Some draws feel like wins and others feel like losses. Tonight’s 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium will go firmly into the latter for Orlando City. The Lions (4-2-4, 16 points) squandered numerous scoring chances throughout the game and made a deadly late turnover that gave Atlanta United (3-4-2, 11 points) the possession needed to steal a point late. Benji Michel put the Lions ahead in first-half stoppage time, but Adam Jahn’s header in second-half stoppage gave the visitors a point they had no business taking home.
Where a point might have once felt good against Atlanta, it certainly doesn’t tonight as the Lions owned this match and simply threw away far too many good opportunities to put it away. Orlando City is now 1-6-3 in the all-time series against Atlanta (1-7-3 in all competitions), and the Lions got their first ever point at home against the Five Stripes, “improving” to 0-4-1 at Exploria Stadium in the series.
“We have to put the games away when we can,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match, referring to the team’s lack of finishing. “It’s an ongoing process but the players know deep inside that they had a great game today. But we’re not there yet and we’re going to keep working.”
Pareja’s starting XI included Pedro Gallese in goal as usual, with Kamal Miller filling in for the injured Joao Moutinho at left back, alongside Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Uri Rosell and Sebas Mendez manned the central midfield with attacking midfielders Chris Mueller, Michel, and Mauricio Pereyra. Daryl Dike started up top.
Atlanta started the match pressing frantically to try to turn the Lions over, but Orlando handled it well and kept most of the ball for the opening 10 minutes. Mendez was set up nicely at the top of the area in the fourth minute, but he popped his shot high into the air and over the goal. The Lions looked to have a good counter going shortly after that, but Ruan sent his cross into the seats.
Once Atlanta got the ball, the Five Stripes started to keep it and hold onto it, probing for scoring chances. Orlando got whistled for several fouls to set up free kicks, helping the Five Stripes get set pieces, but they weren’t able to do much with them.
Mueller found some space outside the area in the middle in the 17th minute but didn’t get all of his shot, giving Brad Guzan an easy save.
Gallese made a save on Cubo Torres in the 27th minute after Mendez gambled during a double-team and ran past the Atlanta striker, igniting the opposition’s break.
After two weak shot attempts earlier in the game, Mendez nearly scored in the 34th minute, redirecting a cross from Michel toward the near post. Guzan stuck out a foot at the last second to make a vital save.
Orlando kept creating chances off of turnovers but not doing much with them. Mueller sent a great inside-out cross through the area for Michel in the 37th minute but Benji fired wide under heavy pressure from the defense. His shouts for a penalty went unheeded by the referee.
In the 39th minute, Orlando worked the ball up the left side and Mueller was fouled behind the play. With Dike on the ball and Orlando seemingly poised for an excellent scoring chance, the referee stopped play for no apparent reason and pulled the play back for a free kick. Carlos headed wide on the ensuing free kick.
Michel got inside in the 44th minute but he couldn’t get his shot on target and another chance was wasted. But the Lions finally broke through in first-half stoppage time.
A corner kick cross fell in the box and Dike was the first to react, spinning and firing toward goal. The shot was going to go wide but instead it hit Michel and deflected past Guzan to make it 1-0. Atlanta appealed for an offside call but Anton Walkes was clearly keeping Michel onside and the Lions took a lead into the break. It was Michel’s second goal in as many games and Dike’s third assist of the season.
Orlando finished the first half leading in shots (11-3), shots on goal (3-2), and passing percentage (81%-76%), but Atlanta held more possession (52.2%).
The Lions nearly conceded right out of the locker room again, which has been an issue this season. Torres headed just wide from in front, as Carlos had followed his man across the formation in the buildup, but his teammates failed to adequately cover for him.
Orlando City then created two more opportunities in the 50th but wasted them. On the first, Ruan made mincemeat of his defender at the end line but saw his cross cut out and on the second Michel nearly got in behind but George Bello made a last-ditch tackle to deny the shot.
Gallese comfortably denied Ezequiel Barco’s free kick attempt in the 62nd minute.
In the 67th minute, Orlando again failed to convert an excellent chance. Mueller sent Michel in to the area and the second-year player waited to make a decision, taking an extra touch. By the time he decided to shoot, Michel scuffed the shot and a golden opportunity didn’t even threaten Guzan in goal.
