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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Final Score 1-0 as Benji Michel Lifts Weary Lions to Sweep of Crew

The Lions get a late goal from the rookie to grind out a victory.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Benji Michel’s 84th-minute goal — the rookie’s first in MLS play — was Orlando City’s only shot on target of the night, but it was just enough to lift the Lions to a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew at Exploria Stadium. Orlando (7-9-4, 25 points) completed the season sweep of the Crew (5-14-2, 17 points) although the game was far from perfect, due in large part to it being the team’s third match in a single calendar week.

Orlando did not allow a single goal in the two meetings against the Crew, holding on late after conceding a tying goal in the 90th minute last Sunday and in the 96th minute on Wednesday. This time, the Lions held on and kept their fifth clean sheet of the season. The Crew has now lost five straight, are winless in nine (0-8-1) and have won just once in the last 15 matches (1-13-1).

“Massive, massive win for us tonight,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “I think we showed another great side, very positive, to be able to show that kind of toughness. I don’t think we played particularly well. I thought we looked very tired, which we knew. We expected that, so I think in a game like that, with the emotion of the other night we were always very wary of just what kind of energy we were going to have. So, we needed to have some grit. And I thought the boys showed tremendous character tonight.”

O’Connor made only four changes from Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup lineup, keeping Tesho Akindele and Chris Mueller up top, Sebas Mendez and Will Johnson in the midfield, and Ruan, Lamine Sané, and Robin Jansson on the back line. Brian Rowe returned to the starting lineup, with Adam Grinwis on the bench instead of Greg Ranjitsingh. Kamal Miller replaced Kyle Smith at left back, Carlos Ascues replaced Sacha Kljestan in the midfield, and Michel replaced Nani, who was unavailable as a precautionary measure due to food poisoning.

Columbus saw much of the possession in the opening half hour, fashioning the game’s first chance five minutes in. Pedro Santos torched Miller down the flank and sent in a ball for Gyasi Zardes, who rattled the crossbar with his shot.

Orlando’s only shot attempt of the first half came in the 11th minute when Miller smashed a shot just a little wide of the left post.

Much of Orlando’s attack came on the counter but the Lions were wasteful, missing open teammates or keeping their heads down and dribbling into traffic. Akindele had opportunities to find Michel and Mueller in the area but the former was cut out by the defense and the latter was too far out in front and all he could do was dribble a weak deflection in toward former teammate Joe Bendik.

Much of the half was spent in Orlando’s end setting up for corner kicks. Columbus got seven such opportunities in the first half, but poor service was a problem for the visitors.

Neither team got a shot on target in the opening half, with Columbus holding a 6-1 advantage in attempts. The Crew held 56% of the possession and out-passed the Lions, 85%-83%.

The Lions were a tiny bit better in the second half, notching three shots and conceding only five, but still had a big hole in the midfield, sagging back defensively and trying to spring counters that never quite materialized. While the sagging midfield and the quality of central defenders Sané and Jansson prevented the Crew from generating much of a threat, the Orlando attack was nearly nonexistent. As a result, the visitors seemed the more likely team to score.

Without any grip in the center of the pitch, O’Connor’s option to bring on Dom Dwyer as a substitute was unlikely to bear fruit, but the fatigue of the week was apparent. Santiago Patino came on for Will Johnson and the team switched to a 4-2-3-1 for a bit, but that went away when Uri Rosell checked in for Akindele in the 78th minute.

Before leaving, Akindele created a chance by sending a ball in for Patino, but the shot was deflected away for a corner in the 73rd.

Patino brought some much-needed energy to the proceedings, winning balls in his own defensive third and generating a bit of hold-up play down the right.

In the 84th minute, the game finally turned Orlando’s way. Sané sent a fabulous ball up the right sideline for Ruan to run onto. The speedy fullback got past the defense and fizzed an inch-perfect cross for the onrushing Michel to slam home to break the scoreless deadlock.

Michel called his first MLS goal “a dream come true,” scoring it in front of The Wall.

