As we count down to the new year of 2022 — which will be Orlando City’s eighth in MLS and the Orlando Pride’s seventh in the NWSL — and say goodbye to 2021, it’s time to look back at the club’s 10 best moments of the year.
It was July 30 and the hated Five Stripes of Atlanta United were visiting Exploria Stadium to take on Orlando City. The Lions were coming off a humiliating 5-0 loss at New York City FC. It was the team’s worst loss under Oscar Pareja and the worst defeat since 2017. To make matters worse, starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese picked up a knock in the game that had him out for the rivalry match-up against Atlanta United.
The Lions were also missing Sebas Mendez to injury and Daryl Dike to Gold Cup duty.
Atlanta had gotten off to a poor start in 2021 and had just fired manager Gabriel Heinze 12 days earlier. Former USL Lion Rob Valentino was the interim coach and in fact was partly responsible for the Five Stripes turning their season around enough to reach the postseason.
With Gallese unavailable, Homegrown goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar was tabbed for his first MLS start. Stajduhar’s career path to his first start was a long and arduous one. The club’s fourth Homegrown signing back in November of 2015, the academy product and Salem, MA native has been buried on Orlando’s depth chart and has dealt with not only lengthy injury absences, but also battled a 2017 diagnosis of a form of bone cancer called Localized Ewing Sarcoma. It seemed incredible that Stajduhar was finally getting his chance after all that he’d been through.
It was hardly a storybook beginning for Stajduhar in his first start.
A wayward cross by Ruan was cut out by the visitors, who broke the other way in transition. The ball ended up on the foot of Brooks Lennon on the right. Lennon crossed to Josef Martinez outside the area and the Atlanta Designated Player smashed a shot off the right post that caromed just inside the left post for a goal in the game’s first minute. There was nothing Stajduhar could do about it.
Orlando should have pulled that goal back two minutes later but Ruan could not deliver an accurate cross to Benji Michel who had shaken free in the box and needed only to get a touch to tap home the equalizer. Unfortunately, Ruan’s cross had too much pace on it and it skipped past the front of the charging Michel.
Stajduhar made a big save on Erik Lopez in the 16th minute to keep Atlanta from doubling its lead. Five minutes later, Alec Kann denied Michel with a sprawling one-armed save. The back-and-forth first half continued over the next several minutes with each side missing a free header off a set piece. Michel had a couple more opportunities but struggled with his touch in the match, wasting a couple of good scoring chances.
But the Lions got on level footing in the 43rd minute. Ruan forced a save from Kann from a tight angle that won Orlando a corner. Nani delivered a good ball to the penalty spot. Kyle Smith shook free of his mark, ducked low to meet the cross, and headed home for his first MLS goal, tying the match at 1-1.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) July 31, 2021
Chris Mueller nearly gave Orlando the lead at the death of the first half but Kann made a vital save and the teams went to the break knotted at one goal apiece.
Orlando had the better of the play in the first half but couldn’t make the final ball count and that continued to start the second half. The Lions won some early set pieces and Mauricio Pereyra had an open look but couldn’t get his effort on target.
Atlanta regained the lead against the run of play in the 66th minute. The Lions turned over the ball in the midfield when Pereyra let a ball run through for Nani but the captain wasn’t far enough up the pitch to get to it in time and Atlanta regained possession and went on the attack. Working up the left side, then crossed to Marcelino Moreno at the top of the box. Nani couldn’t close him down in time to prevent a shot and Moreno scorched a blast into the upper right corner to make it 2-1.
Oscar Pareja got some offensive substitutes on the field shortly after the Moreno goal, sending on Silvester van der Water and Tesho Akindele — who had played in a Gold Cup match in Texas the night before — in the 74th minute and withdrawing Uri Rosell and Mueller. The subs paid dividends quickly.
