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 Parts Ways with Captain Mauricio Pereyra
Orlando City and club captain Mauricio Pereyra have agreed to terminate his contract.
Orlando City announced this afternoon that the club and captain Mauricio Pereyra have mutually agreed to terminate his contract. The Uruguayan midfielder leaves the club after four and a half years in purple and two seasons as captain.
“Mauricio has embodied Orlando City since the moment he arrived to the club, and we’re very thankful for everything he has given to us, our fans, and the community,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “His contributions and impact to our organization will be felt for years to come, and we wish him and his family the best of luck in this next chapter of their lives.”
Pereyra originally joined the club on July 30, 2019 after his contract expired with Russian side FC Krasnodar. He made his debut on Aug. 17, 2019 against Minnesota United FC as a Designated Player, coming on at halftime for Robinho. He would go on to make 136 appearances in all competitions (122 starts) and record 10,027 minutes. The midfielder scored seven goals for the Lions and recorded a club record 47 assists.
His 136 appearances are third most in the club’s MLS era, his 121 starts are second, and his 10,027 minutes are third since the club jumped from USL Pro to MLS in 2015.
Following the departure of previous captain Nani after the 2021 MLS season, Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja named Pereyra the club captain. He led his team through an historic cup run in 2022, lifting the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the club’s first-ever major trophy. He captained the team again in 2023, leading the Lions to the MLS Cup playoffs for the fourth straight year and the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second time in that period.
The midfielder signed a new two-year contract on Nov. 23, 2022 that was supposed to keep him in Orlando through the 2024 MLS season. Muzzi used Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to buy down his contract, opening a Designated Player spot for the 2023 season. However, this decision ends his contract a year before its expiration.
“Thank you to everyone for these four years together. It was a pleasure to belong to this family and I am so thankful to every person that works for this club and that has helped this team grow and win titles from their place,” Pereyra said in a club press release. “I was honored and proud to be given the captain’s armband and, of course, thanks to the technical staff and my teammates who helped me to become better as a player. But more so made me feel loved and made me a better person. I’ll miss you, but from this next season and beyond you’ll have one more fan that will wish nothing but the best for you. I love you and thank you.”
The 33-year-old Uruguayan made 38 appearances in his final season for Orlando City, with 34 starts and 2,637 minutes across all competitions. He scored one goal and added 12 assists.
What It Means for Orlando
Pereyra is a significant player in Orlando City history. He was one of the first players signed by Muzzi after the GM’s arrival from FC Dallas and was a key part of the club’s turnaround from doormat to contender. The importance of his place in the team was shown when Pareja named him captain following the 2021 MLS season.
However, the 33-year-old has lost a step since arriving. It was visible as the past two seasons progressed and raised questions as to whether he was the right option in the starting lineup moving forward. The club’s sale of striker Ercan Kara to Turkish side Samsunspor opened up a Designated Player spot that could be used on that position if the club wishes.
While Pereyra was an essential part of the team during his time in Orlando, it seems impossible for him to stay without being in the starting lineup. As captain, he was never going to come off the bench, so leaving the lineup would inevitably mean his departure from the club.
Additionally, Pereyra moved forward this past season into a more unfamiliar role. He started as an eight when he arrived, but was forced into the attacking midfield when Junior Urso left. The club now has the option of moving Urso or Designated Player Martin Ojeda into the starting lineup, or using their now open DP spot on that position.
Lion Links: 12/6/23
Antonio Carlos linked with move to Fluminense, Emily Madril agrees to new contract with the Pride, USWNT beats China, and more.
Hello, Mane Landers. I hope all is well with you down in Florida. There is not much new with me, I’ve just been staying busy working at Under Armour and covering high school basketball and wrestling lately. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.
Antonio Carlos Linked with Fluminense
Orlando City center back Antonio Carlos was linked with a move back to Brazil, with Fluminense reportedly close to finalizing a deal to sign him.
Carlos initially joined Orlando on loan from Palmeiras before the 2020 season. Following that season, the club signed him to a three-year contract with an option for an additional year. The 30-year-old has been a key part of Orlando’s defense under Head Coach Oscar Pareja, although Carlos missed some time this past season due to injury.
Emily Madril Agrees to New Contract With the Pride
The Orlando Pride announced that defender Emily Madril has reached an agreement with the club on a new three-year contract through the 2026 NWSL season. Madril just finished her first season with the Pride, making 27 appearances for the club across all competitions and leading all rookies with 1,977 minutes played in the NWSL regular season. She was already signed to a three-year deal through 2025, but the Pride were able to find a way to keep her with the club for another year. Now the club can work on retooling its roster with a back line anchored by Madril and Rafaelle.
MLS 2023 College Showcase Begins Today
Major League Soccer announced the 44 invitees for the 2023 MLS College Showcase. The event will kick off today through Dec. 9 in Phoenix. One local player to keep an eye on is defender Jahlane Forbes out of Wake Forest. Forbes is from Clermont, FL and joined Orlando City’s academy in 2016. He has also played for Orlando City B, making three appearances. Forbes made 19 appearances for Wake Forest in the 2023 season, recording five goals and seven assists. Other top prospects to watch include Louisville defender Josh Jones, High Point’s Jefferson Amaya, and Marshall forward Matthew Bell.
USWNT Beats China in Final Friendly of 2023
The U.S. Women’s National team defeated China 2-1 at Toyota Stadium in its final match of 2023. The USWNT trailed 1-0 at halftime, but bounced back in the second half thanks to a pair of goals and a solid defensive effort. Jaedyn Shaw gave the USWNT its winner in the 79th minute, scoring in her hometown in a memorable moment for the 19-year-old. It was the USWNT’s second win over China this month after winning the first match 3-0 this past Saturday in Fort Lauderdale.
Former Lion Daryl Dike Nears Return with West Brom
After being sidelined with an Achilles injury since March, former Lion Daryl Dike could make his return to West Brom this month. Dike has been back at training with the club since last month to work his way back to fitness, and West Brom’s manager, Carlos Corberan, stated that that he would be an option in the squad by the end of the December if he keeps progressing well. The 23-year-old joined West Brom in December of 2021, but injuries have limited his playing time while in England.
- The Orlando Pride had a message for former Pride goalkeeper Erin McLeod after her farewell ceremony with the Canadian Women’s National Team during its friendly against Australia on Tuesday.
- The Chicago Fire have announced that Frank Klopas will return to the club to serve as head coach for the second time. Klopas was the head coach for the Fire from 2011 to 2013 and was the interim coach this past season after Ezra Hendrickson’s departure in May.
- Minnesota United announced that Sean McAuley will remain with the club as its interim head coach going into the 2024 season.
- Former Portland Timbers Head Coach Gio Savarese is reportedly in consideration for the open head coach position with the New England Revolution.
- The Seattle Sounders have reached an agreement with goalkeeper Stefan Frei on a new two-year contract that will keep him at the club through the 2025 season.
That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Wednesday and I’ll see you next time.
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)
Orlando City Parts Ways with Captain Mauricio Pereyra
2023 Orlando Pride Season in Review: Emily Madril
PawedCast Episode 391: Orlando City Off-Season Roster Predictions
Lion Links: 12/5/23
Lion Links: 12/4/23
PawedCast Episode 391: Orlando City Off-Season Roster Predictions
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