Nani came up big, notching a brace and getting a secondary assist on Benji Michel’s late insurance goal, leading Orlando City to a 3-1 win over Minnesota United at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. With the victory, the Lions will face Portland next Tuesday in the MLS is Back final.
It was Orlando’s first win over Minnesota and first win against the Lions’ original coach, Adrian Heath. It was also the Loons’ first loss of 2020. Quietly, Orlando has lost only one match this season (2-1-2, 8 points in league play, 4-0-2 in MLS is Back). The Loons are 3-0-2, with 11 points in the regular season and finish this tournament with a 2-1-3 record.
“We’re very happy to be in the final,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “It’s been a great tournament and a great opportunity for our players to represent the franchise and the club and I think they have done a great job. And very well deserved to be in the final — and tonight against a very good team.”
Pareja went with the same lineup, meaning Pedro Gallese defended the sticks behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Uri Rosell and Sebas Mendez patrolled the central midfield behind Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Chris Mueller, with Tesho Akindele up top.
The match was delayed an hour and 11 minutes due to lightning in the area but Orlando finally did kick off. Once that happened, the Lions opened the game a bit flat, conceding two early corners and having very little of the ball in the opening 10 minutes. Ruan did get forward in the seventh minute, but rather than cross it in, he fired toward goal and Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller parried it away.
Gallese then parried a wayward Chase Gasper cross from long distance over the bar in the 12th minute. The Lions came into the game little by little and Akindele should have opened the scoring in the 15th minute. Ruan got down the right side again and picked out Tesho but the Canadian couldn’t hold off Jose Aja and ended up bundling the ball over the bar from in close.
Nani sent a free kick right at Miller in the 21st minute and it was the only one of the captain’s three first-half shots that didn’t find the back of the net. Two minutes later he brought down a long ball with a perfect first touch and laid off for Mueller, who fired a left-footed effort well wide of goal. Then Pereyra should have had Akindele in alone in the 26th minute but Tesho couldn’t find the handle on the pass from the Uruguayan.
Minnesota nearly got in behind in the 29th minute when Gasper sent a long diagonal ball from left to right. Luis Amarilla nearly got on the end of it after sneaking in between Moutinho and Jansson.
In the 35th minute, Pereyra again found Akindele, who put the ball in the net but the flag was up. The Canadian started his run a little early as a result of Pereyra’s first touch being a little off and needing an extra step to track down the ball. The Lions were getting close but having no final product, as had been the case throughout the tournament. That lasted only one more minute.
Jansson sent a fantastic long ball from the back to Nani on the left. The captain brought the ball down perfectly once again and fought through contact from Hassani Dotson and poked the ball past Miller to make it 1-0 in the 36th minute.
Orlando kept coming. Ruan got down the right on a promising counter in the 41st minute with options all over the place, but the right back’s cross was poor and got deflected to Miller. But Nani doubled the lead a minute later anyway.
The captain received the ball from Mendez on the left side. Given too much room to operate, he took a step to his right and curled a banger into the far corner to make it 2-0 as the 42nd minute was ticking off.
“It’s great, you know, to have players who take that responsibility and put that weight on their shoulders, and appear in the games that mean the most to us,” Pareja said of Nani.
The Lions fended off two late Minnesota corner kick opportunities in first-half stoppage time, before the whistle brought an end to the opening period. Orlando City led in shots (5-4), shots on goal (3-0), possession (54.5%) and passing accuracy (84%-80%), but it was Nani’s quality that separated the sides at the break.
The Loons pushed the tempo in the second half and Orlando City seemed content to absorb pressure and be deliberate whenever the Lions had possession. That meant most of the second half was played in Orlando City’s half of the field, particularly after Heath brought on substitutes Kevin Molino, Mason Toye, and Raheem Edwards.
Minnesota spent seemingly the entire final 45 minutes (plus six minutes of stoppage time) either taking corners, free kicks or throw-ins. Jan Gregus fizzed a free kick opportunity wide of goal in the 62nd minute as the Loons kept the pressure on. Molino drew a series of free kicks after that and all three looked like they should have been fouls on him, particularly throwing out his arm and catching Mendez in the face in the 68th minute.
Ruan should have put the game away in the 71st minute. He got in down the right and was all alone for a free header on a cross from the left, but he missed the net somehow.
Gallese made a good save to deny Edwards in the 75th on another free kick won by Molino, who pulled Urso back to get around him and then when the Bear got a toe on the ball, Molino appeared to trip over it but Drew Fischer gave the Loons the set piece.
