Orlando City fell behind in the first half but broke its losing streak in convincing fashion with a 5-1 destruction of FC Cincinnati (3-8-2, 11 points) in front of an announced crowd of 22,341 on a hot day at Orlando City Stadium. The Lions got braces from Nani and Tesho Akindele and a header from Dom Dwyer to run the MLS newcomers out of the City Beautiful.
It was only the third time all season that Orlando (4-6-3, 15 points) had scored more than one goal in a game and it was the team’s first victory by more than one goal in 2019. The win broke a three-game losing streak and a four-match winless skid. The 5-1 win was Orlando’s second-biggest MLS win only to a 6-1 home win over New England on Sept. 27, 2017 — a game in which the Revs were a man down for much of the night.
James O’Connor praised his team’s mentality after the match for coming back after conceding the first goal in the team’s third game in eight days.
“Obviously very pleased — not just with the result,” O’Connor said after the game. “I thought overall the mentality of the players was excellent. To play at three o’clock in Florida is a mental test.”
O’Connor rotated 10 of the 11 spots from Wednesday’s game, leaving only Lamine Sané in the starting XI from the midweek match in Seattle.
The game was mostly a plodding affair before Cincinnati opened the scoring in the 24th minute. Up to that point, neither team seemed particularly adept at getting into the opposing team’s penalty area, instead passing the ball around the perimeter and either turning it over or sending in a hopeful cross.
The only real chance of the game had come from a shot by Emmanuel Ledesma in the 21st minute that rattled off the crossbar.
That warning shot failed to wake up Orlando, which had started to concede more of the possession after dominating the ball early, and it proved costly moments later.
Darren Mattocks’ opener came out of nowhere. The Lions were in excellent shape defensively, but seemed mesmerized by the Cincinnati attacker, who faked one way, went the other and fired his shot into the back of the net with the two center backs right in front of him and several other players in the neighborhood just watching the play happen.
The goal was exactly what the game needed as the match sprung to life after Mattocks’ strike. Will Johnson nearly pulled back the goal after taking a pass from Chris Mueller in the 30th minute, but he saw his effort blocked. Cristian Higuita followed with a narrow miss two minutes later from the top of the area.
Akindele tied things up in the 37th minute. Johnson took a pass from Joao Moutinho and played in Akindele with a nice through ball, and the Canadian fired home to make it 1-1.
“I saw Will making a run though,” Akindele said. “They fired the ball into him. I kind of was asking for the flick and he played a really good pass kind of around the corner. I took a good first touch, I thought, and then just tried to put it on target…I think the play was really well done by our team.”
The game remained open the rest of the half. Nani’s cross in for Johnson in the 41st minute provided a good opportunity, but the ball was deflected out for a corner. Mueller fizzed a ball in for Akindele in the first minute of stoppage time that was just inches too far in front for a deflection. Johnson had a go from distance moments later, but he didn’t hit it with much power and it was right at Spencer Richey for an easy save.
The last good opportunity for Cincinnati came off a set piece that was headed across goal, where Mathieu Deplagne got a head on it and forced a last-second save from Brian Rowe.
Orlando then finished with a set piece from the left that Cincinnati deflected off the outside netting and the teams went to the break tied at 1-1.
Orlando City led in shots, 7-3 (2-2 on target), possession (61.9%-38.1%), and passing accuracy (90.1%-81.1%).
The Lions came out of the break like a different team. Mueller and Nani each forced diving saves from Richey in the first two minutes of the second half. Shortly after the latter, Sebas Mendez was called for a foul, and during that stoppage, referee Nima Saghafi indicated he was going to video review. Replays showed that Kendall Waston had grabbed Sané from underneath both arms and took him down in a wrestling move during an Orlando corner kick. Saghafi didn’t review the play long and returned to the field, indicating a penalty to Orlando for Waston’s WWE move.
Nani took the spot kick but didn’t hit it well. Richey saved it, but the rebound fell right back at the feet of the Portuguese star, who calmly slotted home to make it 2-1 in the 50th minute.