Nani, who entered the game as a second-half substitute, nearly doubled the lead in the 79th on a free kick after Junior Urso was taken down on the counter. Nani — who Pareja said hadn’t been starting the last couple of matches due to some inflammation in his groin — fired a shot off the left post. Urso got a touch on the rebound’s high bounce, with a gaping wide net, but he couldn’t make good contact with it and the Atlanta defense cleared it before it could cross the line.
Jahn nearly tied the game a minute later, splitting the two center backs and getting his head to a cross but he hit it at Gallese, who was well positioned to make the save.
The Lions appeared to be in control and comfortable as time wound down but a turnover changed the game’s outcome in stoppage time. Miller played a dangerous pass up the middle rather than safely to the side, where his teammates were directing him to go. His pass instead went straight into the feet of Emerson Hyndman, giving up possession unnecessarily. Atlanta poured numbers forward and the ball cycled over to the left to late sub Jake Mulraney, who fired in a cross. Miller ended up on Jahn and failed to deal with the forward, who got up and smashed a header into the corner where Gallese couldn’t reach it, tying the game in the 92nd minute.
Orlando fashioned one more good chance as Nani got to a bit of an off-line pass and toe-poked it across for Ruan on the right. Ruan had a good look but fizzed his shot wide of Guzan’s goal and time ran out moments later.
The Lions out-shot Atlanta 15-9, but the visitors were sharper, getting more on target (6-4). Atlanta’s passing improved while Orlando’s tailed off, with the Five Stripes finishing with an 85%-83% advantage to go along with 55.9% of the possession.
Dike called the 1-1 final “a pretty frustrating result.”
“You know, we fought really hard the entire game we had a lot of a lot of chances to go and finish,” he said. “I mean, you know, things aren’t always going to bounce your way. So, you know, on to the next one. I think maybe historically you know, the rivalry here, Atlanta sometimes might have come out on top and I think it says a lot about the expectations we have on ourselves that a draw isn’t enough for us anymore — that we expect to win every single game.”
“This week we just need to have a good week of practice, prepare for Miami, and then put this game behind us,” said Kyle Smith.
“Now we have a week to prepare our game against Miami, which is a tough rival also,” Pareja said. “But for sure is going to help us to recover some of the players because it has been tough activity for them with no resting.”
There’s just one match left on the schedule as announced so far, with the Lions hosting Inter Miami next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. to close Phase 1.
Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Three Keys to Victory
What does Orlando City need to do to secure all three points in the home opener against CF Montreal?
Orlando City will host CF Montreal in the club’s first match of the 2024 MLS regular season this Saturday night. The Lions are coming off the Concacaf Champions Cup match against Cavalry FC Wednesday night. Orlando City will want to get things started the right way as expectations and aspirations are higher than ever for the club.
What does Orlando City need to do to secure a victory in the home opener against their Canadian opponents?
Orlando City has four matches in 11 days — the previously mentioned Wednesday match against Cavalry in Canada, the match against Montreal on Saturday, the return match against Cavalry in Orlando next Tuesday, and then a trip to Ft. Lauderdale to take on Inter Miami. That is quite a start to competitive play in 2024.
Because of the schedule congestion, Oscar Pareja will need to rotate players. That means we’re not likely to have the preferred starting 11 as much as any of us will like. Kyle Smith, Michael Halliday, Jeorgio Kocevski, and others will likely see playing time. How well Pareja manages when to use which players, and for how long, will determine not just the result of this match against Montreal, but for each of the other matches as well.
Rodrigo Schlegel is serving a suspension in this first league match and will not be available. That means Orlando City’s newest center back, David Brekalo, will probably get the start alongside Robin “The Beefy Swede” Jansson. Having a good center back pairing is absolutely essential to the success of any defense. We know that because once Jansson and former Lion Antonio Carlos worked together for a while, they became an absolute fortress on the back line.
Now, Jansson will need to build the same chemistry with Brekalo if the Lions want to maintain their position as one of the best defenses in the league. With Schlegel unavailable, there is no question that Jansson and Brekalo will have the opportunity to start building that relationship. Hopefully, it will be good enough to keep Montreal — especially Josef Martinez — out of the goal.
