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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Atlanta United: Final Score 0-0 as Lions Run Unbeaten Streak to 10 Games

Brad Guzan and the woodwork stole points from Orlando City as the Lions couldn’t put one in the net.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City failed to find the net as both Brad Guzan and the woodwork combined to stop everything the Lions threw at them. Still, the team’s record unbeaten streak grew to 10 matches (6-0-4) after a 0-0 draw against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Lions (8-2-6, 30 points) have now gone three straight without a loss to the Five Stripes (5-8-3, 18 points), but after largely outplaying their hosts, they’ll consider this two points dropped on the road. Despite a lot of regulars being out of the lineup, Orlando was the better side for the majority of the match.

“I think the players had another great game,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We had many options to score and not only that but I think we really dominated the game all the time. It’s much better when you translate that into three points but there is no frustration.”

“I thought it was a great team effort tonight,” said goalkeeper Brian Rowe, who made his first start of the season and ended up with a shutout on three saves. “I know you look around the field and we’ve had a number of guys that stepped up that haven’t gotten a lot of minutes this year.”

Pareja was without Pedro Gallese (international duty) for the first time in 2020, so Rowe got the start in goal behind a back line of Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Kyle Smith. Joey DeZart got his first start for Orlando City in central midfield, along with Junior Urso, with Andres Perea and Robinho in the attacking midfield, and Benji Michel and Daryl Dike leading the attack. Fullback Michael Halliday was recalled from OCB and made the bench.

The Lions started the match without most of the team’s starters. In addition to Gallese and Sebas Mendez (international duty) being out, Joao Moutinho’s lingering groin problem and the undisclosed injuries to Mauricio Pereyra, Ruan, Tesho Akindele, and Uri Rosell combined to leave Orlando seven starters shy, with regular center back Antonio Carlos on the bench along with wingers Nani and Chris Mueller.

Some early pressing by Orlando gave Atlanta problems before both teams settled into the game. Atlanta sent an early warning sign with a good cross in from the left for Adam Jahn, who had slipped free of Jansson, but the cross was just a little too high for him in the ninth minute.

The Lions nearly opened the scoring in the 11th minute but Guzan made two huge saves to keep it scoreless. Smith sent in a good-looking cross from the right and Dike powered a header on target. Guzan fought that off and Robinho waited for the rebound to come down and swept it toward the net, but the Atlanta goalkeeper made a diving stop.

Atlanta then had some extended possession but wasn’t doing much with it. The Lions continuously turned them backward toward their own end, and most of the time the ball was around midfield. The hosts finally won a corner and Jon Gallagher sent in a good cross for Miles Robinson to head on target. Rowe made a huge save in the 18th minute, punching it away.

Perea bombed down the left side a minute later, but his shot was deflected out for a corner. Neither team got particularly close for the next 10 minutes or so, until the Lions again nearly opened the scoring. Robinho cut left to right with options in the box and chose to fire a shot that skipped just in front of the goal and crashed off the left post. The rebound came out to the right side and Smith ran onto it before firing a shot that Guzan saved in the 30th minute.

Franco Escobar picked up the first of what should have been two quick yellow cards in the 36th minute when he clobbered Robinho from behind. Two minutes later, he made a terrible challenge on Urso that had the Brazilian on the turf for a couple of minutes in pain. Escobar should have been sent off with a second yellow, but referee Rubiel Vasquez gave the Atlanta fullback a huge break and didn’t book him again. Urso was able to continue after receiving treatment.

Neither team got a good look the rest of the half and the two sides were scoreless at the break. Orlando had more first-half shots (7-5), shots on target (4-2), and corners (4-3), as well as more accurate passing (89%-86%). Atlanta held a slight possession advantage (51.7%-48.3%).

Disaster nearly struck early in the second half as Jansson tried to pass back to Rowe. The ball moved more quickly than expected and Rowe could only slide for it and watch as it skipped just wide of goal in the 55th minute.

“The turf is tricky,” Rowe said. “The way they wet it. The ball doesn’t really check up at all. It almost accelerates once it’s moving in a direction. So, he was trying to play me kind of into space on my right foot and it kind of took off a little faster than I think I was anticipating and what he thought as well. So, I kind of scrambled for a second but then once it was going by me, trying to reach for it, I saw that I was at least covering the goal, so I knew it was going wide.”

The Lions conceded a little more possession in the second half but still managed more scoring chances. Just two minutes after the near mishap in front of Orlando’s goal, Urso fired a shot that skipped off a defender and went wide. Atlanta looked to counter off the ensuing corner but Jansson made a great play in the open field to break it up.

