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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Toronto FC: Final Score 3-2 as Junior Urso Scores Late Winner for Lions

The Lions saw their early 2-0 lead evaporate but the Bear came to the rescue.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Junior Urso’s 84th-minute goal saved Orlando City the embarrassment of having thrown away an early two-goal lead. Tesho Akindele and Nani had staked the Lions (4-1-3, 15 points) to a 2-0 advantage in the first eight minutes, but Toronto FC (1-5-2, 5 points) — technically the home side in this match due to the COVID-19 situation — rallied to draw level at 2-2 before the first half ended. Ultimately, Orlando played a good second half and won 3-2 over the Reds in Exploria Stadium.

City improved to 2-0-0 against Toronto this season and 4-8-2 in the all-time series. Technically it would be the team’s first road win against the Reds, but obviously it’s not the same as winning at BMO Field. The Lions climbed into second in the Eastern Conference for the moment, pending the result of Sunday’s match between Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Head Coach Oscar Pareja dedicated the win to Rodrigo Schlegel, who lost his father recently.

“It was emotional day for us, and we want to share this joy that we have with Rodigo (and) his family,” Pareja said after the match. “We dedicate this to him and also to people who have been dealing with this COVID.

“Regarding the game, exceptional performance for us. It has been a challenge to be together again. The team has been separated in many ways. Today we played against a good team and especially in the second half we had the personality to resolve the game and we scored three goals today. Great victory. Great three points.”

Without Pedro Gallese and Sebas Mendez — both away with their national teams in Copa America — Pareja gave Brandon Austin his first start in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Andres Perea slotted into central midfield with Urso, while Uri Rosell made the bench for the first time this season. Silvester van der Water and Mauricio Pereyra dropped into the attacking midfield with Nani roaming and Akindele up top.

The Lions wasted no time jumping on top. Pereyra slotted a gorgeous through ball between the Toronto defense to Akindele, who slipped the ball past Quentin Westberg in the first minute to put Orlando City on top.

“A soon as Mauricio gets the ball with space, I know he can make a pass forward, so my idea was just to take off as soon as Mauricio got the ball, I took off into space,” Akindele said. “He was able to turn quickly and find me.”

The team celebrated on the sideline with Schlegel’s jersey to let the defender know that he’s in his teammates’ thoughts.

“We talked a lot this week about Rodrigo, about his family,” Urso said. “So, I said to Nani, tell the guys when we score a goal, let’s keep Rodrigo’s jersey in your hand. Let’s try to (have) some celebration for him. It was an emotional time for all of us.”

Toronto jumped on Orlando after the early goal with a lot of possession in the attacking third. Orlando players were able to get into passing lanes but it seemed like every blocked pass found a random Toronto player anyway. Alejandro Pozuelo fired off target from just outside the box in the third minute.

Despite that, Orlando doubled the lead in the eighth minute. A promising buildup seemed to evaporate when a ball got in a bit too far and made its way to Westberg. Van der Water pressured the goalkeeper and took the ball away, passing back to Akindele. The Orlando striker sent the ball right to left where Nani headed home to make it 2-0.

“The assist — I think that goes to what Oscar has been drilling into me: What’s the right decision,” Akindele said. “Silvester passed me the ball back and the goalie was out, so I could have tried to shoot. But I didn’t because I didn’t think that was the best decision in that moment. I thought it was better for me to try to put in a cross and we scored. I think if I would have shot in that moment, it would have been blocked or gone over or something, but I kind of calmed myself down and sent a cross and Nani was able to score.”

Akindele’s goal and assist continued his great run of form.

“It is a good sign for the depth of the group, the complexion of the team,” Pareja said of Akindele’s form. “When you have some options there and all of them are very valued and natural. It just makes the team stronger. Tesho’s doing a great job of not just scoring goals but working so hard on the field.”

The Reds pulled a goal back almost immediately. A shot from former Lion Richie Laryea from the left was saved by Austin but the rebound went high in the air and Ayo Akinola out-jumped Jansson to head home in the 10th minute.

Van der Water nearly restored the two-goal cushion in the 15th minute, getting his left foot into a shot that Westberg was able to fight off. The Dutchman then served in a dangerous ball on the ensuing corner but no one from Orlando could get onto it and Westberg dove to keep it from sneaking in the back post.

Pereyra and Perea worked a perfect give-and-go in the 25th minute but the young Colombian-American was bodied cleanly off the ball in the box before he could fire a shot.