Just five minutes after being introduced, van der Water equalized. Pereyra gathered the ball in the middle of the pitch just outside the area and chipped a pass to his left over the defense to Michel. The Homegrown winger headed across the front of goal and van der Water dove low to head the ball past Kann to make it 2-2 in the 79th minute.
Pereyra → Michel → Van Der Water
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 31, 2021
Atlanta withdrew Martinez in the 83rd minute as part of a double change and perhaps the visitors were willing to settle for the road point, but the Lions had other ideas.
Just moments later, it was van der Water again impacting the game, as he cut back to the top of the box on the left and sent in a cross. Nani timed his run well, got in behind his defender, and headed home to make it 3-2 in the 87th minute.
NANI FOR THE WIN!
What a finish in Orlando. pic.twitter.com/ieqvfOmYVs
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 31, 2021
Orlando City saw out the final couple of minutes and five more in stoppage time and claimed the victory.
It was just Orlando’s second home win over Atlanta in the all-time series and it carried with it a much-needed three points. But the look on Martinez’s face when Nani scored was perhaps the most satisfying part of all.
Stajduhar was mostly well-shielded by his teammates on the night, having only had to make one save in the match, although it was a good one. The two goals were too well-placed to do much of anything about. After a long and difficult road to his first MLS game, and the roaring start Atlanta got off to, it was satisfying to see the young Homegrown goalkeeper get the win.
The victory kicked off a seven-match unbeaten run in league play (3-0-4), with just a 1-0 Leagues Cup loss in the mix during that span. It was an important (and gutsy) victory, a rivalry win, an emotional one for Orlando’s young goalkeeper, and a worthy moment of being ranked No. 3 in our countdown.
Come back through New Year’s Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City SC’s top 10 moments of 2021.
Previous Top 10 Moments of 2021
10. Orlando City takes part in the club’s first international competition against Liga MX side Santos Laguna in the Leagues Cup.
9. Orlando Pride get only their second win ever against Portland as Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux lead the way.
8. Orlando City opens the 2021 MLS season with a club-record six-match unbeaten streak.
7. Orlando Pride start the 2021 NWSL season with a club-record seven-game unbeaten run.
6. Orlando City gets late Daryl Dike goal to beat D.C. United in the 97th minute to end slide and restart playoff push.
5. Orlando Pride end slide and rekindle their playoff hopes with 2-0 road win over the Chicago Red Stars, giving interim coach Becky Burleigh her first NWSL win.
4. Lions smash San Jose Earthquakes 5-0 to equal their most lopsided MLS win behind braces from Benji Michel and Daryl Dike.
Lion Links: 10/3/23
Facundo Torres named to MLS Team of the Matchday, Orlando Pride beat Angel City FC, MLS midweek matchday preview, and more.
Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s been a mixed bag for Orlando soccer over the last few days. Orlando City breezed past CF Montreal on Saturday, the Orlando Pride won to boost its playoff push, and Orlando City B dropped a heartbreaker to Columbus Crew 2 in the MLS NEXT Pro playoffs. As usual, there’s plenty to talk over this morning, so let’s get started.
Facundo Torres Makes Team of the Matchday
Facundo Torres has been named to the latest edition of the MLS Team of the Matchday following his efforts in Orlando City’s 3-0 win over CF Montreal on Saturday. Facu forced the own goal that opened the scoring, was involved in the buildup for the second tally, and bagged the final goal of the night himself. Beyond the stats, he was simply involved the whole game, constantly drifting into dangerous areas inside the fullbacks and causing Montreal’s defense all sorts of problems. He now has 13 goals and four assists in league play this year and is absolutely vital to the way the Lions want to play when in the attacking third. Marcus Mitchell rightly gave him Man of the Match honors in our player grades, and it’s nice to see him get recognition at the national level too. Here’s hoping he keeps it up.
