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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. New York Red Bulls: Final Score 2-1 as Lions Suffer First Loss of 2021

Orlando City nearly pulled off a late comeback but simply didn’t play well enough.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Second-half sub Silvester van der Water both gave Orlando City late life and also squandered a chance to draw the Lions level in a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. Van der Water scored in the 84th minute to give Lions’ fans hope, but it’s the hope that kills you, as he also missed a sitter in the 88th, skying it over the bar. That would have erased Orlando’s (3-1-3, 12 points) worst performance in 2021 after Caden Clark and Cristian Casseres Jr. gave New York (3-4-0, 9 points) a 2-0 lead in the game’s first hour.

Orlando City fell to 5-7-2 in the all-time series and 2-5-1 on the road while suffering its first loss of the 2021 season.

“Two different halves for us,” Orlando Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The first one we didn’t feel comfortable with the way we shaped the team and I think the players felt that. They didn’t look organized and New York took the initiative. I think in that part we take the responsibility because the heart of the players was always on the field, especially in the second half when they tried to push in different ways just to have that goal that can level the game.”

Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in his usual spot in goal. He handed a first career start (and appearance) for Michael Halliday at right back on a defense that included Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, and Antonio Carlos. Rodrigo Schlegel got his first day off of the 2021 season and wasn’t even in the game day team. (He had to fly home to attend to a personal matter per a team spokesman.) Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez patrolled the central midfield behind attackers Andres Perea, Mauricio Pereyra, and Chris Mueller, with Tesho Akindele up top again.

The first half was all New York. The Lions created their own issues with the Red Bulls’ press by being too slow to react, too deliberate with the ball, and too predictable with their movement, allowing the counterpress to be effective. Still, that didn’t add up to a lot of chances for the hosts, despite their pressure.

The Red Bulls generated an early set piece when Halliday coughed up the ball in his defensive third and Pereyra exacerbated the situation by committing a foul. Halliday blocked Daniel Royer’s delivery.

A second key set piece nearly created the opening goal moments later. Gallese came way out of his box after a turnover and was second to the ball, committing a foul while trying to knock the ball out of play. The ensuing set piece found the head of Sean Nealis, whose header was met by a great reaction save from El Pulpo in the seventh minute.

Mendez turned the ball over far too often in the opening 45 minutes, and one of those giveaways led to a counter that ended with a weak Frankie Amaya shot that gave Gallese no trouble in the 16th minute. Six minutes later, a good ball from New York’s right side skipped dangerously through the box as both Royer and Patryk Klimala just missed getting the final touch on the ball.

The Lions got their first shot of the game in the 24th minute when Orlando won a corner. Pereyra’s cross found Urso but the Bear nodded wide of goal.

City started getting more comfortable on the ball around that time but struggled to create anything, with movement being too deliberate and easy for New York defenders to read and react to. Heavy touches allowed the Red Bulls to close things down and poorly weighted passes resulted in too many attacks breaking down.

Orlando’s best attack of the half happened in the 32nd with more direct play, as Akindele worked a give-and-go with Urso. Tesho made a good run in behind to win the race to the ball but couldn’t get much on his shot, which he had to take with his left foot, making an easy save for Carlos Coronel.

Three minutes later, Orlando was breaking forward with promise but conceded instead of scoring. A good movement up the right side broke down with a touch that Perea was just a half step slow to reach in time. New York quickly countered and a cross cycled from left to right to Klimala. The forward beat Smith to get a cross in behind the back line for Clark to tap home for a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute.

Orlando withstood a late corner kick despite another turnover trying to break out in transition when Akindele and Pereyra got in each other’s way and the halftime whistle finally came.

New York out-shot the Lions 5-2 in the opening period, with a 3-1 edge in shots on goal. The Red Bulls also led in corners (2-1), while Orlando held more possession (58.7%-41.3%) — doing little with it — and passed more accurately (82.4%-73.6%) due to mostly playing it across the back, looking for a way through.

