Nani’s goal in the 80th minute gave Orlando City a shot, but the Lions couldn’t find an equalizer after falling behind by multiple goals for the first time all season. Round 2 of Tropic Thunder went to Inter Miami, 3-2 at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.
It was the first gameday road trip under the new MLS pandemic travel rules for Orlando City (2-2-2, 8 points), and the Lions lacked sharpness in allowing two early first-half goals to Julian Carranza and an early second-half goal to Rodolfo Pizarro, giving Miami (1-5-0, 3 points) its first MLS win. It snapped a three-match league unbeaten streak (2-0-1) for the Lions, with all of those coming in the bubble, and knotted the season series between the two teams at one apiece. Hey, at least rookie Daryl Dike scored a goal (and added a hockey assist) in his first professional start.
After the match Head Coach Oscar Pareja said the Lions, as a group, were not sharp enough in their defensive third and promised the team will get back on track.
“We should defend those crosses better, obviously,” Pareja said of one of his biggest criticisms of the team’s performance. “
Pareja went mostly with his preferred MLS is Back Tournament lineup with two notable exceptions. Dike got his first MLS start up top in the striker position in place of Tesho Akindele (who was, himself, taking Dom Dwyer’s spot). Chris Mueller started on the bench rather than the right wing, with Junior Urso filling in. Aside from that, it was the usual suspects: Pedro Gallese in goal; Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan on the back line; Sebas Mendez and Uri Rosell in the holding midfield; and Nani and Mauricio Pereyra on the attacking midfield line with Urso.
“There’s many games coming and we come in also from a difficult tournament,” Pareja said about his decision to start Dike and Urso in place of Akindele and Mueller. “Unfortunately, I have to say as well that we didn’t feel comfortable. And there was minutes in the game where we wanted to have the ball, but we couldn’t occupy the space defensively. That creates a gap there that Miami took advantage.”
The Lions came out looking like the team with the longer layoff. There was a noticeable lack of sharpness in the midfield with passes either offline or a tad late and getting deflected, leading to Miami turning them over and getting forward. Miami’s first goal came just 12 minutes in, when Mendez tried a fancy back-heel pass in the midfield and picked out Miami’s Pizarro instead of his own teammate. Pizarro held the ball and then released Carranza, who beat Gallese with a hard shot from in close to make it 1-0.
Carranza got another opportunity two minutes later but Jansson made an important block to keep it a one-goal game. Lewis Morgan sent a couple of dangerous crosses through the area as Miami kept pressing forward.
The Lions struck back in the 18th minute. Dike made a nice spin move to beat Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, got down the right and sent a cannon shot that Luis Robles fought off. Dike was the first to react and had a second effort blocked, then he spun around, reset, and sent a shot off Andrés Reyes and past Robles for his first MLS goal, making it a 1-1 game.
“It felt phenomenal,” Dike said of scoring his first MLS goal. “I mean throughout the season, through our preseason, throughout my entire life, you know we’ve always worked super hard. Everyone around me has worked super hard with me to have moments like these.”
The game didn’t stay tied long. Ben Sweat sent a cross into the area in the 23rd minute and it looked like Jansson had it covered. But he either didn’t get enough air or jumped a split second early, allowing Carranza to get onto it and head it back across the face of goal and inside the back post to make it 2-1.
The Lions were better after the hydration break but didn’t create a lot on the offensive end. Without Mueller in the game, Ruan had nobody but defensive midfielders to play off of, as Mauricio Pereyra and Nani dropped deeper to get on the ball. Ruan did make a decent cross in the 44th minute, but Miami got a piece of it and Moutinho got under his volley attempt, sending it high into the Fort Lauderdale night.
Both teams had six shot attempts in the opening half but Miami got more on target (3-2). Orlando City held 63.2% of the ball but it was largely unproductive possession as they Lions continuously allowed themselves to get squeezed once they got to midfield. The Lions were the better passing team (88%-82%) but it was Orlando turnovers that gave Miami its chances.
Unfortunately, Miami added to its lead just moments after the restart. The Lions fell asleep defensively, leaving both Pizarro and Matias Pellegrini all alone on the left side of the penalty area. A simple ball in from Miami’s right side was deflected on and fell to the last guy Orlando wanted to see get onto it. Pizarro had only to pick out his spot to make it 3-1 in the 49th minute.
“With that third goal coming out of nowhere, it hurt us,” Pareja said.
Pizarro nearly put the match out of reach a minute later on a 1-v-1 opportunity with Antonio Carlos but he sent a shot off the far post.
Orlando dodged another bullet in the 55th minute when Rosell blocked a Pizarro cross intended for Victor Ulloa, who was all alone in front of goal, as the Lions continued to look a bit confused defensively.
