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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Austin FC

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The end of the week is upon us once again and that means that it’s almost time for another Orlando City game. This week sees the Lions on the road yet again as they head west to Texas to take on Austin FC for the very first time.

That means that I took some time to speak to Ricardo Delgado, one of the contributors over at Capital City Soccer. He was kind enough to give us a bunch of great insight into Austin ahead of the first ever meeting between the two teams.

Austin has been one of the surprise stories of the season so far, and barring an apocalyptic collapse, the team will easily eclipse last year’s points total. What’s been the biggest reason for the good start to 2022?

Ricardo Delgado: Head Coach Josh Wolff seems to have succeeded in implementing his values and vision into the club, and the results have finally shown. Through the struggles of the first season, it was apparent Wolff stressed a possession-based, consistent style of the sport, but lacked the players or the tactical discipline to deliver consistent results. Austin’s dazzling 2022 likely won’t shock those who closely followed the team before; even if the players couldn’t put the pieces together over the span of a season, the foundation built by the front office and Wolff before the first ball was ever kicked meant Austin was more of a fixer-upper than a demolition job.

Undeniably, Sebastián Driussi will be reason number one for most Austin FC fans and pundits for the turnaround. Even as seven goals on the season are joint-second in MLS, a less tangible, yet just as important, reason for the Verde’s success is the increased chemistry between Driussi and his teammates.

Diego Fagúndez and his league-leading seven assists benefit the most from a comfortable Driussi. Maxi Urruti, who arrived from in-state rivals Houston Dynamo can whip out the odd banger and complements Driussi’s flash with a wealth of experience bagging goals in the league. Driussi’s impact even splashes to midfielders Alex Ring and Dani Pereira, who benefit from not being the main chance creators in the side. Pereira deserves a separate nod for his rapid growth from his tepid start at the club as its first SuperDraft pick, despite a horrid showing against Real Salt Lake causing him to miss the LAFC game.

Ruben Gabrielsen is also a huge reason for the success, providing the defensive stability Austin often lacked. His huge frame gives the team a big threat from corners and his deceptive speed combined with a willingness to go to ground already saved one or two goals this season.

In short, an A+ off-season plus some much-needed experience as a unit catapulted Austin FC to the top of the West — for now, at least.

Jhojan Valencia, Maxi Urruti, and Ethan Finlay are some of the new signings that came in during the off-season. How have they adjusted so far?

RD: Valencia has seen less pitch time than Finlay and Urruti, mostly due to the aforementioned form of Pereira. His 64-minute performance against LAFC saw him pick up a yellow card, so Pereira will likely take the field against Orlando. As a rotation option for a midfield that picks up yellows on a decently regular basis, Valencia fills his role.

Urruti, apart from center back Ruben Gabrielsen, is likely the best piece of business Austin did in the off-season. Urruti’s already provided several spectacular goals just a few games in, clearing the low bar our strikers set last season. If Urruti manages to keep up a reasonable pace of goals — or even just enough to make Driussi not do all of the heavy lifting — the transfer will be seen as an overwhelming success.

Finlay, unfortunately, has done little to distinguish himself. His questionable crosses and puzzling decision-making in possession led to him making way for Josh Wolff’s very own 17-year-old son, Owen Wolff (affectionately nicknamed Teen Wolff). Owen’s impressive performances off the bench earned him the starting spot against LAFC and likely another chance against Orlando, even if it is on short rest.

Where do you think the ceiling is for Austin this year? How far can this team go?

RD: After the LAFC game, it’s apparent Austin can win against any side in MLS should they play prime Wolffball and avoid the silly mistakes in possession which cost them dearly in so many games last season. As far as any ambitions of silverware, Verde fans can probably set it as a lofty goal should Austin avoids any injuries to critical players like Driussi, Fagundez, Brad Stuver (even if Andrew Tarbell proved serviceable) or Gabrielsen. Should the regular season take the regular toll it takes on every team, playoffs and a decent run in them should be the goal. Given the volatile nation of a single-elimination tournament and based on their current form, every Austin FC fan should like their chances.

Are there any injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?

RD: Dani Pereira will get his chance to redeem himself after serving his one-game suspension earned in the RSL game. Brad Stuver returned from an injury suffered against Houston to make some crucial saves against LAFC. Center back Jhohan Romaña is still out with a hamstring injury and will face stiff competition whenever he does return, and Freddy Kleeman is still recovering from a procedure to repair and ACL rupture.

Austin FC will probably stay consistent in their lineup but could be subject to some rotation because of the short rest between games. Fullback and the wing opposite Fagundez are the positions with the most rotation, so expect any variation to stem from there.

