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Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire: Final Score 5-2 as Lions End Season on Eight-Game Winless Skid

Orlando conceded three times in seven minutes just after being denied what appeared a sure penalty, and finish 11th in the East.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City lost center back Robin Jansson to injury, then went on to give up a bunch of goals, losing 5-2 to the Chicago Fire at Exploria Stadium in the team’s final game of the 2019 MLS season. Despite Tesho Akindele’s opening goal just four minutes in, the Lions allowed an equalizer before halftime, then completely fell apart in the second half.

The Lions (9-15-10, 37 points) end the season with a losing home record (6-8-3) and in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Orlando has still never beaten the Fire (10-12-12, 42 points) at home (0-2-3).

Kyle Smith scored an own goal for Chicago that perhaps should have been credited to C.J. Sapong (who added a goal later). Aleksander Katai added a goal for the Fire and Przemyslaw Frankowski scored a brace. Benji Michel added a second for Orlando.

“Obviously very disappointing finish to the season,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “It’s just a really bitter way to finish the season.”

Lamine Sané was forced out of O’Connor’s lineup due to illness, Michel replaced Dom Dwyer in the starting lineup, and Uri Rosell stepped into the midfield for Sebas Mendez, otherwise it was the preferred starting lineup (minus the injured Joao Moutinho, of course).

It didn’t take Orlando long to get on the scoreboard. It nearly happened in the second minute when Kenneth Kronholm made two outstanding saves to deny Mauricio Pereyra and Michel in successive attempts.

But the Lions broke through two minutes later anyway.

A long ball from Pereyra sent Michel in behind the defense. The rookie rounded goalkeeper Kronholm but his touch was heavy and took him wide. Michel sent the ball to Akindele, who sent a shot off the right post that hit the back of Kronholm’s legs and went in, giving the Lions a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute. The goal was originally called offside in the buildup on Michel but video review showed Michel was onside and the goal counted.

It was Orlando’s earliest goal from the start of the game all season.

Chicago equalized in the 17th minute. After several good crosses in from the right by Katai, the Fire finally paid one off. Katai fizzed a ball into the middle that Sapong got a foot on. The ball hit off Smith and went in for what was called an own goal.

Kronholm was outstanding in net for Chicago in the first half and kept the Fire from falling back behind. The first stop was in the 22nd, when Nani and Pereyra combined to send Akindele in behind. The Canadian left his shot too close to Kronholm, who made the stop.

The next big save came at the other end, with Brian Rowe making a spectacular diving stop on a Brandt Bronico drive from just outside the penalty area in the 30th minute.

The ensuing corner kick resulted in disaster for Orlando. Sapong barreled into Jansson in the air, sending the Swede toward the turf. Jansson’s head hit Smith’s knee as he fell and the defender had to be stretchered off on a back brace and in a neck collar for precautionary reasons. He was sent to the hospital to get checked out for a potential neck injury and Shane O’Neill took his place on defense.

Kronholm robbed Michel of a goal in the 41st minute as his excellent first half continued.

After nine minutes of first-half stoppage due largely to the Jansson injury, the teams went to the break tied at 1-1. Chicago held most of the possession in the first half (56%) and was the more accurate passing side (89%-84%), while Orlando had more shots (7-5) and shots on target (6-1).

Chicago came out with some early pressure in the second half, looking to break the stalemate. Frankowski missed a shot over the bar early in the half, but the game really turned after a play in the 58th minute.

Orlando got a chance in close, with Akindele getting sent in by second-half sub Sacha Kljestan. Tesho crossed right to left for Michel to tap it in but the rookie was shoved from the top of the six all the way over the goal line and into the net by Johan Kappelhof. The ball trickled through to Klestan who fired just wide from a tight angle but the bigger issue was that no foul was given for what seemed to be a pretty clear denial of a goal-scoring opportunity.

“I felt like I was fouled,” Michel said after the game. “But I guess the ref saw otherwise. I can’t really think about that play. I’ve just got to keep going. Whatever he calls, he calls.”

Three minutes later, the Fire started a three-goal barrage in just seven minutes. Sapong started things in the 61st with Sapong putting Chicago in front for good. O’Neill was slow in closing down the striker who one-timed a pass from Fabian Herbers into the net to make it 2-1.

“Even before their second goal we’ve had…goodness…who knows how many chances,” O’Connor said. “That’s pretty indicative of how the season has gone for us.”

