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Orlando City vs. Montreal Impact: Player Grades and Man of the Match

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Orlando City will return home after coming away with a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact in New Jersey. New York City FC’s 5-2 win over the New York Red Bulls at the same time made those three points essential as the Lions look to claim a home game in the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs.

It was a solid performance by the whole team as the Lions secured their fifth clean sheet of the season — fourth in regular-season play — and second against the Impact. Here’s how I saw the performance by the Orlando City players in this game.

Starters

GK, Pedro Gallese, 7 — There wasn’t a lot for the Peruvian international to do on this night as the Impact only had five shots on target and most were directly at him. However, a second half injury time shot by Bojan was headed just inside the post before El Pulpo came flying in to make the one-handed save. Considering that it would’ve been the equalizing goal, that save itself is enough to call this an excellent performance by Orlando City’s number one.

D, Kamal Miller, 5.5 — Kamal Miller wasn’t as involved in the attack as Kyle Smith or Ruan but did have a solid game defensively. He ended the game with a pair of tackles, an interception, and a clearance. He only played 56 minutes in this one but had another solid performance, contributing to an excellent defensive night for the Lions.

D, Antonio Carlos, 6 — This was a solid game by all defensive players and Antonio Carlos was no different. The team has been lifted by the Brazilian’s return to the lineup and he proved once again why in this game. He made three interceptions in the back and had eight clearances. Additionally, he blocked three shots. Carlos played the role of cleanup in this game, often being the last man defending to halt a Montreal attack and he was excellent in that role.

D, Robin Jansson, 6.5 — Similar to the other defenders, Robin Jansson had a great performance. The defense was tasked with keeping the 1-0 lead provided by Daryl Dike in the 39th minute and they did that well. The biggest moment for Jansson, which puts him a little above the other defenders in my mind, came when Bojan made his way into the box and fired on goal. It appeared as though the ball was headed toward the net before the Swede came flying in to make the block. While Gallese might’ve been there, Jansson made sure that the lead was protected. In the end, Jansson had seven clearances and two key blocked shots in the game.

D, Kyle Smith, 6 — Kyle Smith has had an up and down season in 2020. Some games he’s been solid while he’s looked like a liability in others. Tonight was a good performance for the right back, who moved to left back when Kamal Miller was replaced by Ruan. Early in the game, Smith got into the attack on the right, with a pair of crosses. But he factored most in his contribution to the clean sheet. He ended the game with four tackles, two interceptions, four clearances, and a blocked shot.

MF, Benji Michel, 5.5 — Benji Michel wasn’t as involved in the attack as he has been in other games but did come away with two shots on target. He only touched the ball 43 times, which is less than you would like from an attacking player with his ability. He completed 76% of his passes but wasn’t really involved in many dangerous attacks.

MF, Mauiricio Pereyra, 7 (MotM) — Mauricio Pereyra has been missing the last few games with an injury and it’s been noticeable. The midfielder was fantastic in this game and made the biggest play of the night. In the 39th minute, he played a perfect through ball for Daryl Dike, allowing the big striker to put home the winning goal. In 56 minutes, he completed 80% of his 35 passes, including two key passes in the attack. His passing accuracy and presence in the midfield was influential in the team being able to claim all three points.

MF, Sebas Mendez, 6 — It was another solid performance by Sebas Mendez, who has been a key defensive piece for Orlando City in 2020. He made five tackles on the night and had an interception in this game. He nearly provided an insurance goal when he dispossessed Bojan to launch a counter-attack but Clement Diop made the save on the final ball. When Mendez had the ball, he completed 91.6% of his 71 passes, helping to start an attack on several occasions.

MF, Andres Perea, 6 — Similar to Mendez, Andres Perea had a solid game in a defensive midfield role. He had three interceptions and four clearances, helping the Lions remain in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. He made a total of 81 passes going forward and completed 86.4% of those passes.

