Tesho Akindele, Nani, and Junior Urso provided the goals and Pedro Gallese wasn’t called on to make a single save, as Orlando City dominated FC Cincinnat 3-0 at Exploria Stadium. The Lions (1-0-2, 5 points) turned in a good performance to get their first win of the season and remain unbeaten (2-0-1) in the all-time series against FCC (0-2-1, 1 point).
“Very good game for us, very solid performance,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The best part of the game was that we found the net — something that we were missing in the last two games, where we did a very good performance also but we were missing that final touch. In today’s game we did it. We were more precise and that makes us happy.”
Pareja’s lineup included Gallese in his customary spot between the sticks behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Mauricio Pereyra slotted into the midfield with Urso and Sebas Mendez behind an attacking force of Nani, Akindele, and Chris Mueller.
It took just over 30 seconds for Orlando to take the lead. Akindele was the first to reach a wayward back pass and slotted home to score the fastest goal in Orlando City’s MLS history. The only other first-minute goals in the club’s history came in the USL days, as both Dom Dwyer and Kevin Molino accomplished the feat in 2013.
“It’s super important for sure,” Akindele said of scoring early. “I mean, think of it from their point of view. They just lost last week, a big loss, and then they come out this week and they’re down right away. It’s tough. I’ve been in that position where something like that’s happened. I know it’s tough mentally. So, we knew that we had a mental edge right there. We had the fans behind us, we have momentum, we’re feeling good. They’re playing in the heat. So I think at that point we kind of have a lot of things on our side.”
“It meant a lot, especially because I felt the boys in the locker room trying to come up with intensity and and setting the tone of the game,” Pareja said of the early goal.
The Lions’ bright start continued with Urso heading just over the bar three minutes in. Akindele nearly had a brace in the 15th when a deflected cross from Smith just cleared the Cincinnati defense but the ball took a big bounce right in front of Tesho, who bodied it to himself, but he couldn’t keep his shot down.
Nani doubled the lead in the 19th minute with a vintage Nani moment. He faked right, shedding Cincinnati’s Yuya Kubo, then came left again and fired a screamer past Przemysław Tytoń to make it 2-0.
The second goal seemed to wake Cincinnati up and the visitors fashioned a chance off a free kick conceded near the right corner. The cross came in and found Nick Hagglund, who headed just wide in the 22nd minute.
A minute later, Nani nearly made it three for the Lions, getting his head to a Mueller cross but hitting the left post with it. Pereyra nearly slipped in behind in the 26th minute but the play was broken up from behind and the Uruguayan needed a visit from the trainers, although he did continue.
That broke Orlando’s momentum and Cincinnati started playing more directly, trying to lob balls over the defense for well-timed runs by Brenner. A corner in the 36th minute found Tom Petterson’s head at the back post, but again the free chance was nodded wide.
Cincinnati should have scored in the 38th minute when a long ball sprung Álvaro Barreal, who made a nice run. Gallese charged off his line but couldn’t get close to Barreal, but El Pulpo’s presence forced an errant shot by the Cincinnati man.
Orlando settled down a bit after that and fashioned some opportunities. Mueller cleared himself on the left and fired for the back post but couldn’t get enough curl on his shot in the 42nd minute in the final decent look for either side in the opening period.
“Oscar told us the last two games to score the goal. If we have one or two chances we have to score, and we missed that,” Urso said. “So, we talked about that last game. We said when we play against Cincinnati they have to pay the bill. Of course, we respect all teams in the league, but that’s the football. That’s the soccer. So we had talked about that. Today we have to win so today Cincinnati paid the bill. We scored the goals — more than one. That’s important too. I think today Oscar…he’s happy, I think.”
Orlando City attempted more shots (9-4), shots on goal (2-0), and held a slight edge in possession (51.1%-48.9%) in the first half. Both teams earned two corners, and Cincinnati was a bit sharper passing (87.8%-84.2%) but had very few pass attempts in the final third.
The Lions tried to get back on the front foot immediately after the break, with Mueller ripping a shot that was blocked behind for a corner in the 47th. Schlegel headed a shot on target off the ensuing set piece but it was right at Tyton.