“I just knew right away I had to get there, because I know Ruan,” said the Homegrown Player of his thoughts on seeing Sané serve the ball up the right wing. “He’s a pacey player and I knew he was going to get to the ball, so I had to make sure I went to the first post. I knew the ball was coming and I got my chance.”

Orlando then had to see the game out and the Crew threw numbers forward and generated a few good chances. Harrison Afful forced Rowe to make a diving save in the 88th minute as the visitors finally put their first shot on target.

After that, Zardes got a couple of free headers but couldn’t place them on frame. The first he headed directly into the ground and it bounced over the crossbar. The second was a lot closer, as Jansson tried desperately to hold him off.

After a nervy six minutes of stoppage time — which included the sending off of Dwyer for throwing an elbow up that caught Josh Williams — the final whistle blew on three hard-fought points for the Lions.

“It was a good battle,” Miller said. “Towards the end, Columbus brought everything.”

“Really, to be able to defend, put their bodies on the line, and the guys who have played so many minutes, to be able to push like that, is fantastic,” O’Connor said. “Great commitment from the players tonight.”

After conceding late goals twice this week already, Miller said the Lions were desperate to keep that from happening again.

“You could just tell (by) everyone’s demeanor and attitude and the tone in everyone’s voice, that we were not going to let that happen tonight, especially in front of our home fans who supported us the whole way,” Miller said. “We owed it to them and to ourselves not to let anyone slip.”

The Crew out-shot Orlando City, 11-4 (1-1 on target), possessed the ball 56.6% of the time, and was the better passing side (86%-83%), earning 10 corners to one for the Lions. But Michel’s blast was the game’s lone score and it was a gritty effort for a team playing its third match of the week. The Lions improved to 4-5-3 in the all-time series against the Crew (3-2-2 at home).

The Lions will finally get a breather. Kind of. Orlando City plays again in five days…at Portland.

Orlando City

Orlando City Enjoyed the Best Summer Stretch in Team History

Orlando City climbed the table in the club’s best summer since joining MLS.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

June, July, August (plus, most of September), and the dog days of summer are officially in the rearview mirror and Orlando City is set to put a cherry on top of what was the best summer stretch in team history when they face Inter Miami tomorrow night at Exploria Stadium. As the season starts to wind down, I felt it was only necessary to take some time to examine the what we all just witnessed…the best summer in team history.

A quick Google search says that the season of summer in the U.S. traditionally starts June 21 on the summer solstice, which we will use as the starting point. I looked historically at the team’s performance from that point in time through the end of summer each season, a.k.a. today, Sept. 23. As a new expansion team in Major League Soccer, Orlando City dealt with the summer heat fairly well and earned 15 and 17 points in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The next two seasons, on the other hand, were much darker times to be a city fan, as Orlando City racked up seven and 10 losses in 2017 and 2018, respectively, during those two seasons. It does not take Sherlock Holmes-level detection skills to know that those summer stretches did not lead to postseason playoff berths. In 2019, the team amassed a decent 18 points during the summer, but only tallied 37 on the season overall.

It should not come as a surprise to any OCSC fan that the team’s best years of success have all come while Oscar Pareja has been at the helm. Prior to this season, the best summer stretch that the team had enjoyed was back in 2021 — also under Pareja’s reign — when the boys put up 23 points, setting a summer team record with six wins. Despite their great summer success, the 2021 Lions were unfortunately not able to keep their strong summer momentum going as they dropped four straight matches after Labor Day that year. Enter 2022, or as I like to call it “the summer of the trophy.” Technically speaking, in the MLS regular season, it was the team’s second best summer, with 20 points to their name. Orlando also happened to lift the U.S. Open Cup during that span last year, so there is an argument to be made that without the additional fixtures, the Lions may have been able to commit more resources to the regular season and would have wound up with more points. I will take the hardware!

This summer it has seemed as though Papi has pulled all the right strings at the right times. Orlando currently not only sits in second place in the Eastern Conference, but second overall in the Supporters’ Shield race and has only dropped two matches from June 21 to Sept. 23 while sporting a +6 goal differential. The Lions amassed 24 points during the summer this year.