FW, Daryl Dike, 6.5 — The rookie striker has been the big man up top that Orlando City has been missing since Cyle Larin left. He scored his third goal in three games in this one but it’s the play itself that was impressive. After using his body to shield the defender from the ball and going to ground, he quickly got up and made a nice run for Pereyra. His shot was perfectly placed to the back post for the game’s lone goal. He wasn’t that involved in his 84 minutes, only touching the ball 34 times and taking two shots, but his job is to score and he did that once again.

FW, Tesho Akindele, 5 — Tesho Akindele has had some great games this season but this wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t invisible, nor was he a liability, but he didn’t make the impact you want a veteran striker to make. He completed 81.8% of his 33 passes in this game and took two shots, with one on target. While he touched the ball more times than Dike and had the same number of shots, it was the conversion that separated the performance by the two.

Substitutes

MF, Junior Urso (56’), 5 — Despite coming on for 34 minutes, Junior Urso didn’t make that much of an impact on the game. He touched the ball 25 times and completed 75% of his 20 passes. He made two key passes in the second half but his primary goal was to help defend the team’s 1-0 lead. He was successful in that as they got the win but only recorded one clearance defensively.

D, Ruan (56’), 5.5 — When Ruan came into the game, the Lions were still looking to tack on a second goal. They nearly did in the 80th minute when a break gave the Lions their second chance. Unfortunately, the break was too slow. This wasn’t the fault of Ruan, as his teammates didn’t utilize his speed by sending him into space. By the time he reached the ball, Diop was able to come off his line to make the stop. A minute later he found Michel but the midfielder wasn’t able to get much on the shot. It was a solid 34 minutes for Ruan but less impact than he probably would’ve wanted.

MF, Alexander Alvarado (76’), 5.5 — Alexander Alvarado came on for Akindele with 14 minutes remaining, looking to help seal the win. He made five passes in his 14 minutes, completing each one successfully. At the point of his entrance, the team was defending multiple attacks by the Impact and Alvarado helped. He made two interceptions that helped the team clear the ball and maintain the one-goal lead.

MF, Joey DeZart (85’), N/A — With five minutes remaining, Orlando City made a pair of substitutions, one of which was Joey DeZart for Michel. DeZart only touched the ball three times in those five minutes and recorded one clearance.

F, Matheus Aias (85’), N/A — A late change for Dike, Matheus Aias came on for the final five minutes of the game. He only touched the ball four times and passed once in the short time he was on the field.


That’s the way I saw Orlando City’s individual performances. Let us know what you thought about each Lion and don’t forget to vote on the Man of the Match.

Polling Closed

PlayerVotes
Pedro Gallese5
Mauricio Pereyra38
Daryl Dike12
Robin Jansson1
Antonio Carlos11
Other2

Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire: Final Score 4-2 as Facundo Torres Leads Lions to Home Win

The Lions woke up offensively and goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar made up for a leaky defense in a much-needed home win.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City’s offense exploded for a season-high four goals and Mason Stajduhar made several critical saves as the Lions defeated the Chicago Fire 4-2 in front of an announced crowd of 22,038 at Inter&Co Stadium. Facundo Torres’ brace paced Orlando (5-8-6, 21 points), which also got goals from Luis Muriel and Ivan Angulo to offset scores by Maren Haile-Selassie and Hugo Cuypers for Chicago (4-9-6, 18 points). It was just the second home win for the Lions this season (2-5-3), and a much-needed one.

While a leaky defense was a concern, forcing Stajduhar to make 10 saves — several of the spectacular variety — the Lions will take the home win after struggling at Inter&Co Stadium all season. The 10 saves equals Joe Bendik’s single-game club record set against Sporting Kansas City on May 15, 2016.

“We feel very happy with the result, winning at home in front of our fans,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “Despite the difficult moments, they came and supported us and I wanted to spread our message to them. That energy that they brought to us in a game that needed an extra push from us…a difficult week playing on turf three days ago. We knew that today was going to be a big challenge on (us physically) with the humidity and all those things. But we had a lot of positive things. We scored four goals. We started seeing individuals improve their performances. The collective obviously looks much better.”

