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Lion Links: 5/7/22

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Happy Away Day, Mane Landers. It is a quiet weekend in Exploria Stadium as both the Lions and Pride are away. Orlando City heads to Montreal for a 4 p.m. start time this afternoon, while we will be staying up late on Sunday to see the Pride face Angel City at 8 p.m. So start getting your at-home tailgating supplies ready, because it is going to be a long weekend on the couch. But before we fire up the grills, we will stop and take a moment to wish Orlando Pride forward Sydney Leroux a very happy birthday! May it be Syd’s best year yet, and may her son Cassius be celebrating with backflips in our academy soon. Now, on to the links!

Orlando City Heads North

The Lions take on CF Montréal today at 4 p.m. in Stade Saputo. Montréal is knocking on the door of the third place position in the Eastern Conference, sitting only three points behind Orlando. Head Coach Oscar Pareja is ready for the second time the clubs face off this season, noting both Decision Day of last year and this year’s home opener in a budding rivalry.

“We’re good, excited and working towards this game in Canada against Montréal, a rival that we’ve already played here at home in our opener. It’s a place that brought us good memories from our last game of the regular season last year when we clinched [the playoffs],” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said. “At the same time, we do respect them a lot. They’re a good team that has good coaching there too and I see a very clear model in the way they do their things, so we have been preparing this week for that like always.”

Montréal is coming off a 2-1 home victory over Atlanta United. Former Lions left back Kamal Miller scored in the fourth minute and later assisted the game-winner in the 82nd. The makeshift Lions back line will be without Robin Jansson this week as he serves his yellow card accumulation suspension, and the backups must keep all eyes on Djordje Mihailovic, who leads Montréal with four goals and four assists this season.

Pride Fly Across the Country

Familiar faces will be on the other side of the ball Sunday night, as former Pride players Ali Riley, Dani Weatherholt, Jasmyne Spencer and Brittany Isenhour all line up for Angel City FC. In its first NWSL match, ACFC won 2-1 over the North Carolina Courage with goals from Vanessa Gilles and Jun Endo.

Tomorrow will serve as the first-ever meeting between the Pride and Angel City. The match is set to kick off at 8 p.m. at Banc of California Stadium. With no history between the two clubs, we can only look at what Orlando has done in similar situations against expansion teams. Last year, Orlando finished with a 3-1-2 record in all competitions against the expansion clubs. This is a very different roster build though and lacks firepower as the Pride look for their first goal of the 2022 season.

It is always bittersweet to see former players lined up against the club. However, the match also will be a homecoming of sorts for some of the Orlando squad and staff. Head Coach Amanda Cromwell and Assistant Coach Sam Greene return to Los Angeles where they previously coached UCLA. In addition, Sydney Leroux, Megan Montefusco, Darian Jenkins, and Viviana Villacorta are all former UCLA players. Former USC graduates Leah Pruitt and Kaylie Collins will also be making their return to the city.

USMNT, Mexico Battle for Dual-Nationals

Mexico called in three Mexican-American dual-national players for their recent friendly vs. Guatemala and is now reportedly attempting to have playmaker Alex Mendez to switch his allegiance as he finds his form in the Primeira Liga for F.C. Vizela. But overall, USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter is not worried. He just wants his players to find a genuine connection with who they choose to represent.

“The thing is, I always say, I want them to choose with their heart. I want them to feel good about it,” he explained. “And could you imagine growing up with parents and having a really strong cultural background and then being able to play for the country of that background? I think that’s special. Even though the United States has given them that opportunity, there’s still this deep connection to their country, and some of them have to leave their country and want to go back, but they can’t. And so for me, if a guy really chooses that, I’m happy. I’m happy for him because that’s what he feels in his heart.”

In his tenure with the USMNT, Berhalter has a great track record in finding and landing talent and encouraging that connection among the camp. Players like Ricardo Pepi and Jesus Ferreira have both chosen to represent the United States.