Alex De John subbed on for Kyle Smith shortly after that and one of his first involvements was a nifty pass into the area for Michel in the 64th minute, but Benji couldn’t make good contact to bring it in and the chance evaporated. Michel then had another opportunity to get in two minutes later, as the Lions broke in transition 4-v-3, but his first touch on the pass again let him down.

Benji’s last involvement was to concede a free kick near his own penalty area before being subbed off for Nani in the 70th minute. Jansson made a good play on the ensuing cross to get across his man and nod it behind for a corner. Rowe needed to make his second big save of the night on that corner when Orlando failed to clear it all the way out and it fell for Anton Walkes, who shot from point-blank range. The Lions’ goalkeeper made a good reaction save to keep the Five Stripes off the board.

Atlanta held the ball for quite a while during that stretch with Orlando City content to play the ball to safety rather than try to pass out of the back as the team usually does. The Lions sustained some pressure as a result, but the defense and midfielders did well to keep Atlanta on the perimeter.

Nani nearly found a breakthrough in the 78th minute. The captain fired a shot at the top of the area that deflected off a defender and over Guzan but it hit the crossbar and stayed out.

Perea smashed a shot just off target from outside the area seconds later as the Lions continued to look for a winner.

Nani set up Urso in the 86th minute and the Bear hit his shot first time, but he left it too close to the middle and Guzan was able to make a vital diving save to keep the game at 0-0 late.

The last chance fell to DeZart in the 91st minute as the rookie found himself in space and sent a curling shot toward the back corner but Guzan again was able to get over and keep it out.

That was it for the match and Orlando City had to settle for a single point, falling two points further behind Toronto but gaining a point on Columbus, while Philadelphia jumped over the Lions into third.

The Lions out-shot Atlanta, 15-9 (6-3 on target), earned more corners (7-5), and were more accurate in passing (87%-85%), while the Five Stripes held more of the ball (52.3%-47.7%).

Even though Pareja wasn’t frustrated, he said his players expected more from the match.

“Today the players left the field thinking that they left two points on the field,” he said. “They were not so happy with the tie. And I said, ‘Well, sometimes you know, you take the point and leave.’ They are convinced about what they are. And no one gave anything to them. Nobody. Nothing. They have earned it through the effort, the discipline, the desire to do the right things. They know that to be the best team and to win trophies, you have to keep getting better.”

“It was a solid performance by the team,” DeZart said. “At the end of the day we’re disappointed because each and every game we want to go out and win it, home or away.”

Orlando City will next face the stingy defense of the Columbus Crew at Exploria Stadium on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/30/23

Orlando City faces big questions, Matt Miazga suspended, Emma Hayes meets USWNT for first time, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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.

Free Kicks

  • 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!

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Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Alex Freeman

We start our Orlando City player reviews with a look at a Homegrown fullback who made his MLS debut this season.



Image courtesy of Orlando City B

Orlando City signed fullback Alex Freeman to a Homegrown Player contract on February 15, 2022. He became the Lions’ 12th Homegrown signing and his deal runs through the 2025 season with a club option for 2026, but the youngster did not see action in Major League Soccer last season. With the departure of Ruan, there was an opportunity for Freeman to win a job with the first team in camp but he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump, instead playing an important role with Orlando City B throughout the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season.

Let’s take a look back at Freeman’s 2023 campaign.

Statistical Breakdown

Freeman made his MLS debut on April 29 in a 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. It was not just his debut with the first team, but it was also his only appearance with the senior squad in 2023, although he did make the substitutes’ bench a few times after that. Officially, he logged only one minute, entering in the 93rd minute. He was only on the pitch a matter of seconds, so it’s unsurprising that he registered nothing on the stats sheet.

The son of former NFL receiver Antonio Freeman, Alex starred with OCB in 2023. In MLS NEXT Pro play, Freeman appeared in 24 of OCB’s 28 matches, starting 22, and logging 1,855 minutes. He finished tied for third on the squad in goals (4), adding three assists and passing at a 79.1% success rate. Freeman attempted 25 shots, putting 11 on target, and contributed 10 key passes. He committed 22 fouls, drew 27 on the opposition, and was booked four times. He also started OCB’s playoff match at Columbus, playing 89 minutes in the Young Lions’ 2-1 road loss. Freeman didn’t contribute a goal or assist or attempt a shot in the match, but he passed at an 88% rate, created one scoring chance, and committed one foul.

Best Game

With only one MLS appearance to his credit, the default best game for Freeman came on April 29 in Orlando City’s 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. Freeman didn’t even officially touch the ball in the game, but it’s not every day a teenager gets to play in an MLS match, and I’m sure it was a special moment for him. It was certainly a milestone in his professional soccer career.