Pareja started nearly the identical lineup that started Wednesday’s match in Charlotte, with the exception of Cesar Araujo stepping back into the XI in place of Felipe. Stajduhar started in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. The midfield consisted of Torres, Araujo, Nico Lodeiro, and Angulo, with Muriel and Duncan McGuire leading the attack up top.

Orlando started quickly in this game and had a shout for an early penalty when Torres was knocked down from behind in the box in just the second minute. Referee Natalie Simon saw nothing wrong with the play and the video assistant referee determined no obvious error had been made without her going to the monitor herself.

It didn’t matter as much two minutes later when Torres opened the scoring. Taking a pass from Thorhallsson, the Uruguayan cut inside and smashed the ball into the far corner to make it 1-0. It was his second goal in the fourth minute against Chicago this season and his fifth strike against the Fire in the last four meetings.

“I think the first (goal) was a play that’s just very typical of me,” Torres said. “When I receive it outside like that on the wing, I like to bring it inside to try to give myself a better chance to finish and to find the goal. So, when I took it inside, I was one-on-one with the defender, and thankfully I was able to cut it just one more time and give myself an even better opportunity, which was just really typical of me and the way I like to play.”

Chicago nearly tied the match in the 11th minute. Stajduhar made a huge stop to deny Cuypers after a turnover by McGuire gifted the ball back to the visitors. After the save, Haile-Selassie put the rebound over the net.

Angulo blazed through the Chicago defense in the 19th minute and was pulled back by Allan Arigoni in the box. This time, Simon immediately pointed to the spot. Muriel took the penalty and sent a shot right with Chris Brady diving the other way in the 20th minute.

The Fire came within inches of pulling the goal right back in the 24th minute. Brian Gutierrez, who was given too much space multiple times in the first half, cut inside from the left and smashed a shot that crashed off the right post and stayed out. Two minutes later, he was left alone about 25 yards out from goal and sent a shot at Stajduhar from distance.

Orlando tripled the lead in the 29th minute. Thorhallsson whipped in a good cross for McGuire that was redirected on goal but saved by Brady. Angulo swooped in and picked up the loose change, putting the ball into the empty net to make it 3-0.

“The play was a situation where Dagur was bringing it in from the right and he was trying to cross it over to get it to Duncan in the center,” Angulo said. “When the deflection happened, it just kind of bounced to me and all I had to do was push it into the goal.”

Haile-Selassie was left alone in the box in the 40th minute and fired a shot that Jansson got a piece of, slowing it enough for Stajduhar to make the save. Two minutes later, the Homegrown goalkeeper made a much more difficult stop when the ball pinged around the box and was headed on frame by Cuypers from point-blank range.

McGuire got in alone on goal late in the half but his shot was saved and he was offside anyway. Arnaud Souquet then was left in too much space and sent a shot just wide of the target deep in stoppage time on the final look for either team.

With some long spells of possession late in the half, the Fire took a halftime edge (55%-45%) into the break in that category, as well as in shots (8-3), shots on target (4-3), and passing accuracy (93%-88.3%). Each team earned one corner.

Stajduhar was once again called upon to stop Gutierrez in the 47th minute and once again the keeper made the save.

A minute later, McGuire was nearly sent in behind by Santos but Brady was quickly off his line and got there just ahead of the Orlando striker.

The shutout was spoiled moments later. Schlegel and Jansson got switched up and each was on the other’s side. Schlegel went to ground to block a cross that hit the arm he was putting down to arrest his fall. Simon ruled that his arm was not yet supporting his body and therefore it was a penalty, and the call on the field was upheld. Haile-Selassie sent Stajduhar the wrong way and put the Fire on the board in the 53rd minute.

McGuire won a free kick near the left corner of the box after the restart and Muriel went for goal on the set piece. Brady got over to make the save in the 55th minute. That was one of the final actions for the Colombian, who was subbed off a few minutes later for Martin Ojeda.

Torres scored a fourth Orlando goal in the 60th minute, cutting across the top of the area and smashing a shot from distance that beat Brady. The four goals represents a season high for the Lions.

