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Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Final Score 2-0 as Lions Stay Unbeaten on the Road

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Rodrigo Schlegel and Ercan Kara scored and Pedro Gallese earned his fifth clean sheet of the season as Orlando City bested the Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field. Orlando (4-2-2, 14 points) improved to 7-6-3 in the all-time series againt the Crew (2-3-2, 8 points) and got just its second win in seven trips to Ohio’s capital city (2-4-1).

Combined with last Saturday’s home win over Chicago, the Lions put together back-to-back wins for the first time during the 2022 season. Meanwhile, the Crew suffered their third consecutive loss via shutout and Columbus is now winless in its last four (0-3-1).

“Big big result, but more important, big performance,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I have a lot of respect for this group. The players understand that this is a commitment that we all have for instruction, this is a commitment that we have for a common objective, and sometimes you may work with some difficulties. But if we all have that heart and they have that discipline, I think we are going to get many good results like tonight. We played against a very good team in a very difficult place. A fantastic performance.”

Oscar Pareja made a couple of surprise changes to the starting lineup. Kyle Smith took Ruan’s spot at right back on the back line, along with Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, and Schlegel, in front of goalkeeper Gallese. Junior Urso started in central midfield with Cesar Araujo. Benji Michel took Alexandre Pato’s spot in the starting XI on the attacking midfield line with Facundo Torres and Mauricio Pereyra, and Kara started up top.

Much of the first half was one-way traffic toward Gallese’s goal. Lucas Zelarayan was active and won some fouls early while Steven Moreira gave Moutinho problems down Orlando’s left side. A dangerous ball through the middle of the box in the eighth minute was dealt with.

Smith blocked a shot from Yaw Yeboah that would have been an opening goal in the 22nd minute after the Lions fell asleep on a throw-in. Torres tried a couple long-range shots in the next couple of minutes, trying to chip Eloy Room from near midfield on the first and firing over the bar from outside the area on the second.

The Crew’s closest chance for a first-half goal came in the 32nd minute. An unnecessary foul on Zelarayan by Smith set up a free kick just outside the box to Gallese’s right. Zelarayan smashed a shot that got over Gallese near the back post but crashed off the crossbar.

Moments after hitting the woodwork, the Lions got disorganized in their own end and Artur had an open look from the top of the box, but he hit his shot over the bar. Gallese went down after that shot and needed some attention from the trainers but he was able to continue.

The Lions struck against the run of play in the 37th minute. A free kick from distance was knocked down by the defense and picked up by Kara on the left side of the six. He passed back to Torres, who fizzed a dangerous low cross into the area. Urso arrived as a late runner in the box and knocked it down and it fell for Schlegel to knock in for his first Orlando City goal.

Schlegel celebrated by displaying a t-shirt under his jersey with a picture of his late father, Adrian, who died of COVID-19.

“I remember him every day, but this goal was a special moment,” Schlegel said of the celebration. “There was a lot of happiness when I scored. I know he’s overseeing and watching me and I want to dedicate the goal to him and my family. I’ll never thank my teammates enough for having that confidence in me and with their help, one enters the pitch with more confidence.” 

The Crew should have equalized in the 44th when they again got the Lions’ defense out of sorts. The ball found its way through Smith to Etienne to Gallese’s right. Etienne fired for the back post but missed wide of the net.

Orlando was able to see out the remaining time in the first half and take its lead into the break. Columbus led in possession (57.2%-42.8%), shots (8-4), corners (2-1), and passing accuracy (85.1%-79.9%) but the Lions got two shots on target, while the Crew failed to put a shot on frame in the opening half.

Orlando came out of the break with a bit more possession and better passing to start the second half. Pereyra nearly picked out Kara in the box just after the restart but the pass was just beyond the Austrian striker.

In the 48th minute, Gallese made a fantastic save on a shot by Zelarayan. The Columbus Designated Player fired from range and the ball deflected. Gallese seemed to see it late but was able to reach down and knock it away with a strong hand.

Kara got his goal a few minutes later. An incredible team goal sequence began with Michel down the left side. The winger peeled back and found Pereyra at the top of the area. Pereyra gave off to Torres, who dropped it to Urso deep. Urso shifted the ball right to Pereyra and the captain found Kara, who laid off to Torres. The Uruguayan sent it right back to his striker. Back to goal, Kara was able to spin himself around and blast a shot into the upper right corner to make it 2-0 in the 51st minute.