Three minutes later, Laryea darted in and fired from a tough angle but Austin kicked the shot away.

Toronto’s tying goal came off a quick free kick after Laryea went down far too easily for about the third time in the game. The AR took the bait and awarded a set piece. The Reds took it quickly and Orlando nearly defused a good passing sequence with a poke from behind, but it ended up falling right back onto a Toronto foot and Osorio finished to even things up in the 39th minute.

Toronto had a great opportunity to counter off an Orlando corner kick in the 44th minute, breaking in 5-on-3 on the Lions, but Smith dispossessed Laryea in space to thwart the chance. A minute later, Pereyra slipped another perfect through ball to van der Water, who scored but the flag came up. He was about half a yard offside, so the call was correct, if unsatisfying.

After three minutes of stoppage, that was it for the first half.

Toronto out-shot Orlando 10-6 in the opening half (4-3 on target) and had more corners (6-4). Possession was nearly dead even, with Orlando holding a slim edge (50.2%-49.8%) and the Reds holding a tiny edge in passing accuracy (87.5%-87.2%).

Pareja said the team’s defending block was too low in the first half and made an adjustment to start the second.

“We made a mistake in letting them play in between the lines. I think more as a look of the defense, it was a collective difficulty that we had,” Pareja said. “We gave them a lot of space and then we started defending too low. They’re good. They have good players in that phase of the game. When they put you inside of your box, they have people who have a solution and good passers.”

The adjustments worked well, as the Lions looked the more dangerous team for the most part in the second period. Orlando buzzed around the Toronto penalty area in the opening minutes of the second half but couldn’t quite connect that final ball.

With the defensive block positioned higher, Toronto appeared to get more frustrated. Laryea forced a shot from distance in the 51st minute but the attempt was always going high.

Nani sent several good crosses into the area in the second half but either his teammates couldn’t quite get to them or Toronto did a good job of defending. Chris Mavinga in particular played well for the Reds to break up what could have been several dangerous opportunities. The Lions won a few set pieces but, again, couldn’t quite do anything with them.

Shortly after a decent free kick opportunity for Orlando, the Reds got possession and Laryea again went down easily and it nearly gave Toronto the lead. The free kick went short to Laryea on a darting run toward the end line. The former Lion crossed and the ball deflected toward goal already behind Austin. But Smith swept the ball off the line with a timely defensive play to keep the game level.

Carlos got a header on a corner kick in the 59th minute but his shot hit Omar Gonzalez in the back. Gonzalez was turned and knew nothing about it, and Westberg was fortunate to watch that one go off his defender before eventually being cleared.

Daryl Dike checked in for Akindele in the 64th minute and was a menace. He won a few free kicks in good spots and drew a yellow card on Gonzalez, but he didn’t make the score sheet.

Toronto again nearly made something out of nothing in the 72nd minute when a wayward pass was picked off and sent immediately into the area. Patrick Mullins stuck out a foot and the redirection went just over the bar.

Second-half sub Chris Mueller had a mixed outing, badly missing Dike alone in the box and a couple other passes, but he also showed his typical hustle. He tried a curling shot in the 83rd minute but couldn’t get the bend on it and it went wide. But a minute later he set up the game winner.

Auro Jr. sent a terrible pass across the field in his own half and Urso picked it off. He played a quick one-two with Mueller and slotted home past Westberg to restore Orlando’s lead in the 84th minute.

“The last 15 minutes we tried to push to score the goal because if we score it’s done — the game,” Urso said. “So Oscar put Benji on the field and (we) tried to make some long balls to Benji. We waited for some mistake from Toronto and I want to say thank you to Chris (for giving me) a good ball to score the goal.”

Former Lion Dom Dwyer subbed in late and nearly tied the game in stoppage time. In what appeared to be a miscommunication, Jansson let a cross go and Dwyer came flying in to try to get onto it, but he couldn’t quite get good contact on it.

From there, the Lions saw out the final moments of stoppage, including a key clearance on a late Toronto corner.

Toronto ended up out-shooting Orlando, 15-12, but both teams had four on target over the 90-plus minutes. The Reds also held slight advantages in corners (8-6), possession (52.3%-47.7%) and passing accuracy (88.1%-87.6%).

“I thought we showed a lot of mental toughness, just to stay in the game (when Toronto tied it),” Akindele said. “We didn’t just lose our heads. We kept grinding and I thought we grew into the game more and more. Especially in the second half, I thought we looked good and deserved the win.” 


The Lions are right back in action at home on Tuesday night as the San Jose Earthquakes come to town.