Benji Michel came on for Pereyra to start the second half. Pareja said after the match that his No. 10 had been battling some tightness this week and he felt he didn’t want to push the Uruguayan too deeply into the match. Michel’s speed did help create some opportunities in the second half.

But Pareja also said he thought his midfield could control the match in the first half and it simply didn’t work out that way, so he wanted to take a player out of the midfield and add another player who could get up the wing. Michel had a few chances to do that and the Homegrown’s touch was just a bit off at times, though he turned in an industrious shift.

The opening minutes saw the Red Bulls push for a second goal and hit a couple of opportunities just wide. Orlando looked for transition opportunities but failed to be able to provide quality passes to spring them or guys weren’t on the same page in terms of providing the ball that runners were looking for.

The Red Bulls doubled their lead after a foolish foul by Mendez in one of his last actions in an unusually poor performance by his standards. Casseres Jr. sent the direct free kick into the upper left corner out of Gallese’s reach to make it 2-0 in the 60th minute.

Pareja sent van der Water and Joao Moutinho on for Mendez and Halliday moments later with a lot of offensive work to do. That nearly became a moot point when second-half sub Fabio pushed a header just wide of Gallese’s post in the 64th minute on a shot that would have killed off the game.

A microcosm of the match for Orlando was Moutinho’s excellent cross in the 69th minute, which found the head of Smith. Unfortunately, the fullback nodded his shot off the back of teammate van der Water in the 69th minute. Moments later, van der Water did well to spring Mueller in the attack but his first touch was poor, which allowed New York to regroup and block the ensuing shot attempt.

New York again could have killed off the game as Orlando was sloppy with the ball. Urso’s turnover led to a chip attempt by Dru Yearwood that flashed wide of the near post in the 76th and Fabio forced a good save from Gallese a minute later.

The Lions got on the board in the 84th. Smith sent in a good cross to Akindele and the Canadian laid off smartly for van der Water. The Dutchman did well to fake his way past one defender and sent a shot through Coronel’s legs for his first MLS goal.

“I feel happy with the goal, but I got another chance, and I missed that chance, and then directly the feeling is a little bit not so good,” said van der Water, who brought a connectivity into the match that had been lacking. He and Akindele especially had good chemistry in the attack.

“The assist I got today, the ball came in and I think usually I would have just tried to like awkwardly hit it on goal, and the goalie probably would have easily saved it,” Akindele said. “And instead I gave it to Silvester. He still did a crazy amount of work to score, but I think…just to see what’s the right decision, is someone in a better place than me? And that’s what Oscar’s kind of hammered me on a litle bit.”

Four minutes later, van der Water should have equalized. Michel did well to win the ball on the left before sending it to Akindele in the middle. Again the forward found the winger on his right. Running onto the ball and hitting it with his strong left foot, van der Water somehow got under it and sent the ball high over the net in the 88th minute.

“I think I got my body a little bit far away, more backwards,” van der Water said of the missed chance. “Most times you shoot the ball a little bit over. I think that was the reason and the next time I will score a goal.”

That was Orlando’s best opportunity for an equalizer, and it was a golden one. There were no moments of note in the final two minutes of normal time and five minutes of stoppage that honestly should have been extended due to time wasting and an injury, but the final whistle blew to seal the Lions’ fate.

New York had more shots (14-6), shots on target (7-2), and corners (3-2), but Orlando had more possession (57.5%-42.5%) and more accurate passing (80.2%-70.1%) over 90 minutes.

“Much, much better second half when we started just having better connections and we looked more like us,” Pareja said. “They showed their heart and probably could (have) deserved more at the end, but New York did a good job in the game and I think it’s fair.”

“I just felt like we had more numbers forward maybe in the second half,” Akindele said. “The first half I thought we did a great job of kind of moving the ball around the back, but I don’t think we created enough dangerous chances, and we didn’t hold the ball enough in their half.”