“The second one, when I receive it on the outside like that, I do like to hit it when I’ve got the opportunity,” Torres said. “Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn’t.”

His second of the night was a milestone goal for Torres, who scored his 28th league goal in two-and-a-half seasons to tie Nani for second on Orlando’s all-time, goal-scoring list in MLS matches.

Orlando’s defense was visibly tired in the final half hour. Just after the second Torres goal, a series of defensive turnovers kept Chicago on the attack for about a minute but it broke down on an offside.

The Lions gifted Chicago a second goal in the 69th minute. A routine cross into the box should have been dealt with by Jansson. The Swede swung and missed at the ball, which hit the back of Santos’ leg and bounced toward goal, where only Cuypers was waiting. He swept it past Stajduhar to make it 4-2.

From that point, it was a matter of Orlando managing the game, and the Lions did so, but not without a few more nervy moments in the defensive end.

Substitute Kyle Smith turned the ball over in his defensive third in the 79th minute, leading to another Gutierrez effort from long range. This one had a lot of movement on it and Stajduhar punched it away. A minute later, Gaston Gimenez sent a shot through traffic. Stajduhar didn’t see it until it was almost on top of him and he had to make a sprawling save to knock away what might ordinarily be a routine stop.

Former Lion Chris Mueller sent a long-range effort right at Stajduhar in the 83rd minute as the Chicago pressure continued. One of the goalkeeper’s best saves came in the 86th minute. An aerial ball cleared the defense and found Georgios Koutsias, who tried to head it over Stajduhar, but he was able to get a hand up quickly to reject the shot with an athletic save.

“I think tonight we saw the best of Mason, and I know he has more than that,” Pareja said. “He has been very patient in waiting for his opportunity. And in this moment when we needed that position to step up, he did and provided us a lot of security. We were drained at the end and Chicago was taking shots, but Mason provided us a lot of security and we felt safe. So, congratulations to Mason. We’re very proud of him and his performance. He deserves it because he works tremendously hard.”

Orlando nearly added an insurance strike in the 88th minute. Brady came out of his box to beat Angulo to a ball over the top, but he could not touch it and could only knock it to OJeda, who volleyed it inches over the crossbar from distance.

The game entered nine minutes of stoppage time and Chicago kept coming. Carlos Teran had a free header right in front on a corner kick but sent a powerful shot at Stajduhar’s feet and the keeper was able to trap it. He made a long throw to set up the counterattack, which ended up with Angulo down the left channel. The winger tried to pick out the far post but missed the target in transition in the 95th minute.

Stajduhar did well to punch away a couple of threatening crosses in the final minutes of injury time and the final whistle ended the proceedings without another goal.

Chicago finished with the advantage in possession (59.7%-40.3%), shots (18-8), shots on target (12-6), corners (3-1), and passing accuracy (90.3%-82.2%), but it was Orlando that was more clinical in front of goal and Stajduhar was a difference maker.

“It was a difficult game,” Pareja said. “Chicago pushed a lot and they had a lot of sequences, and we had to defend lower than we wanted, but it’s a good result, especially in front of our fans. And hopefully we can continue adding points because we need to find our way to turn these things around.”

“It’s a great feeling tonight to get the victory,” Angulo said. “That was the form that we had been looking for, and it was nice tonight to finally see it come to fruition on the field and together as a team.”

Torres has come on this week, not only scoring three goals and adding an assist across the two most recent matches, but also putting all six of his shot attempts on frame. If the old adage that your best players have to play well for the team to find success, Torres is doing that now after a difficult first half of the season.

“(The game) gives us and gives myself a lot of confidence, especially for when you’re going through a period where you’re working so hard and things just don’t seem to come off,” Torres said. “It can get really frustrating. It can be really difficult to get through, especially a couple of weeks ago, getting left off the Copa America roster. It hurts, but the only thing you can do is pick your head up and go back to it and just work even harder. So, that way you can find those successes that are yet to come.”