Nine minutes later, Nani extended the lead to 3-1. Ruan worked a quick give-and-go with Akindele and made a lightning-quick dash down the right channel and cut in toward goal before crossing. Nani was there to stab home the cross in the 59th minute, scoring the 200th goal in Orlando City’s MLS history.
Orlando continued to press forward in the attack. Mueller won a free kick to the left of the area but sailed his set piece delivery over the bar in the 62nd minute. Two minutes later, the Lions struck again. Orlando won a corner kick and Mueller served in a corner kick cross that fell in the box and bounced off Sané. Akindele took it out of the air with the first touch and slotted it into the net to make it 4-1. With four goals on the season, it is the Canadian’s highest goal total since he scored four in 2017 across 29 appearances. It was also his first brace since July 4 of last year, when he got both of his goals on the season in a 3-2 win over Atlanta United while playing with FC Dallas.
“I think we got a little bit unlucky in the past on some of the chances we missed and I think maybe we got a little bit lucky today on some of the ones we scored,” Akindele said. “It kind of balances out in the long run as long as you’re creating chances, which we’ve been doing all year.”
City got a bit sloppy after that and failed to track second-half sub Fanendo Adi on a set piece. He brought the ball down in the area but couldn’t make good contact, sending a weak dribbler toward Rowe.
Dwyer came on for Nani and started to get things moving back in the other direction. He fired high from distance in the 73rd minute, but his injection into the middle of the attack began causing issues for the Cincinnati defense as the visitors tried pushing numbers forward to get back into the match.
After Ruan won a corner in the 81st minute, Dwyer broke his scoreless streak with a well-placed header off Josué Colmán’s corner kick cross. It must have come as a relief to the veteran striker and it was touching the way his teammates celebrated after the goal.
As time wound down, the Lions got a bit more lackadaisical in their own half and that nearly resulted in a cosmetic goal for Cincinnati. Ledesma fired just inches wide of goal in the 91st minute in what would have been a bit of a letdown for the team as well as the crowd. Instead, the Lions saw out the four minutes of stoppage and got a much-deserved victory.
Orlando City finished with a 17-5 advantage in shots (9-3 on target), a 61.1%-38.9% edge in possession, more corners (11-4), and a better passing accuracy (88.9%-83.5%).
“There were a couple of things I thought we just needed to be a little bit sharper on and areas we that needed to try to play in,” O’Connor said of his halftime adjustments. “The quality of the players started to come through. Again, I think the players deserve enormous credit for the mentality and the way they went on performed second half. I thought they were excellent.”
Akindele underscored the importance of the victory after the match.
“It was really important, especially to do it at home. The fans…they deserved that,” Akindele said. “They come out all the time. They support us. They’re making noise. And I’m so glad we could give them that win and they could experience that with us.”
Orlando City is back in action Friday night when the LA Galaxy come to town for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Junior Urso
The Bear returned unexpectedly in the middle of the season to bolster the Orlando midfield.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
- 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.
- David de Gea is reportedly open to signing for Newcastle United following Nick Pope’s shoulder dislocation.
- The English FA has charged Manchester City with failing to control its players, following Erling Haaland’s reaction on social media to a decision made by referee Simon Hooper.
That’s all that I have for today. Y’all stay safe out there.
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.
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 Lower.com 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.
- Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.
- Liverpool scored in the 87th and 88th minutes to win 4-3 and climb to second in the EPL standings on 31 points.
- Manchester City and Tottenham played to a thrilling 3-3 draw that might find Erling Haaland charged by the English Football Association for criticizing the performance of the referees.
- Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen saw an eight-game winning run in the league come to an end with a 1-1 draw.
- Inter Milan secured a 3-0 victory at Napoli to reach the top of the Serie A table.
- Arsenal will face Liverpool in a massive FA Cup third-round clash in January.
- Wrexham reached the third round of FA Cup after defeating Yeovil Town 3-0.
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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