Orlando City finding the back of the net more often than conceding makes for quite fun matches to enjoy. The two losses OCSC has picked up throughout the summer this season both have come on the road (at Real Salt Lake and at NYCFC), despite Orlando City earning an MLS-best 25 points away from Central Florida this year.

Orlando City did a great job getting through the hottest part of the calendar while locking up results left and right. Orlando has already secured a spot in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year in no small part due to the amazing summer the team just enjoyed. As fall comes barreling at us and the MLS playoff home-field advantage race begins to heat up, the performance of the squad this summer should not be taken for granted as championships might not be won in June, July, or August, but poor performances can certainly ensure that they are lost.

Did you have a favorite moment or match from this summer? My favorite moment was what I am calling the Hail Ojeda Mary goal in Charlotte, and my favorite match was the electrifying 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the Columbus Crew. Let us know in the comments below your favorites, and as always, vamos Orlando.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 9/23/22

Lions and Herons meet again, Carly Nelson is writing a book, NWSL free agency opens, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

Happy Founder’s Day, Mane Landers! It was on this day in 2014 that our fearless leader and Managing Editor Michael Citro started our first ever WordPress website. It’s safe to say that I’m sure The Mane Land has impacted your life as much as it has mine over the years, whether that be through daily reading or weekly podcasts. Cheers to Michael and all those who have come before me.

In my own personal news, I have been grinding away on the new EA FC 24 (the franchise formerly known as EA’s FIFA.) So far, the gameplay and updates have been great in my initial 15+ hours of play, and my online Ultimate Team is starting to really take its shape. I’m sure in a couple weeks that I’ll transition to a traditional Career Mode and take the Lions all the way to an MLS Cup and beyond.

Before we dive into today’s links, let’s all wish a very happy birthday to everyone’s favorite defensive midfielder, Wilder Cartagena!

Third Bout for Orlando City and Inter Miami

Orlando City and Inter Miami have already met twice this campaign. Sunday’s match will look to break the deadlock between the two rivals as both clubs have a victory to their name in this year’s series. In May, the Lions grabbed a 3-1 victory over the Fort Lauderdale-based club. The two sides met for a second time in the knockout round of Leagues Cup 2023 with Inter Miami taking the 3-1 result at DRV PNK Stadium. No matter the result this time around, Orlando City has already clinched a playoff spot, however, the Herons need every point they can get to attempt to do the same.

Carly Nelson, Goalkeeper and Author

It isn’t unheard of to learn that an athlete might have tried another sport before finding soccer, Orlando Pride goalkeeper Carly Nelson came from a background of gymnastics, tennis, basketball, and baseball before her father started a club soccer team with her in mind. While Nelson might have idolized USWNT legend Hope Solo as a child, she started her playing days as a forward, winger, and midfielder. Outside of protecting the Pride’s net, Nelson is spending time writing a book about her life growing up in Utah and the issues her family faced to hopefully help others that might find themselves in similar situations.

NWSL Opens 2024 Free Agency

The National Women’s Soccer League has officially opened the league’s unrestricted and restricted free agency periods. In accordance with the NWSL Players’ Association’s collective bargaining agreement, eligible free agents can begin negotiations for their 2024 Standard Player Agreements. Players eligible for unrestricted free agency include all who have at least five years of service within the NWSL and contracts expiring in 2023, while players eligible for restricted free agency include those who have at least three years of service. For the Orlando Pride, defender Kylie Strom is set to be an unrestricted free agent and midfielder Jordyn Listro is under restricted terms. Any club that currently holds the rights of a restricted free agent has a seven-day period to match an incoming offer from another club or else the player may sign with the new club under the terms of the offer.

USMNT’s Tyler Adams Nearing Return

Tyler Adams will not make his Bournemouth debut this weekend, but he could return as early as next week. Bournemouth’s manager, Andoni Iraola, provided a positive update on the U.S. Men’s National Team captain as he finishes up rehabbing a long-term hamstring injury.