Orlando City is now on an extended break until Saturday, June 19, when the Lions will “travel” to take on Toronto FC at 7:30 p.m.

Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/30/23

Orlando City faces big questions, Matt Miazga suspended, Emma Hayes meets USWNT for first time, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

November is finally coming to a close. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of a month for me, with highs, lows, and many things in between. All in all, I’m pretty glad it’s nearly over, although I expect December to be similarly hectic. At least this weather is allowing me to break out some winter clothes and turn on the fireplace in this new apartment. I’m not sure why a fireplace was installed in a Floridian apartment, but I’m not complaining. Let’s dive into today’s links!

Big Decisions Await Orlando City

With Orlando City’s season over, attention now turns to a critical off-season for the club. Head Coach Oscar Pareja is out of contract after leading the Lions to the playoffs for the past four years. The club will also need to decide if it will exercise the 2024 options on the contracts of both Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi and Technical Director and Assistant General Manager Ricardo Moreira. All three have orchestrated Orlando’s transformation that’s included winning its first trophy, having its best season this year, and qualifying for both the Concacaf Champions League and Champions Cup. Potentially transferring Facundo Torres to Europe, filling the empty Designated Player slot, and deciding which players to bring back for 2024 are also on the agenda. However, figuring out who will lead the Lions into this exciting next chapter is paramount. Personally, I think the club should do everything in its power to keep the people who brought Orlando to this point.

Matt Miazga Suspended for Three Games

FC Cincinnati will be without MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga for Saturday’s Eastern Conference final, as he was suspended by MLS for three games due to his misconduct after the match with the New York Red Bulls on Nov. 4. Miazga was also fined an undisclosed amount and will undergo a behavioral assessment as part of the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Following that aforementioned playoff match, reports surfaced that Miazga gained unauthorized access to an area reserved for the referees and acted aggressively. Any suspended games not served during Cincy’s playoff run will carry over into the 2024 season, although Miazga can petition for a reduction based on compliance with recommended treatment plans.

Emma Hayes Meets With USWNT Players and Staff

Emma Hayes, who was hired as the next United States Women’s National Team Head Coach earlier this month, made the trip to Florida to meet the team for the first time. Although she won’t be coaching the team for its upcoming pair of friendlies against China, she collaborated with interim head coach Twila Kilgore on the latest training camp roster and will continue to work with her until taking over in May. There won’t be much time between Hayes’ official start date and the 2024 Summer Olympics, making these moments of face time between player and future coach all the more important. USWNT captain Lindsey Horan spoke on the team’s goals after meeting Hayes for the first time.

“There’s so much talent in this team, and I don’t think the world has seen enough of it yet just because we need to go out and show it,” Horan said. “We need to be able to mesh together and show everything that we have, and what we’re all about, and how we can really collaborate and play together — be more of a team and be a powerhouse again.

“It’s going to be exciting for us to have her and see what she can do with this team and how she can help us moving forward.”

Ricardo Pepi Sends PSV Into Champions League Knockout Stage

PSV Eindhoven clinched its spot in the next round of the UEFA Champions League in dramatic fashion, with American forward Ricardo Pepi scoring the winner in a 3-2 comeback win over Sevilla in Spain. Trailing 2-0 in the second half, American left back Sergino Dest provided the assist on PSV’s first goal and Pepi found the winner in stoppage time, with fellow American Malik Tillman also coming off the bench. From his little flick to send a teammate forward to his run and clinical header, it was a great goal by the 20-year-old.

Elsewhere in the Champions League, Arsenal beat Lens 6-0 to advance, Real Madrid won 4-2 against Napoli to win its group, and Real Sociedad played to a scoreless draw with RB Salzburg. Manchester United remains in last place of its group after a 3-3 draw with Galatasaray, with goalkeeper Andre Onana unable to stop Hakim Ziyech from scoring off of two free kicks. All’s not lost for United though, as it can still qualify for the round of 16 by beating Bayern Munich at home so long as the other match ends in the group ends in a draw. It all makes for what should be an exciting final matchday in the group stage.