Predicted XI: Brad Stuver; Zan Kolmanic, Ruben Gabrielsen, Julio Cascante, Nick Lima; Owen Wolff, Alex Ring, Daniel Pereira; Maxi Urruti, Diego Fagundez, Sebastian Driussi.

Even if Austin will be on tired legs, they should be able to come away with the victory — especially if they score first and remain disciplined. Should they let Orlando strike first or take their foot off the gas after scoring, a draw wouldn’t surprise the more pragmatic Verde fans.

I expect a tight 1-0 Austin win and will make the somewhat safe prediction of a Driussi goal or assist.


Big thank you to Ricardo for the great info on Austin. Vamos Orlando!

Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, and More

The Lions host the defending champs in their first meeting with the Crew since last year’s playoff battle.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Welcome to your match thread for a Saturday night matchup between Orlando City (4-5-4, 16 points) and the Columbus Crew (5-2-6, 21 points) at Inter&Co Stadium (7:30 p.m., MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+). This is the first of two scheduled meetings of the season between the two Eastern Conference rivals, with the Lions set to make the return trip to Central Ohio on Sept. 21.

Here’s what you need to know about the match.

History

The Lions are 9-6-4 in the all-time, regular-season series and 7-2-2 at home. Orlando City also has a home playoff loss in extra time last November and a home U.S. Open Cup win back in 2015 against the Crew for a 10-7-4 overall mark in all competitions (8-3-2 at home).

The last time these teams met was in the 2023 Eastern Conference semifinals on Nov. 25 of last season. The teams played scoreless through the 90 minutes plus injury time, with Orlando City defender Rodrigo Schlegel getting sent off late with a second yellow card. The Crew were able to bundle home a goal in extra time and add an insurance marker for a 2-0 win en route to an eventual MLS Cup championship. Christian Ramirez and Cucho Hernandez scored for the Crew.

The most recent regular-season clash between the Lions and Crew in Orlando was a memorable game at Exploria Stadium on Sept. 16, 2023, with Orlando coming from behind to snatch a stunning 4-3 victory at the death. Julian Gressel gave Columbus an early lead that held up through the first half. Martin Ojeda equalized just after the restart, but Diego Rossi and Hernandez staked the Crew to a two-goal lead. Facundo Torres pulled one back and Ramiro Enrique bagged his first MLS brace, with a goal just a few minutes from the end of normal time and another late in stoppage.

The teams met in Columbus on May 13 of last season, playing to a 2-2 draw. Orlando City fell behind 2-0 by halftime on goals by Darlington Nagbe and Jacen Russell-Rowe, but Ercan Kara pulled one back just a few minutes after the restart and Duncan McGuire leveled the game in stoppage time.

The two sides met in Orlando on Decision Day 2022, with Orlando City erasing a 1-0 deficit on a Derrick Etienne Jr. goal to win 2-1 and clinch a playoff spot. Junior Urso leveled the game in the second half and Torres struck from the penalty spot late. The meeting in Columbus that year took place on April 16, 2022, with the Lions winning 2-0 on goals by Schlegel and Kara.

The 2021 season series concluded on Oct. 27 in Columbus with the Crew winning 3-2. Columbus had lost five straight to Orlando prior to Lucas Zelarayan’s one-goal, two-assist performance. Miguel Berry and Etienne also scored for the Crew. Daryl Dike pulled a goal back from the spot and Robin Jansson struck late but it wasn’t enough.

The teams met at Exploria Stadium on Sept. 4, 2021, with the Lions winning 3-2. Orlando was cruising and built a 2-0 lead on goals by Dike and Silvester van der Water, but a bizarre own goal by Antonio Carlos threw the Crew a lifeline, and a Berry equalizer turned the game around. Urso provided the winner in the 69th minute.

City won the only meeting of 2020 when the 10-man Lions got a late Benji Michel goal to defeat the Crew 2-1 on Nov. 4. Chris Mueller gave Orlando the lead in that game but Harrison Afful was able to equalize just moments after referee Ramy Touchan sent off Nani on a ludicrous call that was overturned by the MLS independent panel a few days later. Thanks to Michel’s goal, the officiating error didn’t end up costing the Lions, who clinched their first-ever MLS playoff spot with the win.

The Lions swept the season series in 2019, defeating the Crew 1-0 on a Michel goal on July 13, 2019, and two weeks previously getting their first road win in the series, 2-0. Nani assisted on goals by Mueller and Tesho Akindele in that one.

Orlando won 2-1 on Oct. 21, 2018 to start a five-game winning streak against the Crew on a pair of penalty kick goals. Yoshimar Yotún and Sacha Kljestan provided the spot kicks to offset Federico Higuain’s opening goal.

