The Cardiac Cats are back as Orlando City scored in stoppage time to win 2-1 over D.C. United and climbed back up the Eastern Conference standings. Both of Orlando’s goals came from corner kicks as Robin Jansson and Daryl Dike found the back of the net to overcome an early goal by Julian Gressel.
Let’s dive into how each Lion performed in the team’s first win since Sept. 4.
GK, Pedro Gallese, 5 — Gallese was beaten at the near post by Gressel’s powerful shot from distance that seemed to catch the Peruvian goalkeeper off guard. El Pulpo also had a nervy moment early in the second half when he couldn’t handle a cross into the box, but D.C. ultimately wasn’t able to capitalize on the opportunity. Apart from those moments, it was a fairly quiet night for Gallese as he had one save and 26 touches. He completed 15 of his 19 passes for a 79% rate and was accurate on three of his seven attempted long balls. While he hasn’t had a clean sheet since a scoreless match with Inter Miami on Aug. 27, this was the first time since that match that Orlando hasn’t conceded multiple goals in a game. Gallese will join Peru for World Cup qualifiers during this international break.
D, João Moutinho, 6 — Moutinho was fairly involved when on the field, but was taken off at halftime. He had 50 touches in Orlando’s first half and 40 passes at an 83% completion rate. His only attempted cross was unsuccessful as Orlando’s other playmakers weaved most of the team’s chances. Defensively, Moutinho had a tackle, an interception, and a clearance. If his substitution was due to an injury concern, at least he has time to recover as Orlando’s next game isn’t until a road trip to face FC Cincinnati on Oct. 16.
D, Robin Jansson, 7.5 (MotM) — The Swede did a great job following through on a corner kick to score Orlando’s first goal, slamming the ball into the net after Hamid made a save. It was Jansson’s second goal of the season as he continues to make an impact on set pieces. On the defensive side of things, Jansson had three interceptions and a defensive block to limit D.C.’s chances alongside Antonio Carlos. He had 63 touches and completed 87% of his passes. Jansson is the Man of the Match for helping Orlando respond to Gressel’s goal with one of his own and also clamping down on a D.C. offense that scored 12 goals in the previous four games leading up to this match.
D, Antonio Carlos, 7.5 — Carlos led the Lions with seven interceptions as he used great vision and his large frame to cut off passes and regain possession. He also had a tackle and three clearances to help keep D.C.’s offense quiet. He made an important defensive play in the 40th minute to prevent an Ola Kamara breakaway. The center back completed 50 of his 52 passes for a 96% success rate, which is fantastic considering D.C.’s high press to try to force mistakes. Carlos was calm, cool, and collected with 70 touches in the match and no committed fouls — important since he entered the match one yellow card shy of a suspension. His two shots came late in the match as Orlando hunted for a winner. Both were deflected, with the first going out for the corner that led to Dike’s goal.
D, Ruan, 5.5 — The right back’s crossing ability still leaves something to be desired as he was unsuccessful on all three of his attempts. However, one of those crosses was a low effort to Dike that had to be forced out for the corner that resulted in Orlando’s first goal. Ruan seems to be getting better at cutback passes into the box after sprinting down the right side rather than trying to loft the ball in front of goal for someone to head in. He had three tackles and his quickness allowed him to chase down loose balls before D.C. players could reach them. He got beat down his side a couple of times and gave the ball away in his own end a few times in the first half, which affected his score. Ruan played every minute and finished with 68 touches while completing 75% of his 44 passes.
MF, Sebas Mendez, 7 — The Ecuadorian midfielder led the Lions with 97 touches and also had 90 passes at a great 96% success rate. Mendez’ role was crucial for the Lions to get past D.C.’s press as he served as an outlet for passes to help build possession. He had two interceptions and a clearance to help solidify Orlando’s defense in the center of the field. While he didn’t make much of an impact on offense beyond helping the Lions string together passes, his presence allowed players like Mauricio Pereyra and Nani to push higher upfield.
