Nani got a late game winner — deflecting Sacha Kljestan’s shot past Zac MacMath — to lead Orlando City to a 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in front of 22,468 at Orlando City Stadium. Nani’s goal in the 88th minute broke up a hard-fought struggle as the Whitecaps sat in deep after playing a game Wednesday and traveling across the continent.
Orlando (3-3-2, 11 points) got its first ever win over the Whitecaps (1-5-2, 5 points) in five tries (1-3-1) and second shutout win of the season. The Lions are also unbeaten (3-0-0) in the special Parley kits to celebrate Earth Day after previous wins over New York City FC and San Jose.
“Really pleased to get the three points,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “I thought Vancouver made it obviously very difficult for us. I think at times we showed some decent passages but I think we can play a little bit cleaner, a little bit crisper. It’s a massive win for us.”
“Great team effort defensively,” said OCSC goalkeeper Brian Rowe. “I think it’s something to build on and a great result.”
O’Connor changed up the lineup from last week’s squad at RSL. He went with a four-man back line of (L-R) Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Lamine Sané, and Ruan. The midfield was defense heavy with Uri Rosell flanked by Sebas Mendez left and Will Johnson right. Nani and Dom Dwyer started up top with Chris Mueller.
Vancouver lined up with a five-man back line and sat deep, forcing Orlando to break through several lines and the Lions struggled to do that. Nani managed to get a free kick from distance on goal early on and Mendez fired wide of MacMath’s goal in the seventh minute.
After Vancouver won a couple of corners off the counterattack, Nani redirected a Moutinho cross toward goal in the 20th minute but again the shot was at MacMath. The Lions got the ball into the area in the 23rd minute but both Dwyer and Johnson had shots blocked.
The game went through a spell where Orlando lacked movement and Nani had trouble breaking down Hwang In-Beom, losing the ball on a couple tries to get past the Vancouver midfielder. Moutinho teed up a shot in the 31st minute but got it nowhere close to the goal frame.
The Lions dodged a bullet a minute later when Ruan made a great play to dispossess Yordy Reyna to prevent him from getting in alone on goal on the break. The Whitecaps got their only shot of the half on target in the 35th minute. Ali Adnan lined up a free kick from about 35 yards away, straight out in front of goal. His shot forced a diving save from Rowe. Derek Cornelius got a head to the ensuing corner but he sent the shot wide.
In the 43rd, the Lions nearly broke through off a corner kick. A header by Cornelius — who was defending Mueller — was sent toward his own goal but cleared off the line by Scott Sutter. Then a shot from distance by Rosell was blocked at the top of the area. A minute later, Sané headed just over the bar off Nani’s corner kick cross.
Moutinho got the last good chance of the half as Mueller sent him down the left but MacMath fought off the shot and Johnson’s header was nowhere close on the ensuing corner.
Orlando City held the advantage in shots (10-3), shots on target (2-1), passing accuracy (84%-78%), and possession (56%-44%). However, the first half went just as Vancouver hoped, with the Lions unable to break down the defense and a few counter opportunities available for the Caps. The 0-0 score was much more favorable to the visitors than Orlando City after the first 45 minutes.
The second half started much like the first, with Orlando struggling to break down the Vancouver lines of defense. The Lions were able to get some crosses in but could do little with them against three center backs defending Dwyer, who finished the match without a shot attempt.
Orlando did manage to get in a counter of its own in the 55th minute, with Nani getting his shot blocked at the end of the attack off a nice pass from Mueller. A minute later, Mueller himself was nearly played in but the ball was just a touch too far in front and MacMath scrambled off his line to get to it first.
At times, the Whitecaps came up a little higher on the pitch and pressed a little near midfield but it was much the same game as the opening 45 minutes.
Vancouver looked to find the breakthrough in the 56th minute when Reyna sent a cross through the area but it was way too far in front of Fredy Montero.
In the 60th minute, Nani fizzed a ball through the six that MacMath deflected out for a corner, and moments later the Vancouver goalkeeper just beat Dwyer to a 50/50 aerial ball. Mueller had a shot slightly deflected that sailed inches over the bar in the 70th minute as it started to look like the game could finish 0-0.
But things nearly went horribly wrong in the 72nd minute as In-Beom got in as the trailing runner on a Vancouver attack and sent his sliding shot over Rowe’s goal on the visitors’ best chance of the game.
