By the way he come into the tackle he’s forced me to lose control of the ball, which is a free kick.”

Rooney set the ball several yards from where the foul was committed — near the corner at the sideline — and actually started his run-up from where the foul occurred, giving himself a little more leverage and a better angle on his delivery, then sent his free kick sailing directly into the net at the back post while Frederic Brillant bowled over Brian Rowe. Rowe would likely not have reached that ball regardless, but you still aren’t allowed to smash into the goalkeeper. Villarreal appeared to discuss the play with the VAR, but the play did not get reviewed.

“I think when you look at the second set piece, it’s embarrassing, really at this stage. I’m at a stage now when players need to be protected because when you look at the foul on Brian Rowe is so obvious. It goes to VAR. Everybody can see it. And for some reason we don’t…what’s the point of having VAR? He didn’t even go and look at it. Yet everyone can see that it’s a foul.”

“It’s unbelievable to be honest,” Dwyer said about the foul call that led to the goal. “After all the hard work we put in tonight, it’s sad we have to look back and that’s one of the turning points. I thought maybe having VAR would help the referees but it seems to be doing the opposite.”

The Lions had the last decent scoring chance of the half when Nani stepped into a shot in first-half stoppage time, but he sent his bullet right at Hamid, and the teams went to the break with the visitors holding a 2-0 lead.

Orlando out-shot D.C. 7-2 in the first half (3-2 on target) and held more of the possession (55%-45%). The visitors were slightly more accurate passers (82%-81%) in the opening half.

The Lions came out more aggressive in the second half, pushing more numbers up the field and just accepting that the occasional counter was the price to pay for trying to claw back into the game. D.C. got the first good opportunity of the second half. Luciano Acosta blasted a shot from above the box that Rowe tipped over the bar in the 49th minute.

From that point on, the game was almost all one-way traffic the other direction. Two minutes after Acosta’s chance, Dwyer sent a ball past Hamid that rolled agonizingly close to the back post but missed just wide. Joao Moutinho — who had a fantastic game at left wingback for City — was too far away to get there before it bounced out for a goal kick. A minute later, Moutinho fizzed a wicked cross through the area that was only an inch or two out of Dwyer’s reach. Moutinho’s attacks continued in the 54th minute with a cross/shot that floated over Hamid and just missed the upper 90 on the right side of goal.

D.C. should have put the game away in the 57th minute off a turnover but Junior Moreno hit the right post on a shot from just inside the top of the box. The ball deflected harmlessly out for a goal kick.

Two minutes later, O’Connor sent Chris Mueller and Sebas Mendez into the game and withdrew Sacha Kljestan and Uri Rosell, and it gave the Lions a big lift. Four minutes after the switch, Mueller took a pass from Nani and drove to the end line to the right of goal, then sent an inch-perfect pass across the six-yard box for Dwyer to head past Hamid, making it 2-1 in the 63rd minute. It was the first goal conceded by D.C. United this season.

“It was fantastic,” Dwyer said of the buildup to the goal. “I think Nani was great all game. Chris brought a tremendous amount of energy when he came on the field. He’s grown every single game. It was a fantastic ball in from him and I’ve just got to put it away and it was pretty simple.”

Orlando pushed hard for the equalizer, with Ruan getting his cross knocked out for a corner just a minute after Dwyer’s goal. The cloud of purple smoke had not yet cleared when Dwyer got a chance in the 65th minute, but he missed the net and all he could do was grab his head in dismay.

From there it was just more near misses the rest of the way. Mueller sent a shot wide in the 75th minute, cutting in from the right. Hamid fought off a Dwyer long-range shot in the 83rd. Jansson shot just wide off a corner kick that somehow landed in the box at his feet. Mueller capped it off with a stoppage-time shot off the left post and a shot just wide in the 93rd minute.

Orlando players collapsed after the final whistle, having done all they could to fight back and take something from the game, but in the end they just weren’t clinical enough in front of goal and they didn’t defend those first-half set pieces well enough.