“They understand that things are going to bounce their way if they keep doing the good things,” Pareja said, after so many chances went wanting in recent weeks. “So, seeing that quality of the play, the combination that they had on that second goal, the many good decisions that they took, and finalizing with the number nine getting a good shot and putting the ball in the back of the net is a reward for those guys. It is a reward for them and I’m very, very happy. I really congratulate this group of players.”

Orlando bossed the game for the next several minutes as the Crew tried to regroup from the second goal. The Lions won several corner kicks but couldn’t do much with them.

As the second half wore on, Orlando City did well to limit the Crew’s chances but the Lions were extremely cautious in moving forward, opting to slow things down and take the air out of the ball rather than attack for a third. It was an effective tactic overall, despite a few silly fouls that handed Columbus unnecessary set pieces.

Gallese didn’t have to make any difficult saves in the final half hour of the match as the team in front of him did well to gum up the works for the Crew attackers. Pareja was able to give Homegrown defender Thomas Williams his first MLS minutes with a stoppage-time substitution and the Lions hung on to get the shutout.

The Crew dominated the stat sheet, with more possession (59.6%-40.4%) and shots (17-8), and a more accurate night passing (85.6%-78.8%). Each team put three shots on target and the Lions won more corners (6-5). But the important stat is the scoreboard, and the Lions’ win pulled them within two points of first-place Philadelphia, albeit with the Union holding a game in hand.

Despite the Crew having so much possession in the attacking half, the Lions did well to limit clear sights at Gallese’s goal all night and ultimately didn’t break even if they bent a lot.

“We always strive to be together defensively and to be a team that is tough to break down defensively. And, you know, we did that,” Schlegel said. “We’ve continued to stay compact as a team and all push and pull in the same direction. We had a great night on the defensive end and that’s the way — always moving together as one team and moving together in the same direction. So, if we continue working the way that we have been working, I think we’ve we’ve got a very strong chance to to fight this season.”

“I see how they’re collectively growing and it just (makes) me more content,” Pareja said of his team’s performance.


The Lions return home next Sunday when they’ll take on the New York Red Bulls.

Opinion

Wide Players Made the Difference in Victory Over Cavalry FC

Orlando’s fullbacks and wingers had great games against Cavalry, and it helped propel the Lions to victory.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City began its 2024 season with a resounding and confident 3-0 win over Cavalry FC on the road up in Canada. The Lions grabbed control of the game with an early goal and never let up, and now go into next week’s home leg in excellent position to advance to the next round. Everyone who played out wide for OCSC can and should take a well-earned bow for their performances, as it was their excellent games that pushed the Lions to a big advantage after the first leg.

The first goal looked easy enough, but it was a product of good vision and better execution. After collecting the ball near midfield, Wilder Cartagena turned into space and played a quick ball out to Ivan Angulo on the left wing. Martin Ojeda began his run in a fairly central position, but recognized that there was space behind fullback Shamit Shome, and immediately went to it. He was rewarded when Angulo took one touch to collect the ball, another to settle it, and used his third to play Ojeda into the space behind Shome, with defensive midfielder Jesse Daley coming back to cover. However, the pass from Angulo was perfectly weighted and Ojeda was able to use his first touch to play a cross into the box, preventing Daley from getting in the way of his delivery. Ojeda laid the ball on a plate, and Duncan McGuire made no mistake from close range.

The second goal also came as a result of play out wide, although it was more a goal of individual brilliance than team skill. Dagur Dan Thorhallsson drove at the heart of the retreating Cavalry defense, and pulled three players to him before releasing the ball at precisely the correct time to Facundo Torres on the right wing. Once there, the man defending Torres, William Akio, made the cardinal sin of allowing Facu to cut in on his left foot, and Orlando’s new no. 10 made the opposition pay with a shot to the near post that skipped off the turf and beat Marco Carducci, who admittedly maybe should have done better with it than he did.

The dagger came as a result of more excellent play down the left-hand side. Nicolas Lodeiro, Angulo, and Ramiro Enrique used some slick one-touch passing that resulted in Enrique sending Angulo in behind on the left. Enrique’s ball to free his fellow Colombian was perfectly weighted, and Angulo was able to use his first touch to play a perfect lofted cross to the back post, where Torres dispatched it with a beautiful diving header for his second of the match.