MF, Junior Urso, 5.5 — While Urso made a great play by safely intercepting a low cross in front of goal without putting it into his own net, that initial chance for D.C. was created by Urso’s dispossession and his attempted clearance didn’t end the danger. It was a series of moments that happened for Urso in the match as he tended to turn the ball over and then hustled to make up for it. He also gave away a couple of unnecessary free kicks in his defensive half. He played all 90 minutes and had 77 touches while completing 50 of his 60 passes for an 83% success rate. Urso had a tackle, an interception, and a blocked shot in the match. Offensively, he was able to get enough behind his header from a corner to force a save from Hamid, with Jansson there to put it away. That was one of his two shots and the other was deflected late in the match for a corner. Urso has played every minute of Orlando’s past five games so the international break comes at a great time for the Bear.
MF, Benji Michel, 5.5 — The Homegrown Player used his speed to make great runs throughout the match, flying under the radar a bit to find good spaces. His only shot came in the 35th minute as a great ball by Nani found him in the box. Michel made a nice cutback to shake his defender, but his shot skipped just wide of goal. He didn’t have any key passes and his only cross was unsuccessful. He finished with 36 touches in 82 minutes of action and chipped in with a clearance and an interception when defending.
MF, Mauricio Pereyra, 6.5 — Pereyra did well pulling the strings for Orlando’s offense before coming off in the 71st minute for Silvester van der Water. Both of Pereyra’s two key passes were from corner kicks, including the great service that led to Orlando’s goal. He also attempted two crosses in open play but neither found their target. Pereyra also had a shot, but it was deflected. He finished with 60 touches and completed 83% of his 46 attempted passes.
MF, Nani, 6.5 — The captain was most productive in the first half. Nani made two key passes to set up good opportunities for Orlando and also had two shots, although both were deflected. His only cross of the match was unsuccessful and he shifted to a central role once Pereyra was subbed off. Nani wasn’t able to get much going in the second half and was taken off in the 81st minute for fresher legs. He had 61 touches, three clearances, a tackle, and 44 passes at an 84% success rate. Nani hasn’t scored or made an assist in his past five appearances, but this was his longest shift during that stretch and he will have time to rest before Orlando’s next match.
F, Daryl Dike, 7 — With two defenders covering him, Dike literally rose to the occasion in the final moments of the match to head the ball into the underside of the crossbar and into goal for the game-winner. Dike was outright unstoppable whenever the ball was in his vicinity during the match, using his strength to get past defenders and making two clearances with his head as well. His goal was one of his two shots, the other going off-target early on in the match. D.C. was determined to lock him down and he ended the game with just 26 touches and seven passes at a 100% completion rate as Orlando struggled to get him involved when D.C. dug in its heels in the second half. Regardless, Dike gave Orlando all three points with his late winner and has scored in three straight matches against the Eastern Conference’s toughest opposition.
D, Emmanuel Mas (46’), 6 — The left back came on for Moutinho at halftime and ended up leading the Lions with four tackles and three clearances. He did well on both sides of the ball and came alive on offense once Mueller joined the fray as the pair used their speed and footwork to attack the left side. Mas had 64 touches and was successful on 85% of his 41 passes. It was a solid outing from the Argentine defender.
MF, Silvester van der Water (71’), 5 — Van der Water came on for Pereyra and wasn’t able to make much of an impact with no shots or key passes. His only cross was unsuccessful and he finished with 13 touches and eight passes at a 75% success rate. It wasn’t his best outing, but he wasn’t terrible by any means and helped switch the flow of play when needed.
MF, Andres Perea (81’), N/A — Coming on late for Mendez, Perea completed 14 of 15 passes for a 93% success rate and had 15 touches. He wasn’t involved much in the team’s late push for a goal as D.C. was still capable of going on the counter if Orlando’s attack fell apart. While he didn’t play enough minutes to be graded, he still earns some bonus points for giving Dike a pair of sunglasses during his goal celebration. But where did he get them?
F, Tesho Akindele (81’), N/A — The Canadian nearly scored the winner in the 88th minute with a sliding shot to put the ball on target, but Hamid came up with a great save from his knees and it was cleared off the line. It was his only shot of an otherwise quiet performance as he only had three touches and one pass, which he completed.