Brenner nearly pulled a goal back out of nowhere in the 50th, sending a long range shot just wide of Gallese’s far post.
A minute later, Mueller again let ‘er rip, this time on the volley, sending his screamer just wide of the far post at the other end.
Nani smashed a gorgeous shot in the 63rd to force a good save by Tyton. Mendez ripped a shot just wide moments later. Ruan cut inside and fired a shot that Tyton saved in the 74th as the Lions continued to generate most of the game’s attack and looked to put the game to bed.
Orlando did just that in the 80th minute. Nani sent a back-post cross that second-half sub Andres Perea headed back across the box. It fell for sub Benji Michel, who turned, but he put the ball right on Urso’s foot and the Bear slipped a shot inside the left post to make it 3-0.
Hagglund headed wide on a corner shortly thereafter, but the visitors didn’t cause too much of a fuss for the rest of the match. Joao Moutinho subbed on late, seeing his first game action since last August. After a late shot attempt just wide by Silvester van der Water, the game was over.
Orlando attempted more shots (22-7), got more on target (5-0), and held more possession (52.5%-47.5%). Both teams earned four corners and Cincinnati maintained a slight edge in passing accuracy (88.5%-87.6%).
With his second clean sheet of 2021, Gallese now has five as a Lion, tying Tally Hall for third on the team’s all-time list since joining MLS. El Pulpo trails just Brian Rowe (8) and career leader Joe Bendik (13). But it was the offense that stole the show on this night.
“Just getting that first win and especially getting a win with a few goals, it feels really good, Akindele said. “Maybe kind of takes some pressure off of the team, maybe the forwards especially. So that was huge from us.”
“Congratulations to the group. Congratulations to the fans as well, for the first win of the year and hopefully can can do many more,” said Pareja.
The Lions remain at home for their next game, hosting New York City FC next Saturday at 6 p.m.
Lion Links: 3/4/24
Lions lose big, Tigres is up next, the USWNT wins, USMNT news, and more.
Merry Monday morning, Mane Landers. No, I’m not feeling very merry either, but it’s a tradition at this point. The good news is that we don’t have to wait long for Orlando City to get a chance to make us forget about Saturday. In an effort to help with that, let’s get to the links.
Massacre in Miami
If you’re like me, you turned off Saturday’s Orlando City match at some point. It was easily the worst showing by an Oscar Pareja-coached Orlando City team. Typically, these Lions are mentality monsters and do not give up. I’m not saying that any of the coaches or players will say they did, but the results speak for themselves. I think it best to just put it behind us and move on to the Tigres match, but if you want to revisit it — or if you were fortunate enough not to watch but still want the details — you can read our match recap.
Up Next: Tigres
The early part of the season doesn’t get any easier for Orlando City as the Lions are set to face Liga MX giant Tigres UANL in a Round-of-16 match in Concacaf Champions Cup. Our own Nic Josey touched on the upcoming match. Unlike the previous matches against Cavalry FC, the Lions will play the first leg at home. The match is tomorrow night at 9 p.m. at Inter&Co Stadium. Tigres is coming off a 2-1 loss to Toluca in Liga MX competition. Hopefully, the Lions can shake off the Miami result and take it to Tigres.
It couldn’t happen before the Orlando City match, but Inter Miami is reportedly trading DeAndre Yedlin to FC Cincinnati. Good timing, guys.
In happier news, Malik Tillman scored a very nice goal for PSV against Feyenoord in the 2-2 draw. Tillman made a nifty move through the defender and then slotted it inside the left post.
Tillman isn’t alone in scoring for the Eredivisie club, as both Ricardo Pepi and Sergino Dest have also scored goals this season. In all, the three have 24 goal contributions so far. That ties Mexico for the most by players from another country.
Brentford will be looking to replace departing striker Ivan Toney, and Norwich City striker Josh Sargent is a contender to make the move. Sargent has 11 goals for Norwich so far this season. Christian Pulisic received online death threats after he goaded two Lazio players into receiving red cards in AC Milan’s 1-0 win over the Serie A opponent.
