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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Atlanta United: Final Score 1-0 as Lions Again Can’t Find the Net Against United

Orlando just can’t finish off a number of opportunities as the Lions again can’t force this series into rivalry status.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City is apparently Phil Connors on Groundhog Day, as for the third time this season the Lions were shut out against Atlanta United. The Lions (9-12-7, 34 points) played their best game of the three meetings this season but were wasteful in front of goal, as they fell 1-0 to the Eastern Conference leaders (15-9-3, 48 points) at Exploria Stadium. The loss snapped Orlando’s 2-0-2 unbeaten run and dropped the Lions to 0-6-2 in the all-time series in league play and 0-7-2 in all competitive matches.

The crowd of 23,014 saw the Lions play assertively from the jump and created the better chances in this one, but too many shots were off target or driven right at Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Defensively, the Lions didn’t allow many good looks, but one was all it took in the second half for Josef Martinez to run his goal-scoring streak to 12 straight games and net the game-winning goal.

Orlando created an incredible 17 chances in the game but somehow failed to find the net at the end of any of them — a fact Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor lamented in his postgame press conference.

“I think unfortunately for us tonight we’ve played very well, we’ve had exceptional chance creation, we just weren’t able to take our chances, which is just very hard to swallow. Very painful for us,” O’Connor said after the match. “Sometimes you have a game where you have a lot of shots and they’re maybe outside the box. They’re shots that maybe are difficult chances. I think when you look at the areas we got into, we should have either shot sooner or punished them.

“We can say we were unlucky, but for me, we were the architects of our own downfall, because when you have that many chances, you have to capitalize, and you have to take those chances — especially against a team like that, because they get a couple of chances and bang, it’s in the back of the net.”

O’Connor inserted Mauricio Pereyra into the starting lineup for the first time, pushing Sebas Mendez out of the starting XI. Nani moved to the left wing and Tesho Akindele replaced Dom Dwyer from Saturday’s lineup at Minnesota.

The Lions played their best half against Atlanta this season in the opening 45 minutes but couldn’t put the ball in the net. The visitors did well to deflect and block shots, but Orlando was also wasteful with chances, with Carlos Ascues in particular firing right at Guzan twice with a lot of net at which to shoot. Pereyra’s first home start began with a couple of early fouls that earned him a lecture from referee Nima Saghafi, but he was brilliant in the opening half, pulling the defense apart and finding teammates all over the attacking third.

Ascues’ first opportunity was blocked just five minutes in, as the Peruvian’s movement was good throughout the half and Atlanta’s defense concentrated more on Akindele. Ascues then tracked back well to block a shot on the other end seconds later.

At the seven-minute mark, Ascues again found himself with a good scoring opportunity but fired his shot right at Guzan.

A minute later, Benji Michel won a race to the end line and turned inside the defense, but he then grew impatient and fizzed a cross through the area to no one in particular.

Atlanta scored in the ninth minute but the play was offside. After Lamine Sané cleared a ball out to the right, Kyle Smith had his pass blocked over top of everyone to Martinez. The striker beat Brian Rowe but was well behind the back line when the ball was played and the flag nullified the goal.

In the 10th minute, Akindele beat Miles Robinson on the right and fired from a tight angle, only to see Guzan make a save at the near post, giving the Lions a corner.

Sané forced another Guzan save on the ensuing corner with a header on frame off Pereyra’s cross.

Nani sent Benj in behind in the 13th minute. He went down under contact but the flag had come up (though I’m not sure it should have).

Atlanta’ got a decent look in the 17th minute but Pity Martinez fired over the bar.

Pereyra sent Ascues in again in the 22nd minute, but Darlington Nagbe poked the ball away from behind at the last second to prevent a scoring chance. Nani took the ensuing corner short and it ended up on Michel’s foot. The rookie fired but saw his shot deflected, giving Guzan an easy ball to collect.

Pity Martinez sent a shot just inches wide of the back post in the 24th minute and Ezequiel Barco had a shot deflect easily in for Rowe in the 31st.

Orlando’s last good look of the half was another excellent pass from Pereyra to Ascues, who fired right at Guzan again.

The teams went to the locker room scoreless, with Orlando leading in shots (9-6) and shots on target (4-1). Atlanta blocked five of City’s efforts. Atlanta held 58% of the possession and was more accurate in passing (84%-76%) but you’d have to say the Lions had the better opportunities.

The teams were a little less sharp to start the second half but 15 minutes after the break the visitors took the lead. After winning a ball in the midfield, Atlanta broke in with numbers and Sané was caught upfield. Barco sent the ball left to Josef Martinez, who beat Rowe to make it 1-0.

“I think on their goal, quick transition and then Josef gets half a yard inside the box and it’s a goal,” O’Connor said. “His record speaks for itself.”

“I feel we were pushing numbers forward and maybe got too comfortable leaving ourselves 1-v-1 there,” said rookie defender Kamal Miller. “I got back late and it ended up a 2-v-2 and just they took their chance and that how it goes sometimes.”

Orlando fired 12 shots toward Atlanta’s net in the second half but not one of them was on target. Nani sent a shot just wide in the 62nd minute, then saw a dangerous cross almost knocked into the net for an own goal by Robinson. The captain then sent a beautiful chip pass to Ascues in the 65th but the Peruvian sent his shot just wide of goal, rippling the outside netting.

“I thought (Ascues) had some wonderful opportunities to score tonight,” O’Connor said. “I thought his understanding of space was excellent. Perhaps maybe could have shot a little quicker with a couple of those opportunities.”

Two minutes later, Nani fizzed a shot just wide of net.

Atlanta had a chance to double the lead in the 68th minute as Orlando got caught pushing forward for the equalizer. Martinez went for his brace by chipping Rowe but hit the left post. The ball came back to him and the Atlanta striker fired over the bar.

Uri Rosell got onto a Nani pass and fired off target in the 75th as the Lions continued to create but also continued to fail to put the final ball in the net.

Rowe made a huge mistake in the 80th minute but was able to clean up his own mess. His pass was picked off and gave Atlanta a 2-v-Rowe. Hector Villalba crossed over to Martinez but Rowe was able to come off his line to smother the chance.

A couple of more misses by both sides and the game was over. Before the final whistle, Nani got in a tussle with Julian Gressel and went down behind the play. Nani had been tugging Gressel’s shirt and the Atlanta star took exception, swinging at Nani’s head and making light contact. Gressel saw a yellow card for the infraction.

The Lions out-shot Atlanta, 21-15 (4-3 on target) but were wasteful with all of those efforts. Atlanta held a slight edge in possession, with 51%, and out-passed Orlando (82%-77%).

“When you look at the game overall, we’ve had enough chances to win two or three games,” O’Connor said. “You look at the guys. They’ve given everything tonight. On another evening you win four or five-nil or four or five-one.

“The biggest thing we have to do is keep creating the chances, keep getting the same level of commitment, the same effort, and persevere. If we do start taking those chances, we’ll start to give teams a good whack.”

“We created a lot of chances today,” said Pereyra, who stated after the game that he thought he might be able to go a full 90 minutes in the next match. “Against Atlanta you need to score on these chances. If not, they will have one and they will score and you lose this important game.”

Orlando City returns to the road for its next match, visiting the San Jose Earthquakes next Saturday at 10:30 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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