The Lions then started to claw back into the match, settling down and getting the ball through Miami’s low block and into dangerous areas, working from outside in. Pareja said substituting Mueller on for Urso helped the team start creating more chances and using the wider spaces better against Miami’s low defensive block.
Ruan sent in a good cross in the 56th but Nani couldn’t quite get across the front of his defender to put a head on it. Then Nani sent a good ball through the area in the 60th that Dike tried to flick toward goal but he couldn’t pick it out of the air. Dike then nearly got in alone in the 61st, but Reyes made a vital last-ditch tackle.
Moutinho fizzed a dangerous ball just a bit too far out in front of second-half sub Mueller in the 68th minute. Mueller had a shot blocked a minute later, as the Lions continued to try to find a lifeline in the match.
Mueller nearly got that lifeline in the 74th minute. Akindele, who had only come on a few minutes earlier, sent a good cross through the six and Mueller made a sliding lunge at it but the ball hit Robles and stayed out.
Orlando finally pulled within striking distance in the 80th. Dike took a pass from Ruan in the box on the right side but was walled off by Gonzalez Pirez. Rather than force a bad shot or try to do too much, the rookie made a heads-up play to lay it off for Mueller, who sent a cross to the back post. This time Nani timed it well and got in behind his man, heading home to make it 3-2.
Orlando City kept fighting to find an equalizer. Nani fought off a blatant hold by Dylan Nealis in the 83rd minute and fired a shot right at Robles. He may have been better served getting the free kick at the left side of the box, but that’s easy to say after the shot.
The clock wound down and the final good opportunity came in the 91st minute. Nani sent a deceptive shot toward goal from the right that caught the crossbar and bounced over. The Lions appealed for a corner, but the referee ruled that Robles didn’t get a touch. Moments later, the match was over and Miami had its first win.
Orlando out-shot Inter Miami 12-11 (5-4 on target) for the game, out-possessed the hosts (64.6%), and was the more accurate passing side (88%-78%), but it was the Herons claiming the points in their first ever home game.
The Lions had ample opportunities to score but the difference in the game was some poor passing early in the game and a lack of defensive sharpness at the start of the second half.
On the other hand, this was easily Dike’s best performance of his young career, although the decision to start Urso ahead of Mueller didn’t work out quite as well.
The Lions will try to bounce back Wednesday night at home at 7:30 p.m. in their first-ever meeting with Nashville SC.
Lion Links: 3/1/24
Orlando’s girls teams playing in national event this weekend, USWNT will face Colombia, Paul Pogba banned for four years, and more.
Welcome to March! It always feels like a good sign when a month starts on a Friday. Spring may not officially be here, but it definitely feels like winter is truly behind us. I plan on getting plenty of spring cleaning done this weekend before a fairly busy month. Let’s get this month started with today’s links!
ECNL Girls National Event Kicks Off Today
Some of the best youth soccer players are coming to Florida this weekend for the Elite Club National League’s spring event at Lakewood Ranch. It’s a great chance for clubs to play teams outside of their conference and there are plenty of scouts to impress as well. Orlando City will have four youth teams take part and each team will play at least three games over the three days. Orlando’s G07 squad has notably won five of its eight games in conference play and will take on Real Colorado National today. Orlando’s squads in the other age groups have some strong opponents lined up as well, so it should be a great experience for the club.
USWNT Will Face Colombia in Concacaf W Gold Cup
After finishing second in its group after a loss to Mexico, the United States Women’s National Team will take on Colombia this Sunday in the Concacaf W Gold Cup quarterfinals. The U.S. and Colombia squared off in friendlies last fall, with the teams playing to a scoreless draw in Utah before the U.S. won 3-0 in San Diego a few days later. Colombia also finished second in its group, conceding just once so far this tournament. The winner of Sunday’s match will play whichever team advances from tomorrow’s game between Canada and Costa Rica. On the other side of the bracket, Orlando Pride players square off when Rafaelle, Adriana, and Brazil play Mariana Larroquette and Argentina tomorrow. The winner of that match will play the victor between Mexico and Paraguay.
Portland Timbers Cut Ties With Jersey Sponsor
The Portland Timbers have dropped DaBella Exteriors as their jersey sponsor amid allegations that the company’s CEO, Donnie McMillan, Jr., sexually harassed employees. The accusations did not become public until Feb. 23 and the Timbers have removed DaBella’s image from their website as well. It makes sense that the Timbers would want to distance themselves from this. There was an investigation by U.S. Soccer in 2022 regarding former Portland Thorns head coach Paul Riley, and the club was also fined by MLS for not reporting an incident of alleged domestic violence involving former Timbers player Andy Polo in a timely manner. DaBella replaced Alaska Airlines as the team’s shirt sponsor for this season and the Timbers will now go without one until a new sponsor is chosen.