Two minutes later, Katai twice got Kamal Miller leaning the wrong way and drove home a left-footed shot just inside the far corner.

Four minutes after that, Frankowski got the ball with his back to goal in the area. After Smith went to ground trying to clear it, he simply back-heeled it into the net.

Rowe made a save on a 3-on-2 break in the 69th to keep the score at 4-1.

Nani said teams that miss so many chances are susceptible to conceding when the ball isn’t going in.

“It’s almost the same as the last couple of games,” Nani said. “We had the chance to kill, the chance to put our opponents down, and the (missed) chances probably gave the other team the chance to score a goal and gave them confidence. And we go down in our motivation and our belief if we can win the game. The last five games are almost the same.”

Kljestan set up Michel for a consolation goal in the 75th, splitting the Chicago center backs with a perfect pass. The rookie turned and fired home to make it 4-2.

The game got chippy over the next 10 minutes with some nasty challenges by the Fire that drew two yellow cards and a retaliatory foul by Pereyra that earned a booking.

Orlando should have pulled closer in the 85th minute. A perfect ball from Kljestan to the back post found second-half sub Chris Mueller, but the second-year man didn’t go for goal and instead nodded the ball across for Michel, who let it bounce, then smashed it right at Kronholm, who fought it off.

Frankowski completed his brace in the 87th minute, getting into the area behind the defense. Rowe made the initial save on the shot but then stood watching, expecting the ball to sail out of play. Instead, the pop-up came down in play and Frankowski nodded it in unchallenged to make it 5-2 on an embarrassing play for Orlando City.

Just for good measure, Nani got 1-v-1 with Kronholm, then fired off the right post in stoppage time as yet another chance went wasted.

The final whistle mercifully blew the proceedings to a close, and in true Orlando frustrating fashion, it was just as the Lions had won a corner. Chicago ended with a 20-17 shots advantage, with Orlando getting more on goal (10-9). The Fire held 53% of the possession and were the more accurate passers (88%-85%).

O’Connor was frustrated with Orlando’s inability to put Chicago away early despite some outstanding scoring chances. Kronholm played his part in that but there were some good opportunities where the Lions simply didn’t finish.

“The chances that we didn’t capitalize on tonight, it’s just incredible,” he said. “You can’t miss the volume of chances like that.”

“We just weren’t clinical enough,” Michel added.


That’s all, folks. Another crummy season is over, but at least this is the first time it was a better season than the previous one since the Lions entered MLS. There’s nothing left to do now but wait to see what changes the team undergoes in preparation for 2020.

Orlando City

Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew

Find out what you should expect from the Columbus Crew on Saturday, courtesy of someone who knows them best.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

After returning from a successful trip to the West Coast, Orlando City will be staying in town for Memorial Day weekend. Next up on the schedule for the Lions is a visit from the reigning MLS Cup Champions, the Columbus Crew.

A date with Columbus means I spoke with Collin Johnson of the always excellent Massive Report, and he was kind enough to help bring us up to speed on what to expect from the Crew this year. I also answered some of Massive Report’s questions about Orlando City, which you can find over at their place.

Talk me through the Crew’s off-season transfer business. Who were some of the big departures, and who has been brought in to replace them?

Collin Johnson: It was a pretty quiet off-season from the Crew. They focused on extending current contracts (and getting rid of bad contracts) rather than bringing in a big name acquisition. The bigger news were the contracts they were able to get rid of. Kevin Molino’s $700k+ salary was bought out before the season started, while Julian Gressel ($900k+) opted to take a deal with Inter Miami after losing his place in the starting lineup during the 2023 MLS Cup playoffs.

Rudy Camacho, Steven Moreira, Darlington Nagbe, Mohamed Farsi, and Sean Zawadzki all signed new deals. Academy and Crew 2 midfielders Cole Mrowka and Taha Habroune signed full first-team deals, though both are expected to jump back and forth between the second team and the first team. Derrick Jones was signed as a free agent. Many thought the very tall defensive midfielder would slot in as a center back in the Wilfried Nancy system, but all of his time has been spent as a DM (and it has gone relatively well aside from a shocking red card against Charlotte).

The only transfer fee paid this off-season was, ironically, to Pachuca for Marino Hinestroza. Hinestroza is an MLS U22 Initiative player who plays a similar style to Alex Matan but is faster and a bit better at finishing. With Hinestroza on the field, Columbus looks to stretch defenses in a different way than the typical wingback defensive stretching.