MF, Chris Mueller (82’), N/A — It was Mueller’s first appearance since a cameo on Sept. 15 and the winger tried to make the most of his few minutes on the field. He had 26 touches and completed nine of his 13 passes for a 69% completion rate as he worked to make something happen while both of Orlando’s Designated Players were off the field. Mueller delivered the team’s only successful cross in open play, had two key passes, and was also successful on three of his five corner kicks, including the game-winning assist. His corner kick for Orlando’s winner was sublime as he delivered a great ball into traffic for Dike to reach and flick towards goal. With Mueller leaving the team after this year and only a few home games left this regular season, it will certainly be a moment to remember.
That’s how I saw things play out in Orlando’s 2-1 win at home. Make sure to weigh in on how you feel about the grades in the comments below and to vote for who you think deserves the title of Man of the Match.
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Lion Links: 2/20/24
The Wall sells out, Robin Jansson earns recognition, Concacaf W Gold cup preview, and more.
Happy Tuesday, everyone! We’re now just one day away from the first competitive Orlando City game of the year, and it can’t get here fast enough. As usual, we have plenty to cover this morning, so let’s jump straight into it.
The Wall Sells Out for Orlando City’s Season Opener
The Wall, the supporters section of Orlando City’s stadium, has sold out of single-match tickets ahead of Saturday’s home opener against CF Montreal. Limited tickets for the match are still available for the rest of the stadium, and hopefully it will fully sell out for the first match of the season. This Saturday will be the 10th consecutive time in which the Lions start their MLS season at home. It should be a great match and a chance for Orlando to get its season off to a good start between Concacaf Champions Cup matches against Cavalry FC.
Robin Jansson Praised as a Top Defender in MLS
Orlando City center back Robin Jansson was recognized as one of the best center backs in MLS by MLSsoccer.com‘s Joseph Lowery. The 32-year-old has been an integral part of Orlando’s defense since joining the league in 2019 and should continue anchoring the team’s back line this season. Not only is he excellent in terms of defense, but the Beefy Swede can also make an impact on offense with his passing and surprising runs up the field. Jansson is one of the most consistent defenders in the league and agreed to a new contract with the club earlier this month.
MLS Transfer News Roundup
The 2024 Major League Soccer season might kick off tomorrow, but transfers are still flying thick and fast, which means we have things to catch up on. We start with one of the teams opening the season tomorrow, Inter Miami, which has officially transferred midfielder Gregore to Botafogo in the Brazilian top flight. We move on to NYCFC, which has completed the signing of striker Jovan Mijatović from Red Star Belgrade. The 18-year-old Serbian youth international has inked a deal that runs through the 2028 season, with an option year for 2029. We finish up with the Houston Dynamo, which have signed Coco Carasquilla to a contract extension. The Panamanian midfielder’s deal now runs through the 2025 season and has option years for 2026 and 2027.
Concacaf W Gold Cup Preview
The inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup kicks off later today, so make sure you get up to speed on everything you need to know about the competition. The United States Women’s National Team has been grouped with Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, and will be looking for a strong showing following a disappointing campaign at last summer’s World Cup. The tournament will feature a total of 12 teams, with eight Concacaf representatives and four from CONMEBOL. The top two finishers in each of the three groups advance to the knockout round, along with the top two third-place finishers. The USWNT begin play tonight against the Dominican Republican at 10:15 p.m. from Dignity Health Sports Park.
Americans in Midweek Action
With a number of American players taking part in games during the working week, get everything marked down on your calendar so you don’t miss anything. Things get started this afternoon with a huge game, as Malik Tillman, Ricardo Pepi, Sergino Dest, and PSV Eindhoven take on Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League. European competition continues on Thursday as well, with Christian Pulisc, Yunus Musah, and AC Milan facing Rennes in the Europa League play. Things finish out on Friday as the red-hot Brandon Vazquez and Monterrey face Juarez in Liga MX competition.
Minnesota United Close to Coaching Hire
A coaching search that will surely go down as one of the most thorough in MLS history is nearing its conclusion, as Minnesota United is reportedly close to naming Manchester United assistant Eric Ramsay as the team’s new skipper. While nothing is official yet, Ramsay is said to be the leading candidate, and The Athletic‘s Tom Bogert says that the team is closing in on the hire. If he joins, Ramsay will become the youngest coach in league history at the tender age of 32, and he will also become Minnesota’s second coach following Adrian Heath’s departure in October of last year.