The Lions out-shot D.C. 16-4 (5-3 on target) and out-possessed the visitors (54%-46%), also holding the edge in passing accuracy (78%-77%). But United leave with three huge points and Orlando is still looking for a home win in 2019 (0-1-2).

“I thought we had a fantastic performance. It’s a shame that the referees keep making a difference,” Dwyer said. “We’re upbeat. The group sees a lot of positives from tonight. We played very well. I think we had a lot of chances and we concede off two set pieces. That’s just how it goes. We’ve got to defend them a little bit better but there’s a lot of positives to take tonight.”

Lost in the shuffle was rookie Benji Michel making his debut, coming on for Nani, who appeared to come off complaining about his leg. He didn’t make much impact though, managing only six touches in his 12+ minutes.

Orlando City will again go for its first home win of 2019 on Saturday night when the Colorado Rapids come to town.

Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Junior Urso

The Bear returned unexpectedly in the middle of the season to bolster the Orlando midfield.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Midfielder Junior Urso joined Orlando City on Jan. 13, 2020 from Brazilian giants Corinthians on a multi-year deal. The Bear spent three years in purple before he and the club mutually agreed to part ways, terminating his contract for personal reasons on Nov. 10, 2022. Upon his return to Brazil, Urso joined Coritiba, but injuries limited him to just seven appearances. In a surprise move, Urso rejoined Orlando City on July 19, returning to the City Beautiful and accepting a backup role behind the Lions’ double pivot of Wilder Cartagena and Cesar Araujo.

Let’s take a look back at Urso’s 2023 campaign.

Statistical Breakdown

Urso made his return to the pitch for Orlando City on Aug. 20, following the club’s run in Leagues Cup. In the MLS regular season, Urso made nine appearances (two starts), logging 250 minutes. Urso did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting just three shots, none of which found the target. The Bear completed 78.3% of his 115 total pass attempts but did not record a key pass or a successful cross. Defensively, Urso tallied two interceptions, five tackles, and five clearances. He committed two fouls, drew two on the opposition, and was booked just once.

The Brazilian also appeared in all three of Orlando City’s playoff matches, all off the bench, totaling 98 minutes. He did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting three shots, one of which was on target. He completed 86.4% of his passes, including three key passes, but did not connect on a cross. Urso chipped in one tackle defensively, committed two fouls, suffered three, and was not booked in the postseason.

Best Game

With a little less than a third of a season in purple and gold and serving primarily as a reserve player, Urso’s best match was his regular-season appearance on the road against Nashville SC on Oct. 4. The Bear came on for Facundo Torres in the 72nd minute and did what fans have always expected of him, which is to frustrate the living hell out of the opponent. Urso made sure that Nashville knew that he had entered the game, winning countless throw-ins, allowing Orlando to walk away with its first road victory at Nashville. Urso also recorded a shot in the match, which was the Lions’ only attempt other than Duncan McGuire’s goal, although it was perhaps a bit generous to call it a shot attempt. He passed at a 72.2% rate and recorded a tackle and a clearance and did his job helping the Lions see out a tight victory.

2023 Final Grade

As Urso came up short of the minimum total of 450 minutes played 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. While it was a surreal experience just to see the Bear back on the pitch for Orlando City after his sudden departure, a delayed return to the pitch due to a lingering knock and the play of the midfielders in front of him on the depth chart limited his ability to leave his mark on the season. However, it’s difficult to put a grade on the experience he brought to the squad.

2024 Outlook

Orlando City has yet to announce its end-of-season roster decisions as of this writing, but with Wilder Cartagena’s loan spell expired, the Lions would be wise to pick up Urso’s contract option for the 2024 season. If that happens, he would likely take up the No. 8 role with Araujo playing the No. 6 in Orlando’s double pivot (assuming Oscar Pareja also returns). Urso could split time at the No. 8 if Orlando adds a new starting No. 10, because in that case, Mauricio Pereyra might see some time in that spot. If a permanent transfer or loan extension for Cartagena is secured, Urso provides value off the bench, although he’s a bit pricey for a backup at $360,000.

Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/5/23

Exploria Stadium will host Copa America games, Pride reportedly make offer for Crystal Dunn, Americans in midweek action, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Good morning, everyone. I’m still dragging a little bit after having a shortened weekend due to work, but I hope all of you were able to hit the ground running yesterday and started your weeks off on the right note. As usual, there’s a lot of interesting things to discuss today, so let’s get after it.

Exploria Stadium Picked as Copa America Venue

The host cities and venues for next summer’s Copa America tournament were revealed and Orlando City’s Exploria Stadium has been chosen. The Lions’ home will have games on June 29 and July 1, and both games could be very important ones as they will take place during the final day of play for Groups A and C. We also know that the USMNT will play its group stage games in Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City. The semifinal matches will be held at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, with Charlotte also hosting the third-place game. We’ll know very soon which teams will be playing in Orlando, as the draw will take place on Thursday.

Orlando Pride Reportedly Make an Offer for Crystal Dunn

The Orlando Pride have reportedly made a large offer to bring Crystal Dunn to Orlando, with CBS Sports reporting the amount prepared by the Pride to be more than $400,000. However, negotiations between the Pride and Dunn are reportedly no longer ongoing.

The 31-year-old is a free agent after announcing that she was not returning to the Portland Thorns after three seasons there. She is one of the more notable free agents this off-season and the Washington Spirit and NJ/NY Gotham FC are also interested in signing her ahead of the 2024 season.

Americans in Midweek Action

There are a number of American players who will be playing games this week, so make sure you have some of these marked down on your calendar. First up is a match that could feature up to three players currently in the USMNT pool, as Jordan Pefok, Joe Scally, and Borussia Monchengladbach will face Kevin Paredes and Wolfsburg in the DFB Pokal. Tomorrow sees Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson, and Fulham playing Matt Turner’s Nottingham Forest, although the USMNT’s starting goalkeeper is not likely to play. The week finishes with Juventus and Weston McKennie facing Napoli in league play, although Tim Weah is still an injury doubt.

USWNT Aims for Change in Mentality

The 2024 calendar year is going to be an important one for the United States Women’s National Team, and the team wants to start it off on the right foot. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore is viewing today’s match against China as a chance for the team to continue building a new identity and to keep developing tactically after a disappointing early exit from this summer’s World Cup. While Emma Hayes has been named the team’s new head coach, she won’t officially join up until Chelsea’s club season ends in May. Until that happens, there’s plenty of work to be done with the Gold Cup just around the corner in March, followed by the Olympics in Paris in July.

The Soccer Tournament Adds Women’s Competition

Following the success of last year’s first edition of The Soccer Tournament, the organizers have added a women’s competition for next summer’s event. The seven-a-side tournament will now also feature an eight-team women’s bracket which will also have a $1 million prize up for grabs. The decision was made after an all-women’s team led by Heather O’Reilly drew significant support when it competed last year, despite not picking up a win. The men’s tournament will also be expanding to 48 teams for this year’s competition, after featuring 32 participants during the summer.

Free Kicks

  • Ramiro Enrique has been called up to Argentina’s training camp for its 2024 Olympic team.
  • Orlando City’s documentary about the 2022 U.S. Open Cup victory has won a Suncoast Emmy.
  • In the 2023 Women’s College Cup final, Florida State beat Stanford 5-1 to win its fourth national championship.

