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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: 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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Lion Links

Lion Links: 2/19/24

Orlando City wins preseason finale, post-match concert artists named, U.S. Open Cup in jeopardy, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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.

Free Kicks

  • 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.

That will do it for today. Check back for our coverage of Orlando City’s two matches this week. Vamos Orlando!

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Lion Links: 2/16/24

Luis Muriel becomes a Lion, Orlando City’s new kit revealed, Ally Lemos called up, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

How’s it going, Mane Landers? I hope this work week has treated you well as we get ready for the weekend. I don’t have many plans, but am looking forward to relaxing a bit. It’s insane that this is our last weekend without competitive Orlando soccer matches for quite some time. Let’s dive into this Friday’s links!

Orlando City Officially Signs Luis Muriel

In a move that’s been reported on throughout this month, Colombian striker Luis Muriel officially signed with Orlando City from Atalanta in Italy. The 32-year-old joins Orlando as a Designated Player and signed a three-year contract through 2026. He has plenty of experience against some of the best Europe has to offer, scoring over 100 Serie A goals and playing in both the Champions League and Europa League. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to impress with Orlando, as he fills the void left by Ercan Kara’s departure last year. Duncan McGuire sticking around should help take some of the pressure off of Muriel early on as well. I’m pretty excited about this signing and think he could thrive alongside so many other talented attackers in Orlando.

Lions Unveil Legacy Kit for 2024 Season

Orlando City’s new away kit is here and it is spectacular. Known as the Legacy Kit, it pays homage to Orlando’s time in the USL before joining MLS. It’s a subtle lavender rather than white, and features red, purple, and gold accents as well. The shorts and socks also sport the same red stripes as the ones on the jersey’s shoulders, making for a pretty consistent look. The crest is a showstopper to say the least, as it’s based on the team’s three-lion crest from back in the day, but taken up a notch. The Legacy Kit also includes a single button and “Honor Thy History” written on the inside of the neckline. I really wasn’t expecting to feel so nostalgic at the sight of it, but it does make me remember all of my friends and I cramming into whoever’s car was biggest and painting ourselves purple and red on the drive to the game. I’m really happy with the design and hope there’s plenty more merchandise with that crest coming.

Ally Lemos Called Up for U.S. U-20 Training Camp

The United States U-20 Women’s National Team is holding a training camp in Colombia and Orlando Pride rookie midfielder Ally Lemos was one of 20 players called up by Head Coach Tracey Kevins. Lemos was selected by the Pride with the ninth overall pick in the 2024 NWSL Draft, and then signed with the club last month. The training camp will include a pair of friendlies against Colombia, which will host the U-20 Women’s World Cup later this year. Lemos played for the team during Concacaf qualifying for that World Cup, along with other fellow call-ups like Ally Sentnor, Gisele Thompson, and Savy King.

In related news, the Pride opened their preseason schedule Thursday against the North Carolina Courage, but no one seems interested in releasing any results from the scrimmage. Hopefully, everyone had fun and got plenty of exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.

USMNT Drops One Spot in Latest FIFA Rankings

In the latest men’s FIFA rankings, the U.S. fell one spot to 13th, with Morocco moving up to 12th. It’s not too indicative of the quality of the U.S., as the latest rankings strongly reflect the performances by many nations who took part in the AFC Asian Cup and Africa Cup of Nations. Qatar, which won the Asian Cup, skyrocketed up 21 spots to 37th, the highest it’s ever reached. Meanwhile, the Ivory Coast also moved up 10 spots to 39th after winning the Africa Cup of Nations. Jordan, South Africa, and Nigeria received similar post-tournament boosts, while Tunisia, Vietnam, and Algeria fell. The Nations League, Gold Cup, and Copa America present plenty of opportunity for the U.S. to reclaim its spot, and possibly climb higher.

Europa League Knockout Stage Kicks Off

My favorite part of the Europa League is here, as the runners-up from the group stage clash with the teams kicked out of the Champions League. Playing at home, AC Milan cruised to a 3-0 win over Rennes, thanks to a brace from Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Americans Yunus Musah and Christian Pulisic both started and helped put Milan in the driver’s seat heading into next week’s second leg. Romelu Lukaku scored his sixth goal of the tournament to secure a 1-1 draw for Roma on the road against Feyenoord. Galatasaray won 3-2 over Sparta Prague in a wild match that included red cards for both sides. The biggest surprise of the day was in Portugal, as Azerbaijani club Qarabag FK beat Braga, 4-1. Qarabag will have a chance to complete the upset at home when the action continues next Thursday.

Free Kicks

  • The U.S. lost 3-1 to Italy in its first match of the 2024 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. The Americans will aim to bounce back when they take on the United Arab Emirates tomorrow.
  • Roy Hodgson is in stable condition after going to the hospital due to illness during Crystal Palace’s training.

That’s all I have for you today. Let me know what you think about Orlando’s new kit and how it compares to Orlando’s others over the years.

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