Keep Torres Scoring
Facundo Torres had a great preseason. Orlando City’s new owner of the No. 10 shirt needs to keep doing the same. He’ll need to score goals, provide assists, and create problems for Montreal’s defense. Traditionally, Montreal has put out a three-man back line. While that means it’ll be a five-man back line when Orlando City has the ball, during changes of possession there should be space for Torres to get free and get scoring opportunities.
If Montreal smartly tried to contain Torres, then it will have to deal with Duncan McGuire, Nico Lodeiro, and Ivan Angulo. Orlando City’s offense has the potential to score quite a few more goals this season, and it all starts Saturday night against Montreal. Get two on the board and I think it will mean three points in the standings.
That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 2/22/24
Orlando City beats Cavalry FC, Lions receive General Allocation Money for Junior Urso’s rights, USWNT gets ready for Argentina, and more.
How’s it going, Mane Landers? It’s nice to start the morning fresh off of a huge win and I’m hoping that becomes a regular occurrence this year. Hopefully the work week has been kind to you as we ride the high of the Concacaf Champions Cup into Orlando City’s first game of the MLS season this weekend. For now, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.
Lions Win in Concacaf Champions Cup Opener
Orlando City kicked off its Concacaf Champions Cup campaign with a solid 3-0 win against Cavalry FC in Canada. Some players did better playing on the turf of Starlight Stadium in British Columbia than others, but the Lions ultimately did well on the road to make things less stressful for themselves for the second leg on Tuesday in Orlando at 6 p.m. Orlando’s offense showed little rust and the defense did its part in its first competitive match of 2024. Before the match, Head Coach Oscar Pareja announced that Robin Jansson will serve as the team’s captain this year, so it’s nice to see his tenure start with a clean sheet.
Junior Urso Signs With Charlotte FC
Orlando City received $50,000 in 2025 General Allocation Money from Charlotte FC in exchange for Brazilian midfielder Junior Urso’s right of first refusal. This transaction cleared the way for Urso to sign with Charlotte, joining on a deal through 2024, with an option for 2025. The Bear became a Lion back in 2020 and was an integral part of Orlando’s transformation under Head Coach Oscar Pareja that included winning the 2022 U.S. Open Cup. The 34-year-old impressed as a trialist with Charlotte during the preseason and should give Dean Smith’s side a veteran presence both on and off the field. While it’s never fun seeing a fan favorite playing for another Eastern Conference foe, I wish nothing but the best for Urso and hope he gets a warm reception when Charlotte visits Orlando this season on Sept. 18.
MLS Coaching Changes for 2024
There was a considerable amount of coaching turnover in MLS since last season, adding some intriguing storylines for this year. After a rough time in Miami, Phil Neville has a chance at redemption with a Portland Timbers side that narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year. The Colorado Rapids’ Chris Armas, D.C. United’s Troy Lesesne, and the New England Revolution’s Caleb Porter are other familiar faces in new places who could impress. As for those new to the scene, Dean Smith joined Charlotte from England, while Sandro Schwarz is now at the helm of the New York Red Bulls after years in Germany and Russia. I’m also interested to see how long it takes for John Herdman to turn things around with Toronto FC.
Analyzing Argentina Ahead of USWNT Clash
After a dominant 5-0 win over the Dominican Republic, the United States Women’s National Team will take on Argentina tomorrow in the Concacaf W Gold Cup’s group stage. The U.S. has won the past four meetings between the past two nations, and Argentina is coming off of a scoreless draw with Mexico. The Orlando Pride’s Mariana Larroquette spearheads an Argentine attack that can be a bit inconsistent when it comes to creating chances. That being said, Vanina Preininger can pull strings from the midfield and Argentina has multiple players capable of scoring from distance. Laurina Oliveros will likely start in goal after her clean sheet in the opener, and the defense also includes Kansas City Current center back Sophia Braun.
- The Orlando Pride’s Rafaelle and Adriana both started in Brazil’s 1-0 win over Puerto Rico.
- The LA Galaxy signed Ghanaian winger Joseph Paintsil as their third Designated Player. The 26-year-old joins from Genk in Belgium and signed a contract with the Galaxy through 2027.