Orlando Pride Win On the Road
The Orlando Pride beat Angel City FC 1-0 in a massive win on the road. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but the Pride scored in the first half and held on to win their ninth game of the season and remain in the playoff hunt. Following the win, Orlando sits in seventh in the league standings with two games to go. The Pride now control their own destiny and will clinch a spot in the postseason with wins against Racing Louisville and the Houston Dash to close out the season. Things remain incredibly tight in the standings, but the result made the Kansas City Current the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention this season.
Looking Ahead to Pivotal MLS Midweek Games
There are a number of big games taking place tomorrow during the 36th matchday of this MLS season. Obviously, Orlando City’s game against Nashville SC takes priority around these parts, as the Lions need a result against a team that’s given them fits if they want to maintain second place in the Eastern Conference. Another game with big ramifications for OCSC is the Philadelphia Union’s home game against Atlanta United. A victory for Philadelphia could see the Union draw level with the Lions if Orlando can’t get a result on the road, so that’ll be one to watch very closely. Finally, the New England Revolution are facing the Columbus Crew. A win for the Revs could see them leapfrog the Lions into second depending on how Orlando fares in the Music City, so there’s plenty at stake during tomorrow’s midweek slate.
Andre Blake Criticizes Heavy Matchload
If you play in Major League Soccer these days, you’re going to be putting a lot of miles on your legs. A sharp uptick in the number of matches played, combined with rosters that aren’t exactly in the deep end of the pool, means that guys are logging some serious minutes. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake was not shy in criticizing MLS for the number of matches that teams are playing this year. He has called the situation “ridiculous”, saying that the players are suffering and that the quality of the league will decrease as a result of injuries due to the overloaded schedules. Blake has an excellent point, particularly because many of the league’s top players will also play international fixtures in addition to club games, further adding onto an already untenable workload.
- Marta, Adriana, and Rafaelle have all been called up for Brazil’s upcoming friendlies.
- Orlando City rose one spot to third in ESPN.com’s latest MLS power rankings.
- San Diego’s MLS team has announced the location of its training facility and residential youth academy.
- Al Ittihad refused to leave the locker room due to a statue of a deceased Iranian general that had been placed near the field, meaning the team’s Asian Champions League match was called off.
That’s all I have for you today. Y’all stay safe out there!
Lion Links: 10/2/23
Orlando City’s trophy aspirations, the Orlando Pride playoff hunt, OCB falls to Columbus Crew 2, and more.
Merry Monday morning, Mane Landers! Though I’m still reveling in the huge win over CF Montreal, I’m also looking ahead to a big week for both Orlando City and the Orlando Pride. It’s such a great time of the year with MLS and NWSL matches, plus the European leagues, and American football. So much to watch, so little sleep to be had. Let’s get to the links.
Lions Looking for Hardware
Orlando City set a record for wins and points in a season with the win over CF Montreal on Saturday night. Hopefully it’s a record that will be extended over the final three matches of the regular season. The coaches and the players certainly think that Orlando City has an opportunity to win the MLS Cup. Where the Lions finish in the standings will go a long way towards reaching the final and that all starts Wednesday night.
The Pride’s Playoff Push
The Orlando Pride continue their push to make the NWSL playoffs for the first time since the 2017 season with a trip across the country to take on Angel City FC later tonight. It is the first of two away matches this week — the last road games of the regular season. The Pride sit just above Angel City in the standings with the clubs in seventh and eighth places, respectively. The game will be Marta’s 100th match over all competitions. Securing three points over Angel City would make a big difference in the Pride’s race to the playoffs. Keep an eye out for our preview later today.
OCB Penalized Out of the Playoffs
On The Mane Land PawedCast, we often describe Orlando City B matches as being “drunk.” OCB’s 2-1 playoff loss to Columbus Crew 2 will definitely be described as such. There were three red cards, two penalties, and Jack Lynn didn’t score a goal for once. There were some questionable calls by both the refs and by OCB Head Coach Martin Perelman, but conceding only from the penalty spot while outscoring the hosts in the run of play won’t (and shouldn’t) sit well with the Young Lions. While the result is disappointing, one should remember that OCB is a development squad, and one that made the playoffs to boot.
