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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps: Final Score 1-0 as the Lions Net Late Goal to Win

Orlando has two straight wins at home and its first ever win against Vancouver on a late goal by Nani.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

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

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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