Free Kicks

  • The Kansas City Current announced that American midfielder Sam Mewis will not be returning to the club for the 2024 season. The 31-year-old has not played since 2021 as she continues to recover from a knee injury.
  • The Utah Royals have signed free agent forward Imani Dorsey on a contract through the 2025 season. Dorsey has most recently played for NJ/NY Gotham FC, although she didn’t participate in this past season due to mental health reasons.
  • Manchester United is reportedly ready to move on from Mason Mount just six months after he joined the team from Chelsea.
  • Tomasz Kwiatkowski, the video assistant referee involved in a controversial handball that eventually led to Paris Saint-Germain’s equalizer in stoppage time against Newcastle, was removed from his next scheduled duty by UEFA.
  • Amidst a four-game winless streak, French club Nantes has fired Pierre Aristouy as its manager, immediately replacing him with Jocelyn Gourvennec.
  • We’ll end our links with this interesting article that dives into how Romelu Lukaku unexpectedly arrived at AS Roma and how he’s thriving at the Italian club.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and rest of your week!

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Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Alex Freeman

We start our Orlando City player reviews with a look at a Homegrown fullback who made his MLS debut this season.



Image courtesy of Orlando City B

Orlando City signed fullback Alex Freeman to a Homegrown Player contract on February 15, 2022. He became the Lions’ 12th Homegrown signing and his deal runs through the 2025 season with a club option for 2026, but the youngster did not see action in Major League Soccer last season. With the departure of Ruan, there was an opportunity for Freeman to win a job with the first team in camp but he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump, instead playing an important role with Orlando City B throughout the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season.

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

Statistical Breakdown

Freeman made his MLS debut on April 29 in a 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. It was not just his debut with the first team, but it was also his only appearance with the senior squad in 2023, although he did make the substitutes’ bench a few times after that. Officially, he logged only one minute, entering in the 93rd minute. He was only on the pitch a matter of seconds, so it’s unsurprising that he registered nothing on the stats sheet.

The son of former NFL receiver Antonio Freeman, Alex starred with OCB in 2023. In MLS NEXT Pro play, Freeman appeared in 24 of OCB’s 28 matches, starting 22, and logging 1,855 minutes. He finished tied for third on the squad in goals (4), adding three assists and passing at a 79.1% success rate. Freeman attempted 25 shots, putting 11 on target, and contributed 10 key passes. He committed 22 fouls, drew 27 on the opposition, and was booked four times. He also started OCB’s playoff match at Columbus, playing 89 minutes in the Young Lions’ 2-1 road loss. Freeman didn’t contribute a goal or assist or attempt a shot in the match, but he passed at an 88% rate, created one scoring chance, and committed one foul.

Best Game

With only one MLS appearance to his credit, the default best game for Freeman came on April 29 in Orlando City’s 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. Freeman didn’t even officially touch the ball in the game, but it’s not every day a teenager gets to play in an MLS match, and I’m sure it was a special moment for him. It was certainly a milestone in his professional soccer career.

2023 Final Grade

As Freeman fell well short of the minimum 450 minutes played mark 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. There are areas of Freeman’s game that need a bit of refining, but at the same time, it’s easy to see why he landed a Homegrown contract, why Orlando City would find him an intriguing prospect, and why he’s been getting called up by the United States for U-20 international duty. His attacking presence was huge for OCB in 2023 and he was one of the key players that led the Young Lions to the postseason.

2024 Outlook

I would expect Freeman to get more seasoning at OCB in 2024, although he’ll be given opportunities in preseason camp to show whether he’s closed the gap on the likes of Michael Halliday and Kyle Smith (assuming both return). If the club moves on from both Halliday and Smith, it’s not hard to picture Freeman starting the season providing depth at right back for the first team. Having just turned 19 in August, Freeman has a lot of potential and he should start to unlock that within the next year or so.