Columbus has been excellent defensively, with the 13 goals conceded on the season tied for second-fewest in the league. What’s been working so well at the back?

CJ: The defensive recovery extends back to the 2023 season and probably has two factors. First is the team getting comfortable in the Wilfried Nancy system. The expectation is that players will hold onto the ball until the last second before playing a pass to get out of trouble. At times last year that resulted in turnovers and goals by opponents. You can really see this in the play of Yeven Cheberko. Cheberko struggled in his half season with the Black & Gold in 2023 but this season has played like a new signing, splitting time as the starting left center back. Cheberko has the ability to break multiple lines with his passing, and now that he has improved in his Nancy system confidence, he has begun to live up with the potential he had as a new signing.

The other factor is Rudy Camacho. Camacho joined in the summer transfer window from Montreal, so he was already familiar with the Nancy system. Immediately he slotted into the center spot of the back three and conducted the rest of the defense. As soon as he joined the team, the defense took a huge step forward.

The Crew have done about as good a job balancing Concacaf Champions Cup play and the MLS schedule as possible, and currently sit above the playoff line. How have they been able to find a good balance, when most teams struggle mightily in one competition or the other?

CJ: Realistically it has been a bit of a struggle. Columbus is getting results now but most of the matches during the meat of the Concacaf Champions Cup run were draws. When the Crew beat Montreal on May 16, that was their first league win since March 16. Still, grabbing some draws during that run and staying alive in the playoff hunt are absolutely accomplishments for this team. Part of the reason for this success is the team’s depth. Hinestroza adds another attacking option up top while Derrick Jones is able to spell Aidan Morris/Darlington Nagbe in the midfield. Zawadzki has been a Swiss Army knife for the Black & Gold, slotting in at nearly every position on the field aside from goalkeeper. Nancy has also been willing to use his substitutes after a 2023 season when his sub pattern was frustratingly limited.

The Black & Gold also have the good fortune to get a bye through the group stage of this summer’s Leagues Cup, so they can push a bit harder during a congested few months with the expectation of multiple weeks off in July.

Are there any players who will be unavailable due to injury, suspensions, etc.? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?

CJ: Cucho Hernandez is officially out for Saturday’s match. He has had a nagging back injury and it is expected that he is being held out as a precaution and to be healthy for the Concacaf Champions Cup final in June. Without Cucho these last two weeks, the Crew have grabbed back-to-back road wins for the first time in what seems like forever. Without Cucho, the attack is a bit more multi-faceted. Diego Rossi has picked up the slack and started to look like the former Golden Boot winner that he is.

Rossi will start with a target striker, assuming this is Christian Ramirez, and likely Alex Matan. Depending on the game state, Nancy will slot Jacen Russell-Rowe into Matan’s spot to attack with two target strikers up top. The midfield duo of Nagbe and Morris is a mainstay, though the team has tried to manage Morris’ minutes as the season has gone on. Expect to see Zawadzki or Jones replace Morris/Nagbe around the 75th or 80th minute. In the back we’ll see Yaw Yeboah, Malte Admundsen or Cheberko, Camacho, Steven Moreira, and Mohamed Farsi.

I’m guessing the below is what they roll out:
Patrick Schulte; Malte Amundsen, Rudy Camacho, Steven Moreira, Yaw Yeboah, Mohamed Farsi; Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe; Alex Matan, Christian Ramirez, Diego Rossi.

I don’t see Columbus grabbing a third straight road win but they are playing well right now so I’m guessing we see a hard-fought draw. Columbus 2-2 Orlando. 


Thank you to Collin for providing the scoop on the Crew. Vamos Orlando!

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 5/24/24

Orlando City prepares for the Crew, Barbra Banda an NWSL MVP favorite, Orlando Pride announce sleeve sponsor, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

Happy Friday! The gauntlet of Orlando soccer home games starts tonight when the Orlando Pride take on the Portland Thorns in a clash of win streaks. I’m working for most of the weekend, but am looking forward to watching some soccer and playing my way through the Ace Attorney games during my spare time. For now though, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.

Orlando City Gets Ready to Host the Crew

Orlando City is on a three-game unbeaten run and will take on the Columbus Crew Saturday night in an Eastern Conference showdown. The last time these two sides met was in the 2023 Eastern Conference semifinals with the Crew winning in extra time to eliminate the Lions. It’s the third consecutive road game for the Crew after winning 3-1 against both CF Montreal and the Chicago Fire. Saturday’s match is also the Crew’s last match before the Concacaf Champions Cup final on June 1. Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja spoke on how the Lions will be up to the task regardless of which players take the field for Columbus. Pareja also spoke about how Duncan McGuire is working his way back from the injury he suffered last week.