Paul Pogba Banned for Four Years
After testing positive for testosterone while playing for Juventus, French midfielder Paul Pogba was banned for the maximum four years by Italy’s anti-doping court. In response to the ruling, Pogba stated that the verdict was “incorrect” and that he will appeal this decision.
“I am sad, shocked and heartbroken that everything I have built in my professional playing career has been taken away from me,” Pogba said. “When I am free of legal restrictions the full story will become clear, but I have never knowingly or deliberately taken any supplements that violate anti-doping regulations.”
It’s fair to wonder just where this news leaves his career if his appeal is denied and he serves the full ban. Pogba turns 31 later this month and he is still under contract with Juventus through 2026, although this ban may obviously change that. Injuries have limited him in recent years as well, as he missed out on the most recent World Cup with France.
- Toronto FC signed English midfielder Matty Longstaff to a contract through the 2025 season. Longstaff has previous played for Newcastle United and should help improve a Toronto team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2020.
- LA Galaxy midfielder Mark Delgado’s second yellow card he received in his team’s opener has been rescinded and he’s eligible for Saturday’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Delgado was sent off while the Galaxy were up against Inter Miami, and the Herons then went on to score and leave with a point.
- The New England Revolution beat Independiente to advance to the Concacaf Champions Cup’s round of 16.
- Bay FC forward Racheal Kundananji had to exit Zambia’s Olympic qualifier against Ghana due to an injury.
- The United States Men’s National Team’s next away kit was reportedly leaked and it sure is something. It’s like a Bomb Pop got mixed into the team’s laundry.
- The USL Super League’s Fort Lauderdale United unveiled its branding and the colors are pretty nice. However, the logo has a bit too much alphabet soup going on for my liking.
- An Atletico Madrid supporter was arrested for racially abusing an eight-year-old who was wearing a Vinicius Junior jersey last year. I’m glad they were able to find the person responsible for this. It’s disgusting behavior that needs to be removed from the sport.
- Vladimir Petkovic was hired as Algeria’s next head coach and will manage the team through 2026 World Cup qualifying. Algeria failed to make it out of the group stage of the recent Africa Cup of Nations and has not qualified for the past two World Cups.
- Grace Wilson became the first Australian soccer player to come out as non-binary. Hopefully this helps make things a little easier for other athletes wishing to come out in the future.
- Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn was named as a part owner of the Utah Royals.
- Wayne Rooney stated that he wants to manage either Manchester United or Everton in the next 10 years. He was just fired by Birmingham City in January.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!
Orlando City at Inter Miami: Three Keys to Victory
What does Orlando City need to do to defeat Inter Miami in Fort Lauderdale this Saturday?
This Saturday Orlando City travels to Fort Lauderdale to take on in-state rival Inter Miami. Despite having to pay for a part of Lionel Messi’s salary, the Lions will not get to have him play any time for Orlando City, which is kind of messed up, isn’t it? Regardless, the Lions will look to maintain their undefeated start to the year with a win down South.
What does Orlando City need to do to bring home all three points from Chase Stadium?
Get a Midfielder on Messi
It isn’t easy to stop Messi, but that is what defensive midfielders Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena must do in this match. They are arguably the best defensive midfield pairing in MLS and will need to prove it against one of the best to ever play the game. When Orlando City played Messi and Miami in the U.S. Open Cup last year, they were able to frustrate him and he should have been sent off just before halftime for a second yellow-worthy foul he committed to stop Araujo from getting to a loose ball first to start the counter. He is very entitled and doesn’t like being challenged by the likes of those two. Doing so smartly will be the key because of our next key below.
Don’t Give the Refs Anything
MLS and the referees will never admit that they made calls that benefit Miami and Messi in particular, but that’s because they want us to not believe our lying eyes. It’s unfair and wrong, but also a fact of life. As such, the Lions need to make sure that they don’t do anything even remotely close to the type of foul that will allow the refs to swing things the Herons’ way. Of course, that might not stop them from doing so, but playing clean and smart is the best chance to limit the impact the officiating has on the match. Balancing that will being aggressive enough to stop them will be tricky to say the least.
Score, Score, Score
You can be sure we will see a first-choice lineup from Oscar Pareja this Saturday. That means that the Lions need to press for goals early and often. Score enough goals and the referees can’t hurt you. Whether it’s Duncan McGuire, Facundo Torres, Luis Muriel, Ivan Angulo, Nico Lodeiro, or even Kyle Smith, the team needs to put the ball in the back of the net. Getting the early lead — especially if it’s two goals — will mean a lot to the flow of the game. Once again, I don’t particularly care where those goals come from, just that they happen.
That is what I will be looking for this Saturday. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 2/29/24
Lions reportedly won’t play in U.S. Open Cup, Cavalry FC reflects on its defeat, gauging the USWNT’s panic meter, and more.
