Connect with us

Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Minnesota United FC: Final Score 3-1 as Nani’s Brace Leads Lions into Final

The Lions finally beat Adrian Heath and the Loons and are headed to the MLS is Back title match.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

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.

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!

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading