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Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Final Score 2-1 as 10-Man Lions Win to Clinch Home Playoff Match

Nani was sent off on an absurd call but the Lions refused to quit and beat the Crew at home.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Things looked bad for Orlando City when Nani was sent off in the second half and the Columbus Crew tied the game moments later. But the Lions showed resilience and Benji Michel scored a late winner in a 2-1 victory at Exploria Stadium. Orlando (11-3-8, 41 points) clinched a home playoff game with the win and can finish no worse than fourth in the Eastern Conference. It was the Lions’ fourth consecutive win over the Crew (11-6-5, 38 points), who still haven’t won a road match in 2020.

Chris Mueller opened the scoring, but Harrison Afful equalized just after Nani was sent off when referee Ramy Touchan inexplicably ruled that he had erred in giving the captain only a yellow card for a challenge that didn’t even look like much of a foul. Nevertheless, the Lions were able to find a second goal after that and prevent the Crew from getting good looks at goal down the stretch.

It was the first time Orlando City had gone down a man and then went on to score a goal to win a game.

“Tonight it’s an honor for me to coach these guys and I give the credit to them,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja after the match. “It was their heart, and the three points against a very good rival. And we secured a spot for the playoffs and a home game, which is another objective accomplished.”

Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Andres Perea and Junior Urso played central midfield with Mauricio Pereyra dropping into available pockets. Nani and Mueller bracketed Tesho Akindele in the attack. Daryl Dike had the night off due to a non-COVID-related illness.

Orlando City had a dominant first half against the visitors but repeatedly missed the target, made the wrong final decision, or saw a shot saved by Eloy Room. The Lions kept the ball in the Crew half for much of the first 45 minutes and fashioned several good scoring chances but could only cash in on one of them.

Jonathan Mensah’s poor pass led to a golden opportunity for Orlando in the 10th minute. His pass was picked off by Mueller, who spotted Akindele breaking in down the left. But he gave Tesho too soft a pass, which allowed the defense to come in from behind and deflect it away.

Moments later, there were shouts for handball on Pedro Santos and it did appear that the ball hit the Columbus winger on the arm, but nothing was called and there appeared to be no video review at the next stoppage of play.

The Lions should have gone in front in the 14th minute when Urso was left wide open at the penalty spot. He took the pass, turned to goal and fired just wide under no pressure at all.

Orlando continued to fire shots off defenders, high, or wide of the net from good spots over the next several minutes. But the Lions finally broke through in the 26th minute. Pereyra got in the way of a Harrison Afful pass and fed to Mueller, who fired home his 10th goal to open the scoring. Pereyra took sole possession of the team’s assist lead with his seventh.

Smith nearly scored on consecutive shots in the 30th but was robbed blind by Room, who made a pair of outstanding saves to keep the game at 1-0.

Lucas Zelarayan headed a shot at Gallese in the 40th minute after the Crew’s first spell of sustained pressure. That was the last decent look for either side in the opening period and the Lions held their slim advantage at the break.

Orlando led in shots (10-5), shots on target (3-2), corners (6-0), passing accuracy (87%-80%), and possession (57%-43%). At one point before Mueller’s goal, the Lions had held more than 60% of the ball, before Columbus had a late spell of possession.

Shortly after the restart, the game changed dramatically. Nani went to ground while seemingly winning the ball, but he caught a Crew player on the follow through. Touchan gave him a yellow card and awarded a free kick to Columbus in a dangerous area. It was a bit surprising to even see him go to the monitor, but he did, and it was even more surprising when he showed Nani a straight red. Orlando went down to 10 men in the 52nd minute.

“We reviewed it. Nothing happened,” Pareja said of the play. “We all make mistakes and we assume this is a part of the game. The game gives us the possibility to be fair, and we have to be fair. It was not a red card.”

Columbus equalized four minutes after Nani left the pitch. The ball deflected off of Smith and got headed into the area. It fell for Pedro Santos, who laid off for Afful to smash into the net past Gallese, tying the game at 1-1 in the 56th minute. The momentum had changed and it seemed like the Crew might go on to take all three points.

Orlando City played with great determination after conceding and prevented the Crew from getting good looks at goal, even though they were on the ball a lot more. The Lions looked for opportunities to hit on the counter through Michel after came on in the 70th for Akindele, who had worked tirelessly all night on the press and also with his hold-up play and timely runs.

Michel won a free kick with his first touch of the match and the Lions again thought the Crew handled the ball in the box, as the ball appeared to ping off the arm of Aboubacar Keita. Touchan reviewed the play this time but ruled that there was no foul for handball in the area.

Pereyra lofted a long ball for Michel in the 84th goal to start the winning sequence. With his back to goal, Michel headed the ball up and behind himself, then turned inside of Keita and got to the ball first, chesting it down and slotting home his fifth goal of the season between Room’s legs, restoring Orlando City’s lead.

“It just means a lot, being able to reach this accomplishment in front of my friends, my family, the city I grew up in,” Michel said, when asked what it meant to him as a Homegrown Player to give his team its first ever home playoff game with the goal. “It’s just a feeling that you just cannot describe it’s just so many emotions going into it.”

Pereyra notched his eighth assist of the season on the play. He said after the game that he knew he was going to be subbed off soon, and he was tired, but he wanted to try one more time to spring Michel.

“I say, ‘okay this maybe will be my last ball,’ so that’s why I tried to shoot over the defender,” Pereyra said. “And then Benji made the rest, of course. He controlled, he’s fast, he made the difference, and then he scored. It’s great for him and for us.”

City did well from that point on to keep the Crew on the fringes of the area, and Columbus settled for lumping balls into the box, where the Lions had five defenders waiting every time. After an interminable eight minutes of stoppage time, Touchan blew the final whistle and Orlando had its third win in a row.

For the game, the Lions out-shot the Crew (13-11), with both teams getting four on target. With the extra man for most of the second half, Columbus was able to take the possession advantage (50.7%-49.3%), but Orlando was the more accurate passing team (85%-83%).

“I think they have done a great job on overcoming many obstacles,” Pareja said of his team’s play in 2020. “Since we got here, what I have seen is just this side of the players. They know the challenges will come and they know that we were not at the beginning of the season the team where everybody was expecting big things. And I think they they understood that and they embraced that barrier and, and they overcome [it] together, as a group.”

Orlando City’s four straight wins against the Crew marks the first time in club history that the Lions have beaten an opponent four times in a row.

“Today was a heavy day for us. It was difficult, and I think we showed again that we can keep thinking about big things for Orlando City,” Pareja said.

Orlando City will close the regular season Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. when the Lions host Nashville SC. Nani will miss that match unless the red card is rescinded, and Pereyra will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation.

Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Junior Urso

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



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Midfielder Junior Urso joined Orlando City on Jan. 13, 2020 from Brazilian giants Corinthians on a multi-year deal. The Bear spent three years in purple before he and the club mutually agreed to part ways, terminating his contract for personal reasons on Nov. 10, 2022. Upon his return to Brazil, Urso joined Coritiba, but injuries limited him to just seven appearances. In a surprise move, Urso rejoined Orlando City on July 19, returning to the City Beautiful and accepting a backup role behind the Lions’ double pivot of Wilder Cartagena and Cesar Araujo.

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

Statistical Breakdown

Urso made his return to the pitch for Orlando City on Aug. 20, following the club’s run in Leagues Cup. In the MLS regular season, Urso made nine appearances (two starts), logging 250 minutes. Urso did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting just three shots, none of which found the target. The Bear completed 78.3% of his 115 total pass attempts but did not record a key pass or a successful cross. Defensively, Urso tallied two interceptions, five tackles, and five clearances. He committed two fouls, drew two on the opposition, and was booked just once.

The Brazilian also appeared in all three of Orlando City’s playoff matches, all off the bench, totaling 98 minutes. He did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting three shots, one of which was on target. He completed 86.4% of his passes, including three key passes, but did not connect on a cross. Urso chipped in one tackle defensively, committed two fouls, suffered three, and was not booked in the postseason.

Best Game

With a little less than a third of a season in purple and gold and serving primarily as a reserve player, Urso’s best match was his regular-season appearance on the road against Nashville SC on Oct. 4. The Bear came on for Facundo Torres in the 72nd minute and did what fans have always expected of him, which is to frustrate the living hell out of the opponent. Urso made sure that Nashville knew that he had entered the game, winning countless throw-ins, allowing Orlando to walk away with its first road victory at Nashville. Urso also recorded a shot in the match, which was the Lions’ only attempt other than Duncan McGuire’s goal, although it was perhaps a bit generous to call it a shot attempt. He passed at a 72.2% rate and recorded a tackle and a clearance and did his job helping the Lions see out a tight victory.

