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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids: Final Score 4-3 as Nani Powers Lions to First Home Win

Nani’s brace led Orlando to a pair of comebacks in a wild, rain-soaked affair.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

The Lions finally got a home win in 2019, but it was anything but easy. Orlando needed to come from behind twice against the Colorado Rapids to grab a late 4-3 victory at Orlando City Stadium in front of 22,450 on a rainy night.

The Rapids (0-4-2, 2 points) grabbed leads of 1-0 and 3-2 in the match but the resilient Lions were a threat to score all night and eventually put enough goals on the board to win the match when Nani converted a penalty in the 89th minute to lift City (2-2-2, 8 points) to the team’s first home win of the season. Orlando is still unbeaten in the series with the Rapids, improving to 4-0-1 in five meetings (3-0-0 in Orlando).

“You don’t want to be conceding three goals,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “As exciting and entertaining as it is for everybody to win — and it is, it’s great — but we don’t want to be like that every week. I certainly don’t.”

“Tonight was fantastic because we had so many opportunities and most of them we put inside the goal,” said Nani.

O’Connor made a few changes to the lineup, dropping center back Shane O’Neill and pushing Carlos Ascues to right center back. Tesho Akindele returned from his hamstring issue to start up top next to Dom Dwyer at forward. Nani slid back to the midfield alongside Sebas Mendez, Sacha Kljestan, and wingbacks Ruan and Joao Moutinho.

After the first six minutes were played between the penalty areas, both teams started attacking. Moutinho’s cross into the box in the sixth was the first good opportunity of the game, but it was knocked out for a corner by the defense. Two minutes later, Ruan sent a dangerous cross into the box that was deflected out by a defender but only as far as Kljestan, who had his shot blocked.

A minute later, the Rapids took the lead. Kei Kamara (who else?) pounced to make it 1-0. Dillon Serna’s cross into the box went about an inch over the head of a leaping Sané. Jansson didn’t expect the ball to get through and it bounced off his head and fell in behind, where Kamara won the race to the loose ball and poked it past Brian Rowe in the ninth minute.

The teams then exchanged set piece opportunities. After Dwyer saw a header blocked at the back post, the Rapids nearly scored on a direct free kick, but Keegan Rosenberry’s effort went just wide.

Orlando kept attacking up the wings and nearly scored in the 21st. Moutinho got to the end line and crossed in for Dwyer, but Deklan Wynne deflected it off his own goal post. Shortly after that, the Lions changed shape after Ascues went down with an apparent leg injury. Uri Rosell came on and slotted into the midfield with Orlando going four at the back.

The Lions equalized in the 31st minute, as Nani opened his Orlando City account. Ruan somehow nutmegged teammate Akindele just a couple yards in front of goal with a sizzling cross. Moutinho gathered it at the other side of the area and crossed it in for Nani to head home .

Colorado tried to pull that goal back quickly, earning a corner kick in the 33rd minute. But it was Orlando City that capitalized. The Lions cleared the cross out to Ruan, who blazed down the pitch on the counter attack. He crossed to Dwyer, who fired and saw his shot well saved by a diving Tim Howard, but it fell to the feet of Akindele, who roofed the ball just under the crossbar to make it 2-1 with his second goal of the season.

The Ruan Show continued for the rest of the half. First, he turned Nicolas Mezquida inside out with a dribble (the man has a family, Ruan!) and then drew a yellow card on Kamara, who tried to pull him back by the shirt. Then the speedy Brazilian blew past Serna, only to overcook his cross, hitting it over everyone.

Moutinho’s long ball in the 43rd minute sent Nani down the left. The Portuguese star found Dwyer in the box. Dom had trouble digging the ball out of his feet, but did manage to turn and shoot, but it was blocked. Two minutes later, Dwyer found space at the top of the area and got his shot on frame, but Howard made another diving save, sticking out a palm to keep it 2-1 at the break.

Orlando led in shots at the break, 7-5 (4-2 on target). Colorado had the edge in possession (54.5%-45.5%) and passing accuracy (82.1%-74.9%).

Unfortunately, Mother Nature reared her ugly head at the half, with a delay due to lightning in the area lasting an hour before the game restarted.

The Rapids were by far the more energetic team after the long delay, holding possession, winning balls off sloppy midfield passes, and trying to hit quickly on the counter. Rowe stopped a header from Kellyn Acosta in the 47th minute.