USWNT Rebounds, Blanks Colombia 3-0
The USWNT bounced back from a 2-0 loss to Mexico in the group stage to defeat Colombia 3-0 in a quarterfinal match in the Concacaf W Gold Cup. The U.S. started early with a converted penalty kick by Lindsey Horan. Former Orlando Pride player Alex Morgan drew the foul in the box for the USWNT. Jenna Nighswonger and Jaedyn Shaw added two more goals in the first half. There were no second-half goals, nor were any needed. The U.S. will face Canada in the semifinals on Wednesday.
- Xabi Alonso’s Bayern Leverkusen moved 10 points clear atop the Bundesliga after their 2-0 win over Cologne. It’s a little bit funny that Harry Kane made the move to Bayern Munich and the club might not win a trophy because of Leverkusen’s amazing season.
- NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman spoke about the growth of women’s soccer in the U.S. amid the joint bid with Mexico for the 2027 Women’s World Cup.
- In a result that everyone hated other than Manchester City fans, Manchester United wasn’t able to help out the rest of the world, falling 3-1 to City on Sunday.
- Catarina Macario scored a goal in her first match back from injury in Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Leicester City.
- The match between Real Madrid and Valencia ended in a 2-2 draw. It also ended on a controversial call when the referee blew the whistle just as Jude Bellingham was scoring what would have been the winning goal.
That will do it for today. Check back for our coverage of the upcoming Tigres and Minnesota United matches later this week. Vamos Orlando!
Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Five Takeaways
What did we learn from a thoroughly unenjoyable outing in South Florida?
Well. Orlando City’s second league game of the season was a thoroughly unenjoyable one, as the Lions got played clean out of South Florida by Inter Miami. As much as I hate to do it, we need to talk about this one, so what follows are my five thoughts from a horrific showing in SoFlo.
Early Mistakes Seal Orlando’s Fate
The Lions barely had a chance to get their feet underneath them before Pedro Gallese was picking the ball out of his net. Cesar Araujo received the ball in Orlando’s defensive third and immediately tried to play a blind pass backwards, but it went straight to a Miami player. Once the ball made its way from Lionel Messi to Julian Gressel to Luis Suarez, the latter made no mistake and scored to put OCSC into an early hole from which it would never recover.
Tough Night for Two Lions
Speaking of mistakes, that wasn’t the only one that Araujo made during this game. Miami’s second goal came as a result of Rodridgo Schlegel getting pulled out of position and Araujo failing to track the run of Suarez, who found it all too easy to fire past Gallese and double the deficit for Orlando. Schlegel was also culpable for the third goal, as he was too slow to step up with the rest of the back line, and prevented the tally from being called back for offside as a result. Almost no player in purple had a good game, but it was a particularly rough night for two guys who are normally so good for OCSC.
The Lions didn’t look bad going forward for a lot of this one. They managed to get the ball into some good areas, but just had trouble getting the final ball right that would lead to a chance. The introduction of Luis Muriel and Nico Lodeiro after halftime helped provide a spark early in the second half, but Orlando ultimately couldn’t find a way through and the score only got more and more lopsided as a result. When OCSC finally did fashion a clear-cut chance for Ramiro Enrique, the forward didn’t place his shot far enough in the corner and Drake Callender made a good save as a result.
Lack of Effort Worsens Scoreline
Somewhere around the 53rd minute, things really started to devolve for the Lions. Multiple turnovers in the team’s own half led to chance after chance for the home team, and Miami eventually made Orlando pay. The fifth goal will make for extremely unpleasant viewing, as Dagur Dan Thorhallsson decided to not close down Suarez on the wing, giving him way too much time to put the ball on a plate for Messi to head home, while the rest of the team took their time jogging back as Miami broke forward in transition. Orlando kept coming forward doggedly, but the lack of effort on display at times at the back was shocking and uncharacteristic to see.