“When I speak to guys like Ricardo and Jesus, and Jonathan Gomez, and have conversations with them, they feel a connection,” said the coach. “It’s not always easy, though. I think that, in general, I would like for our Latin players to be pushed more, in a positive way, that we’re looking to develop them more and that we’re putting more effort into developing the Latin community as well, because I think it’s important. We talk to all these guys. We talk constantly to all these players. We’re very engaged in this process, really engaged in the process.”

Time will soon tell if all of the recruiting and nurturing of the young players will pay off. With the 2022 FIFA World Cup just on the horizon, we will see if the U.S. has in fact grabbed the best attackers in Pepi and Ferreira when goals are needed and hardware is on the line.

New Eras for RSL and Nashville

Nashville SC opened its new stadium, GEODIS Park, last weekend as it welcomed in 30,000 fans. How do you get 30,000 people to show up for what is still a relatively new club? CEO Ian Ayre thinks it’s simple.

“We approached this team and bringing it to this community in that way: Being good people who do good stuff. Not surprisingly when we took that attitude, it resonated with the city. We got a following we hoped for and then some.”

They also have tied in the Nashville “bad boy” of music vibe with the build-out of their club. This is most notable in their recent contract extension of USMNT and Designated Player Walker Zimmerman.

“We’re a team that when the opposition are preparing scouting reports, they’re going to talk about how they hate to play against us,” general manger Mike Jacobs said. “Whether it’s being stingy defensively, tough players, guys with dynamic pace and guys with personalities who relish being the bad guy and wearing the black cowboy hat. It’s a group that’s relentless.”

Similarly, the newest ownership of David Blitzer and Ryan Smith have made changes to the experience Real Salt Lake fans have come to know, all within two months of buying the club prior to the home opener. This started with a focus on making needed updates to Rio Tinto Stadium but also the overall fan experience.

“I still remember walking around this arena with Ryan six, seven weeks ago,” said Blitzer. “Ryan’s got a really good eye and he’s pointing out X and Y, and we can change that if we fix that, and we can make a better fan experience by doing that. And frankly, John [Kimball, RSL’s president] and his team jumped on it. Yeah, there’s plenty to go, but they did a really nice job in a short period.”

RSL has also started to partner up with local youth soccer to invite children out to games and even club captain Damir Kreilach has donated 100 tickets to each game to youth of underpriviledged backgrounds. This number has since grown to 400 tickets, thanks to matching donations.

While both of these clubs continue to mold into what they want their future to hold, one thing is certain — the future of current MLS clubs, along with expansion, is brighter when it is fan-first and fan-focused.

Free Kicks

  • The USMNT 2022 Home and Away kits might just have been leaked.


That just about wraps it up. What is your favorite away day tradition or at-home tailgate food? Let me know in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!

Lion Links

Lion Links: 5/27/24

Orlando City loses to the Crew, Pride and OCB win, Southampton seals return to Premier League, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Jeremy Reper

Happy Memorial Day, Mane Landers! I hope you all had a good holiday weekend. I worked at Under Armour all weekend while wrapping up my high school sports coverage for the spring season. It was a mixed weekend for our teams. Orlando City lost, but both the Pride and OCB won their matches. We’ve got plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links. 

Lions Lose at Home to Columbus Crew

Orlando City lost 2-0 to the Columbus Crew on Saturday at Inter&Co Stadium and saw its three-match unbeaten streak end. The match’s first goal was controversial as the referee, Jair Marrufo, initially awarded the Lions a penalty late in the first half but went to the monitor and reviewed a play at the other end of the pitch. He instead awarded Columbus a penalty kick. Diego Rossi scored from the spot to put the Crew ahead 1-0 before halftime. Columbus extended its winning streak to three matches. Orlando has struggled at home, going just 1-3-4 so far this season. The Lions have not scored a goal at home since April 27. Despite the loss, the Lions still remain in 10th in the Eastern Conference with 16 points. Next up for Orlando is a pair of road matches this week, starting Wednesday at the Chicago Fire, followed by a Saturday night matchup against the New York Red Bulls. 