Orlando City

Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. LAFC

Get some insider information on LAFC courtesy of someone who knows the team best.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

We find ourselves at the end of another week, which means that another Orlando City match is almost upon us. Following a two-week break, the Lions will return to action with a home contest against LAFC.

A date with LAFC means I got some insider info on the opposition from Trebor Tracy, the managing editor of Angels on Parade. They’re another former SBNation blog that has gone independent, and they continue to do excellent work covering LAFC, Angel City FC, and Orange County SC, so make sure you check them out!

Catch me up on some of LAFC’s off-season transfer business. Who are some names that were brought in, and who went out the door?

Trebor Tracy:  LAFC came into this season as close to a rebuild project as you can be for a team many expect to compete for championships and trophies each year. In the off-season the team saw 15 departures from the 2023 squad, and that’s not counting loans out. Among the bigger names leaving Los Angeles were both goalkeepers that helped lift LAFC to the 2022 MLS Cup, midfielder Kellyn Acosta, defenders Denil Maldonado and Diego Palacios, and of course, the departure of inaugural signing Carlos Vela. This was a team expected to look completely different this season and it has. As for the arrivals, the team spent the off-season loading up on the likes of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, forwards Kei Kamara and Cristian Olivera, and defender Omar Campos. The rough start to the year for Los Angeles had a lot to do with the newness of the team and having to build that familiarity within the XI. 

Of the incoming transfers, who has made the biggest impression? Is there anyone who you’d like to see performing better than they have been so far?

TT: Its been hard for LAFC to replace a lot of the departures — not just in terms of production, but leadership and experience in several cases. While not technically an off-season arrival, Cristian Olivera, who arrived in summer window of 2023, really came into his own this season. With an entire off-season under his belt, he has by far been the best of the new arrivals for LAFC. He is producing goals, creating opportunities for others, and has that confidence this team thrives off of. On the other side of the coin, Hugo Lloris has been the biggest disappointment. In fairness to him, he has drastically improved during the team’s recent run, but the start of his MLS career had him easily one of the worst keepers in the league. 

LAFC is on a five-game unbeaten run in league play, what’s been working so well for the team during this stretch?

TT: Speaking of that run, the play of Lloris is why they have done so well recently. Well, that and Denis Bouanga appears to have found his soccer boots again. The 180 those two have done has been the catalyst for the team’s great run of form lately. 

Will any players be unavailable for selection due to injury, suspension, call-ups, etc.? What is your projected starting XI and score prediction?

TT: Availability reports come out night before the match, and we have the team presser this afternoon. with a few players set to return, I am unsure at the moment as to who exactly will be  ready to go.


Thank you to Trebor for helping get us caught up on LAFC. Vamos Orlando!

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Orlando City

Orlando City Needs to Start Using the Scoreboard Again

A deep statistical dive into Orlando City’s offensive struggles. We’re warning you…there will be math (but we do it for you).

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

One of the more memorable scenes in my favorite movie of all time, Bull Durham, is when the manager walks into the showers after another loss, yells at the team about their recent performance, and ends with “this (baseball) is a simple game: you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. You got it!?” Soccer is, of course, a little different but the concept remains the same. You pass the ball, you shoot the ball, you score the ball. Unless you are Orlando City, recently.

Anyone can look at the recent results for Orlando City and see that goals have been, shall we say, less than plentiful. But why is that happening? Well, one idea may be that another team in Orlando is using up all the goals, with the Orlando Pride having scored 19 (excluding opposition own goals) to Orlando City’s 15, with the Pride having played four fewer games to boot, but goals are not a zero-sum equation (I know you asked your math teacher for years when you would ever need to use equations in the real world; you’re welcome!), so let’s dive into what has been going on for Orlando City and take a look at what may be causing an average of 0.94 goals/game (again, excluding opposition own goals) in the 2024 MLS season after an average of 1.6 goals/game in 2023.

Wayne Gretzky famously said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” but I do not think a lack of shots taken is the main culprit for this Orlando City team this season. Yes, in the last match against the Red Bulls the Lions only managed five shots (all stats in this article are courtesy of fbref.com,  in collaboration with Opta, which codes thousands of matches every weekend across hundreds of competitions all over the world), but for the 2024 season, Orlando City is averaging 11.8 shots/game, 1.1 shots/game fewer than the league average of 12.9 but actually 0.1 higher than Orlando City’s 11.7 shots/game from 2023. Orlando City’s 11.8 shots/game ranks 23rd in all of MLS — not great, but the team with the most shots/game, St. Louis FC at 16.8, has only earned one more point than Orlando City after playing the same number of games, and the correlation (I told you there would be math) between shots/game and goals is relatively weak (r = 0.25, a strong positive correlation would be an r between 0.7 and the maximum r value of 1.0), so a higher value of shots/game does not necessarily lead to more goals.