2023 Final Grade

As Urso came up short of the minimum total of 450 minutes played to receive a rating on our 1-10 scale, The Mane Land has no choice but to mark his grade as incomplete for the 2023 season. While it was a surreal experience just to see the Bear back on the pitch for Orlando City after his sudden departure, a delayed return to the pitch due to a lingering knock and the play of the midfielders in front of him on the depth chart limited his ability to leave his mark on the season. However, it’s difficult to put a grade on the experience he brought to the squad.

2024 Outlook

Orlando City has yet to announce its end-of-season roster decisions as of this writing, but with Wilder Cartagena’s loan spell expired, the Lions would be wise to pick up Urso’s contract option for the 2024 season. If that happens, he would likely take up the No. 8 role with Araujo playing the No. 6 in Orlando’s double pivot (assuming Oscar Pareja also returns). Urso could split time at the No. 8 if Orlando adds a new starting No. 10, because in that case, Mauricio Pereyra might see some time in that spot. If a permanent transfer or loan extension for Cartagena is secured, Urso provides value off the bench, although he’s a bit pricey for a backup at $360,000.

Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/5/23

Exploria Stadium will host Copa America games, Pride reportedly make offer for Crystal Dunn, Americans in midweek action, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Good morning, everyone. I’m still dragging a little bit after having a shortened weekend due to work, but I hope all of you were able to hit the ground running yesterday and started your weeks off on the right note. As usual, there’s a lot of interesting things to discuss today, so let’s get after it.

Exploria Stadium Picked as Copa America Venue

The host cities and venues for next summer’s Copa America tournament were revealed and Orlando City’s Exploria Stadium has been chosen. The Lions’ home will have games on June 29 and July 1, and both games could be very important ones as they will take place during the final day of play for Groups A and C. We also know that the USMNT will play its group stage games in Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City. The semifinal matches will be held at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, with Charlotte also hosting the third-place game. We’ll know very soon which teams will be playing in Orlando, as the draw will take place on Thursday.

Orlando Pride Reportedly Make an Offer for Crystal Dunn

The Orlando Pride have reportedly made a large offer to bring Crystal Dunn to Orlando, with CBS Sports reporting the amount prepared by the Pride to be more than $400,000. However, negotiations between the Pride and Dunn are reportedly no longer ongoing.

The 31-year-old is a free agent after announcing that she was not returning to the Portland Thorns after three seasons there. She is one of the more notable free agents this off-season and the Washington Spirit and NJ/NY Gotham FC are also interested in signing her ahead of the 2024 season.

Americans in Midweek Action

There are a number of American players who will be playing games this week, so make sure you have some of these marked down on your calendar. First up is a match that could feature up to three players currently in the USMNT pool, as Jordan Pefok, Joe Scally, and Borussia Monchengladbach will face Kevin Paredes and Wolfsburg in the DFB Pokal. Tomorrow sees Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson, and Fulham playing Matt Turner’s Nottingham Forest, although the USMNT’s starting goalkeeper is not likely to play. The week finishes with Juventus and Weston McKennie facing Napoli in league play, although Tim Weah is still an injury doubt.

USWNT Aims for Change in Mentality

The 2024 calendar year is going to be an important one for the United States Women’s National Team, and the team wants to start it off on the right foot. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore is viewing today’s match against China as a chance for the team to continue building a new identity and to keep developing tactically after a disappointing early exit from this summer’s World Cup. While Emma Hayes has been named the team’s new head coach, she won’t officially join up until Chelsea’s club season ends in May. Until that happens, there’s plenty of work to be done with the Gold Cup just around the corner in March, followed by the Olympics in Paris in July.

The Soccer Tournament Adds Women’s Competition

Following the success of last year’s first edition of The Soccer Tournament, the organizers have added a women’s competition for next summer’s event. The seven-a-side tournament will now also feature an eight-team women’s bracket which will also have a $1 million prize up for grabs. The decision was made after an all-women’s team led by Heather O’Reilly drew significant support when it competed last year, despite not picking up a win. The men’s tournament will also be expanding to 48 teams for this year’s competition, after featuring 32 participants during the summer.

Free Kicks

  • Ramiro Enrique has been called up to Argentina’s training camp for its 2024 Olympic team.
  • Orlando City’s documentary about the 2022 U.S. Open Cup victory has won a Suncoast Emmy.
  • In the 2023 Women’s College Cup final, Florida State beat Stanford 5-1 to win its fourth national championship.