Numbers don’t lie, and they back up the assertion that the wide players had good games. Thorhallsson promptly picked up where he left off at right back, finishing with 81% passing accuracy, one key pass, one assist, one clearance, and one interception. If he keeps this up, then Mikey Halliday is going to have a fight on his hands when it comes to the starting job. Kyle Smith quietly had a good game on the opposite side of the defense, completing one dribble, winning a tackle, and recording four clearances, although his 72% passing accuracy could have been better.

Ivan Angulo was an absolute terror, and looked even more dangerous on the slick turf than he normally does on grass fields. He gave the Cavalry defense fits, and completed four dribbles, recording two key passes, a cross, two long balls, an interception, a tackle, and an assist while completing 84% of his passes. As in seasons past, the big question for him this year surrounds his decision-making in the final third and his finishing. If both of those attributes continue to improve, then he’ll be an almighty handful for opposing defenses.

Torres was, well, Torres. He’s been the straw that stirs Orlando City’s drink for two years now, and Wednesday night was no different. Facu took three shots and scored with the two he put on target, completed 86% of his passes, logging one key pass. He also completed a dribble and chipped in with a clearance and an interception on defense. Time will tell if he’s managed to add the use of his right foot to his game yet, but he was a pleasure to watch, as usual.

I also want to take a moment to shout-out Ojeda. While he was deployed through the middle in the no. 10 role, rather than out wide, where we’re used to seeing him, he was excellent. The Argentine repeatedly drifted into the half-spaces between center back and fullback and had a field day pulling the strings, as he finished with a whopping five key passes. If he can translate that sort of performance to MLS, then a lot of pressure will be taken off the aging legs of Nico Lodeiro.


In short, the Lions made their living on Wednesday by stretching the field, getting the ball to their dangerous players out wide, and then making and executing the correct decisions once it was there. There were a lot of things to like offensively about the performance, and it provided plenty to build on when OCSC opens MLS play against CF Montreal tomorrow. Vamos Orlando!

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Lion Links: 2/23/24

Orlando Pride’s Megan Montefusco placed on season-ending injury list, Orlando City’s chances to win it all, USWNT plays Argentina tonight, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Happy Friday! It’s the final Friday before we spend pretty much every weekend screaming our hearts out for Orlando’s soccer teams. Although I won’t be in Orlando for tomorrow’s game, I’ll be cheering along from Tampa and am looking forward to a strong start to the season from the Lions. Before we get into today’s links, let’s all wish a happy birthday to our favorite octopus, Pedro Gallese!

Megan Montefusco Placed On Season-Ending Injury List

The Orlando Pride suffered a blow to their defense as center back Megan Montefusco was placed on the season-ending injury list after undergoing surgery on her right foot. Montefusco joined the Pride through a trade before the 2022 season and did well coming off the bench last season to keep Orlando’s defense strong as the year wore on. The Pride have options to fill the void, as Carrie Lawrence is back in the fray after missing last season due to injury and Tori Hansen will be back once her time on loan in Australia is up. Orlando could also go out and bring in a veteran to replace Montefusco or sign Cori Dyke, who was drafted by the Pride in the second round. Regardless, losing Montefusco is rough, considering Rafaella will likely be with Brazil for the Olympics this summer.

Orlando City’s Championship Credentials

Joseph Lowery of MLSsoccer.com detailed the strengths and weaknesses of each MLS team in terms of having what it takes to win it all this year. Orlando City followed up a pretty stellar off-season with a nearly perfect preseason. Head Coach Oscar Pareja, winger Ivan Angulo, and midfielder Wilder Cartagena are all sticking around, while Robin Jansson, Facundo Torres, and the front office brain trust of Luiz Muzzi and Ricardo Moreira were locked down as well. Additions of David Brekalo, Luis Muriel, and Nico Lodeiro also ensured this team has few holes. There’s concern that there are too many mouths to feed though, and that no single player can take the reins of the offense. I disagree on that being much of an issue though, as the attack is fluid enough to beat different teams in different ways. The Lions may go without All-Star representation as a result, but they should rack up plenty of points spreading the wealth on offense.