That’s all that I have for today. Y’all stay safe out there.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/4/23

Crew to host MLS Cup final, LAFC returns to MLS Cup, Tim Howard to be inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Good Monday morning, Mane Landers. The weekend brought us some drama-filled conference final action, and we now know who will play for the MLS Cup. But before I dive into that, I just want to take a quick minute to say with mixed emotions that this will be my final Lion Links here, but don’t be sad, because the rest of the boys will still be bringing your daily content needs and coverage. I’ll be stepping away as my wife and I are soon to be first-time parents, and I’m looking forward to all that entails. I appreciate each and every one of you readers for taking the time to scroll through my articles each week. If you’re interested in writing for TML, we could definitely use the help so please reach out. Now, let’s get into the links!

Columbus Crew Claim Hell Is Real Comeback

After a rocky start, the Columbus Crew became the first team to overcome a two-goal deficit on the road and advance in a single-leg round in the history of the MLS Cup playoffs. FC Cincinnati got off to a great start behind USMNT striker Brandon Vasquez, who opened the scoring, but it was captain Luciano Acosta’s sublime free kick finish that stole the show in the first half.

It took trusting the process and the tactics of their first-year manager Wilfried Nancy, but the Columbus Crew fought back with late match heroics to seal the victory. Forward Christian Ramirez bagged the game-winning goal in extra time in the 115th minute.

“You can only fight for someone like that,” said Ramirez. “So many times you can feel that you’re getting the bad end of the stick at certain moments, but I haven’t felt that. I think numerous guys understand how he sees the game now, and we respect that. We talk about writing our story in the Columbus Crew history; this chapter wasn’t done. We got one more week, one more game.”

LAFC Returns to MLS Cup

The league’s defending champion, LAFC, will once again be playing in the final match of the postseason. After frustrating the Houston Dynamo throughout the Western Conference final, LAFC won 2-0. Houston might have dominated the stat sheet in possession, passes, and passing accuracy, but really it was just playing into the gameplan of LAFC.

“We knew that’s what they wanted. They wanted the ball,” said LAFC right back Ryan Hollingshead. “They like to play this little tiki-taka in the middle of the field, these little movements, little one-twos, three of their guys just kind of pass the ball, but they’re going nowhere. And so we just said, do whatever you got, have the ball as long as you want. They created zero dangerous chances. They had a half-chance in the first half on a cross to Baird and that was it. And so a lot of these teams, it’s like, yeah, they’ve got possession, they may be moving the ball. But if they’re not creating dangerous chances, who cares?”

MLS Cup Final Preview

The Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew will host Western Conference champion LAFC at Field on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m for the MLS Cup. The match will be No. 53 across all competitions this campaign for LAFC, and a victory would make the club the first repeat winners since the 2011-2012 LA Galaxy. The storylines leading to the match will likely center around the possibility of it being Carlos Vela’s final game for LAFC, but for the Crew, the bench players will be the ones to watch. In the 65th minute of the Eastern Conference final, Head Coach Wilfried Nancy brought in Julian Gressel and Christian Ramirez, who both played a pivotal role in two of the three Columbus goals in the comeback victory.  The Crew last lifted the MLS Cup in 2020, defeating Seattle Sounders 3-0 at Historic Crew Stadium.

2024 National Soccer Hall of Fame

On May 4, the National Soccer Hall of Fame will induct its 2024 class. Most notable will be long-time USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played 121 matches for the United States and had a successful career in the English Premier League. Other inductees will be USWNT World Cup winner Tisha Venturini-Hoch, 1996 Paralympic captain Josh McKinney, and USL founder Francisco Marcos.

Orlando Reportedly Set to Host USMNT-Brazil Friendly

The United States Men’s National Team is reportedly far along in negotiations to face Brazil in Orlando for a friendly leading to next year’s Copa America. The Yanks and Brazil last met in September 2018 in a friendly match in East Rutherford, NJ. The United States will host the Copa America from June 19 to July 14 as one of six invited teams to the South American competition. Brazil enter as the defending champion and should prove a worthy test for the Stars & Stripes to tune up for the Southern American title.

Free Kicks

  • Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.

That’s a wrap for my personal writing here for a while. It has been a pleasure to bring some coverage to you all for the past couple seasons. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. Vamos Orlando!

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