USMNT Players in Action Abroad
USMNT players made some noise this weekend. Christian Pulisic played 82 minutes and scored AC Milan’s winning goal in the club’s 2-0 victory over Lazio. It was one of two shots on target for the American. Striker Folarin Balogun missed not one, but two penalty shots in Monaco’s match against Marseille. Fortunately, Balogun scored an equalizer in the run of play and his teammate secured the 3-2 win. The win moves Monaco to the top of Ligue 1.
Over in the Eredivisie, Malik Tillman got his first start for PSV. Tillman provided an assist and scored the game winner late in second-half stoppage time to give PSV a 3-1 win over FC Volendam. It was a Man of the Match performance by the American. In less good news, Tyler Adams will miss more time with AFC Bournemouth as he has had a setback with his hamstring injury. How long he will be out is still to be determined.
- The San Diego Wave are the first NWSL team to secure a playoff spot thanks in part to Alex Morgan’s goal in the Wave’s 2-0 victory over the Portland Thorns.
- FSU women’s soccer remained undefeated over two matches this week. The first match saw the Noles equalize in the literal last second in a 3-3 draw with North Carolina. The second match was a 2-0 win over The University of Miami.
- Mia Fishel made her debut for Chelsea and scored a goal for her new club in a 2-1 win over Tottenham. Her great start comes only a week or so after her USWNT debut.
- Matt Turner is a golf fan, but he didn’t get drawn into commenting on the U.S. Ryder Cup loss to England. Smart move considering he plays for Nottingham Forest in England.
- Christian Pulisic’s dad wasn’t quite as animated as others following his son’s goal for AC Milan. I’m not saying he wasn’t happy, but he definitely stayed cool and calm.
That will do it for today. It’s a busy week coming up with Pride matches tonight and on Friday, and the Lions playing on Wednesday and Saturday. Check back for all of our coverage of your favorite teams. Vamos Orlando!
Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Player Grades and Man of the Match
How did your favorite Lions perform in Orlando’s 3-0 home win over CF Montreal?
Orlando City returned to its winning ways with a convincing 3-0 victory at home against CF Montreal. An own goal by Montreal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois got the scoring started in the first half. Facundo Torres and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson each scored nice team goals in the second half as the Lions cruised to victory against a Montreal side that hasn’t won since Aug. 26. The win set club records for both most points (54) and most wins (15) in a season since the Lions joined MLS in 2015.
Here’s how I saw each individual performance in Orlando’s dominant win at Exploria Stadium.
GK, Pedro Gallese, 6.5 — The Peruvian had one of his quietest nights of the season and didn’t have to make a save until the second half. That first save was a great one though, as he parried away a sudden shot from Mason Toye with little room to spare in the 76th minute. His only other save was an easy catch shortly after off of a Mathieu Choiniere from outside the area. Gallese completed 61.8% of his 34 passes and seven of his 20 long balls found their man. El Pulpo likely won’t have many complaints about a slow night at the office as he earned his ninth clean sheet of the season, which ties his high in an MLS season, set last year.
D, Rafael Santos, 7.5 — The Brazilian left back was dangerous from start to finish in one of his best games as a Lion. He notched his third assist of the campaign with a low cross that zipped through traffic and found fellow fullback Thorhallsson’s run. It was a chance he sparked himself by winning the ball in the midfield before booking it out wide. His cross on the first goal was just as good, as he was both patient and clinical to find Torres open in the box. Of his four crosses, two were successful and the misses had some venom on them as well. He also completed three of his five long balls and had 51 passes at an 82.4% success rate. Santos was defensively sound, leading the Lions with four tackles, making an interception as well, and winning two of his three aerial duels. Santos flourished once Orlando had its wingers switch sides, allowing him to work in tandem with Torres with overlapping runs and room to work.