The last Crew win in the series prior to the Orlando winning streak was assisted by a horror call by Silviu Petrescu in the 88th minute on July 21, 2018, giving Columbus an equalizer from the penalty spot. Wil Trapp then scored the kind of goal in stoppage time that he’ll probably never score again to lift the Crew to a 3-2 victory in a game the Lions had stolen away from them on a call that Petrescu’s own organization said was an error.

Columbus got the better of Orlando in 2017, going 2-0-1. The Lions were 0-1-1 against Columbus in 2016 and 1-1-1 in the series in 2015.

Overview

Orlando City enters on a three-game unbeaten streak (2-0-1), with the Lions keeping a clean sheet in each of their last two matches. OCSC last played a week ago in San Jose, defeating the Earthquakes 1-0 on a late goal by Jack Lynn. That win came a few days after a scoreless home draw against Inter Miami. The Lions, however, are in the midst of a goal drought. Orlando sits 10th in the Eastern Conference table — just one point out of the play-in-game places — and has only scored more than one goal in a game once since April 20, a span of five games.

The Lions have struggled at home early this season — much like in 2023. Orlando is just 1-3-3 at Inter&Co Stadium in MLS play in 2024. That’s a poor home record since the building got its new name. I’m not suggesting a causality, but I can’t prove it’s a coincidence either.

The Crew enter this matchup just above the playoff line in seventh place. Columbus has won its last two matches by identical 3-1 scores over Chicago and Montreal on the road and beat Monterrey away from home by that same scoreline in the team’s most recent Concacaf Champions Cup. The Black & Gold have gone unbeaten in four straight road MLS games (2-0-2) and are 2-1-3 away from Lower.com Field in 2024 in regular-season play. Columbus has managed to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt despite making a deep run in Concacaf Champions Cup play, losing only twice and managing six draws. That shows a gritty ability to scrap for points during the season’s early fixture congestion.

Only FC Cincinnati has allowed fewer goals (11) in the Eastern Conference than the 13 the Crew have conceded. Combined with the Lions’ difficulties scoring over the last month, it may mean that scoring will be difficult for City. Making matters worse for Orlando is an injury picked up by striker Duncan McGuire in the San Jose match. Ramiro Enrique’s return to training may help, but if Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja is going to roll the 3-5-2 out again, it’ll likely be Luis Muriel and Lynn starting this one.

Crew Head Coach Wilfried Nancy’s system features a three-man back line with solid defensive positioning and an opportunistic attack that can win the ball in dangerous areas and exploit transition opportunities. Rossi, and Ramirez are obvious threats but midfielder Aidan Morris and Russell-Rowe are also threats to score.

“Like any other team, we’re responsible with our preparations, understanding the challenges this team brings us,” Pareja said ahead of the match. “Columbus has a very bold system and way to play, so we’ve been analyzing how we can affect them and how we can control them. As I say, just trying to be very confident in our ways and our players and trying to get these results at home in front of our fans. That’s what we want.”

In addition to McGuire (shoulder), Orlando City will be without fullback Michael Halliday (knee), and reserve defender Tahir Reid-Brown (thigh), while Enrique (ankle) and Robin Jansson (ankle) are listed as questionable. Columbus will be without Hernandez (back) per Nancy, but there is no one listed on the Crew’s availability report in the club’s game notes as of this writing.

Match Content


Projected Lineups:

Orlando City (3-5-2)

Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese.

Defenders: Rodrigo Schlegel, Wilder Cartagena, David Brekalo.

Wingbacks/Midfielders: Facundo Torres, Cesar Araujo, Nico Lodeiro, Martin Ojeda, Ivan Angulo.

Forwards: Luis Muriel, Jack Lynn.

Columbus Crew (3-4-3)

Goalkeeper: Patrick Schulte.

Defenders: Malte Amundsen, Rudy Camacho, Steven Moreira.

Wingbacks / Central Midfielders: Yaw Yeboah, Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Mohamed Farsi.

Forwards: Diego Rossi, Christian Ramirez, Alexandru Matan.

Referees

REF: Jair Marrufo.
AR1: Jose Da Silva.
AR2: Tyler Wyrostek.
4TH: Marcos DeOliveira.
VAR: Jorge Gonzalez.
AVAR: Robert Schaap.


How to Watch

Match Time: 7:30 p.m.

Venue: Inter&Co Stadium — Orlando.

TV/Streaming: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+

Radio: FM 104.1 Real Radio (English), Mega 97.1 FM (Spanish).

Twitter: For rapid reaction and live updates, follow along at @TheManeLand, as well as Orlando City’s official Twitter feed (@OrlandoCitySC).


Enjoy the match. Go City!