The Lions go back on the road Friday when they’ll play at New York City FC.

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More

The Lions continue their search for a win at home as the Fire make their annual visit to Orlando.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Welcome to your match thread and preview for a Saturday night matchup between Orlando City (4-8-6, 18 points) and the Chicago Fire (4-8-6, 18 points) at Inter&Co Stadium (7:30 p.m., MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+). This is the second and final scheduled meeting between the Eastern Conference rivals in 2024 and the only matchup in Orlando.

Here’s what you need to know about the match.

History

The Lions are 7-5-7 in 19 MLS meetings with the Fire and 7-6-7 in all competitions. Orlando City is 4-2-3 against the Fire at home.

These two teams just met a few weeks ago on May 29 at Soldier Field, playing to a 1-1 draw. Facundo Torres opened the scoring early with a scrappy goal in traffic, and the Lions should have had a penalty late in the first half when Ivan Angulo was clipped while in alone on a goal after rounding the goalkeeper, but the video assistant referee did not overturn the no-call and referee Malik Badawi did not look at the play himself. The Fire tied the match in the final 20 minutes on a Hugo Cuypers goal.

The Lions swept the two-game season series in 2023 by identical 3-1 scorelines. On Aug. 21, Orlando City got goals from Wilder Cartagena, Ivan Angulo, and Torres (from the penalty spot) to overcome a 1-0 deficit supplied by Mauricio Pineda, winning 3-1 on the road.

When the teams met in Orlando, the Lions rode a Torres brace to a 3-1 win on July 1. Xherdan Shaqiri pulled a goal back from the penalty spot after a Kyle Smith foul in the box against Brian Gutierrez, but Ramiro Enrique added an insurance goal.

Orlando City claimed a 1-0 victory at Exploria Stadium on April 9, 2022 on Ercan Kara’s first MLS goal. The two sides met at Soldier Field just over a month prior to that match and played, officially, to a 0-0 draw on March 5. The game is another Orlando City match that will live in infamy due to the Professional Referee Organization’s statement after the game that Junior Urso’s goal should not have been overturned upon video review by Ismir Pekmic due to Kara not having clearly and obviously handled the ball in the buildup in any of the available replay angles. Alas…

The teams met in Orlando on Aug. 21, 2021, with a second-half Benji Michel strike lifting the Lions to a 1-0 victory. Tesho Akindele set up the play by forcing a turnover. In that year’s meeting at Soldier Field, the Fire got the better of the Lions to the tune of 3-1 on July 7. Andres Perea scored his first career MLS goal to open the scoring, but a defensive lapse in first-half stoppage allowed Boris Sekulic to equalize just before the break. Chicago rode that momentum, adding goals by Robert Beric and Chinonso Offor.

The Lions were 0-4-4 in the eight meetings before smashing the Fire 4-1 in Orlando on Sept. 19, 2020. Orlando City withstood two Chicago penalties and saw two Fire goals overturned by video review in that rain-soaked match. (Weird things usually happen when Chicago visits Orlando.) The Lions got goals from Chris Mueller, Nani, Urso, and Michel, while Chicago had only a Beric penalty to show for an otherwise good offensive performance.

The last meeting of 2019 was the last time the Fire won on the road in the series. It was a debacle for the Lions, who lost defender Robin Jansson to a back/neck injury early and shipped a handful of goals in a 5-2 home loss in the regular-season finale. Orlando got goals from Akindele and Michel but largely played like a team that couldn’t wait to end its season. Chicago got an own goal from Orlando’s Smith and strikes from CJ Sapong, Aleksandar Katai, and Przemyslaw Frankowski (twice) in the rout.

Orlando City was seconds away from a road win on March 9, 2019 before Sapong’s free header in the 95th minute leveled things in a 1-1 draw in Chicago. Dom Dwyer scored Orlando’s goal.

In 2018, the Fire swept the season series. Orlando fell 2-1 at home on May 26, 2018, with Alan Gordon’s wondergoal breaking a 1-1 deadlock. The return leg in Chicago that September was an abysmal performance by Orlando in a 4-0 Fire victory.