D, Robin Jansson, 7 — The Beefy Swede was as strong as always in the center of Orlando’s defense, although he didn’t have to put out as many fires in this one thanks to his defensive midfielders. Jansson had a tackle, an interception, and a clearance as he broke up plays and kept Montreal’s offense in check. His only miscue was a worrying turnover in the second half that he promptly rectified with a surgical sliding tackle in the box. A few charges forward and connecting on four of his nine long balls kept Montreal’s defense on its toes as well. He completed 86% of his 50 passes and didn’t commit a single foul in an efficient outing.
D, Rodrigo Schlegel, 7 — Schlegel bounced back from a few underwhelming recent performances with a solid game in this shutout. His four clearances were the most on the team and he won both of his aerial duels. The center back also had a tackle and blocked a shot to make sure Montreal couldn’t get back in the match. His 62 passes were the second-most on the team and he completed 88.7% of them, while also succeeding on two of his four long balls. It was nice to see him calm, cool, and collected as he continues to fill in for Antonio Carlos.
D, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, 7.5 — Thorhallsson got the start again at right back and spent plenty of time in Orlando’s attack. That was more than evident shortly after halftime, when he made a superb run to bury a ball that skipped across the front of goal to double Orlando’s lead. He was credited with one shot (on target) but what must have been ruled a cross from a tight angle also appeared to be an on-target shot. The versatile player is improving with each match played at right back and completed all but one of his 33 passes for an excellent 97% success rate. Although neither of his two crosses were accurate, his lone long ball found its mark and he had a key pass as well. Defensively, he had just one interception, which is in part because of how much time he spent in the thick of things on offense. It was a great game from Thorhallsson, who was subbed out in the 82nd minute for Michael Halliday.
MF, Cesar Araujo, 7.5 — Araujo was a Swiss army knife of sorts for Orlando, doing a little bit of everything to give the Lions an edge all over the field. The 22-year-old directed traffic while on the ball, covered for his defenders as needed, and won a team-high four fouls. His lone shot was a headed effort that went wide, but he got involved on offense by succeeding on four of his nine long balls, with two of those marked as key passes. Araujo’s 76 touches were the most on the team and he was accurate on 88.1% of his 59 passes. He served the role of defensive midfielder well, helping out with two tackles, an interception, a clearance, and plenty of pressure to make life as difficult as possible for Montreal.
MF, Wilder Cartagena, 7.5 — Cartagena did well on both sides of the ball. The Peruvian was credited with an assist for springing Ivan Angulo forward on the third goal, and he had a key pass for setting Torres up for a chance on the volley soon after that with a quick ball out wide. He almost had a goal himself when a free kick found him open in the box, but his header went high for his only shot of the evening. Cartagena’s 63 passes were the most on the team and he completed 93.7% of them while also connecting on four of his five long balls. Defensively, Cartagena didn’t give Montreal’s players much breathing room and blocked a shot.
MF, Ivan Angulo, 6 — The winger struggled when attacking for a majority of his time on the field before coming off in the 64th minute. A lack of vision and execution while on the ball, particularly in the first half, led to some squandered chances that Orlando didn’t end up regretting in the end. Both of his shots were in quick succession, the first saved in a chance he should have done better with and the second fired wide from outside the box with better options available. He scored an easy header on a play from an obviously offside Torres that was correctly flagged after the ball went in. It was far from horrendous from the Colombian though, as he often put himself in good positions to jump on errant passes, provide an outlet for teammates, or demand attention from Montreal’s defenders. His assist came in the second half after he made a nicely timed run and then unselfishly laid the ball off for Torres rather than going for goal himself. It salvaged a fairly forgettable performance that included 38 touches and 28 passes at a strong 89.3% success rate, and an inaccurate cross.