I have no idea what happened in this match. As soon as the first goal went in, almost the entire team looked slow, out-of-sorts, and on its heels when Miami had the ball. That sort of thing is unacceptable in any game, but especially in this particular fixture. Yes, the match against Tigres is looming large on Tuesday, but the lineup Oscar Pareja put out was not one that suggested the Lions were punting on this game to throw everything they had at Tigres. Instead, an almost first-choice XI turned in perhaps the worst performance we’ve ever seen from an Orlando team coached by Oscar Pareja. It’s possible that we’ll look back on this game as the moment that this team came together and kicked onto bigger things, but in order for that to happen the Lions need to take a good, hard, brutally honest look in the mirror.
I’m sorry to say that’s the worst Orlando City performance I’ve seen in a very long time. Thankfully, the season is a long one and the Lions have plenty of time to right the ship and get back to playing in the manner we’re used to seeing. I think we’ll learn a lot about what we should expect from this team on Tuesday against Tigres. OCSC has a chance to respond the right way and make a statement, and you can bet I’ll be looking for one. Until then, vamos Orlando.
Strong Early Season Competition an Opportunity for Growth
Schedule congestion and tough opponents present opportunities for growth.
It is hard to imagine a more intense start to the season than the Lions have faced competing in both the regular season and the Concacaf Champions Cup at the same time, yet that is exactly the task that the boys in purple find themselves dealing with only days into the season. With both away and home matches already in the books, let’s examine how strong early season competition can be a key factor in the growth of the squad as the season progresses.
For comparison we can look back to one year ago, as thanks to winning the U.S. Open Cup, the Lions found themselves in the Concacaf Champions League for the first time in club history. During their short foray in the 2023 version of the competition, they were matched up against Mexican powerhouse Tigres UANL in a two-leg competition. Orlando did something that many MLS sides can not boast by coming out of the first leg in Mexico without conceding a goal and only failed to advance because of the competition’s away goals rule.
At the time, and even looking back through rose-colored glasses, those two performances demonstrated the quality that Orlando City was ultimately capable of, and it was a form which Orlando showcased in the later stretches of the 2023 season.
This year, once again Orlando is faced with stiff competition throughout its early season matches, which present a grand opportunity to build team chemistry and fortitude that will only truly manifest itself as the season progresses. While Cavalry FC may have not presented much a challenge on the pitch, the logistics of starting a season off thousands of miles away in the Pacific Northwest were challenges that the Lions had to face before a 48-hour turnaround to open the regular season against a CF Montreal side which some are projecting to be a surprise force in the Eastern Conference. Sandwich in the close-out leg against Cavalry in the CCC at home some 72 hours later, and you once again have a recipe for tired legs but early season growth through adversity.
Up next was Saturday’s forgettable trip to square off against archrival Inter Miami. A year ago, Orlando City was one of the only MLS sides to truly frustrate one of the world’s best and unfortunately for players, coaches and fans alike, the first meeting between the rival sides in 2024 ended with a landslide victory for Messi and friends. Still, despite the frustrating loss, there are lessons to be learned and mistakes to correct which can only help the squad grow as the season progresses.
As if all of the schedule congestion was not enough, Orlando learned that its prize for dispatching Cavalry in the CCC was a rematch against Tigres, once again in a two-match, survive-and-advance format. The first game will be played two and a half days after having been beaten down by Miami and the second will come a week later, with yet another MLS regular-season match crammed in between.
All in all, once Orlando City is done facing off against Tigres, the team will have traveled roughly 9,700 miles for matches in the first 21 days of the season and played a match roughly every 60 hours. These matches and the quality of the opponents present Orlando and its players with numerous chances for individual and squad growth, and the experience, especially for still a somewhat young team, is something OCSC can draw upon once the late season and playoff push portion of the calendar arrive. I truly believe this early in the season the importance of the results of the matches come secondary to the opportunities for growth when faced with so many challenges so quickly.
Let us know in the comments below if you think that the early season match ups against quality opponents will ultimately hurt or benefit Orlando City and, as always, vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 3/4/24
Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Five Takeaways
Strong Early Season Competition an Opportunity for Growth
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