“He has started this week at least to train partially with the group, so probably we can have a chance of having him next week or two weeks, something like this. Tyler is really close because once you start training partially with the group, it’s a matter of sensations, and if you are physically good enough. He has a very good physical base. So I think it will take not a long time to see Tyler with the team.”

Adams has not played since March after having a hamstring surgery. Even with a known injury, the 24-year-old still completed a move from Leeds United to Bournemouth following Leeds’ relegation to keep him in the top flight.

MLS Weekend Preview

Aside from the Florida derby, there are plenty of matches to be excited about around the league this weekend. Personally, I’m looking forward to catching a bit of the D.C. United and New York Red Bulls match. Manager Wayne Rooney’s club is right on the bubble in a tight Eastern Conference race while the Red Bulls can do themselves a huge service and come back into the playoff picture with a win. Out in the Western Conference, there is a real buzz around a Portland Timbers squad after a manager sacking. It could be a huge win for the Timbers and likely push them above the play-in round should they find a result against the Colorado Rapids.

Free Kicks

That’s all I have for you today, Mane Landers. I hope you all have a fantastic Saturday. Be safe on Sunday at the match. Stay hydrated and look out for those around you. Vamos Orlando!

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Three Keys to Victory

Here are three things the Lions need to do in order to set themselves up for a win over Inter Miami.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Wednesday’s match didn’t go the way anyone hoped it would, but now it’s time to turn our attention to a Sunday matchup with Inter Miami back in the comfortable confines of Exploria Stadium. What follows are three things that I believe will go a long way toward helping the Lions emerge victorious from the Tropic Thunder derby and keeping Florida purple.

Close Down Sergio Busquets

As many headlines as Lionel Messi has rightfully been getting since joining Major League Soccer, I think Busquets is just as important to Miami’s success. He remains an excellent midfielder and his ability to transition the team from defense into attack and link the two lines together is crucial. He has two assists and eight key passes in six MLS appearances and is passing with 92% accuracy —if you give him time, he will make you pay. Even if Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena mark him tightly, he’ll still manage to find space at times and affect the game because he’s that good of a player. But the Lions cannot afford to repeatedly give him time and space to get on the ball, pick up his head, and play a pass or he’ll cut OCSC to ribbons. Getting tight to him and making his life difficult won’t stop him every time, but it’ll make life a hell of a lot easier. As soon as Orlando loses the ball in Miami’s half, someone needs to find no. 5 and close him down.

Play With an Edge, but Don’t Go Over It

This is likely going to be an extremely, fast, physical and heated game. These two teams don’t have any love lost for each other, and if last game is any indication, then Orlando is going to try to use its physicality to disrupt Miami from playing its brand of soccer. That’s not a bad strategy, and it’s one that was largely working during the aforementioned Leagues Cup match until the penalty kick call in the second half. If the Lions are going to try to repeat the tactic, then they need to play with physicality and intensity while toeing the line of what’s acceptable to do during a soccer game. Going down a man isn’t going to do OCSC any favors, so the boys in purple are going to have to flirt with the edge of the cliff without falling headfirst over it.

Stay Organized Defensively

We’ve seen some shaky defending during Orlando’s last two matches. Runners in behind were a particular problem during the match against the Columbus Crew, while Wednesday’s loss to NYCFC saw Talles Magno largely unmarked between two Orlando defenders to score the header that sealed the Lions’ fate. OCSC will likely still be without Antonio Carlos, but the Lions are capable of much better defending than they’ve done during the last week and they need to show it. Even if Lionel Messi doesn’t play, Miami has a whole host of guys who can hurt you in Josef Martinez, Leonardo Campana, Benjamin Cremaschi, Robert Taylor and Facundo Farias. The Lions need to be much more keyed in on defense than they have been the last two games, otherwise one or more of those guys is going to make them pay. Orlando has the firepower to put the ball in the back of the net, but it won’t matter if the team is giving up multiple preventable goals at the other end of the field.

If the Lions execute those three things then they’ve got as good a chance as any of getting a result on Sunday. Vamos Orlando!

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