Barbra Banda Named MVP Frontrunner

ESPN updated its rankings of players in contention to be named NWSL MVP this season and Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda tops the list. The Zambian forward hasn’t been with the Pride for long, but she has scored six goals in six games to help the Pride win seven straight games. Opposing defenses haven’t figured out a way to stop her, and it’s fair to think of her as an MVP favorite alongside fellow attackers in the league like Sophia Smith and Temwa Chawinga. Pride defender Emily Sams also earned herself a spot on the list, ranking 11th. It’s nice to see her get some deserved recognition for her role in the Pride’s stellar defense this year.

Orlando Pride Announce Sleeve Sponsor

A partnership was announced between the Orlando Pride and Heart of Florida United Way, a charity that’s supported families in Central Florida for the past 85 years. As part of the partnership, Heart of Florida United Way will become the first sleeve sponsor for the Pride and its logo will be on the right sleeve of both of the Pride’s jerseys this year. A new ticket program is also being created for 50 tickets to be donated to a local charity for each Pride home game.

Orlando City Unveils Watch Party Schedule

The schedule for this Orlando City season’s watch parties is out, along with the lineup of this year’s included pubs. Each pub will have MLS Season Pass access for fans to watch Orlando’s games this year and there will be chances to win tickets and autographed items at the watch parties as well. There are three new pubs added to the lineup this year, including The Castle Irish Pub at College Park, Paddywagon Irish Pub in Dr. Phillips, and Winter Garden’s Hagan O’Reilly’s. The first watch party will be at The Hammered Lamb in Ivanhoe Village on June 1 when the Lions face off against the New York Red Bulls.

Free Kicks

  • Pride midfielder Evelina Duljan was called up to join Sweden’s U-23 team for the upcoming Four Nations Tournament.
  • NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman became the first woman to be named Sports Business Journal‘s Sports Executive of the Year.

That’s all I have for you this time around. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Three Keys to Victory

What does Orlando City need to do to earn all three points at home against the Crew?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City earned seven points during a three-match stretch over eight days. Now the Lions will look to keep things rolling against the Columbus Crew this Saturday night at Inter&Co Stadium. The Crew are currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 21 points compared to Orlando City in 10th with 16 points.

What do the Lions need to do to get a victory at home against the Crew?

Switch Focus

Orlando City has lucked out because Columbus striker Cucho Hernández will not play, as he is nursing a back injury. Hernández has often been a thorn in Orlando’s side when the clubs play, so his absence is definitely good news. However, that doesn’t mean that the defense can relax. The Crew still have a potent attack with players like Diego Rossi, Jacen Russell-Rowe, Aidan Morris, and others. Columbus has scored 19 goals so far this season, which is four more than Orlando’s 15. I think it is likely that Oscar Pareja will stick with the 3-5-2 formation, meaning the pressure will be on the back three of David Brekalo, Wilder Cartagena, and Rodrigo Schlegel.

Goals Needed

Orlando City left it late against San Jose before Jack Lynn scored in the 89th minute to give the Lions a victory. That’s not to say there weren’t wasted chances — because there were — but it was enough that night. It likely won’t be enough against Columbus. We don’t know the status of Duncan McGuire’s injury as of this writing, but I would be surprised to see him in the lineup, let alone getting the start. That means we will likely see Jack Lynn alongside Luis Muriel up top. Lynn is no McGuire, but he is able to get into good spaces in the box and has a nose for goal. Another goal from him or Muriel could make a big difference.

Scheduling Factors

I’m not saying that Wilfried Nancy will be looking ahead to the Concacaf Champions Cup final against Pachuca the following week, but a trophy is a trophy, and it could impact who he plays and for how long. He might be keeping Hernández out for precautionary reasons to allow him time to be ready for the final. It’s possible that he risks points against Orlando City in pursuit of hardware. Pareja doesn’t have it any easier with Orlando City playing a midweek match at the Chicago Fire next Wednesday before heading to New Jersey for a match against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, June 1. May has been brutal for the Lions, and though the team has made the most of it so far, it doesn’t get any easier. How much will rotation affect Orlando’s ability to get all three points?


That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!

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