MF, Mauricio Pereyra, 6.5 — The captain was often swarmed when on the ball and had little room to make some of the backbreaking passes he’s shown over the years. He completed four of his five long balls, one of his three crosses, and 83.7% of his 43 passes. Pereyra didn’t have any shots himself, but had two key passes and did well as a facilitator in tight areas to keep Orlando in possession. His free kick that found Cartagena’s head in the box was a good one and he was subbed off for fresher legs while leading.
MF, Facundo Torres, 8 (MotM) — Torres played like a man possessed, doing everything right and more in a dominant performance. Torres’ first of a team-high four shots (two on target) ended up with the ball in the back of the net, as his strike hit the post and then bounced off Sirois and in for an own goal. On his goal, he did well to control Angulo’s pass and slot it past Sirois for his 13th of the season. His movement in the buildup of Thorhallsson’s goal was also commendable, as he made a good run, quickly circled back onside, then slowed the pace of the play down for Santos to make his overlapping run before feeding him. Between those attacking moments and chasing down opponents while up three goals, it was easy to see why European teams are keeping an eye on him. He completed 82.8% of his 29 passes and connected on two of his four crosses, while both of his long ball attempts were unsuccessful. It’s hard to believe he only had 44 touches given the massive impact he had on the field.
F, Duncan McGuire, 7 — The rookie put in a strong performance up top and was credited with an assist for a subtle touch on Thorhallsson’s goal. McGuire made a cutting run to peel Gabriele Corbo towards the end line and then flicked Santos’s cross into the path of charging runs by Angulo and Thorhallsson. He also chested down a long ball from Gallese to Cartagena in transition to help set up Torres’ goal. His only shot of the match was flicked wide, but he had two key passes and showed some prowess in making small passes in the box for his teammates to have open looks. He had 19 touches and 12 passes at a 58.3% success rate, doing well enough in terms of hold-up. McGuire made great runs to keep defenders on their toes, applied pressure to pin Montreal in its own half, and helped out defensively by blocking a shot and clearing the ball on a corner kick.
MF, Martin Ojeda (64′), 6.5 — Ojeda came off the bench with Orlando up three goals and did his part in keeping Montreal’s defense honest, even if he didn’t wind up on the scoresheet. He completed all 15 of his passes and was accurate on both of his long balls. His only shot of the game was an attempt to get the better of Sirois from a tight angle in the box, but the goalkeeper came up with the save. All in all, it was an efficient outing from the Designated Player off the bench.
F, Ramiro Enrique (64′), 6.5 — Enrique came on alongside Ojeda and brought plenty of energy with him to keep the Lions in the driver’s seat. Both of Enrique’s shots were from outside the box, with one blocked and the other saved by Sirois. He completed four of his seven passes and finished the game with 13 touches. Despite his size, he won two of his three aerial duels as well. Enrique received a curious yellow card after beating Nathan Saliba to a sliding challenge and winning the ball.
MF, Gaston Gonzalez (75′), 6 — The winger received some more minutes and did well enough while on the field. He had eight touches and completed all three of his passes. Although he didn’t have any shots, crosses, or long balls, he did record a key pass for setting up a shot for Enrique. He didn’t make many runs forward, likely due to Orlando’s lead, but looked strong on the ball when he did and wasn’t afraid to take defenders on.
D, Michael Halliday (82′), N/A — The right back replaced Thorhallsson and did well on both sides of the ball. Halliday made a few sprints upfield to give Orlando’s attack another option, but was resolute on the defensive end, even though he didn’t record any stats for his efforts there. He was accurate on three of his four passes and finished with seven touches.
MF, Junior Urso (83′), N/A — The Bear made another cameo off the bench for Orlando. He had six touches and was successful on four of his six passes. Urso wasn’t on the field long enough to warrant a grade, but it was nice to see him get a run out at Explorias Stadium with just one home game remaining.
That’s how I saw the individual performances by the Lions. Let me know where you agree and disagree in the comments below and make sure to vote for your Man of the Match in our poll below.
Lion Links: 10/3/23
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Lion Links: 9/30/23
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