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.
Lion Links: 12/1/23
Rodrigo Schlegel fined, MLS roster updates, USWNT faces China tomorrow, and more.
Welcome to December, Mane Landers! It always feels like a good sign when a month starts on a Friday. I don’t have many plans this weekend beyond helping a friend move and trying to make pad Thai for the first time. It should be a nice next few days to reset after a hectic week. But for now, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.
MLS Issues Disciplinary Rulings After Playoff Games
Orlando City center back Rodrigo Schlegel was fined an undisclosed amount by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for not leaving the field in a timely manner after receiving a second yellow card in the team’s playoff match with the Columbus Crew. Schlegel did not crowd the referee or plead his case disruptively, but he did linger a bit before exiting the match. It was one of many fines handed out by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for violations during the playoffs, and Crew forward Cucho Hernandez was fined for embellishment for going to ground clutching his face after Schlegel shielded the ball from him.
The Vancouver Whitecaps players and staff received fines and suspensions for their actions during and after their playoff match with LAFC on Nov. 5. Head Coach Vanni Sartini was fined $20,000 and suspended for an additional five games for entering the field of play in a confrontational manner and his comments about the refereeing following his team’s elimination. Vancouver defender Mathias Laborda was also handed a one-match suspension for his actions during the match.
MLS Teams Update Rosters as Deadline Looms
The deadline for MLS teams to decline contract options is today and clubs around the league are getting their affairs in order. The Portland Timbers confirmed that Sebastian Blanco won’t be with the team next year, as he was out of contract after seven seasons with the club. Designated Player Jaroslaw Niezgoda and fellow forward Franck Boli had their options declined by Portland as well. FC Dallas triggered the options on the contracts of midfielder duo Asier Illarramendi and Liam Frasier, while declining the options for midfielder Facundo Quignon and defender Jose Martinez. The New York Red Bulls kept a key part of their defense by signing Dylan Nealis to a contract through the 2024 season. Nashville SC declined seven options, and veterans Dax McCarty and Fafa Picault are out of contract. Both players could be worth keeping an eye on as an Orlando supporter, depending on if Wilder Cartagena and Ivan Angulo will return. According to The Athletic‘s Tom Bogert, McCarty is not likely to return to Nashville.
Racing Louisville Names Beverly Yanez as Head Coach
Beverly Yanez was announced as Racing Louisville’s next head coach after serving as an assistant coach during the 2023 season. The 35-year-old retired as a player in 2020 and was an assistant coach with NJ/NY Gotham FC for two years before joining Louisville prior to this season. Louisville has yet to reach the playoffs since joining the NWSL in 2021 and Yanez is now the club’s third head coach. She’s earned plenty of praise from Louisville’s players and it will be interesting to see how her first season as a head coach goes in 2024.
Alejandro Bedoya Receives Impact Award
Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya won the MLS Impact Award, along with a $100,000 contribution by Audi to The Philadelphia Equity Alliance. Bedoya has worked with the nonprofit to promote inclusive economic growth and reduce poverty. He was also named 2022 MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year for his efforts to make a difference in the Philadelphia community. The Crew’s Darlington Nagbe and Nashville’s Taylor Washington were the other finalists for this year’s award.
Analyzing China Ahead of USWNT Friendlies
The United States Women’s National Team will close out its 2023 schedule with a pair of friendlies against China this month. The two nations will clash tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale before playing again in Frisco on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Although China lost all three of its group stage games in this past summer’s World Cup, it recently won the bronze medal in the Asian Games. China fell short in Olympic qualifying though, and 2022 AFC Women’s Coach of the Year Shui Qingxia’s contract was terminated, with Wang Jun taking over in an interim capacity for these friendlies. The USWNT should be able to find success on set pieces and crosses, although China has been working on strength training this year to compensate for that weakness. Tang Jiali, Zhang Linyan, and Shen Menglu are a few of the players in China’s versatile attack that could spell trouble for the Americans.
- Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle started as Brazil’s captain and Marta and Adriana came off the bench in a 4-3 win over Japan in a friendly. In her international debut, 19-year-old forward Priscila gave Brazil the late winner. The two teams will play again on Sunday.
- The Kansas City Current dedicated their press box to journalist and Kansas City native Grant Wahl.
- The New England Revolution have promoted Curt Onalfo to sporting director after four years as the club’s technical director. Onalfo served as the interim sporting director after Bruce Arena’s resignation in September and now gets the job fulltime.
- The MLS Players Association released a statement regarding Matt Miazga’s three-game suspension.
- Pierre Emerick-Aubamayeng scored a bicycle kick and a late winner as part of his hat trick in Marseille’s 4-3 win over Ajax in the Europa League.
- The 2023 Women’s College Cup semifinals kick off tonight, with Florida State facing Clemson and BYU playing Stanford. There are many talented players in action who are worth watching tonight before the NWSL Draft next month.
- Lyon, which is last in Ligue 1 with just seven points from 12 games, has sacked Fabio Grosso after less than three months as head coach.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!
Lion Links: 11/30/23
Orlando City faces big questions, Matt Miazga suspended, Emma Hayes meets USWNT for first time, and more.
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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lion Links: 12/1/23
2023 Orlando Pride Season in Review: Kylie Strom
Lion Links: 11/30/23
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