Michael Boxhall headed just over Gallese’s bar in the 77th on a set piece that was given when Moutinho was undercut while jumping but again the whistle went against Orlando. Urso was fouled again in the 80th and lost the ball, but there was no call and Molino’s shot was caught by Gallese.
Molino finally hurt the Lions in the 83rd minute, with a superb through ball that found Toye, who shot right away. Gallese got a touch to it but couldn’t keep it out and Minnesota pulled within 2-1 with plenty of time remaining. Toye might have been offside by a shoulder but video review judged the goal to be a fair one.
The Loons could have tied it in the 94th minute. Toye was all alone in front as a cross sailed in from his right but he couldn’t make good contact on it and the chance went wanting. Orlando then put the match away.
Urso got the ball near midfield from Nani and sent Michel in behind all of the Loons except Miller. Michel coolly rounded the keeper and slotted home the insurance goal in the 96th minute.
“I just knew it was a good chance for us to counter,” Michel said. “So you know I just gave all my energy — I came off the bench so I expect myself to give a spark to the team and I just knew that there was a chance for me to score. Urso played me the ball one-v-one then I was through and I was able to beat the keeper and put the ball back in the back of the net.”
The whistle blew just after the restart and Orlando had its first win over its original coach, first win over the Loons, and first trip to a final in the MLS era.
Minnesota came back to dominate the stat sheet, finishing with a 17-7 advantage in shots, although Orlando held a 4-3 edge in shots on target. Possession ended up at just about 50/50, and the Lions held onto their 84%-80% edge in passing accuracy. Minnesota managed 13 corners to just three for the Lions.
“It was very satisfying for us because you know we worked the whole week just, just like working as a team, making sure like all the pieces are put together,” Michel said. “But, you know the guys worked tremendously hard and for us to be able to get the win was very, very good for us.”
“It was really hard to get at Minnesota,” Pareja said. “They came sharp and we adjusted well. And the best part was that we respected the way we play and we respected our ways, our forms, and we ended up getting that result under our concepts and principles and that’s why they made us even more proud.”
Orlando City will meet the Portland Timbers with the MLS is Back trophy and a Concacaf Champions League berth on the line next Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.
2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Junior Urso
The Bear returned unexpectedly in the middle of the season to bolster the Orlando midfield.
Midfielder Junior Urso joined Orlando City on Jan. 13, 2020 from Brazilian giants Corinthians on a multi-year deal. The Bear spent three years in purple before he and the club mutually agreed to part ways, terminating his contract for personal reasons on Nov. 10, 2022. Upon his return to Brazil, Urso joined Coritiba, but injuries limited him to just seven appearances. In a surprise move, Urso rejoined Orlando City on July 19, returning to the City Beautiful and accepting a backup role behind the Lions’ double pivot of Wilder Cartagena and Cesar Araujo.
Let’s take a look back at Urso’s 2023 campaign.
Urso made his return to the pitch for Orlando City on Aug. 20, following the club’s run in Leagues Cup. In the MLS regular season, Urso made nine appearances (two starts), logging 250 minutes. Urso did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting just three shots, none of which found the target. The Bear completed 78.3% of his 115 total pass attempts but did not record a key pass or a successful cross. Defensively, Urso tallied two interceptions, five tackles, and five clearances. He committed two fouls, drew two on the opposition, and was booked just once.
The Brazilian also appeared in all three of Orlando City’s playoff matches, all off the bench, totaling 98 minutes. He did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting three shots, one of which was on target. He completed 86.4% of his passes, including three key passes, but did not connect on a cross. Urso chipped in one tackle defensively, committed two fouls, suffered three, and was not booked in the postseason.
With a little less than a third of a season in purple and gold and serving primarily as a reserve player, Urso’s best match was his regular-season appearance on the road against Nashville SC on Oct. 4. The Bear came on for Facundo Torres in the 72nd minute and did what fans have always expected of him, which is to frustrate the living hell out of the opponent. Urso made sure that Nashville knew that he had entered the game, winning countless throw-ins, allowing Orlando to walk away with its first road victory at Nashville. Urso also recorded a shot in the match, which was the Lions’ only attempt other than Duncan McGuire’s goal, although it was perhaps a bit generous to call it a shot attempt. He passed at a 72.2% rate and recorded a tackle and a clearance and did his job helping the Lions see out a tight victory.
2023 Final Grade
As Urso came up short of the minimum total of 450 minutes played 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. While it was a surreal experience just to see the Bear back on the pitch for Orlando City after his sudden departure, a delayed return to the pitch due to a lingering knock and the play of the midfielders in front of him on the depth chart limited his ability to leave his mark on the season. However, it’s difficult to put a grade on the experience he brought to the squad.
