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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Inter Miami CF: Final Score 2-1 as Lions Complete Comeback to Drop Herons

Chris Mueller and Nani scored phenomenal goals to bring the Lions back from 1-0 down late in Ft. Lauderdale.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

A tired-looking Orlando City team withstood some lumps in their third match in a week but goals by Chris Mueller and Nani brought the Lions back from a 1-0 deficit to win for the first time at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. Orlando (6-1-3, 21 points) earned all nine possible points in a difficult stretch of three matches in a seven-day span, finishing it off by keeping rival Inter Miami (2-6-2, 8 points) winless at home on the season.

With the win, Orlando took a 3-2-0 edge in the Tropic Thunder series. Every meeting so far has been decided by a single goal.

“Three points — that means a lot for us,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “It’s a derby. This is a game that we wanted to win, playing in their place here. We haven’t done it. After a long week, we felt it. We have heavy legs, and I think the boys did an excellent job overcoming that part.”

Pareja made only a few changes from Tuesday’s lineup, playing Brandon Austin in goal again behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Michael Halliday. The fact that Joao Moutinho didn’t dress is telling and perhaps a bad sign for the young left back. Junior Urso and Andres Perea took their usual spots in the central midfield, but Silvester van der Water and Mauricio Pereyra displaced Mueller and Benji Michel in the lineup. Nani and Daryl Dike again led the attack.

Miami came out with a lot of emotion, as expected considering the recent events surrounding the building collapse and the full stands. The Herons pressed all over the field, knowing Orlando was playing its third match in a week.

Austin made a big save just three minutes in on a Jay Chapman effort after Smith failed to clear a ball in the corner and the deflection fell for Miami. The hosts won a couple of early corners but didn’t do much with them.

Orlando started growing into the game after the first quarter hour, with Urso getting onto a long ball from Nani but firing high of the goal. The Lions dealt with a corner and looked to break in the 19th minute on a great long ball from Dike, but van der Water opted to pass instead of shoot and his weak pass was off target and easily cut out by the defense.

Former Lion Brek Shea fired wide in the 23rd minute after a terrible giveaway just outside the area by the Orlando defense. Four minutes later, Nani wasted a promising opportunity by trying a shot from long range that was off target. A minute later, Urso stepped in front of a pass out of the back from Miami and fired but his shot was deflected out for a corner. Again, van der Water’s delivery let him down on the ensuing set piece, as his low delivery was easily cleared and nearly led to a transition opportunity.

Orlando started seeing more of the ball but every movement was slow, deliberate, and posed no threat to the Miami defense. There was no service to Dike, who managed just 10 touches in the opening 45 minutes.

Urso had a terrible giveaway late in the half that led to another chance from Chapman but he fired his shot straight at Austin.

Miami led in shots (6-4), shots on goal (2-0), corners (4-1), and passing accuracy (83.6%-83.3%) in the first half. Orlando held a 54%-46% edge in possession but didn’t do a lot with it.

Looking for some energy and tempo, Pareja sent on Mueller and Michel for van der Water and Pereyra at the half.

The move seemed to pay off almost right away. After an early header by Victor Ulloa was headed wide, the Lions got into the attack. Mueller sent a cross just a couple inches too high for Urso in the 49th minute and the ball fell to Nani. The captain sent a shot on target but John McCarthy was able to make the save. Moments later, Halliday sent in a cross that was just a few inches over Dike.

In the 58th minute, the Lions fashioned their best chance of the night to that point when Urso slipped Mueller down the right side of the box. Cash fired on frame but McCarthy was able to get a foot to it and keep it out.

Nani fizzed a free kick — drawn by Dike — just wide of goal in the 64th as the Lions continued to get opportunities in the second half. But the goal seemed like it would never come for an obviously tired Orlando City team.

Just three minutes after Nani’s free kick miss, the hosts opened the scoring. Second-half sub Gonzalo Higuain got the ball 30 yards out from goal and Urso just didn’t have the gas left in the tank needed to stay with him. Higuain sent a hard, low shot just inside the left post to make it 1-0.

Orlando kept coming, getting a couple of half chances from set pieces after the Higuain goal and eventually the breakthrough came on a play that started deep in the Lions’ own end. Jansson sent a fantastic long ball down the right channel for Nani, who used his first touch to send the ball across the penalty area. Mueller ran onto it and he sent his first touch past McCarthy, tying the game at 1-1 in the 73rd minute. It was Mueller’s first goal of the 2021 season.

“It’s nice obviously to get the first one but honestly I wasn’t really trippin’ about it,” Mueller said of opening his 2021 account. “I know that when you stick to the process and just keep doing the right things day in and day out those things are bound to come in time. I knew I was getting myself in some good spots and I was going to get my first goal. And obviously that was a great way to do it. I mean, the ball was so high up in the air. I was just trying to get on the end of it before it bounced and I don’t even know how I hit it, honestly. It just went off my foot and went in, and thankfully we got that goal to get back into the game.”

“I look forward to helping the team in anything I can do on the field,” Nani said. “That’s why on that pass from Jansson I tried to assist any of my teammates in the box and that was the change of the game. It was a beautiful assist and a great goal from Chris Mueller. And it gave us a little more energy.”

The Lions weren’t content with the tie score. Nani sent a shot through on net in the 75th minute but McCarthy was able to make a comfortable save. A minute later, Halliday got down the right but took one touch too many and then sent his cross over the net and out of play. Moments later, the captain called game.

Nani got the ball out wide on Orlando’s attacking left and cut toward the corner of the box. Miami failed to close him down, so he sent a rocket between two defenders into the upper right corner where McCarthy had no chance to reach it. The Lions led 2-1 in the 80th minute.

Miami lumped a few balls into the area down the stretch but nothing came of it. The Herons sent a shot wide in the 87th minute and chief antagonist Leandro Gonzalez Pirez headed well over the bar in the third minute of stoppage time. Orlando walked off the field for the third time in seven days with all three points.

The Lions turned the stats sheet around in the second half, finishing with more shots (11-10), more shots on goal (6-3), and more possession (52.9%-47.1%). Miami held slim margins in corners (5-4) and passing accuracy (84.3%-84.2%).

“First half was difficult for us,” Pareja said. “We had players who were doing a terrific effort on overcoming the tiredness. Then we knew with Benji and Chris and Tesho we’d have fresh legs. They came in the second half to do that and they lifted us up. The transformation in the second half is due to their energy, their discipline, and obviously that magic touch we have with Luis Nani.”

“We wanted to win this game more than anything,” Nani said. “We came here not to perform, but to win the game, so we knew (it would be) very difficult at the beginning, because we had three games in one week. We lost a lot a lot of energy, but our team, our strength, our mentality, gave us extra strength in the last minutes so we could handle the game and then win the game at the last minute.”

“We’re going to enjoy this one obviously for the night and get back to Orlando, and do our full recovery and take care of ourselves,” Mueller said. “You know, do the things that we’ve got to do to make sure our bodies are all feeling right, so that we can come back out next week against Red Bulls and give it our all again. That’s what this game is.”

The Lions now get a normal week to rest before hosting the New York Red Bulls next Saturday night, July 3.

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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