What does tend to lead to more goals is more shots on target. I know, I know, you never would have thought of that. And as we look into shots on target for Orlando City in 2024, lo and behold, this is where we start to really see where the problems have arisen this season. Orlando City ranks 26th in MLS this year with 29% shots on target, so when you combine a rank of 23rd in shots/game with a rank of no. 26 in shots on target, you get a team that has scored a low amount of Goals as compared to the rest of the league. Orlando City’s 29% shots on target rate in 2024 is an 18% decrease from its 2023 shots on target percentage of 36% (7% raw decrease (36%-29% = 7%) but an 18% percent decrease (29%/36% – 100% = -18%), and the Lions’ 29% shots on target percentage is 1.28 standard deviations below the MLS average.

This is probably the time for me to tell you I was that high school math teacher who students asked about using math in the real world, and I did teach AP statistics, where we frequently talked about standard deviations and 1.28 standard deviations below the average is, in this case, to use a technical term, u-g-l-y and they ain’t got no alibi.

Is it as ugly as Bubba Sparxxx rapped about back in 2000? Was that just a question to make a pop culture reference about a song I enjoyed when I was in high school? Yes and yes. The first time I ever heard former Orlando City coach Adrian Heath interviewed he said, “Goals change games,” which of course is obvious and means that those who are taking the most shots need to be game changers. Looking at the table below, we can see who has been taking the shots and the differences between 2024 and 2023:

At first glance there is some good news. Orlando City’s leading shot takers this year are generally shooting on target around the league average, but it is on the clinical side, the goals per shot on target and goals per shot attempt where we can see that Orlando City is struggling.

We do see that Duncan McGuire continues to be clinical when he gets his shots on target, but the big drop for him is that last year he put nearly three out of every four shots on target and this year he is down to something much closer to the league average of around one out of every three. Among players with at least 17 shots last year (I chose this number because it would be 0.5 shots/game across 34 games and because it is my father’s favorite number), Duncan ranked first out of 244 MLS players in shots on target percentage and in goals per shots on target, and though his numbers this year are still above average, he is down to 43rd and 13th out of the 108 players who have taken more than 17 shots, respectively (keeping the same shot volume threshold for consistency). Four other major takeaways from me on this chart:

  • Facundo Torres was second on the list for most shots taken in 2023 and was an excellent finisher (this does include penalties, but they are shots and you have to make them), but in 2024 he is tied for fifth in shots with Dagur Dan Thórhallsson at only 15 shots taken.
  • Martin Ojeda remains a high volume shooter, but he is looking much more like Jordan Poole than Steph Curry this year with a lot of shots on target but not a lot of makes. And by not a lot I mean, sadly, zero.
  • Orlando City as a whole is taking shots from slightly closer to the goal but the team’s most frequent shooters are shooting from farther away than last year, and you do not need me as a math major to tell you that goalkeepers would prefer long shots over close shots.
  • Ercan Kara was a somewhat maligned striker for Orlando City, but he was pretty lethal when he got a shot off, putting more than two out of every five shots on frame and scoring at twice the MLS average on goals/shot. His 2023 shot volume is low on this chart because he left halfway through the season, but in his two years in MLS he scored at 21% and 22% on goals/shot, which put him in the upper echelon of shooters in the league.

Going back to McGuire and where he ranked in all of MLS, here is a heat map, but with the corresponding percentile ranks of Orlando City’s players among players who took at least 17 (hi Dad) shots (red to green scale — 0% (dark red, very low performance) to 100% (dark green, very good performance).

The comparisons between 2024 and 2023 are the most stark again in the columns involving goals, as in 2023 Orlando City’s most frequent shooters were scoring in the upper echelons of all MLS players, and this year there is much more red/orange than green for those with at least 17 shots. The other biggest differences of course surround who is taking the shots. Luis Muriel has arrived and has taken the most shots in 2024, but looking at his career shooting stats there is not a lot of evidence that being a lethal finisher is something in his skillset. Barbra Banda he is not, but then again nobody is Barbra Banda (except Barbra Banda), and expecting Muriel to change his playing style to be more of a finisher rather than initiator while adapting to a new league and teammates is lot to ask for someone who joined after the season began.