- The Revolution beat Panama’s Independiente 1-0 on the road in the Champions Cup opener for both teams.
- The new changes to MLS’ competitive rules, such as in-stadium VAR announcements and off-field treatments, have been postponed amid the league’s referee situation.
- The United Soccer League announced that all 47 of the teams under its umbrella will take part in this year’s U.S. Open Cup.
- Bayern Munich officially announced that Thomas Tuchel will leave once this season is over. Although Bayern is second in the Bundesliga standings, it’s lost its past three games, including a defeat to Lazio in the Champions League.
- Porto scored a stunning goal in stoppage time to shock Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League.
- Manchester United left back Luke Shaw may be done for the season due to a leg injury.
- In the Europa Conference League, Israeli club Maccabi Haifa secured a 1-1 draw with Belgium’s Gent to advance to the round of 16.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and rest of your week!
Orlando City vs. Cavalry FC, Concacaf Champions Cup: Final Score 3-0 as Torres Brace Leads Lions to Road Win
The Lions are in the driver’s seat after a comprehensive victory over Cavalry FC in western Canada.
Duncan McGuire opened the scoring and Facundo Torres added a brace to lead Orlando City SC to a comfortable 3-0 win over Cavalry FC at Starlight Stadium in Langford, British Columbia in the first leg of Concacaf Champions Cup play. Orlando scored their first road goals in the competition and have a huge advantage heading into next week’s return leg.
“It’s very good for the team. The clean sheet is very important for us and scoring three goals is a good score for returning home,” Orlando City Assistant Coach Diego Torres said after the match. “Cavalry is a good team. The Canada league is a good league. All of our team respects all rivals. The team came here serious for the game.”
With Oscar Pareja sidelined due to suspension for a red card after the second leg against Tigres in 2023, Diego Torres’ lineup was made up mostly of presumed starters for the 2024 season, with Pedro Gallese starting in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena took their usual spots in the central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Martin Ojeda, and Facundo Torres with McGuire up top. Presumed starters Rafael Santos, Nico Lodeiro, David Brekalo, and Luis Muriel were not in the lineup, with the latter two new Lions not in the matchday squad.
Center back Daan Klomp was positioned on the line and was able to get in front of Araujo’s header on frame. On the ensuing corner, Schlegel got under his header and sent it well over the bar.
Cavalry’s defense again denied a shot off a corner moments later. This time it was Callum Montgomery knocking it away. The Lions recycled and a shot appeared to go out off the goalkeeper but a goal kick was awarded.
Araujo again got forward in the 13th minute and the defense again blocked it, although this time it was outside the six-yard box rather than on the line. Moments later, McGuire had a go from a tough angle on the left but he mishit his shot and it went out on the other side for a throw-in. Torres then fired from the top of the box in the 19th minute but his effort was always rising and sailed well over the bar.
The Lions found the breakthrough moments later. Cartagena sent the ball wide to Angulo on the left and the Colombian sent Ojeda down the flank. The Argentine sent a great cross into the area and McGuire redirected it past Cavalry goalkeeper Marco Carducci to make it 1-0 in the 21st minute.
Orlando stayed on the front foot and in the 27th minute it was Angulo dancing through the defense and sending a lethal-looking cross through the six. Unfortunately, none of his teammates were making runs on the far side and it skipped harmlessly through.
Cavalry then nearly fashioned something out of nothing when a ball into the area nearly found Sergio Camargo right in front. However, the ball got through to Gallese, who scooped it up.
Thorhallsson, who had a terrific first half, nearly sent in Angulo in the 28th minute on a quick counterattack and then sent a dangerous cross over Carducci in the 32nd that just needed a touch from a teammate but didn’t get one.
No matter though, the Icelandic fullback got his assist in the 38th minute. Tucking inside for much of the night, he sent Torres wide on the right. The Uruguayan cut inside from the right at the top of the box and sent a shot on target. The ball bounced off the artificial turf in front of Carducci, who got a hand on it but couldn’t knock it wide of the post. Torres’ strike made it 2-0.
