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Orlando City vs. Sporting Kansas City: Final Score 1-0 as Akindele’s Goal Lifts Lions

Lions notch a vital home win to inch closer in the playoff hunt.



Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

Tesho Akindele scored the game’s only goal as the Lions evened their 2019 record to .500 (6-6-1) at Exploria Stadium with a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City. Orlando City (9-11-6, 33 points) got a much-needed win in the playoff race despite a general lack of sharpness, especially in the second half, but Sporting (7-11-7, 28 points) could not take advantage of constant turnovers by the Lions after halftime to find an equalizer.

With their ninth win of the season, the Lions moved one ahead of last season’s eight. Orlando’s seventh shutout of the year matches the club single-season record set in 2015 and matched in 2017.

“I gotta try to catch me breath after that,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “Look, it wasn’t pretty. We had some passages that you think, ‘OK, yeah, first half, not bad.’ Nice goal. Some good chances first half. Second half just became a complete game of transition and for us it became pure heart.”

O’Connor stuck with a 4-2-3-1, replacing Robinho with Akindele in the starting XI from Saturday’s lineup at Toronto. Santiago Patino returned to the bench and Robinho didn’t dress. Ruan (hamstring) was out, along with Joao Moutinho (hamstring), and Cristian Higuita (hamstring).

Orlando should have scored in just the second minute. Chris Mueller’s cross found Dom Dwyer wide open at the back post but he didn’t make good contact and his case of the yips continued on. The forward has to be seeing shadows out there at this point.

Sporting’s first shot came two minutes later when Jimmy Medranda fired at Brian Rowe from distance with an effort that didn’t trouble the Orlando goalkeeper.

The Lions’ lineup was dealt a blow — literally — in the eighth minute. Kyle Smith played a give-and-go and made a nice run into space. Instead of giving him the ball back, Mueller took a shot that was deflected into the air. Tim Melia came off his line to catch it and Smith ran full speed into his elbow, cutting him above the eye. Smith stayed down on the turf and was treated by the training staff before going to the locker room and getting six stitches. Shane O’Neill replaced him officially in the 12th minute.

“I thought the first half was all right,” O’Neill said. “We had the ball, going forward. Felt really good. I felt like I was growing into the game and kind of expressing myself. And then the second half it was tough. The second half was very tough. They pinned us back. Obviously Russell is a tough guy to go one against one with. But I think for the most part we did a good job.”

The teams exchanged possessions for a bit until Orlando opened the scoring in the 21st minute. Uri Rosell slipped a pass to Carlos Ascues, and the Peruvian cut back a pass for Akindele as Dwyer drew defenders toward the goal to open space. The Canadian smashed the ball into the net past Melia to make it 1-0.

“I saw Dom make a good hard run into the box and I saw some space around the six,” Akindele said. “I thought, if I move there and the ball comes to me I could score. I don’t even think Carlos looked, he just put the ball in a good area and I was there and was able to finish it. But Dom took two or three defenders away with him, which led to the goal.”

The Lions had only a few half chances after that. Mueller put a bit too much sauce on a ball that could have sprung Dwyer in behind in the 28th minute. After Johnny Russell’s header from a bad angle went over the bar in the 31st minute, Akindele took a pass from Nani but flicked it just wide of goal in the 33rd.

Nani and Felipe Gutierrez got into it, and both earned a yellow card in the 37th minute, before Graham Zusi fired wide in the 40th with the last half chance for either side in the opening half.

Shots were even at the break at 4-4 (1-1 on target). Sporting Kansas City held more of the ball (54%) and passed more efficiently (88%-82%) in the opening half.

The second half completely belonged to the visitors, as the Lions struggled to maintain possession, wasting numerous good opportunities to go on and score a second goal with misplaced passes, bad reads, or heavy touches. The game devolved into almost entirely transition after the break. O’Connor said the humid conditions adversely affected the quality of play of both teams.

“To be honest the humidity played a huge factor in the game tonight,” O’Connor said. “I think you could see both teams were really impacted by the humidity, and that’s when you need the character and the heart to be able to push though. That’s the one massive credit I can give the players, is the heart and the commitment that they showed to dig in and to push through because it was very tough conditions tonight.”

Robin Jansson made the first of several good defensive plays in the second half when he ran down a ball and made a sliding challenge to keep second-half sub Erik Hurtado from having a breakaway just three minutes after the restart.

In the 58th, halftime sub Benji Michel had a chance to play Dwyer in but he hesitated to make the pass and then delivered a poor one, wasting an early second-half chance for Orlando.

Russell fired a shot from distance in the 63rd that went way over the bar as the Orlando defense did well to limit space in the penalty area and leave Sporting with long-range opportunities.

Dwyer took a pass from Akindele in the 67th minute but with no real angle to shoot he tried to finesse through the defense and lost the ball to veteran Matt Besler.

SKC’s first dangerous opportunity came at the 68-minute mark when sub Benny Feilhaber fired a shot but it was hit right at Rowe.

A minute later, Sporting went on the counter after a wayward cross in the attacking end by O’Neill but Jansson was again there to make a vital stop on a sparkling night for the beefy Swede.

Dwyer saw a shot finally on target in the 72nd minute but it was blocked out in front. A minute later the striker showed some good hold-up play and sent the ball into space for Michel but the flag came up a beat after Benji took a heavy touch and then had his shot blocked by Melia.

Roger Espinoza nearly tied the game in spectacular fashion in the 77th minute with a back-heel try at the top of the six but he hit the shot toward Rowe, who gratefully covered it.

Sporting then started a parade of corner kicks — most of which were taken short as the visitors dominated possession. They nearly drew level in the 83rd when Feilhaber snuck in behind O’Neill and took a pass from Espinoza, but the midfielder sent his shot just wide, wasting Sporting’s best chance of the entire night.

“There were one or two lapses and we got away with it, but at the end of the day the most important thing was getting a win,” O’Neill said. “We just dug it out.”

Moments after another vital blocked cross by Jansson, the Lions could have put the game away in the 89th minute in transition. Nani got the ball wide on the right and played in substitute Sacha Kljestan. Melia came off his line and Kljestan tried to chip him but the goalkeeper got a piece and Gutierrez swooped in and cleared the ball off the line.

Seconds later, Jansson made yet another outstanding 1-v-1 challenge to deny Hurtado a breakaway. Orlando then saw out the five minutes of stoppage and laid claim to another victory to move to 2-0-1 at home and 2-2-1 overall in the all-time league series against SKC.

The visitors led in shots (14-8), shots on target (3-2), possession (56%), and passing accuracy (85%-81%) but the Lions led the only statistic that matters.

The Lions knew they didn’t play their best game but were satisfied with getting the three points.

“I think I’m happy we won,” Akindele said. “Do I think we play the best we could have? No. But that’s kind of like the mark of a good team, I think. Sometimes you play good, sometimes you don’t, but good teams find a way to win. That’s what we did today and that’s what’s most important.”

The Lions have a short turnaround with a trip to face Minnesota United on Saturday night.

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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