Chicago went 1-0-1 in 2017, with the teams playing to a 0-0 draw on June 4, 2017, with the Lions reduced to nine men. The previous 2017 meeting was the Fire’s 4-0 beatdown of Orlando on June 24 of that year. David Accam figured in all four goals, with a hat trick and an assist on Nemanja Nikolić’s goal.

The teams split the points in 2016, drawing both meetings. Cyle Larin and Accam traded goals in a 1-1 draw in Orlando on March 11. The Fire again came from behind to draw, 2-2 in the return leg that August.

The teams met once in Orlando in 2015, with the Lions and Fire battling to a 1-1 draw. You may recall that five-hour, weather-delayed affair with Eric Gehrig’s own-goal canceling out an Accam strike. The other three meetings came in Chicago, with City winning 3-2 and 1-0 in MLS matches and falling 3-1 in U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal action.

Overview

The Lions are coming off a 2-2 road draw at Charlotte FC Wednesday night. The hosts scored early off an Orlando defensive gaffe but went down a man late in the first half. Orlando took initial advantage when Duncan McGuire tied the match in the second half, however, another defensive mishap led to Charlotte regaining the lead late. Torres tied the game again but the Lions could not find a winner. It was Orlando’s fifth consecutive game without a win (0-3-2) but the team’s first point since the last game against Chicago. Orlando is an abysmal 1-5-3 at home this season, so the club is starving for three points at Inter&Co Stadium.

Conversely, Chicago is 2-0-0 since hosting Orlando City last month. The Fire are coming off a 4-1 dismantling of Toronto FC last Saturday and will be on a full week’s rest. That win was Chicago’s first on the road this year (1-3-4), so the two teams with identical overall records have been headed in opposite directions than when they last met. Cuypers has gotten hot and leads the Fire with six goals on the season, while Gutierrez has four. Fabian Herbers and Maren Haile-Selassie pace the team with four assists each. USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta has two goals and two assists.

“We played them not too long ago. Chicago is a team that has been evolving too. We understand that evolution since we have information [and analysis] in our game against them in Chicago, but I think we played them well there and I think we had another good game,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said ahead of the match. “We’ll try to improve some things and see if we can get better at those things that we’re talking about, being more precise and taking advantage of that volume that we had in front of the goal, but also just being cautious and smart defending them.”

The Lions list Mikey Halliday (knee), and Tahir Reid-Brown (thigh) as out on the availability report, along with international players Pedro Gallese, Wilder Cartagena, and David Brekalo. Ramiro Enrique (personal matter) and Felipe (foot) are listed as questionable. Chicago will be without Chase Gasper (leg), Andrew Gutman (leg), Tobias Salquist (leg), and Xherdan Shaqiri (international duty), while Federico Navarro (leg) is listed as questionable.

Match Content


Official Lineups

Orlando City (4-4-2)

Goalkeeper: Mason Stajduhar.

Defenders: Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson.

Midfielders: Facundo Torres, Cesar Araujo, Nico Lodeiro, Ivan Angulo.

Forwards: Luis Muriel, Duncan McGuire.

Bench: Javier Otero, Kyle Smith, Alex Freeman, Thomas Williams, Jeorgio Kocevski, Felipe, Wilfredo Rivera, Martin Ojeda, Jack Lynn.

Chicago Fire (3-4-3)

Goalkeeper: Chris Brady.

Defenders: Mauricio Pineda, Carlos Teran, Arnaud Souquet.

Wingbacks/Midfielders: Jonathan Dean, Kellyn Acosta, Fabian Herbers, Allan Arigoni.

Forwards: Brian Gutierrez, Hugo Cuypers, Maren Haile-Selassie.

Bench: Spencer Richey, Rafael Czichos, Wyatt Omsberg, Gaston Gimenez, Javier Casas, Chris Mueller, Tom Barlow, Georgios Koutsias.