- Orlando City forward Luis Muriel thanked Atalanta fans who made a banner to bid him farewell this past weekend.
- The folks over at MLSsoccer.com have predicted Orlando City will finish third in the Eastern Conference this year.
- The U.S. Open Cup has reportedly gotten the green light to take place this year, although it will have a format different than in past years.
- Thorgan Hazard dedicated a goal celebration to his family’s parakeet that passed away.
- Crystal Palace has hired Oliver Glasner as the team’s new coach after Roy Hodgson stepped down from the role.
- Napoli announced the firing of Walter Mazzari just two days before the team’s Champions League tie against Barcelona, making him the second coaching casualty of the Italian Champions’ campaign.
- Continuing the coaching carousel trend, Marseille has fired Gennaro Gattuso after just five months into the job.
That’s all I have for this morning. Vamos Orlando!
Orlando City’s 10th Anniversary is the Time to Remember the Club’s Originals
Orlando City’s 10th year in MLS should be used to honor the players who built the club.
The 2024 season is Orlando City’s 10th in Major League Soccer. The club has scheduled several events throughout the year to celebrate having been in the country’s top division for a decade, but the season should also be a time for fans to reflect on the people who made it happen without getting to experience the result.
Orlando City arrived in Orlando in 2010 with the goal of reaching MLS. However, it was the first professional soccer team in the city since the 1990s and resides in a football hotbed, leaving many to wonder if the team would be successful. The most famous doubt came at the team’s inaugural media day, when longtime WESH 2 sportscaster Pat Clake told club founder Phil Rawlins and inaugural Head Coach Adrian Heath that, while he wished them luck, a professional soccer team in Orlando would never work.
The Orlando project got off to a much better start than the Austin Aztex, Rawlins’ former project. During the team’s first season in 2011, Orlando City substantially outdrew its predecessor, proving there was an appetite for soccer. But there was another factor to the team’s popularity. The Lions won…a lot.
The success of a team at home has a significant impact on the enjoyment of attending games. In four USL Pro seasons, Orlando City was 40-3-9 (W-L-D) at the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) and Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports, winning three regular season titles and two USL Pro championships. Seeing the local team win and score frequently is much more likely to result in people returning for more games. That’s exactly what the Lions did, and it helped to create a following.
When MLS considered Orlando City for expansion, the league looked at average attendance, season ticket numbers, and community involvement. All of these factors were directly related to the team’s success on the field. For this reason, the key players on those teams are responsible for Orlando City being in MLS in the first place.
In addition to their work on the field, the players from the USL Pro era worked in the community to build a following. They spoke with local groups and were active throughout Central Florida, convincing people to attend games. It was all about the effort of getting the team into MLS. Unfortunately, many of those players didn’t get to experience the results of their labor.
The core of Orlando City’s team from 2011 to 2013 remained the same, with Miguel Gallardo in goal, Luke Boden at left back, Rob Valentino at center back, Kevin Molino and Jamie Watson in the midfield, and Dennis Chin up top. The success they had resulted in the club being announced as the newest expansion side on Nov. 19, 2013. However, of those six stalwarts, only Boden and Molino continued with the team into MLS.
Over the past 10 years, Orlando City has had several star and fan favorite players come and go. As the club’s USL Pro era gets further in the rearview mirror, the players who built the organization are forgotten or unknown by a large portion of the fanbase that didn’t experience the early seasons.
To the club’s credit, Orlando City worked to keep the memory of the team’s foundation alive in recent years. This preseason, Chin, Lewis Neal (a 2011 original who returned to the team in MLS), and Dom Dwyer (who was on loan with the team in 2013 and returned in 2017) were involved in the popular away jersey unveiling. Additionally, Chin signed autographs and took part in a Q&A session during the Society XXI preseason game against the New England Revolution. They’ve had other events, like the 2022 U.S. Open Cup games against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, when former players have been invited back.