This is the first of our 2023 Orlando City Season in Review articles. Every player who played minutes this past season and who finished the year on the club roster will be reviewed (exceptions may be made for players let go when the club officially announces its roster moves). Players who logged fewer than 450 minutes (combined regular season plus playoffs, Concacaf Champions League, U.S. Open Cup, and Leagues Cup) will receive a composite score between 1 and 10 as determined by a panel of The Mane Land writers, while those who did not reach that threshold will receive an incomplete grade.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/29/23

Orlando Pride players called up by Brazil, MLS announces 2023 Best XI, latest MLS roster moves, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Hello, Mane Landers I hope all is well down in Florida. I’ve been very busy working throughout the holiday weekend at Under Armour. This week I’ll be working at Wrigley Field for Winterland while getting ready to cover high school wrestling tomorrow night. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.

Pride Players Called Up By Brazil for Friendlies

Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle and forwards Marta and Adriana have been called up to the Brazil Women’s National Team for its upcoming friendlies.

Brazil will play two matches against Japan on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 in Sao Paulo before playing Nicaragua on Dec. 6 at Estadio Fonte Luminosa in Araraquara.

MLS Announces the 2023 Best XI

Major League Soccer announced its 2023 Best XI, recognizing the league’s top players at each position. There were no Orlando City players selected for the team and eight players received the honor for the first time. Those players are St. Louis City’s Roman Burki and Tim Parker, FC Cincinnati defender Matt Miazga, Atlanta United duo Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis, Houston Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera, LAFC’s Denis Bouanga, and Columbus Crew forward Cucho Hernandez. Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar made the Best XI for the third consecutive time, while teammate Walker Zimmerman was named to it for the fifth time. MLS MVP Luciano Acosta of FC Cincinnati rounds out the list.

Latest MLS Off-season Roster Moves

The Colorado Rapids announced their latest roster changes as they prepare for the the 2024 season under new Head Coach Chris Armas. The club exercised its options for defender Andrew Gutman, midfielder Ralph Priso, and forward Calvin Harris. The Rapids declined contract offers to seven players, with the most notable names being defender Steven Beitashour and goalkeeper William Yarbrough, although the Rapids are in discussions about re-signing Yarbrough. Elsewhere, the New England Revolution exercised the permanent transfer option on forward Tomas Chancalay, signing him to a Designated Player contract through 2026, with a club option for the 2027 season.

UEFA Champions League Roundup

Champions League action returned in Europe, as we get close to wrapping up the group stage in a couple of weeks. Manchester City overcame a two-goal deficit to beat RB Leipzig 3-2 and win Group G. Newcastle United had a chance to qualify for the round of 16 but gave up a late penalty to Paris Saint-Germain, which Kylian Mbappe converted to end the match in a 1-1 draw. Borussia Dortmund beat AC Milan 3-1 to book its spot in the knockout stage. PSG, Newcastle, and AC Milan are all still alive in Group F heading into the final matchday in December. Shakhtar Donetsk won 1-0 against Royal Antwerp and also still has a shot to advance on the final matchday. Lazio, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Young Boys all won their respective matches as well. Today’s matches include Manchester United on the road against Galatasaray, Real Madrid taking on Napoli, and Sevilla facing off with PSV Eindhoven.

Free Kicks

  • Concacaf has announced that BMO Stadium, Dignity Health Sports Park, Shell Energy Stadium, and Snapdragon Stadium will be the four venues that will host matches for the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup.
  • Barcelona midfielder Gavi will be sidelined for up to 10 months after undergoing knee surgery after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee.
  • The International Football Association Board approved a trial for sin bins, meaning players punished for dissent or specific tactical offense would be temporarily removed from the match for a set amount of minutes.
  • You have got to see this goal from Cwrt Rawlin FC in the Welsh seventh division.

That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Wednesday and I’ll see you next time.

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