2023 Final Grade

As Freeman fell well short of the minimum 450 minutes played mark to receive a rating on our 1-10 scale, The Mane Land has no choice but to mark his grade as incomplete for the 2023 season. There are areas of Freeman’s game that need a bit of refining, but at the same time, it’s easy to see why he landed a Homegrown contract, why Orlando City would find him an intriguing prospect, and why he’s been getting called up by the United States for U-20 international duty. His attacking presence was huge for OCB in 2023 and he was one of the key players that led the Young Lions to the postseason.

2024 Outlook

I would expect Freeman to get more seasoning at OCB in 2024, although he’ll be given opportunities in preseason camp to show whether he’s closed the gap on the likes of Michael Halliday and Kyle Smith (assuming both return). If the club moves on from both Halliday and Smith, it’s not hard to picture Freeman starting the season providing depth at right back for the first team. Having just turned 19 in August, Freeman has a lot of potential and he should start to unlock that within the next year or so.

This is the first of our 2023 Orlando City Season in Review articles. Every player who played minutes this past season and who finished the year on the club roster will be reviewed (exceptions may be made for players let go when the club officially announces its roster moves). Players who logged fewer than 450 minutes (combined regular season plus playoffs, Concacaf Champions League, U.S. Open Cup, and Leagues Cup) will receive a composite score between 1 and 10 as determined by a panel of The Mane Land writers, while those who did not reach that threshold will receive an incomplete grade.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/29/23

Orlando Pride players called up by Brazil, MLS announces 2023 Best XI, latest MLS roster moves, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Hello, Mane Landers I hope all is well down in Florida. I’ve been very busy working throughout the holiday weekend at Under Armour. This week I’ll be working at Wrigley Field for Winterland while getting ready to cover high school wrestling tomorrow night. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.

Pride Players Called Up By Brazil for Friendlies

Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle and forwards Marta and Adriana have been called up to the Brazil Women’s National Team for its upcoming friendlies.

Brazil will play two matches against Japan on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 in Sao Paulo before playing Nicaragua on Dec. 6 at Estadio Fonte Luminosa in Araraquara.

MLS Announces the 2023 Best XI

Major League Soccer announced its 2023 Best XI, recognizing the league’s top players at each position. There were no Orlando City players selected for the team and eight players received the honor for the first time. Those players are St. Louis City’s Roman Burki and Tim Parker, FC Cincinnati defender Matt Miazga, Atlanta United duo Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis, Houston Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera, LAFC’s Denis Bouanga, and Columbus Crew forward Cucho Hernandez. Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar made the Best XI for the third consecutive time, while teammate Walker Zimmerman was named to it for the fifth time. MLS MVP Luciano Acosta of FC Cincinnati rounds out the list.

Latest MLS Off-season Roster Moves

The Colorado Rapids announced their latest roster changes as they prepare for the the 2024 season under new Head Coach Chris Armas. The club exercised its options for defender Andrew Gutman, midfielder Ralph Priso, and forward Calvin Harris. The Rapids declined contract offers to seven players, with the most notable names being defender Steven Beitashour and goalkeeper William Yarbrough, although the Rapids are in discussions about re-signing Yarbrough. Elsewhere, the New England Revolution exercised the permanent transfer option on forward Tomas Chancalay, signing him to a Designated Player contract through 2026, with a club option for the 2027 season.

UEFA Champions League Roundup

Champions League action returned in Europe, as we get close to wrapping up the group stage in a couple of weeks. Manchester City overcame a two-goal deficit to beat RB Leipzig 3-2 and win Group G. Newcastle United had a chance to qualify for the round of 16 but gave up a late penalty to Paris Saint-Germain, which Kylian Mbappe converted to end the match in a 1-1 draw. Borussia Dortmund beat AC Milan 3-1 to book its spot in the knockout stage. PSG, Newcastle, and AC Milan are all still alive in Group F heading into the final matchday in December. Shakhtar Donetsk won 1-0 against Royal Antwerp and also still has a shot to advance on the final matchday. Lazio, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Young Boys all won their respective matches as well. Today’s matches include Manchester United on the road against Galatasaray, Real Madrid taking on Napoli, and Sevilla facing off with PSV Eindhoven.

Free Kicks

  • Concacaf has announced that BMO Stadium, Dignity Health Sports Park, Shell Energy Stadium, and Snapdragon Stadium will be the four venues that will host matches for the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup.
  • Barcelona midfielder Gavi will be sidelined for up to 10 months after undergoing knee surgery after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee.
  • The International Football Association Board approved a trial for sin bins, meaning players punished for dissent or specific tactical offense would be temporarily removed from the match for a set amount of minutes.
  • You have got to see this goal from Cwrt Rawlin FC in the Welsh seventh division.

That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Wednesday and I’ll see you next time.

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