Cavalry won a late corner but sent the cross right at Gallese at the end of the half and that was it as far as the scoring chances. The Lions took their 2-0 advantage to the locker room.
At the break, the Lions held the advantage in shots (9-2), shots on target (3-0), passing accuracy (97.3%-73.5%), and corners (3-2).
Cavalry started the second half with more energy. Smith did well to win a goal kick to thwart an early attack and Schlegel got a head to a dangerous cross in the 49th to clear Orlando’s lines.
Orlando’s first decent chance of the second period came in the 53rd minute when Araujo stole a ball in the attacking third on the press. He found Ojeda on the left and the Argentine sent a cross in front, however, the defense again cut it out for a corner. The Lions couldn’t do anything with the set piece.
The game got a little chippy after that, with Cavalry’s Charlie Trafford picking up a yellow card for stepping on McGuire’s foot during a challenge. Moments later, a worse-looking challenge by Trafford on Thorhallsson went unpunished with a second yellow, despite being a worse foul.
Torres was then taken down on a rough challenge by Montgomery, who was booked. Ojeda went for goal from distance on the set piece, but Carducci made the save at the hour mark.
Gallese nearly got crossed up in the 61st minute when a fluttering ball fooled him and he had to fight it off to avoid an embarrassing situation. That was the start of a couple of chances for the hosts, sandwiching the Orlando City debut of Lodeiro, who subbed on for Ojeda.
In the 62nd minute, Cavalry created something off a throw-in, sending a ball into the box for Jesse Daley, who sent his weak effort right at Gallese on a wasted opportunity. Moments later, Jansson conceded a free kick and Cavalry nearly paid it off. Klomp got his head to the service but sent it just inches over the crossbar.
Cartagena nearly scored a surprising goal in the 68th minute when he sent a chip towards Carducci’s goal. The Cavalry goalkeeper was backpedaling and had to tip the shot over his crossbar.
Five minutes later, substitute Ramiro Enrique set up Lodeiro in the box but the midfielder sent his shot off the crossbar in the 73rd minute. Angulo followed with a shot that was blocked by the defense for a corner.
Two minutes later, the Lions put the game to bed. A fantastic sequence set up Torres’ brace. Enrique did well to send Angulo in behind the defense on the left. The Colombian sent a perfect cross to the back post and Torres sent a diving header off of Carducci’s hands and in to make it 3-0 in the 75th minute.
Cavalry got back on the front foot for a few minutes after the third goal. Camargo sent a shot right at Gallese in the 79th minute
Orlando should have scored again seconds later. Another excellent buildup play from Enrique and Angulo ended up on Araujo’s foot right in front of goal, but the midfielder couldn’t dig it out of his feet and the defense arrived to knock it away.
A poor giveaway by substitute Rafael Santos on the left sideline gave Cavalry a chance in the 82nd minute. The cross in front was deflected out to the top of the area. Diego Gutierrez smashed a shot toward goal, but Felipe took one for the team and blocked it out for a corner. Klomp was nearly sent in behind on the recycle of the ensuing set piece but the defender was either offside or was judged to have fouled Gallese and Orlando was awarded a free kick. Gallese then scooped up a one-hopper off a shot from a tight angle to his right in the 88th minute.
That was the last half chance for either side and the Lions saw out three minutes of injury time to claim their first Concacaf Champions Cup victory.
The final statistics were more flattering for the hosts than the halftime numbers. Orlando led in possession (55.4%-44.6%), shots (13-9), shots on target (5-4), passing accuracy (85.1%-82%), and corners (6-4).
“Now we prepare for the next leg at home,” Diego Torres said. “I know this game is very important. And the next game now is very important.”
“I wanted the players to be brave, and there’s certainly things that we can learn from it,” Cavalry Head Coach Tommy Wheeldon said. “I don’t think it was a three-nil game. I think between both boxes we matched up with them very, very well. I think they probably defended better in there’s and they finished better in ours, and that’s the difference.”
Orlando City will host Cavalry FC next Tuesday night in the second leg. Prior to that, the Lions have a quick turnaround ahead of Saturday’s MLS opener at home against CF Montreal at 7:30 p.m.
Orlando Pride Place Megan Montefusco on Season-Ending Injury List
Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Three Keys to Victory
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