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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Portland Timbers: Final Score 2-1 as Lions Drop Final on a Pair of Set Pieces

The Lions stood toe to toe with the Timbers in the MLS is Back final but failed to deal with two set pieces and it was their undoing.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

An Orlando City team that dealt pretty well with set pieces all tournament long failed to deal with two of them, and that was all it took for the Portland Timbers to win 2-1 in the MLS is Back Tournament final. Portland center backs Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic, of all people, got on the scoreboard, and that was enough to best Mauricio Pereyra’s lone tally for the Lions at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

It was just Orlando’s second loss to the Timbers, as the Lions dropped to 3-2-1 in all competitions against Portland since joining MLS. The loss stings, particularly as it was a final, but Orlando City acquitted itself well throughout the tournament and Oscar Pareja credited the Timbers’ defense.

“We found a team that clogged the last third of the field and had their block very low, and we were missing that last pass,” Pareja said after the match. “I think they defended well. I think you have to give credit to a team that has it clear. They lowered the block and we couldn’t break it.”

Pareja went with the same lineup, starting at the back with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Sebas Mendez and Uri Rosell were the holding midfielders behind an attacking midfield of Nani, Pereyra, and Chris Mueller, with Tesho Akindele at the top of the formation.

The game began cautiously, with Orlando holding most of the possession but being deliberate in the buildup so as not to give Portland opportunities in transition. As a result, the first 15 minutes went by without a shot attempt before Mueller had one blocked at the top of the area.

A minute later, Portland got forward for perhaps the first time and a great long ball from Sebastian Blanco nearly picked out Jeremy Ebobisse, but Gallese came off his line to punch it away. The Peruvian got a piece of Ebobisse on the follow-through and the Timbers’ forward needed a few minutes to recover.

Pereyra sent Nani in behind with a gorgeous ball in the 19th minute, but instead of taking a first-time shot, he brought it down and Portland was able to knock it out for a corner.

The Timbers opened the scoring against the run of play in the 27th minute. On a rather harmless-looking, long-range set piece, Diego Valeri served up an incredible back-post ball for Mabiala, who fought off a challenge from Moutinho and headed it off of Gallese’s hand and into the net for a 1-0 Timbers lead.

The Lions continued probing and leveled the game in the 39th minute. Nani crossed in from the left side for Pereyra and the ball pinged off a couple legs as Eryk Williamson came in from behind to challenge. Pereyra recovered first and slotted just inside the near post to make it 1-1. It was the Uruguayan’s second goal of the tournament.

Orlando nearly got Mueller an excellent chance two minutes later, as the young winger got the ball at the top of the area and spun around to try to face goal, but he showed a bit too much of the ball and the Timbers’ defense was able to knock it away.

After Valeri tried to go under the wall on a dangerous late free kick, the teams went into the break knotted up at 1-1. Orlando led in shots (5-4, with each team getting one on target), possession (63.4%), and passing accuracy (90%-81%).

Portland tried to jump on Orlando early in the second half, but Valeri saw his free kick saved by Gallese in the 48th minute and Blanco fired a shot that Jansson blocked out for a corner in the 51st.

Orlando nearly pulled off a great team effort in the 54th minute, when Pereyra dropped deep, pulling Diego Chara out of the middle and sending a forward ball to Akindele, who laid off for Mueller. The latter then sent a cross to Nani but the captain didn’t make good contact on his first-time shot attempt and it sailed off target.

The Lions nearly scored two minutes later, when a layoff found Mendez in the box, but Mabiala came out to block his potential go-ahead shot.

Gallese then made two outstanding saves in the 65th minute to keep the game level. First, he dove right to parry a Valeri free kick wide of goal. On the ensuing corner, the ball deflected out to Ebobisse, who fired, and El Pulpo made a huge stop.

That only saved the Lions for the moment though, because the Timbers scored on the next corner. The cross from Valeri found Eryk Williamson near the top left corner of the box and he made a quick move to keep Pereyra from clearing, then sent in a weak shot that took a deflection to Zuparic, who touched it through Nani and into the net for the eventual game-winner in the 66th minute.

“We work hard on that part and things didn’t bounce our way. We made a couple of mistakes,” Pareja said of the set pieces. “But the team was prepared and these boys work hard on that part, and sometimes you win games on those actions. Sometimes you lose games like that. You have to accept it and improve it, even when you win it. Today was one of those games. They had two chances on set plays and they took advantage.”

The Lions got a few set pieces at the other end over the next several minutes but could do nothing with them. Then Ruan got forward and nearly picked out Akindele in the 75th minute with a cross, but the defense was again sharp for Portland and cleared the danger.

