Orlando City returned to its winning ways last night with a 4-1 victory against Atlanta United. It was the Lions’ first win at home over their rivals and there was some added sweetness as the result all but eliminated Atlanta from playoff contention.
Rookie Daryl Dike was a force in the match, with both a goal and an assist, and Chris Mueller scored a beauty off a free kick for his ninth of the regular season. Here’s how all of the Lions rated in the big win, as well as who was crowned Man of the Match.
GK, Pedro Gallese, 6 — The Peruvian looked right at home for most of the match in his first game in Exploria Stadium since Oct. 3. Gallese came up with a full-stretch save in the third minute of the match as Atlanta put the pressure on early. Before the end of the first half, he showed discomfort after landing awkwardly, but didn’t seem to have any issues carrying on. He got a touch on Erick Torres’ point-blank headed shot at goal in the 87th, but it wasn’t nearly enough to save it. Gallese didn’t get the clean sheet, but did finish with two saves as he gets back in the swing of things.
D, Kamal Miller, 5 — Filling in for the injured João Moutinho, Miller struggled in this one. There was a scary moment when Jürgen Damm sent him running the wrong way and got a free shot on goal that went just wide. Defending against Damm in space is a tall order, but Miller was partly responsible on Torres’ goal in the waning moments of the match. The Canadian did finish with a team-leading 64 touches and was second in passes with a total of 49. Still, he’s had much better nights.
D, Robin Jansson, 6 — After his unfortunate own goal in the loss against Inter Miami, Jansson hardly had a mistake in this one. The Swede proved why he has started nine straight games for the Lions, serving as an anchor on defense against Atlanta. Had he been able to jump a bit higher when defending against Torres’ goal then Orlando would’ve walked away with a clean sheet. The offense stole the show and the late goal ruined the shutout, but it was yet another solid performance from Jansson that included three clearances.
D, Antonio Carlos, 6.5 — Carlos came up big time and time again for the Lions, with a whopping nine clearances. His partnership with Jansson continues to grow as the pair played all 90 minutes together. Carlos was decisive both in the air and on the ground, rising up to meet Atlanta’s many corner kicks as well as making an expert sliding tackle in the box to deny Atlanta and defend Exploria Stadium.
D, Ruan, 7 — The right back did what he does best, forcing opponents to deal with his speed and creating opportunities on offense. His best moment came on Orlando’s first goal as he delivered a perfect ball to Dike in the box for his fourth assist of the season. Ruan continues to excel in Oscar Pareja’s system and ended the game with two tackles, 51 touches, and 35 passes.
MF, Joey DeZart, 5.5 — The rookie looked lost at times with his marking and there were a few moments where he didn’t seem all too aware of the players around him. That being said, DeZart still held his own in the midfield with the usual starters absent. The midfielder didn’t have a single shot, but finished with 34 passes at a strong 91% completion rate.
MF, Junior Urso, 6.5 — Although Urso didn’t finish with a goal or an assist after playing all 90 minutes, he did fairly well on both sides of the ball. He nearly scored on a volley to double Orlando’s lead in the first half, but his attempt went just wide. Urso led the team with four shots, 50 passes, and had the second-most touches with 63 to keep Atlanta from capitalizing on possession in the midfield.
MF, Chris Mueller, 7.5 — After spending the first half constantly fouled by Laurence Wyke, Mueller made him pay for it right before halftime. Covered in grass from the foul, Mueller waved Nani off the ball for the free kick and curled it into the net for one of his best goals as a Lion. As far as the rest of his night, Mueller did have some rough crosses here and there, but finished with three key passes and 55 touches as he continues his best year yet in Orlando.
MF, Nani, 6.5 — The captain had a bit of a quiet night, pulling the strings of Orlando’s offense when he could. It was his pass to Ruan that got things going for Orlando’s first goal and he found Tesho Akindele open in the box soon after to make sure the Lions kept riding that momentum. Nani was subbed out in the second half for some rest as Orlando’s other offensive players stepped up.
F, Daryl Dike, 8 (MotM)— The rookie got his sixth consecutive start and sixth goal of the season, turning and scoring in front of goal to give Orlando the lead in the 29th minute. Dike’s confidence after scoring showed as he continued to muscle past defenders and give Atlanta nightmares. He was frankly unstoppable when running at goal and that helped him find Tesho Akindele in front of goal to log his fourth assist of the season.
F, Tesho Akindele, 7.5 — In his first start in over a month, Akindele worked alongside Dike up top and the pair wreaked havoc on offense. The Canadian scored right in front of goal after playing a bit of give-and-go with Dike in the second half and he freed up needed space on Dike’s goal. Akindele was subbed off after his goal and finished with two shots, two key passes, and his third goal this season. It was a great performance and showcased a new look to Orlando’s offense with Mauricio Pereyra out.
F, Andres Perea (62’), 6 — He came onto the field after Akindele’s goal with the Lions up 3-0 and was hungry for more, linking up with Benji Michel and Urso to keep Atlanta on their toes. Perea nearly opened his account for the Lions in the 71st minute with only Guzan to beat, but his shot was a bit awkward and went wide. Still, he’s growing confidence and looked a bit more at ease playing with a lead.
F, Benji Michel (62’), 6 — Like Perea, Michel came on the field swinging, with two shots within two minutes of coming onto the field. Guzan had to save the first, despite Michel taking it from a tough angle, and the second was a header that went wide. Michel set Perea free in the box although the midfielder couldn’t finish. He picked up a yellow card in the 88th minute and got quite a bit done with only 11 touches in the game.
MF, Sebas Mendez (68’), 7 — The Ecuadorian may have only played for a little over 20 minutes, but he was efficient during that time. Mendez may not officially be credited for the goal at the end of the match, but his free kick wound up in the back of the net to put the cherry on top of Orlando’s big win. Mendez also finished with 23 passes at a 100% completion rate, which is pretty impressive to say the least.
F, Matheus Aias (79’), N/A — Aias only had seven touches in his second game for Orlando, but he made them count. Mendez’ free kick deflected off of him and it was just enough to stop Guzan from keeping it out for his first official goal as a Lion. It was also nice to see him sprinting towards goal on that play to ensure his team scored, even though the win was in hand.
F, Alexander Alvarado (79’), N/A — The winger made his debut for Orlando City at the end of the match, coming on for Mueller. He put fresh legs to good use and drew fouls, including the one that led to Orlando’s final goal off the ensuing free kick.
That’s how I saw how things play out. What about you? Let us know in the comments how you thought the Lions did and vote for who you think deserves the title of Man of the Match.
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2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Junior Urso
The Bear returned unexpectedly in the middle of the season to bolster the Orlando midfield.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
- 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.
- David de Gea is reportedly open to signing for Newcastle United following Nick Pope’s shoulder dislocation.
- The English FA has charged Manchester City with failing to control its players, following Erling Haaland’s reaction on social media to a decision made by referee Simon Hooper.
That’s all that I have for today. Y’all stay safe out there.
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.
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 Lower.com 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.
- Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.
- Liverpool scored in the 87th and 88th minutes to win 4-3 and climb to second in the EPL standings on 31 points.
- Manchester City and Tottenham played to a thrilling 3-3 draw that might find Erling Haaland charged by the English Football Association for criticizing the performance of the referees.
- Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen saw an eight-game winning run in the league come to an end with a 1-1 draw.
- Inter Milan secured a 3-0 victory at Napoli to reach the top of the Serie A table.
- Arsenal will face Liverpool in a massive FA Cup third-round clash in January.
- Wrexham reached the third round of FA Cup after defeating Yeovil Town 3-0.
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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