The bigger need for Orlando City is to get McGuire back on the field and to get Torres going, Facundo’s shots/90 minutes is down more than 50% from last season (largely owing to playing a lot of wingback over the last several weeks), and for someone who was in the 94th percentile in goals/shot in 2023 to have decreased their shot volume by so much is the opposite of what you want. Plus, Facundo is my son’s favorite player and he misses seeing Torres’ selfie celebration.

I want to end with a positive, however, and that is wrapped around the concept of regression to the mean. In the case of Orlando City this would actually likely be a positive regression as opposed to a negative one. During the last four years, MLS has been remarkably stable in terms of goals/shot on target (35%, 32%, 33%, 33%) and goals/shot (12%, 11%, 11%, 11%). Just because the league has been stable does not mean that Orlando City automatically will improve, but with the talent of the players on the squad and their history, I think it is more likely than not that Orlando City’s low performance so far in 2024 will come back up towards league average — much like a Major League Baseball player’s batting average on balls in play often evens out over time based on their level of skill.

Orlando City has talented players, including many who led the team to the best record in the team’s history last season, and I believe it is likely that we will start seeing small increases in goals/shot on target and goals/shot as the season progresses. I certainly hope we do, because it is much more fun when Orlando City masters this simple game and scores the ball, scores the ball, and scores the ball.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 6/14/24

Orlando City prepares to take on LAFC, Lions linked with Alan Saldivia, Orlando City B draws against Chattanooga FC, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Happy Friday! I’m working for most of this weekend but am still looking forward to the absurd amount of soccer ahead of us. Both Orlando City and the Orlando Pride have games Saturday, and the 2024 Euros should give us some exciting matches from teams we don’t watch all too often. Let’s dive right into today’s links!

Orlando City Prepares for LAFC

The international break is over and Orlando City is back in action Saturday night for a home game against LAFC. It’s been a difficult season for the Lions so far, and they have been shut out in three of their past five games. Points have been hard to come by at home for Orlando and a match against one of the best teams in the Western Conference won’t make that any easier. With David Brekalo at the Euros, Rodrigo Schlegel is expected to start and it would be his 100th MLS appearance. Ramiro Enrique would also make his 50th appearance across all competitions as a Lion should he take the field.

Lions Linked Reportedly Bow Out of Bid to Sign Defender Alan Saldivia

With the MLS summer transfer window looming, a rumor surfaced of Orlando City making an offer to sign Uruguayan center back Alan Saldivia from Colo-Colo in Chile. The Lions reportedly offered $1.5 million for the 22-year-old, but that doesn’t reach the $2.2 million Colo-Colo wants at minimum. The Lions reportedly would not go higher. While center back isn’t exactly a pressing need for the Lions at this time, Saldivia would have given the team a young and talented player who could anchor the defense for years to come.

Orlando City B Drops Points in Disappointing Draw

OCB hosted Chattanooga FC and had to settle for a 2-2 draw after giving up a lead not once, but twice. The Young Lions had Chattanooga on the ropes late in the match, taking the lead just before the end of normal time, only to get punched in the mouth in stoppage time and then lose the penalty shootout. It was the second straight 2-2 draw at home for the Young Lions and they’re still on the hunt for their first win this month. OCB’s next game will be on the road against New York City FC II on Wednesday.

Getting Ready for the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs

The MLS NEXT Cup playoffs kick off Saturday as the best teams across four age groups compete in a knockout format. Orlando City’s U-15 squad was recognized as one of the title contenders in its age group and will take on Real Salt Lake in the round of 32 on Saturday . The team also did well in MLS NEXT Flex, and Jakob Garcia, who has scored 18 goals in 21 games, is the kind of attacker who can make all the difference in knockout matches. Orlando’s U-17 team is capable of making a run as well, although it faces a tough first match on Sunday against the Philadelphia Union, which won the 2024 Generation Adidas Cup. It should be a fun tournament, and hopefully Orlando’s teams can advance far enough to be included in the games streamed on MLS Season Pass.

Free Kicks

  • Carl Robinson is back in MLS after Atlanta United hired him as an assistant coach. The 47-year-old played for Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls to close out his playing career and also served as the head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
  • Chicago Fire Designated Player Xherdan Shaqiri reportedly wants to return to Europe. The 32-year-old has been with the Fire since 2022 but hasn’t lived up to his billing and his contract is set to expire after this season.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!

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