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Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire: Final Score 4-1 as Lions Win a Wild, Rain-Soaked Match

Nani and Chris Mueller starred again as the Lions finally got a home win over the Chicago Fire, running their unbeaten streak to six games.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City withstood two Chicago Fire penalties and two goals by the visitors that were overturned by video review to win a crazy, rain-soaked match, 4-1 at Exploria Stadium. Orlando (6-2-4, 22 points) got goals from Chris Mueller, Nani, Junior Urso, and Benji Michel to extend its unbeaten run to six games (4-0-2) and finally beat the Fire (2-7-3, 9 points) at home.

In fact, Orlando is still unbeaten at home in 2020 (3-0-2). The Lions will take it, as they will have to go on the road for the next two matches to close out September.

“I think it was a roller coaster game today with a rival that came here with initiatives and an idea of the game that was very clear,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “From the first minute it was difficult to control, especially with such great players in the middle of the field. But I think we had our own identity and we had courage all the time to overcome the difficult moments.”

Pareja’s lineup in front of goalkeeper Pedro Gallese included the return of Robin Jansson and Kamal Miller to the left side of the starting lineup, alongside Antonio Carlos and Ruan. Urso and Sebas Mendez handled the central midfield with Uri Rosell still unavailable. The attacking midfield was the usual lineup of Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Mueller behind striker Daryl Dike.

The first half was insanely wide open with neither team doing well in defending on the rain-soaked field. The rain poured down throughout the first half, soaking the players and the ball and making conditions tough for both teams, which may have contributed to the wide-open nature of the match.

Dike had a couple of early chances but couldn’t quite get onto a Mueller cross in the second minute, with goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth coming out just enough to distract him. Dike then flicked a header to the back post but Chicago was able to clear.

The Fire came down to the other end for the first time and nearly opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Robert Beric took a shot that deflected off Miller and then hit the crossbar.

Orlando took the lead in the 11th minute. Mueller cut in from the left side and hit a shot that deflected off Alvaro Medran and crossed up Shuttleworth, who could do nothing but watch it trickle over the line for the opening score — Mueller’s seventh of the year.

The Lions continued to buzz around the Chicago penalty area, with both Nani and Dike getting shots blocked in front in the 14th minute. Then Beric nearly equalized in the 18th minute when he got in behind, but he fired off target against an empty net and the offside flag was up anyway.

Chicago came close again in the 20th when a cross in from the right deflected off of Gallese and fell for Ignacio Aliseda, who hit the right post with the bouncing ball.

Four minutes later, Mueller took the ball down the right flank and crossed in perfectly for Nani to finish with a header to make it 2-0 in the 24th.

The Fire appeared to pull a goal back on a free kick in the 27th minute but after video review, referee Nima Saghafi ruled that Elliot Collier obstructed from an offside position and the two-goal lead stood.

The Fire again had a golden opportunity to score in the 34th minute when a ball in the box hit Ruan’s hand and a penalty was awarded. Beric and Medran argued for a couple of minutes over who would take it and eventually Medran did. It didn’t matter though, as Gallese dove to his right and made a spectacular save to keep it a 2-0 game.

“On the penalty I just saw one guy fighting with a bunch of his teammates,” Gallese said through an interpreter. “I was just ready and when he took it I went to the right.”

Mueller should have made it 3-0 in the 38th minute as he sliced through the Chicago defense and freed himself up for an easy finish, but he lost his balance and couldn’t set himself to take the shot. Nani made a slick move in the 42nd minute to get in behind the defense but then hit his shot wide from in close. Dike fired from the top of the box a minute later but didn’t get all of the shot and Shuttleworth made a diving save.

Chicago got the last good chance of the half when a cross found Djordje Mihailovic around the penalty spot but he fired his shot wide. That was it for a wild first half.

Chicago actually attempted more shots (10-7), with Orlando getting more on target (3-1). Orlando was slightly more accurate in passing (87%-86%), while Chicago saw slightly more time on the ball (51.6%-48.4%).

The Fire got one back right after the half on a penalty call on Chris Mueller. He trailed Miguel Navarro into the area and put his hands on the Chicago fullback, who went down immediately on what appeared to be very little contact. Beric hit the ensuing penalty to pull Chicago back into the game in the 48th minute.

“I was a little late to track the guy inside but I don’t feel like I really touched him in the sense of grabbing him,” Mueller said. “I think that when you’re that close to somebody it’s natural — especially when you’re directly behind them — to clip them on the heels and if they feel something and they go down in the box then it’s a penalty. That’s on me for not following my guy right there in the beginning of the second half. I’ve got to be a little bit sharper mentally, a little bit better concentration. And, you know I’m going to learn from it and move forward and focus on the next match.”

The Fire kept coming, with Gaston Gimenez forcing a huge save by Gallese in the 54th to preserve Orlando’s lead.

“I’m always proud of the goalkeepers who keep the team in the game or keep the lead when it’s needed,” Pareja said. “And Pedro’s experience and leadership today will show. I’m proud of Pedro just giving us that energy in the moment when we needed it. He came big and tonight was a great game for him again.”

Boris Sekulic then appeared to tie the game at 2-2 in the 56th minute off a corner kick. The wet ball bounced off several players until it found the foot of the Chicago defender, who fired through traffic and it appeared to hit Jansson before sneaking inside the right post. However, Saghafi again went to video review and ruled that Mauricio Pineda had handled the ball on the initial cross into the box and for the second time in the match the Fire had a goal overturned.

Both teams started using their substitutions and Orlando began to settle down a bit. Kyle Smith, who replaced Miller at halftime, fired wide of goal from the top of the area on a blistering shot in the 68th minute. Ten minutes later, Urso supplied some breathing room. The ball pinged around Chicago’s penalty area and finally fell to substitute Andres Perea, who knocked it into the box, where it bounced around until Urso found it on his foot and fired it in off the right goal post in the 78th minute.

Three minutes after Urso’s goal, the Lions nearly got another. Ruan made a great play to find Nani across the field on the left and the captain fired a blast toward goal but the shot stayed wide of the post. Orlando quickly won another corner and Carlos headed over the bar a minute later.

As time wound down, Nani found substitute Benji Michel in the area. Michel took two dribbles to his left and hit a shot past Shuttleworth to make it 4-1 in the 95th minute on nearly the last kick of the match. It provided the Lions’ highest scoring output on the season and largest margin of victory since Pareja took over.

Shots were even at 19 apiece, but Orlando got more on target (7-3). Both teams passed at an 83% rate, with Chicago holding a slight edge in possession (54.4%-45.6%).

Pareja said after the match that it was Chicago’s midfield players that created so many problems for Orlando City’s defense.

“They gave us a lot of trouble, indeed,” he said. “They have players in the middle that are very technical. They know what they’re doing there. Their idea of the game is very clear.”

“I think we’re happy with the three points for sure, but I do think that there was a lot of areas in our game that we could be much better,” Mueller said.

The Lions now go on the road for their next two matches, visiting Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday and FC Dallas next Sunday.

Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Junior Urso

The Bear returned unexpectedly in the middle of the season to bolster the Orlando midfield.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

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.

Statistical Breakdown

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.

Best Game

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.

2024 Outlook

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)

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Lion Links

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.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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.

Free Kicks

  • 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.

That’s all that I have for today. Y’all stay safe out there.

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Lion Links

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.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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 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.

Free Kicks

  • Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.

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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