USWNT Takes on Argentina Tonight

The United States Women’s National Team will face Argentina tonight at 10:15 p.m. in its second game of the inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup. The U.S. did well in its 5-0 win over the Dominican Republic, but there were opportunities to score even more. Since there will be reseeding for the knockout stages, scoring plenty of goals will benefit the USWNT. Midge Purce was excellent in the opener and the USWNT will need to be sharper at putting away good service from the wings. Argentina held Mexico to a scoreless draw in its opener and will likely be hungry to score its first goal of the tournament.

Keeping Up With the Europa League

The first round of the Europa League’s knockout stage came to a close after a drama-filled day of soccer. Only one game went to penalty kicks, as AS Roma beat Feyenoord after a 1-1 draw thanks to two saves from Mile Svilar in the shootout. There was a thriller in Azerbaijan as well. A red card reduced Qarabag FK to 10 men and Braga took full advantage, scoring twice to send the game into extra time. They then traded goals until 19-year-old winger Nariman Akhundzade gave Qarabag the winner in stoppage time. In Germany, SC Freiburg came back from a two-goal deficit to beat Lens in extra time as well.

Elsewhere, a red card doomed Galatasaray as Sparta Prague rallied late to win, and AC Milan survived a hat trick from Rennes midfielder Benjamin Bourigeaud to advance on aggregate. Sporting CP, Marseille, and Benfica all booked their spot in the round of 16 as well, with the draw set for today.

Free Kicks

  • New food vendors will be available for fans at Orlando City and Orlando Pride home games this year, with Flippers Pizzeria Company now a permanent addition. New options for the rotating carts include Pardon My Cheesesteak and Omusubee Japanese Rice Balls.
  • Congratulations to Pride defender Emily Madril on getting married!

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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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Three Keys to Victory

What does Orlando City need to do to secure all three points in the home opener against CF Montreal?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City will host CF Montreal in the club’s first match of the 2024 MLS regular season this Saturday night. The Lions are coming off the Concacaf Champions Cup match against Cavalry FC Wednesday night. Orlando City will want to get things started the right way as expectations and aspirations are higher than ever for the club.

What does Orlando City need to do to secure a victory in the home opener against their Canadian opponents?

Roster Management

Orlando City has four matches in 11 days — the previously mentioned Wednesday match against Cavalry in Canada, the match against Montreal on Saturday, the return match against Cavalry in Orlando next Tuesday, and then a trip to Ft. Lauderdale to take on Inter Miami. That is quite a start to competitive play in 2024.

Because of the schedule congestion, Oscar Pareja will need to rotate players. That means we’re not likely to have the preferred starting 11 as much as any of us will like. Kyle Smith, Michael Halliday, Jeorgio Kocevski, and others will likely see playing time. How well Pareja manages when to use which players, and for how long, will determine not just the result of this match against Montreal, but for each of the other matches as well.

Defensive Communication

Rodrigo Schlegel is serving a suspension in this first league match and will not be available. That means Orlando City’s newest center back, David Brekalo, will probably get the start alongside Robin “The Beefy Swede” Jansson. Having a good center back pairing is absolutely essential to the success of any defense. We know that because once Jansson and former Lion Antonio Carlos worked together for a while, they became an absolute fortress on the back line.

Now, Jansson will need to build the same chemistry with Brekalo if the Lions want to maintain their position as one of the best defenses in the league. With Schlegel unavailable, there is no question that Jansson and Brekalo will have the opportunity to start building that relationship. Hopefully, it will be good enough to keep Montreal — especially Josef Martinez — out of the goal.

Keep Torres Scoring

Facundo Torres had a great preseason. Orlando City’s new owner of the No. 10 shirt needs to keep doing the same. He’ll need to score goals, provide assists, and create problems for Montreal’s defense. Traditionally, Montreal has put out a three-man back line. While that means it’ll be a five-man back line when Orlando City has the ball, during changes of possession there should be space for Torres to get free and get scoring opportunities.

If Montreal smartly tried to contain Torres, then it will have to deal with Duncan McGuire, Nico Lodeiro, and Ivan Angulo. Orlando City’s offense has the potential to score quite a few more goals this season, and it all starts Saturday night against Montreal. Get two on the board and I think it will mean three points in the standings.


That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!

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