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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. FC Cincinnati: Player Grades and Man of the Match



Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor made just two changes for Orlando’s final road trip of the season as the Lions played their first MLS game in Cincinnati and drew 1-1 against FC Cincinnati.

Left back João Moutinho briefly returned from injury and made his first appearance since the U.S. Open Cup semifinal defeat back on Aug. 6. Elsewhere, Tesho Akindele returned to the starting lineup, replacing an injured Cristian Higuita with Mauricio Pereyra moving further back to cover for the Colombian midfielder. Here’s how everyone performed in a rough match for the Lions.


GK, Brian Rowe, 6.5 — Following last season’s debacle, Rowe has been a reliable stopgap at the goalkeeper position and yesterday was no exception. He was forced into his first of six saves in the 25th minute and 10 minutes later he reacted fast to push a laser from Roland Lamah away. But there was little Rowe could do on the goal as Allan Cruz was unmarked in the box and had plenty of time to pick his spot. He also once again showed how accomplished he is when collecting crosses, even when challenged, by out-leaping Cincinnati attackers.

D, João Moutinho, N/A — With Orlando rapidly running out of games to sneak into the playoffs O’Connor decided to roll the dice and rush his first choice left back into action. It was a risk worth taking despite looking foolish in hindsight, as Moutinho lasted just 13 minutes on the artificial turf before being forced off. He did complete 100% of his eight passes but it’s hard to put much stock into that. It wasn’t enough time to earn a grade, unfortunately.

D, Robin Jansson, 5.5 — Things were quiet for Jansson in the first half and it seemed like he took that opportunity to nap. The Swede had an incredibly static first 45 minutes and was one of the players least reactive to the midfield turnover that led to Cincinnati’s goal. Whatever was said at halftime seemed to wake him up as he did well in an ongoing battle with Emmanuel Ledesma, Cincinnati’s best player. However, Jansson was only credited with three defensive actions, including one tackle, indicative of how the game largely passed him by.

D, Lamine Sané, 6.5 — Unlike his central defensive partner, Sané looked pretty alert in the first half and was good at reading danger. He had the awareness and ability to keep pace with Joe Gyau on a quick throw-in, forcing the winger into taking his shot from a wide angle. His combined seven defensive actions were a team high, while he also made the fifth-most passes with 46.

D, Ruan, 4.5 — Ruan showed his inconsistency from game to game. Unfortunately, the Brazilian struggled in his advanced role high on the right wing. His passing was careless at best, connecting on a shockingly low 51.7%, while neither of his two cross attempts were successful. Considering the amount of traffic coming down his flank, only making two tackles seemed pretty poor given the volume of work.

MF, Will Johnson, 6.5 — Will Johnson covered every blade of grass in a marathon performance. He ripped off a trademark speculative first-time shot wide from distance in the 30th minute, one of three shots the Canadian took with none finding the target. He was surprisingly one of the more creative players with two key passes. With three tackles, one block, the second-most passes, and second-best pass completion, overall Johnson was probably one of the top three Lions in the game.

MF, Sebas Méndez, 5 — Sebas was a bit too reckless his enforcer role as he ended up getting booked by the end of the first half for persistent fouling. Sitting on that yellow and with a trailing Orlando struggling to create any clear chances, O’Connor made the decision to remove a largely ineffective Méndez in favor of the more attack-minded Chris Mueller. A solid 89.8% passing accuracy, best on the team, must be caveated with the largely pointless nature of those passes while he also ranked top for fouls conceded, with three.

MF, Mauricio Pereyra, 5.5 — Pereyra struggled in his deeper midfield role, losing the ball a team high five times, and is better suited to an attacking creative role than a box-to-box ball winner. A rather anonymous first half did give way to a quick start in the second half as the Uruguayan finally found a pocket of space and was able to cross a ball and pick out the head of Dom Dwyer. A team-high four dribbles shows the willingness and ability to go direct that Pereyra will offer to this team going forward in a more advanced role.

F, Nani, 6.5 (MotM) — Once again, it looked like if Orlando City was going to do anything it would come through Nani. It may have taken until the 91st minute, but the Portuguese international won a one-on-one and floated a cross that led to the late equalizer. Nani notched up an incredible 101 touches, significantly ahead of Pereyra, who was second with 74. He made three key passes, two dribbles, and attempted three shots. He also made the most passes with 79, although his completion percentage was down at 70.9% and only one of his seven cross attempts was successful.

F, Dom Dwyer, 6 — Stop the presses, I genuinely think Dom Dwyer played somewhat well. He had the thankless task of playing as a makeshift target man as Orlando struggled in its buildup play and unconvincingly forced the ball long — something that simply does not suit his skill set. The team played more into his hands in the second half as the striker headed a ball towards goal, forcing Przemysław Tytoń to palm the it over his crossbar. Dwyer tested the Polish keeper once again, spinning to shake off the defender after receiving a good ball from Nani but the near post shot on the turn lacked the necessary venom. Aside from Benji Michel’s goal, he was the only player to manage a shot on target.

F, Tesho Akindele, 5 — Akindele started the afternoon on the left side of a front three but frequently drifted centrally to try and break behind Cincinnati’s defense. It nearly worked as he reacted quickly to intercept a volleyed back pass but could only dangle a leg and stab the ball wide. He should have had an opportunity to head the equalizer from a short corner in the 55th minute, just before he was substituted off, but Nani lofted the ball in behind the Canadian and the chance was gone. He finished the day with only one shot, was dispossessed twice, and his pass completion rate of 57.9% was better than only Ruan.


D, Kyle Smith (14’), 6 — Smith entered the game earlier than he would have anticipated but it didn’t look like he took too long to get into the rhythm of the game. I was actually quite impressed as he ultimately led the team in tackles with five and totaled a team-leading seven defensive contributions — tied with Sané. He compiled one key pass, 37 passes, and an 86.5% completion rate, including one cross. We tend to think of Ruan as the more reliable attacking threat but Smith had much better day than his Brazilian counterpart yesterday.

F, Benji Michel (58’), 6 — Michel had one of those stat lines you’d expect from a second half substitute attacker. He didn’t get much of a look, but made sure to make the most of it when he did. With 11 total touches, he converted his only shot of the game as he found himself in the right spot at the right time to capitalize on the second ball from Dwyer’s contested header off Nani’s cross.

F, Chris Mueller (67’), 5.5 — Mueller entered the game with 23 minutes left to try to help his team overturn a one-goal deficit and it didn’t take long for him to take the opportunity. With the ball dropping to him at the top of the box, Mueller could only find the midriff of Greg Garza. He was probably the weakest of the three substitutes but he definitely seems to energize the team and give them a second wind on the offensive side of the ball.

So there you have it, the return of the Cardiac Cats in an otherwise damp squib of a game that officially saw Orlando City eliminated from playoff contention. Man of the Match was a pretty tough pick as it could have gone to a handful of guys who put in a respectable performance while others around them looked tired, disinterested, or short of ideas. in the end it’s hard to argue Nani wasn’t the difference maker. Do you agree or do you have your own choice? Vote in the poll below and let us know in the comments.

Polling Closed

Brian Rowe11
Lamine Sané2
Will Johnson8
Other (leave a comment)4

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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