Referees

REF: Natalie Simon.
AR1: Corey Rockwell.
AR2: Kevin Klinger.
4TH: Chris Penso.
VAR: Sorin Stoica.
AVAR: Mike Kampmeinert.


How to Watch

Match Time: 7:30 p.m.

Venue: Inter&Co Stadium — Orlando.

TV/Streaming: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+.

Radio: FM 96.9 The Game (English), Mega 97.1 FM (Spanish).

Twitter: For rapid reaction and live updates, follow along at @TheManeLand, as well as Orlando City’s official Twitter feed (@OrlandoCitySC).


Enjoy the game. Go City!

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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire

Get caught up on the Chicago Fire courtesy of someone who knows them best.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Following a midweek draw on the road that was filled with plenty of intrigue, Orlando City returns to the welcoming confines of home to take on the Chicago Fire in the second meeting of the season between the two teams.

A matchup with Chicago means I caught up with Ruben Tisch, who runs the show over at The Lantern. As always, he was kind enough to give us some valuable insight into how the Fire have fared since these two teams last met.

Hugo Cuypers was Chicago’s big off-season signing, how has he looked so far?

Ruben Tisch: He’s been good so far and it’s finally paying off on the score sheet. He’s scored a goal in each of the Fire’s last three matches and has turned into a real asset on the counter-press, something I didn’t see happening. When he was brought in, we knew we were getting a poacher — someone with an eye and foot for goal but not someone who could create his own opportunities. However, he’s shown to be more than his player profile and the Fire are cashing in the dividends.

He’s also starting to figure out how to play with Brian Gutierrez and Maren Haile-Selassie. Early on in the season, there were problems. The quality of service was poor, and as a result, the coordination between he and the midfield was bad. In recent games, things have gotten better. The passing has improved, and as a result, the chance creation has gotten better. Cuypers is getting in better spots and his shots are going in. 

Former Lion Chris Mueller is now in his third season with the Fire. What sort of season has he had in 2024?

RT: Honestly, he hasn’t had much of one. Part of it is that tactically, the Fire have moved away from traditional wingers to wingbacks and Mueller isn’t someone you can trust to defend with any regularity. He’s an attacking demon, but the way the Fire are trying to play, he’s just not as useful as someone like Allen Arigoni, who can attack and defend. 

The other bit is speculation on my part, but he doesn’t seem to have recovered completely from the season-ending surgery from last season. He looks a step slower when on the field and he’s having trouble playing meaningful minutes. I expect that he’ll get better as he continues to recover, but I don’t expect him to regain his starting role anytime soon, especially if the Fire goes out and gets a DP wide player in the summer.

The Fire have hit a nice patch of form, and the team is unbeaten in its last four games. What’s been working well for Chicago during that stretch?

RT: The switch to three center backs has been a boon for a team that struggles with defensive focus for 90 minutes. They now have cover, so that small mistakes don’t become big mistakes, and Carlos Teran is determined to play himself into a transfer to Europe, so every game he’s in he gives his 100%.

Mostly, though, I think it’s Xherdan Shaqiri’s exit from the club. It looks like a huge weight has been lifted and the team is playing a lot freer with him gone. The move never worked out for a lot of reasons, but a large part of it was he just isn’t the player the club needed him to be. He’s not a good fulcrum. The game cannot run through him, and he’s best when he can float in and out of the action. He can’t run a team, and when the Fire signed him, that’s what they really needed. And they never got it.

Will any players be unavailable due to injuries, suspensions, call-ups, etc.? What is your best guess at a starting XI and a score prediction?

RT: It’s probably going to be the same as their win over Toronto. Part of the big problem with the Fire over the last decade has been lineup consistency. They didn’t have a midweek game, so there’s no reason to rotate the squad.

Chris Brady; Jonathan Dean, Rafael Czichos, Carlos Teran, Arnaud Souquet, Allan Arigoni; Kellyn Acosta, Fabian Herbers, Brian Gutierrez; Hugo Cuypers, Maren Haile-Selassie.

No score prediction provided.


Thank you to Ruben for the update on the Fire. Vamos Orlando!

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