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

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/4/23

Crew to host MLS Cup final, LAFC returns to MLS Cup, Tim Howard to be inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Good Monday morning, Mane Landers. The weekend brought us some drama-filled conference final action, and we now know who will play for the MLS Cup. But before I dive into that, I just want to take a quick minute to say with mixed emotions that this will be my final Lion Links here, but don’t be sad, because the rest of the boys will still be bringing your daily content needs and coverage. I’ll be stepping away as my wife and I are soon to be first-time parents, and I’m looking forward to all that entails. I appreciate each and every one of you readers for taking the time to scroll through my articles each week. If you’re interested in writing for TML, we could definitely use the help so please reach out. Now, let’s get into the links!

Columbus Crew Claim Hell Is Real Comeback

After a rocky start, the Columbus Crew became the first team to overcome a two-goal deficit on the road and advance in a single-leg round in the history of the MLS Cup playoffs. FC Cincinnati got off to a great start behind USMNT striker Brandon Vasquez, who opened the scoring, but it was captain Luciano Acosta’s sublime free kick finish that stole the show in the first half.

It took trusting the process and the tactics of their first-year manager Wilfried Nancy, but the Columbus Crew fought back with late match heroics to seal the victory. Forward Christian Ramirez bagged the game-winning goal in extra time in the 115th minute.

“You can only fight for someone like that,” said Ramirez. “So many times you can feel that you’re getting the bad end of the stick at certain moments, but I haven’t felt that. I think numerous guys understand how he sees the game now, and we respect that. We talk about writing our story in the Columbus Crew history; this chapter wasn’t done. We got one more week, one more game.”

LAFC Returns to MLS Cup

The league’s defending champion, LAFC, will once again be playing in the final match of the postseason. After frustrating the Houston Dynamo throughout the Western Conference final, LAFC won 2-0. Houston might have dominated the stat sheet in possession, passes, and passing accuracy, but really it was just playing into the gameplan of LAFC.

“We knew that’s what they wanted. They wanted the ball,” said LAFC right back Ryan Hollingshead. “They like to play this little tiki-taka in the middle of the field, these little movements, little one-twos, three of their guys just kind of pass the ball, but they’re going nowhere. And so we just said, do whatever you got, have the ball as long as you want. They created zero dangerous chances. They had a half-chance in the first half on a cross to Baird and that was it. And so a lot of these teams, it’s like, yeah, they’ve got possession, they may be moving the ball. But if they’re not creating dangerous chances, who cares?”

MLS Cup Final Preview

The Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew will host Western Conference champion LAFC at Field on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m for the MLS Cup. The match will be No. 53 across all competitions this campaign for LAFC, and a victory would make the club the first repeat winners since the 2011-2012 LA Galaxy. The storylines leading to the match will likely center around the possibility of it being Carlos Vela’s final game for LAFC, but for the Crew, the bench players will be the ones to watch. In the 65th minute of the Eastern Conference final, Head Coach Wilfried Nancy brought in Julian Gressel and Christian Ramirez, who both played a pivotal role in two of the three Columbus goals in the comeback victory.  The Crew last lifted the MLS Cup in 2020, defeating Seattle Sounders 3-0 at Historic Crew Stadium.

2024 National Soccer Hall of Fame

On May 4, the National Soccer Hall of Fame will induct its 2024 class. Most notable will be long-time USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played 121 matches for the United States and had a successful career in the English Premier League. Other inductees will be USWNT World Cup winner Tisha Venturini-Hoch, 1996 Paralympic captain Josh McKinney, and USL founder Francisco Marcos.

Orlando Reportedly Set to Host USMNT-Brazil Friendly

The United States Men’s National Team is reportedly far along in negotiations to face Brazil in Orlando for a friendly leading to next year’s Copa America. The Yanks and Brazil last met in September 2018 in a friendly match in East Rutherford, NJ. The United States will host the Copa America from June 19 to July 14 as one of six invited teams to the South American competition. Brazil enter as the defending champion and should prove a worthy test for the Stars & Stripes to tune up for the Southern American title.

Free Kicks

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

That’s a wrap for my personal writing here for a while. It has been a pleasure to bring some coverage to you all for the past couple seasons. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. Vamos Orlando!

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