Second-half sub Tesho Akindele fired a header just over the bar in the 75th minute after coming on for Dwyer. Kljestan came on for Johnson just a minute later as O’Connor continued to search for a way to unlock the Whitecaps.
Reyna got a half chance in the 85th with a weak shot to the back post that Rowe smothered. The Vancouver forward then fired over the bar two minutes later.
Orlando finally got its goal in the 88th. Ruan took the ball down the right channel and cut it back to the top of the area. Kljestan ran onto it and fired hard but the ball hit Nani and deflected into the net to make it 1-0. Nani now leads the Lions with four goals this season and has a three-game goal-scoring streak going. The Portuguese star also has four assists to go with those four goals in eight games played.
“I secretly just wanted the assist,” Kljestan joked after the game. The assist was his 91st in MLS, tying Cobi Jones for eighth in MLS history in 57 fewer matches.
“Watching from the bench I thought we were playing a little bit too slow with the ball,” he said. “We needed a little bit more action in the box and then fortunately the goal came that way. I think it was a cut-back cross from Ruan and I think we had three guys in the box and so it created a little bit of confusion in front of their back line and fortunately the ball ended up in the back of the net.”
After more than seven minutes of stoppage time, the whistle blew and Orlando City had its second consecutive home victory. The Lions out-shot Vancouver 16-6 (4-2 on target), held more possession (61%-39%) and out-passed the Caps (86%-77%) in a deserved victory that almost didn’t come.
“Today was a difficult game,” Kljestan said. “I think if somebody didn’t watch the game but maybe just looked at the schedule and saw Vancouver played on Wednesday and then flew across the country, you would say Orlando should win easily. But that’s not the case in MLS. They came here and they set up very defensively, tactically. They played behind the ball a lot and tried to hit us on the counter, and they defended very well, so it was hard for us to carve out chances.”
O’Connor said his players deserved enormous credit for going on and winning the game, avoiding the frustration of not being able to break down the bunkering Caps.
“It became pretty apparent that they wanted to sit very deep and make it very, very hard for us and deny space. It’s trying to be patient, it’s trying to make good decisions when we have the ball, and manage the transition moments.”
“In the end to get a 1-0 win, at the end of the year, we’ll look back and think that this was an important game for us to win,” said Kljestan. “To now get our second win in a row in our stadium is big for us, so we’ve got to keep that going.”
Next up for Lions is a trip to Yankee Stadium for the first repeat opponent of 2019. Orlando City will square off against the Pigeons at 1 p.m. ET.
Lion Links: 12/1/23
Rodrigo Schlegel fined, MLS roster updates, USWNT faces China tomorrow, and more.
Welcome to December, Mane Landers! It always feels like a good sign when a month starts on a Friday. I don’t have many plans this weekend beyond helping a friend move and trying to make pad Thai for the first time. It should be a nice next few days to reset after a hectic week. But for now, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.
MLS Issues Disciplinary Rulings After Playoff Games
Orlando City center back Rodrigo Schlegel was fined an undisclosed amount by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for not leaving the field in a timely manner after receiving a second yellow card in the team’s playoff match with the Columbus Crew. Schlegel did not crowd the referee or plead his case disruptively, but he did linger a bit before exiting the match. It was one of many fines handed out by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for violations during the playoffs, and Crew forward Cucho Hernandez was fined for embellishment for going to ground clutching his face after Schlegel shielded the ball from him.
The Vancouver Whitecaps players and staff received fines and suspensions for their actions during and after their playoff match with LAFC on Nov. 5. Head Coach Vanni Sartini was fined $20,000 and suspended for an additional five games for entering the field of play in a confrontational manner and his comments about the refereeing following his team’s elimination. Vancouver defender Mathias Laborda was also handed a one-match suspension for his actions during the match.