Orlando fizzed a couple crosses dangerously through the box after that, but defender Axel Sjoberg blocked Ruan’s pass and Nani’s went harmlessly out the other side as no Lions made a run after he mesmerized the defense out on the left side.

Rowe made a big save to deny Kamara in the 59th off a dangerous cross by Keegan Rosenberry on a play that should have — but didn’t — serve as a warning sign for the Orlando defense in the second half. Two minutes later, Rosenberry got down the right channel on the counter and picked out Mezquida, who scored on a free header in the 61st minute to make it 2-2.

Ten minutes later, the visitors took the lead. Benny Feilhaber played a ball across left to right to Cole Bassett, who faked as if he would drive to his right. Once Jansson committed, Bassett cut back inside on his left foot and curled a shot around Rowe to make it 3-2 Colorado.

As the game moved into the late stages, Nani went down in the penalty area after contact with Acosta. Referee Jair Marrufo saw no foul there, and a heated exchange took place between the two midfielders, but ultimately it was much ado about nothing.

Dwyer headed a ball right at Howard from just a few yards out in the 79th, and it started to look like Orlando would fall at home again. But then O’Connor introduced Chris Mueller for Mendez in the 80th, and he once again lifted the team with his energy.

A minute after coming on, Mueller scored. Moutinho threw in the ball in the final third. It took a high bounce and Nani headed it toward goal. Akindele stuck out a leg and helped it on with a back heel and Mueller collected it, then slotted it home through Howard to tie the game at 3-3 in the 81st minute.

“I just tried to stay alive,” Mueller said. “The ball kind of floated into the box. I think it was Tesho that went up with one of the defenders. It kind of took a weird bounce. I took it down and just kept the ball low, tried to get it on target, and it ended up going right through the goalie’s legs.”

O’Connor spoke after the game about his decision to bring Mueller off the bench as a sub yet again.

“We sat down with Chris and I just said to him, ‘Listen, you’re not going to start this one,’” O’Connor said. “I said, ‘You’re really unlucky.’ But we just felt that there was potential for Chris to be able to come off the bench and impact the game like he has. And when you have a weapon like that and you look at the way the game may go or may not go, the biggest decision for us is, do we start him?

The easiest thing for us to do is start Chris tonight. Everyone would have expected it, including them (the Rapids) to start the game. But when we looked at it, we thought we needed to be brave and we needed to maybe follow what our gut instinct was and bring him off the bench. Now when he goes and he does something like that (score), it’s incredible.”

The goal only urged the Lions on even more. Two minutes after Mueller’s goal, Ruan flashed a cross through the area that was just inches out of Dwyer’s reach at the back post, with a wide-open net in front of him. Four minutes later, another Ruan cross turned the game in Orlando’s favor. The Brazilian sent one into the area that Sjoberg tried to block with his head, but it ended up hitting his arm as well and Marrufo pointed to the spot even as Dwyer improbably missed an empty net from just a couple yards away. Nani stepped up to the spot, sent Howard the wrong way, and coolly completed his brace in the 89th minute, putting Orlando up, 4-3.

“It’s always good to score goals for the team,” said Nani shortly after netting his first two as a Lion. “It’s always good to help, but obviously it’s not the most important. We wanted to win for our fans. What they’ve been doing all (these) weeks is fantastic. I never saw that in my life. I’ve been playing for many teams, and when the things are not going well, everyone knows how the fans normally react. These fans, they are special, so I wanted so badly to help the team to win and tonight we are very happy because we did and it was a great game, a fantastic game for our team.”

The Lions saw out the final minute, plus four minutes of injury time, without allowing Colorado an opportunity to equalize, and the whistle signaled the end of Orlando’s first 2019 home victory.

City out-shot the Rapids, 16-10 (8-6 on target), with possession finishing about evenly split at 50/50. Colorado did pass slightly better (80%-76%) in the game.

O’Connor praised his star man after the match following Nani’s two-goal, one-assist performance.

“When you look at Nani, he’s a world-class player. We’re blessed to have somebody like that,” he said. “I think it shows you his professionalism and his mentality to have a reaction like that tonight. He’s got a phenomenal leap first half, scored a great header. And then the composure to take the penalty. He was cool as a cucumber and just slid it into the corner. I think when you look at his play and his experience and the way he’s trying to help the players it’s — as we’ve always said — very, very encouraging. It’s not just the technical aspect. It’s the leadership that he shows as well.”

Orlando City will travel west next weekend to take on Real Salt Lake in Utah on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.

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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