Happy Leap Day, Mane Landers! It’s the rarest day of the year, as we all lean into our procrastination a bit and collectively tell March that we’ll get to it tomorrow. It’s been a pretty busy week for me, but knowing the MLS season is in full swing has helped fuel me a bit. Let’s dive into today’s links!
Orlando City Reportedly Won’t Play in 2024 U.S. Open Cup
The latest reports involving Major League Soccer’s participation in this year’s U.S. Open Cup indicate that Orlando City, along with a majority of MLS teams, won’t be playing their first teams in the tournament. According to ESPN‘s Jeff Carlisle, the Houston Dynamo and the seven best teams from last season that aren’t taking part in the Concacaf Champions Cup will have their first teams take part. The format will reportedly be announced soon and we’ll see if Orlando City B and other MLS NEXT Pro teams will be in the tournament.
It will be pretty disappointing if Orlando’s first team doesn’t end up playing. Even though the Lions suffered an early exit last year, they won in 2022 and Head Coach Oscar Pareja has a penchant for excelling in the U.S. Open Cup.
Cavalry FC Reflects on Loss to Orlando City
Although Cavalry FC lost in both legs against Orlando City in its first Concacaf Champions Cup campaign, the Canadian club can hold its head high. Cavalry Head Coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. spoke on the team’s tactics in the second leg in Orlando to overcome the hefty aggregate deficit.
“Strategically, we wanted to frustrate them in the first half with an extra defender, and often at times we were in a back five,” Wheeldon said. “And second half, we wanted to unleash with more attackers and have a go, because it was 0-0. We thought … one, we wanted to make history with our first goal, and two, we wanted to get a result here.”
That first goal did come with Myer Bevan making some history for his team to take back to Canada. All in all, Cavalry did pretty well as the underdog and it’s unfortunate it didn’t get a true home game in Calgary. Cavalry’s defense is the real deal and I doubt this is the last time it makes an appearance in the Champions Cup.
Assessing the Fallout From the USWNT’s Defeat
The United States Women’s National Team suffered a shocking defeat to Mexico earlier this week that’s brought on varying levels of panic. The clock is ticking before the Olympics and the USWNT struggled to bounce back after trailing in the first half and had difficulties on both sides of the ball. While the issues at center back will likely be solved once Naomi Girma and Tierna Davidson play, the midfield has plenty of question marks and a weird balance of youth and experience. It’s an awkward stage for the USWNT, as Emma Hayes doesn’t arrive until May and won’t have much time to get the team ready for Paris. Of course, the USWNT could still win this tournament and the return of Mallory Swanson may heal most wounds this summer, leaving this loss as just a minor blemish when the year is up. Only time will tell and the USWNT has plenty of opportunity to right the ship.
FA Cup Quarterfinals Are Set
It was a pretty wild day in the FA Cup, with some of England’s top teams fighting their way into the quarterfinals. Chelsea needed a late winner from Conor Gallagher to beat Leeds United 3-2 at Stamford Bridge. Manchester United’s match against Nottingham Forest also had a dramatic finish, as United’s Casemiro scored the game’s only goal in the 89th minute. Wolverhampton ousted Brighton thanks to an early goal, and Liverpool got the job done against Southampton.
In the quarterfinals, Newcastle will travel to take on Manchester City, Wolverhampton will host the second division’s Conventry City, Chelsea will take on Leicester City, and Manchester United will face off against Liverpool. All four matches will take place on March 16.
- After getting married, Orlando Pride defender Emily Madril will have a new name on the back of her jersey this season.
- Former Pride midfielder Becky Edwards is an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee and shared details about her time as both a player and coach with the U.S. U-20 team.
- Enjoy this captured moment of Orlando midfielder Wilder Cartagena being awesome.
- LAFC forward Mateusz Bogusz’s strike against the Seattle Sounders won the first MLS Goal of the Matchday of the season, claiming 35.4% of the vote.
- FC Cincinnati beat Cavalier 4-0 in the Champions Cup to advance to the round of 16, where it will take on Brandon Vazquez and Monterrey.
- Spain beat France 2-0 to win the inaugural Women’s Nations League final, with Aitana Bonmati and Mariona Caldentey both scoring.
- American midfielder Johnny Cardoso was named La Liga’s U-23 Player of the Month after a strong February with Real Betis.
- After missing the past weekend, American forward Folarin Balogun will no longer be taking penalty kicks for AS Monaco.
- Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly the frontrunners to land striker Victor Osimhen, who just had a hat trick in Napoli’s 6-1 win over Sassuolo.
- Former Manchester United defender John O’Shea will serve as Ireland’s interim head coach for a pair of friendlies in March.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a pretty great Leap Day and that the rest of the week goes smoothly.
Lion Links: 3/1/24
Orlando City at Inter Miami: Three Keys to Victory
Lion Links: 2/29/24
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