Additionally, the club raised banners last year for the 2011 and 2013 USL Pro championships and announced this year that it will display the trophies in a new permanent exhibit called “The Vault.” The club also released an updated version of the three-lion USL Pro logo from those first four seasons.
When people consider the factors that resulted in Orlando City joining MLS in 2015, the fan support during the USL Pro years is the first thing that comes to mind. But without the success of those teams and the work the players put into building the following, the club likely never would’ve made it to the top division. This 10th anniversary season is a good time to remember those club legends.
Lion Links: 2/19/24
Orlando City wins preseason finale, post-match concert artists named, U.S. Open Cup in jeopardy, and more.
Merry Monday morning, Mane Landers. We’re about to get to see Orlando City play matches in both the MLS regular season and the Concacaf Champions Cup. Cavalry FC is up first on Wednesday and CF Montreal on Saturday. That’s a whole lot of Canada to start things off, eh? Before we get to the links, please join us in wishing a happy birthday to Orlando Pride star Marta, who turns 38 today.
Orlando City Defeats the Rapids in Preseason Finale
The Lions won their final preseason match against the Colorado Rapids 3-2 at Inter&Co Stadium on Saturday. Kyle Smith got the scoring going mere seconds into the match and Facundo Torres doubled the lead on a penalty kick before the end of the first half. The Rapids tied it up in the second half, but Orlando City rookie Jeorgio Kocevski scored a late winner in stoppage time to keep the Lions unbeaten in the preseason. Orlando ended the preseason schedule with a record of 4-0-1.
Orlando Postgame Concert Announced
As I get older, I see each decade get its time in the nostalgic spotlight. Evidently, it is the 1990s’ turn. Orlando City announced a concert that will follow the Austin FC match at Inter&Co Stadium on March 23. You didn’t ask for it — and neither did anyone else — but Vanilla Ice, Rob Base, and Montell Jordan are headlining an “I Love the 90s” post-match concert. I’m not entirely certain if everyone will be required to stop, collaborate, and listen, but it’s certainly a possibility.
PRO Referee Strike Looms
Normally, if I told you that Orlando City didn’t have to worry about the Professional Referees Organization (PRO), I’m willing to bet you’d be pretty happy. Now it’s a real possibility that the Lions’ first match will likely have stand-in referees. The Professional Soccer Referees Association rejected a new collective bargaining agreement with PRO, meaning that there will be a lockout. PRO has identified “qualified replacements” ready to make sure that matches will be able to be played.
Open Cup in Jeopardy
The start of the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is only a month away, although that isn’t a certainty. U.S. Soccer and MLS are still not seeing eye to eye regarding how many of the senior squads will participate. On the other side of the equation, the USL is pushing back against the demands from MLS.
Ultimately, this is a power struggle between the upper levels of organized soccer in this country. If a compromise solution can’t be found, it could mean that the Open Cup won’t take place this year. If that happens, it won’t help any of the involved parties and it will be devastating to the supporters of all the clubs at every level.
- Thanks to Zakaria Taifi’s mother, Alyssa Taifi, we know that Orlando City B defeated Philadelphia Union II by a score of 4-0 in a preseason scrimmage, and that there was some chippiness in the match.
- Inter Miami is under pressure to get roster compliant. As such, Federico Redondo will not be joining the Herons due to Miami’s inability to bring him in because of MLS regulations regarding payment methodology.
- Inter Miami midfielder Victor Ulloa announced he is retiring, which will also help Miami’s roster cap problems.
- Someone needs to tell Lionel Messi that there are financial roster rules in MLS. I know he probably doesn’t know, given how many rules were bent to bring him to MLS. Now he wants Neymar too. It’s getting ridiculous.
- Bundesliga fans don’t want a proposed private equity investment in the league and they let everyone know it at Bayern Munich’s 3-2 loss to Bochum. The protest delayed the match by 13 minutes and involved tennis balls.
- Luton Town defender Tom Lockyer has not ruled out a return to Luton Town after he suffered a cardiac event in a match against Bournemouth last December.
That will do it for today. Check back for our coverage of Orlando City’s two matches this week. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 2/20/24
Orlando City’s 10th Anniversary is the Time to Remember the Club’s Originals
Lion Links: 2/19/24
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