Orlando City has yet to announce its end-of-season roster decisions as of this writing, but with Wilder Cartagena’s loan spell expired, the Lions would be wise to pick up Urso’s contract option for the 2024 season. If that happens, he would likely take up the No. 8 role with Araujo playing the No. 6 in Orlando’s double pivot (assuming Oscar Pareja also returns). Urso could split time at the No. 8 if Orlando adds a new starting No. 10, because in that case, Mauricio Pereyra might see some time in that spot. If a permanent transfer or loan extension for Cartagena is secured, Urso provides value off the bench, although he’s a bit pricey for a backup at $360,000.
Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)
Lion Links: 12/5/23
Exploria Stadium will host Copa America games, Pride reportedly make offer for Crystal Dunn, Americans in midweek action, and more.
Good morning, everyone. I’m still dragging a little bit after having a shortened weekend due to work, but I hope all of you were able to hit the ground running yesterday and started your weeks off on the right note. As usual, there’s a lot of interesting things to discuss today, so let’s get after it.
Exploria Stadium Picked as Copa America Venue
The host cities and venues for next summer’s Copa America tournament were revealed and Orlando City’s Exploria Stadium has been chosen. The Lions’ home will have games on June 29 and July 1, and both games could be very important ones as they will take place during the final day of play for Groups A and C. We also know that the USMNT will play its group stage games in Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City. The semifinal matches will be held at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, with Charlotte also hosting the third-place game. We’ll know very soon which teams will be playing in Orlando, as the draw will take place on Thursday.
Orlando Pride Reportedly Make an Offer for Crystal Dunn
The Orlando Pride have reportedly made a large offer to bring Crystal Dunn to Orlando, with CBS Sports reporting the amount prepared by the Pride to be more than $400,000. However, negotiations between the Pride and Dunn are reportedly no longer ongoing.
The 31-year-old is a free agent after announcing that she was not returning to the Portland Thorns after three seasons there. She is one of the more notable free agents this off-season and the Washington Spirit and NJ/NY Gotham FC are also interested in signing her ahead of the 2024 season.
Americans in Midweek Action
There are a number of American players who will be playing games this week, so make sure you have some of these marked down on your calendar. First up is a match that could feature up to three players currently in the USMNT pool, as Jordan Pefok, Joe Scally, and Borussia Monchengladbach will face Kevin Paredes and Wolfsburg in the DFB Pokal. Tomorrow sees Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson, and Fulham playing Matt Turner’s Nottingham Forest, although the USMNT’s starting goalkeeper is not likely to play. The week finishes with Juventus and Weston McKennie facing Napoli in league play, although Tim Weah is still an injury doubt.
USWNT Aims for Change in Mentality
The 2024 calendar year is going to be an important one for the United States Women’s National Team, and the team wants to start it off on the right foot. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore is viewing today’s match against China as a chance for the team to continue building a new identity and to keep developing tactically after a disappointing early exit from this summer’s World Cup. While Emma Hayes has been named the team’s new head coach, she won’t officially join up until Chelsea’s club season ends in May. Until that happens, there’s plenty of work to be done with the Gold Cup just around the corner in March, followed by the Olympics in Paris in July.
The Soccer Tournament Adds Women’s Competition
Following the success of last year’s first edition of The Soccer Tournament, the organizers have added a women’s competition for next summer’s event. The seven-a-side tournament will now also feature an eight-team women’s bracket which will also have a $1 million prize up for grabs. The decision was made after an all-women’s team led by Heather O’Reilly drew significant support when it competed last year, despite not picking up a win. The men’s tournament will also be expanding to 48 teams for this year’s competition, after featuring 32 participants during the summer.
- Ramiro Enrique has been called up to Argentina’s training camp for its 2024 Olympic team.
- Orlando City’s documentary about the 2022 U.S. Open Cup victory has won a Suncoast Emmy.
- In the 2023 Women’s College Cup final, Florida State beat Stanford 5-1 to win its fourth national championship.
- David de Gea is reportedly open to signing for Newcastle United following Nick Pope’s shoulder dislocation.
- The English FA has charged Manchester City with failing to control its players, following Erling Haaland’s reaction on social media to a decision made by referee Simon Hooper.
That’s all that I have for today. Y’all stay safe out there.
Lion Links: 12/4/23
Crew to host MLS Cup final, LAFC returns to MLS Cup, Tim Howard to be inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame, and more.