In the 82nd minute, Jansson sent a low free kick just wide of goal but Steve Clark looked to have it covered for the Timbers. Benji Michel won a free kick in the 89th minute but that nearly turned into an insurance goal for Portland. Pereyra didn’t get enough loft on his service and the Timbers countered with numbers. Valeri ended up with the ball, but Gallese again came up big with a save to keep the Lions in it.

Orlando should have equalized in stoppage time. A free kick found Jansson, who could only flick it on. Substitute Kyle Smith tried to pick it out of the air with the net gaping in front of him, but he couldn’t make good contact with the aerial ball and it sailed agonizingly over the bar.

That was that. The whistle went soon after and Orlando’s run came to an end.

Orlando finished with more shots (14-13), but the Lions weren’t sharp, getting only one on target to Portland’s six. City held 63.8% of the possession and was the more accurate passing team (89%-79%) but just couldn’t find that little bit of quality in front of goal.

Nani said that the team can take a lot away from its MLS is Back run.

“We learned we are a better team at this moment,” he said. “We improved as a group, as a club. And let’s be honest, we must accept that we are not the same team as before. And you all know that. You’ve all seen our games. You’ve seen this final. You’ve seen the way that we are playing. You see the way every team we play behaves against us.

“We know we are a team who needs to improve. But at this moment I’m so happy to be on this team, with this coach, with this staff. We took these two months to improve and we did it. And to every team in MLS now who will face us, they know they will face a strong team.”

That’s all for the tournament, folks. The Lions are back in regular-season action on Saturday, Aug. 22, when they will visit Inter Miami with kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m.

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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Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/28/23

Luciano Acosta named MVP, Americans in action, scheduling news for U.S. national teams, and more.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Happy Tuesday, everyone. I’m dragging a little today after having an extended period of time off for the Thanksgiving holiday, but there’s no rest for the wicked and the only way out is through. With that being the case, let’s get into today’s news.

Luciano Acosta Wins MLS MVP

In a piece of news that plenty of people likely saw coming from several miles away, Luciano Acosta has been named Major League Soccer’s Most Valuable Player. Acosta racked up 34 goal contributions during the regular season, finishing the 2023 campaign with 17 goals and 14 assists as the driving force behind his team’s run to the Supporters’ Shield. He was voted the best player in the league by quite some margin and won the award in a landslide, taking 60.37% of the votes to Denis Bouanga’s 14.97% and Thiago Almada’s 6.46%.

American Stars in Midweek Action

There are a number of United States Men’s National Team players that will be in action this week, with several UEFA Champions League clashes highlighting the viewing slate. Christian Pulisic, Yunus Musah and AC Milan will face Giovanni Reyna’s Borussia Dortmund today in a game with huge ramifications for both teams. Malik Tillman, Ricardo Pepi, and Sergino Dest may play in PSV Eindhoven’s match with Sevilla tomorrow, and a win would likely go a long way to securing a place in the Round of 16. Additionally on Wednesday, Brenden Aaronson and Union Berlin have a chance to make a big move towards a place in the Europa League, as a win over Braga would leapfrog the German club into third place in Group C.

USMNT & USWNT Scheduling News

The USMNT will open its 2024 slate of games with a match against Slovenia on Jan. 20 in San Antonio. The match will fall outside of an international window, meaning that the January camp roster will largely be made up of domestic-based players. The USMNT has faced Slovenia twice before, with the most recent time being a 3-2 win in Ljubljana courtesy of a Jozy Altidore penalty kick.

While we already knew that the United States Women’s National Team would play China PR on Dec. 5 in Frisco, we now know that one of the team’s legends will be honored before the game. The U.S. Soccer Federation has announced that former Orlando Pride defender Ali Krieger, who stated in March that she will retire following the NWSL season, will be honored before the match. Krieger played 108 games for the USWNT and is a two-time World Cup winner with the team.

Notable Women’s Players to Miss International Matches

A pair of high profile women’s players will miss upcoming international games. First up, Sam Kerr will not feature in Australia’s back-to-back friendlies against Canada due to a foot injury. Kerr has struggled with injuries this year and her availability was limited during this summer’s World Cup.

Alexia Putellas will miss Spain’s two Nations League matches against Sweden and Italy after picking up a left knee injury. Putellas had missed Euro 2022 due to an ACL tear, but was back to help her side win the World Cup several months ago. Fortunately for Spain, the team is well positioned atop its group and has enough players in the squad that it shouldn’t feel her absence too keenly.

Free Kicks

  • A pair of Willian penalties and an early Alex Iwobi goal helped Fulham beat Wolverhampton, with American defenders Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream also starting.
  • New York Red Bulls forward Tom Barlow is reportedly headed to the Chicago Fire.

That’s all I’ve got for you this morning. Y’all stay safe out there.

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