Pride Win at Home Over Portland Thorns

The Orlando Pride won their record-setting eighth straight match with a 2-1 victory at Inter&Co Stadium against the Portland Thorns Friday. Barbra Banda scored two goals in the first half to give the Pride a 2-0 lead going into halftime. Portland pulled one back, but the Pride held on for the victory and claimed three points. Orlando remains undefeated in league play after 11 matches, and the Pride stay atop the NWSL table with 27 points. The Pride are off this week but will return to action on the road next Friday, June 7, against the San Diego Wave.

OCB Win at Home against Huntsville City FC

On Sunday, Orlando City B bounced back with a season-high five goals in a 5-0 win over Hunstville City FC at Osceola County Stadium. Jhon Solis, Yutaro Tsukada, and Shak Mohammed put OCB ahead 3-0, while Yeiler Valencia scored his first two OCB goals to seal the win for the Young Lions. OCB is now in sixth in the Eastern Conference with 16 points. Meanwhile, Huntsville City FC remains winless through 10 matches and stays at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. OCB’s next match will be on the road Sunday at Inter Miami CF II. 

Southampton Clinches Promotion to Premier League

Southampton booked its return to the Premier League with a 1-0 over Leeds United in the EFL Championship playoff final at Wembley Sunday. Adam Armstrong scored the lone goal in this match as the Saints returned to the top flight after being relegated the previous season. Southampton joins Leicester City and Ipswich Town, securing promotion to the Premier League. Despite finishing third in the table, Leeds’ playoff woes continue as this is the sixth time it missed out on securing promotion and finished its season with only one win out of its last six matches. 

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That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Monday and I’ll see you next time.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 5/24/24

Orlando City prepares for the Crew, Barbra Banda an NWSL MVP favorite, Orlando Pride announce sleeve sponsor, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

Happy Friday! The gauntlet of Orlando soccer home games starts tonight when the Orlando Pride take on the Portland Thorns in a clash of win streaks. I’m working for most of the weekend, but am looking forward to watching some soccer and playing my way through the Ace Attorney games during my spare time. For now though, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.

Orlando City Gets Ready to Host the Crew

Orlando City is on a three-game unbeaten run and will take on the Columbus Crew Saturday night in an Eastern Conference showdown. The last time these two sides met was in the 2023 Eastern Conference semifinals with the Crew winning in extra time to eliminate the Lions. It’s the third consecutive road game for the Crew after winning 3-1 against both CF Montreal and the Chicago Fire. Saturday’s match is also the Crew’s last match before the Concacaf Champions Cup final on June 1. Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja spoke on how the Lions will be up to the task regardless of which players take the field for Columbus. Pareja also spoke about how Duncan McGuire is working his way back from the injury he suffered last week.

Barbra Banda Named MVP Frontrunner

ESPN updated its rankings of players in contention to be named NWSL MVP this season and Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda tops the list. The Zambian forward hasn’t been with the Pride for long, but she has scored six goals in six games to help the Pride win seven straight games. Opposing defenses haven’t figured out a way to stop her, and it’s fair to think of her as an MVP favorite alongside fellow attackers in the league like Sophia Smith and Temwa Chawinga. Pride defender Emily Sams also earned herself a spot on the list, ranking 11th. It’s nice to see her get some deserved recognition for her role in the Pride’s stellar defense this year.

Orlando Pride Announce Sleeve Sponsor

A partnership was announced between the Orlando Pride and Heart of Florida United Way, a charity that’s supported families in Central Florida for the past 85 years. As part of the partnership, Heart of Florida United Way will become the first sleeve sponsor for the Pride and its logo will be on the right sleeve of both of the Pride’s jerseys this year. A new ticket program is also being created for 50 tickets to be donated to a local charity for each Pride home game.