Good Monday morning, Mane Landers. The weekend brought us some drama-filled conference final action, and we now know who will play for the MLS Cup. But before I dive into that, I just want to take a quick minute to say with mixed emotions that this will be my final Lion Links here, but don’t be sad, because the rest of the boys will still be bringing your daily content needs and coverage. I’ll be stepping away as my wife and I are soon to be first-time parents, and I’m looking forward to all that entails. I appreciate each and every one of you readers for taking the time to scroll through my articles each week. If you’re interested in writing for TML, we could definitely use the help so please reach out. Now, let’s get into the links!
Columbus Crew Claim Hell Is Real Comeback
After a rocky start, the Columbus Crew became the first team to overcome a two-goal deficit on the road and advance in a single-leg round in the history of the MLS Cup playoffs. FC Cincinnati got off to a great start behind USMNT striker Brandon Vasquez, who opened the scoring, but it was captain Luciano Acosta’s sublime free kick finish that stole the show in the first half.
It took trusting the process and the tactics of their first-year manager Wilfried Nancy, but the Columbus Crew fought back with late match heroics to seal the victory. Forward Christian Ramirez bagged the game-winning goal in extra time in the 115th minute.
“You can only fight for someone like that,” said Ramirez. “So many times you can feel that you’re getting the bad end of the stick at certain moments, but I haven’t felt that. I think numerous guys understand how he sees the game now, and we respect that. We talk about writing our story in the Columbus Crew history; this chapter wasn’t done. We got one more week, one more game.”
LAFC Returns to MLS Cup
The league’s defending champion, LAFC, will once again be playing in the final match of the postseason. After frustrating the Houston Dynamo throughout the Western Conference final, LAFC won 2-0. Houston might have dominated the stat sheet in possession, passes, and passing accuracy, but really it was just playing into the gameplan of LAFC.
“We knew that’s what they wanted. They wanted the ball,” said LAFC right back Ryan Hollingshead. “They like to play this little tiki-taka in the middle of the field, these little movements, little one-twos, three of their guys just kind of pass the ball, but they’re going nowhere. And so we just said, do whatever you got, have the ball as long as you want. They created zero dangerous chances. They had a half-chance in the first half on a cross to Baird and that was it. And so a lot of these teams, it’s like, yeah, they’ve got possession, they may be moving the ball. But if they’re not creating dangerous chances, who cares?”
MLS Cup Final Preview
The Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew will host Western Conference champion LAFC at Lower.com Field on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m for the MLS Cup. The match will be No. 53 across all competitions this campaign for LAFC, and a victory would make the club the first repeat winners since the 2011-2012 LA Galaxy. The storylines leading to the match will likely center around the possibility of it being Carlos Vela’s final game for LAFC, but for the Crew, the bench players will be the ones to watch. In the 65th minute of the Eastern Conference final, Head Coach Wilfried Nancy brought in Julian Gressel and Christian Ramirez, who both played a pivotal role in two of the three Columbus goals in the comeback victory. The Crew last lifted the MLS Cup in 2020, defeating Seattle Sounders 3-0 at Historic Crew Stadium.
2024 National Soccer Hall of Fame
On May 4, the National Soccer Hall of Fame will induct its 2024 class. Most notable will be long-time USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played 121 matches for the United States and had a successful career in the English Premier League. Other inductees will be USWNT World Cup winner Tisha Venturini-Hoch, 1996 Paralympic captain Josh McKinney, and USL founder Francisco Marcos.
Orlando Reportedly Set to Host USMNT-Brazil Friendly
The United States Men’s National Team is reportedly far along in negotiations to face Brazil in Orlando for a friendly leading to next year’s Copa America. The Yanks and Brazil last met in September 2018 in a friendly match in East Rutherford, NJ. The United States will host the Copa America from June 19 to July 14 as one of six invited teams to the South American competition. Brazil enter as the defending champion and should prove a worthy test for the Stars & Stripes to tune up for the Southern American title.
- Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.
- Liverpool scored in the 87th and 88th minutes to win 4-3 and climb to second in the EPL standings on 31 points.
- Manchester City and Tottenham played to a thrilling 3-3 draw that might find Erling Haaland charged by the English Football Association for criticizing the performance of the referees.
- Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen saw an eight-game winning run in the league come to an end with a 1-1 draw.
- Inter Milan secured a 3-0 victory at Napoli to reach the top of the Serie A table.
- Arsenal will face Liverpool in a massive FA Cup third-round clash in January.
- Wrexham reached the third round of FA Cup after defeating Yeovil Town 3-0.
That’s a wrap for my personal writing here for a while. It has been a pleasure to bring some coverage to you all for the past couple seasons. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. Vamos Orlando!
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