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Orlando City vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, U.S. Open Cup: Final Score 2-1 as Lions Advance to Fourth Round

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Alexandre Pato and Junior Urso scored second-half goals to lift Orlando City to a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Exploria Stadium in the third round of the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. All of the scoring took place in the second half as Orlando maintained its dominance in the I-4 Derby series and the Lions will move on to the fourth round of the competition.

“It is a very important game for our fans, for our club, and we are very proud to beat the Tampa Bay Rowdies today and we dedicate this to our people,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I was very glad to see them in the stands, pushing our team in the difficult moments. So, we really enjoy this victory, with a lot of respect for Tampa, that came out with a great attitude in the game and a good team also.”

Pareja started a fairly strong lineup, with Mason Stajduhar in net behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Thomas Williams, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan. Sebas Mendez and Andres Perea were in central midfield behind an attacking line of Benji Michel, Junior Urso, and Silvester van der Water, with Alexandre Pato up top.

The first 10 to 15 minutes saw the Rowdies come out on the front foot and controlling play. It was chippy at times but there was little consistency in when a foul would be called. Tampa Bay got the ball into the box a few times but didn’t generate much from it early, aside from winning a couple of corners.

The first clear-cut chance came in the 16th minute on the first real foray into the attacking end. Perea slipped van der Water down the right side and he took the shot on his right foot, forcing a save from Raiko Arozarena.

The Rowdies nearly got a gift in the 22nd minute when a hopeful cross into the area took a deflection off Schlegel and Stajduhar did well to collect it before it could get behind him.

In the 35th minute, the Lions took a short corner and Pato played in a perfect back-post cross to Perea, but the young midfielder got his header badly wrong and his shot was well off target from point-blank range.

Perea had a chance to shoot from the top of the box in the 40th minute but instead opted to pass left to Michel, who was covered. Benji did well to win the ball back from the defender but then fired a shot right into the defender’s shins for an easy block.

In the end, the play from Orlando was rather lackluster in the opening 45 minutes, with sloppy giveaways and a lack of much threat working the ball into good scoring positions. Tampa Bay did well to get into the attacking third and get in and around the box, but strong play from Schlegel and Williams, and solid team defending, typically snuffed out danger before it turned into a shot attempt.

Orlando City finished the half with more possession (53.3%-46.7%), but both teams attempted four shots and each got one on target. Tampa won more corners (4-2) and was slightly more accurate in the passing game (88.2%-87.4%).

“I thought we got exposed in the flanks especially,” Pareja said about the first half. “Not that we did not want to get close to those wingbacks, but they looked far from our control or at least our challenge. I didn’t see us connected when we did not have the ball, and once we got it back, I thought we were in different positions and we couldn’t create sequences either. So, I didn’t like the first half. I don’t think the boys did either.

“We needed to get into the game and the boys did. The second half I liked a lot.”

Pareja made three halftime substitutions, withdrawing Smith, Perea, and van der Water and putting Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, and Mauricio Pereyra into the match. The Lions shifted into a five-man back line in defense and three when on the attack.

The change helped Orlando City maintain more possession and it paid off on the offensive end. Pereyra slipped Michel into the box and he was knocked down by Aaron Guillen. The Tampa defender was booked and referee Daniel Gutierrez pointed to the spot. Pato used a stutter-step approach and buried the spot kick to make it 1-0 in the 52nd minute.

Pato nearly had another five minutes later. A well-worked counter ended up with Ruan on the right side. The fullback found Pato at the top of the area and he took a quick shot. However, the forward didn’t make good contact and scuffed his shot right at the goalkeeper.

Tampa created some danger two minutes later with defender Laurence Wyke getting to the end line and crossing the ball through the six, but none of his teammates were there.

The Lions doubled the lead in the 63rd minute. Pereyra sent a chip pass over the top that fell for Urso, who swept it past Arozarena, making it 2-0.

“I’m really happy with the goal,” Urso said. “This is important for me. I want to help the team every time.”

After the goal, in a scene reminiscent of a Daryl Dike goal in the past, Urso ran to The Wall and somehow ended up with a pair of sunglasses on his face during the celebration.

“I was running, then I saw the guy. He said, ‘Hey, come here,’ and then I saw he had sunglasses. And you guys know what happened with that,” Urso said. “That was a crazy celebration, but I was really happy.”

The Rowdies pulled the goal right back. Orlando fell asleep defensively and Jansson played passively as he’d picked up a soft yellow card just moments earlier. That allowed a ball in from Stajduhar’s right that found Lucky Mkosana in front for a tap-in as he beat Williams to the spot. The Rowdies were back in the game in the 65th minute.

“I think it took a deflection,” Williams said of the pass in front of goal. “I think the guy just got the best of me, he got in front of me, and he scored the goal.”

“I think we have to be more concentrated to close every gap,” Urso said about giving the goal back quickly. “But that’s fine, after that we played well. We kept more of the ball, but we have to be more concentrated to (not concede) the goal.”

Tampa pushed for an equalizer but didn’t create many chances. Orlando was content to take the air out of the ball and pass it around to eat up time, looking to find an opening for an odd-man rush.

Yann Ekra got some space from about 25 yards out in the 80th minute but he sent his shot over Stajduhar’s crossbar. It was Tampa’s last open look at goal in the match.

In the 91st minute, Tampa Bay Head Coach Neill Collins was sent off. Collins had been booked at halftime for dissent and early in stoppage time he ran onto the field to kick the ball to his players after a free kick had been awarded to the Rowdies. The game was halted while the official made sure Collins left the field.

The Rowdies got a couple of late balls into the area but the Lions dealt with them and saw out the rest of stoppage time, holding on for the 2-1 win.

Orlando City dominated in the second half and finished with more possession (58%-42%), shots (10-7), shots on target (5-2), and passing accuracy (86.6%-84.7%). The Rowdies edged the Lions in corner kicks (4-3).

“I like to play derbies and Oscar was telling us don’t play like a friendly game or they will come to push us,” Urso said. “So, we were OK, I think. We were concentrated on the game. It was hard, because they know how to play, but we got to win in front of our fans.”


The Lions will learn their next Open Cup opponents on Thursday and will be back in action on Sunday, returning to MLS play against the New York Red Bulls at home.

Orlando City

Orlando City Signs First-Round Draft Pick Jeorgio Kocevski

Orlando City signs its first-round draft pick Jeorgio Kocevski to a one-year deal with three option years.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City SC announced the signing of first-round 2024 MLS SuperDraft pick Jeorgio Kocevski today. The deal is through the upcoming 2024 season with club options for 2025, 2026, and 2027. The Lions selected the Syracuse midfielder with the 21st overall pick in the draft in December.

“Jeorgio has had a really strong preseason camp with us, demonstrating everything we saw in him when we were scouting him and analyzing his game in college,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “He’s done well working his way into the group, even starting in our friendly against Flamengo and holding his own against some of the best in Brazil, and we’re excited to have him with us this season.”

The box-to-box midfielder made three appearances this preseason, starting against Brazilian club Flamengo and the following scrimmage against USL Championship side Rhode Island FC. He came on at halftime against the Colorado Rapids last weekend, scoring the winning goal in the 90th minute.

Prior to being selected by the Lions, the Liverpool, NY, native made 71 appearances with 65 starts and logged 5,599 minutes for Syracuse in four years. He scored seven goals and recorded 18 assists, putting 33 of his 93 shots on frame. Additionally, he was part of Syracuse’s 2022 NCAA national championship team, playing 90 minutes in the 2-2 draw, but missing in the team’s victorious shootout over Indiana.

Kocevski had a breakout junior year, being named to the United Soccer Coaches’ All-South Region third team, All-ACC third team, NCAA All-Tournament team, and ACC All-Tournament team. During his senior year, he wore the armband for the Orange and was named All-ACC first team and ACC Co-Midfielder of the Year.

What It Means for Orlando City

Kocevski was the most likely pick from this most recent draft to be signed by Orlando City. The departure of club captain Mauricio Pereyra left a spot in the midfield and Head Coach Oscar Pareja seemed to feel the rookie could fill it from early on. His start against Flamengo was in the place of regular starter Cesar Araujo, who was on international duty with the Uruguay U-23 national team. He played against Flamengo’s best lineup and did quite well in almost an hour on the field in his first minutes of play at the professional level.

While a spot was open for the signing of Kocevski, he likely won’t see much of the field for the first team this season. In addition to being behind starters Araujo and Wilder Cartagena, the defensive midfielder will be behind Felipe on the depth chart. In all likelihood, the rookie will slot in with Orlando City B in MLS NEXT Pro to get some minutes, but there is room for him to start regularly with that team.

Kocevski is currently the only player signed by the club from the Lions’ 2024 draft class. West Virginia midfielder Yutaro Tsukada, Pittsburgh midfielder Filip Mirkovic, and Charlotte midfielder Riyon Tori remained unsigned, with the latter opting to return to school for his senior season.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 2/20/24

The Wall sells out, Robin Jansson earns recognition, Concacaf W Gold cup preview, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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.

Free Kicks


That’s all I have for this morning. Vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

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.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

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.

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