Orlando City Unveils Watch Party Schedule

The schedule for this Orlando City season’s watch parties is out, along with the lineup of this year’s included pubs. Each pub will have MLS Season Pass access for fans to watch Orlando’s games this year and there will be chances to win tickets and autographed items at the watch parties as well. There are three new pubs added to the lineup this year, including The Castle Irish Pub at College Park, Paddywagon Irish Pub in Dr. Phillips, and Winter Garden’s Hagan O’Reilly’s. The first watch party will be at The Hammered Lamb in Ivanhoe Village on June 1 when the Lions face off against the New York Red Bulls.

Free Kicks

  • Pride midfielder Evelina Duljan was called up to join Sweden’s U-23 team for the upcoming Four Nations Tournament.
  • NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman became the first woman to be named Sports Business Journal‘s Sports Executive of the Year.

That’s all I have for you this time around. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 5/23/24

Orlando Pride prepare for the Portland Thorns, Pride Brazilian trio called up, Atalanta wins Europa League, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

How’s it going, Mane Landers? I hope this Thursday finds you well as we all get ready for a busy next few days of Orlando soccer to enjoy. It’s been a fairly busy couple of days for me, and I plan on knocking out a few errands before enjoying the upcoming matches. Until then, let’s enjoy today’s links!

Pride Prepare to Host the Portland Thorns

The Orlando Pride have a huge home game against the Portland Thorns tomorrow night. It will be a clash of win streaks, as the Pride have won their past seven games and the Thorns have won their last six. Pride Head Coach Seb Hines is well aware that Portland is a formidable foe with talented players such as Sophia Smith, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Sam Coffey. He spoke on how tomorrow will be a challenge, as well as how playing at home will give the Pride a boost during the game.

Pride Trio Called Up by Brazil

The Pride’s Marta, Rafaelle, and Adriana were all called up for Brazil’s pair of friendlies against Jamaica in Brazil on June 1 and June 4.

These matches will help Brazil prepare for a tough group in the Olympics against Spain, Japan, and Nigeria. Angelina, who featured for Brazil during the SheBelieves Cup, was not called up due to an injury sustained while with the Pride. Although these games will take place during an international break, the Pride do have a road game against the San Diego Wave on June 7, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Hines gives them some rest for that match.

Assessing Emma Hayes’ Time With Chelsea

It felt like forever ago that it was announced Chelsea’s Emma Hayes would leave the club to replace Vlatko Andonovski and coach the USWNT. A great article by ESPN broke down what USWNT fans can learn from her time with Chelsea, including how she’s dealt with the adversity she’s faced both on and off the field. Her impending exit put a spotlight on Chelsea’s season, and she still managed to secure the league title despite the pressure. Chelsea also announced that five members of the coaching staff will leave the club to join Hayes at the USWNT. It’s a new era for the USWNT, and Hayes brings plenty of experience and leadership to the position.

Atalanta Crushes Leverkusen to Win Europa League

Italian club Atalanta lifted the Europa League trophy after a 3-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen in Dublin. The day belonged to Nigerian winger Ademola Lookman, who scored a hat trick that included this stunner that doubled Atalanta’s lead in the first half.

It’s Atalanta’s second trophy in club history, and first in 61 years. It’s also the first trophy for manager Gian Piero Gasperini after coaching in Italy for 30 years. This result snapped Leverkusen’s remarkable unbeaten streak at 51 games, and ended the club’s bid at a treble. Bayer Leverkusen will aim to bounce back Saturday when it plays FC Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final.

Free Kicks

  • Orlando City President of Business Operations Jarrod Dillon has issued a challenge to Orlando City fans for the upcoming trio of Orlando soccer home games, so it may be worth your while to get tickets for the Lions, Pride, and OCB this weekend.
  • Pride forward Amanda Allen placed 16th in ESPN‘s rankings of the 17 teenagers currently playing in the National Women’s Soccer League (the author deemed it unfair to assess Milly Clegg without seeing her on the field more). Allen mostly just hasn’t had much playing time, but that could change over the summer.
  • Former Pride player Camille Ashton (known as Cami Levin when she played in the Pride midfield in 2016 and 2017) has resigned as the general manager of the Kansas City Current.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and rest of your week.

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