MLS Teams Update Rosters as Deadline Looms
The deadline for MLS teams to decline contract options is today and clubs around the league are getting their affairs in order. The Portland Timbers confirmed that Sebastian Blanco won’t be with the team next year, as he was out of contract after seven seasons with the club. Designated Player Jaroslaw Niezgoda and fellow forward Franck Boli had their options declined by Portland as well. FC Dallas triggered the options on the contracts of midfielder duo Asier Illarramendi and Liam Frasier, while declining the options for midfielder Facundo Quignon and defender Jose Martinez. The New York Red Bulls kept a key part of their defense by signing Dylan Nealis to a contract through the 2024 season. Nashville SC declined seven options, and veterans Dax McCarty and Fafa Picault are out of contract. Both players could be worth keeping an eye on as an Orlando supporter, depending on if Wilder Cartagena and Ivan Angulo will return. According to The Athletic‘s Tom Bogert, McCarty is not likely to return to Nashville.
Racing Louisville Names Beverly Yanez as Head Coach
Beverly Yanez was announced as Racing Louisville’s next head coach after serving as an assistant coach during the 2023 season. The 35-year-old retired as a player in 2020 and was an assistant coach with NJ/NY Gotham FC for two years before joining Louisville prior to this season. Louisville has yet to reach the playoffs since joining the NWSL in 2021 and Yanez is now the club’s third head coach. She’s earned plenty of praise from Louisville’s players and it will be interesting to see how her first season as a head coach goes in 2024.
Alejandro Bedoya Receives Impact Award
Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya won the MLS Impact Award, along with a $100,000 contribution by Audi to The Philadelphia Equity Alliance. Bedoya has worked with the nonprofit to promote inclusive economic growth and reduce poverty. He was also named 2022 MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year for his efforts to make a difference in the Philadelphia community. The Crew’s Darlington Nagbe and Nashville’s Taylor Washington were the other finalists for this year’s award.
Analyzing China Ahead of USWNT Friendlies
The United States Women’s National Team will close out its 2023 schedule with a pair of friendlies against China this month. The two nations will clash tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale before playing again in Frisco on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Although China lost all three of its group stage games in this past summer’s World Cup, it recently won the bronze medal in the Asian Games. China fell short in Olympic qualifying though, and 2022 AFC Women’s Coach of the Year Shui Qingxia’s contract was terminated, with Wang Jun taking over in an interim capacity for these friendlies. The USWNT should be able to find success on set pieces and crosses, although China has been working on strength training this year to compensate for that weakness. Tang Jiali, Zhang Linyan, and Shen Menglu are a few of the players in China’s versatile attack that could spell trouble for the Americans.
- Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle started as Brazil’s captain and Marta and Adriana came off the bench in a 4-3 win over Japan in a friendly. In her international debut, 19-year-old forward Priscila gave Brazil the late winner. The two teams will play again on Sunday.
- The Kansas City Current dedicated their press box to journalist and Kansas City native Grant Wahl.
- The New England Revolution have promoted Curt Onalfo to sporting director after four years as the club’s technical director. Onalfo served as the interim sporting director after Bruce Arena’s resignation in September and now gets the job fulltime.
- The MLS Players Association released a statement regarding Matt Miazga’s three-game suspension.
- Pierre Emerick-Aubamayeng scored a bicycle kick and a late winner as part of his hat trick in Marseille’s 4-3 win over Ajax in the Europa League.
- The 2023 Women’s College Cup semifinals kick off tonight, with Florida State facing Clemson and BYU playing Stanford. There are many talented players in action who are worth watching tonight before the NWSL Draft next month.
- Lyon, which is last in Ligue 1 with just seven points from 12 games, has sacked Fabio Grosso after less than three months as head coach.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!
Lion Links: 11/30/23
Orlando City faces big questions, Matt Miazga suspended, Emma Hayes meets USWNT for first time, and more.
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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lion Links: 12/1/23
2023 Orlando Pride Season in Review: Kylie Strom
Lion Links: 11/30/23
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Five Takeaways
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Player Grades and Man of the Match
Lion Links: 11/29/23
Orlando City5 days ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Five Takeaways
Orlando City5 days ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Final Score 2-0 as 10-Man Lions Fall at Home in Extra Time
Orlando City6 days ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More
Orlando City5 days ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Player Grades and Man of the Match
Orlando City7 days ago
Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew
Orlando Pride2 weeks ago
Orlando Pride Announce Roster Decisions Following 2023 NWSL Season
Opinion2 weeks ago
Defense Key to Orlando City Reaching Conference Final
Orlando Pride2 weeks ago
Orlando Pride Season in Review: Julie Doyle