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Orlando City

Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew

Find out what you should expect from the Columbus Crew on Saturday, courtesy of someone who knows them best.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

After returning from a successful trip to the West Coast, Orlando City will be staying in town for Memorial Day weekend. Next up on the schedule for the Lions is a visit from the reigning MLS Cup Champions, the Columbus Crew.

A date with Columbus means I spoke with Collin Johnson of the always excellent Massive Report, and he was kind enough to help bring us up to speed on what to expect from the Crew this year. I also answered some of Massive Report’s questions about Orlando City, which you can find over at their place.

Talk me through the Crew’s off-season transfer business. Who were some of the big departures, and who has been brought in to replace them?

Collin Johnson: It was a pretty quiet off-season from the Crew. They focused on extending current contracts (and getting rid of bad contracts) rather than bringing in a big name acquisition. The bigger news were the contracts they were able to get rid of. Kevin Molino’s $700k+ salary was bought out before the season started, while Julian Gressel ($900k+) opted to take a deal with Inter Miami after losing his place in the starting lineup during the 2023 MLS Cup playoffs.

Rudy Camacho, Steven Moreira, Darlington Nagbe, Mohamed Farsi, and Sean Zawadzki all signed new deals. Academy and Crew 2 midfielders Cole Mrowka and Taha Habroune signed full first-team deals, though both are expected to jump back and forth between the second team and the first team. Derrick Jones was signed as a free agent. Many thought the very tall defensive midfielder would slot in as a center back in the Wilfried Nancy system, but all of his time has been spent as a DM (and it has gone relatively well aside from a shocking red card against Charlotte).

The only transfer fee paid this off-season was, ironically, to Pachuca for Marino Hinestroza. Hinestroza is an MLS U22 Initiative player who plays a similar style to Alex Matan but is faster and a bit better at finishing. With Hinestroza on the field, Columbus looks to stretch defenses in a different way than the typical wingback defensive stretching.

Columbus has been excellent defensively, with the 13 goals conceded on the season tied for second-fewest in the league. What’s been working so well at the back?

CJ: The defensive recovery extends back to the 2023 season and probably has two factors. First is the team getting comfortable in the Wilfried Nancy system. The expectation is that players will hold onto the ball until the last second before playing a pass to get out of trouble. At times last year that resulted in turnovers and goals by opponents. You can really see this in the play of Yeven Cheberko. Cheberko struggled in his half season with the Black & Gold in 2023 but this season has played like a new signing, splitting time as the starting left center back. Cheberko has the ability to break multiple lines with his passing, and now that he has improved in his Nancy system confidence, he has begun to live up with the potential he had as a new signing.

The other factor is Rudy Camacho. Camacho joined in the summer transfer window from Montreal, so he was already familiar with the Nancy system. Immediately he slotted into the center spot of the back three and conducted the rest of the defense. As soon as he joined the team, the defense took a huge step forward.

The Crew have done about as good a job balancing Concacaf Champions Cup play and the MLS schedule as possible, and currently sit above the playoff line. How have they been able to find a good balance, when most teams struggle mightily in one competition or the other?

CJ: Realistically it has been a bit of a struggle. Columbus is getting results now but most of the matches during the meat of the Concacaf Champions Cup run were draws. When the Crew beat Montreal on May 16, that was their first league win since March 16. Still, grabbing some draws during that run and staying alive in the playoff hunt are absolutely accomplishments for this team. Part of the reason for this success is the team’s depth. Hinestroza adds another attacking option up top while Derrick Jones is able to spell Aidan Morris/Darlington Nagbe in the midfield. Zawadzki has been a Swiss Army knife for the Black & Gold, slotting in at nearly every position on the field aside from goalkeeper. Nancy has also been willing to use his substitutes after a 2023 season when his sub pattern was frustratingly limited.

The Black & Gold also have the good fortune to get a bye through the group stage of this summer’s Leagues Cup, so they can push a bit harder during a congested few months with the expectation of multiple weeks off in July.

Are there any players who will be unavailable due to injury, suspensions, etc.? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?

CJ: Cucho Hernandez is officially out for Saturday’s match. He has had a nagging back injury and it is expected that he is being held out as a precaution and to be healthy for the Concacaf Champions Cup final in June. Without Cucho these last two weeks, the Crew have grabbed back-to-back road wins for the first time in what seems like forever. Without Cucho, the attack is a bit more multi-faceted. Diego Rossi has picked up the slack and started to look like the former Golden Boot winner that he is.

Rossi will start with a target striker, assuming this is Christian Ramirez, and likely Alex Matan. Depending on the game state, Nancy will slot Jacen Russell-Rowe into Matan’s spot to attack with two target strikers up top. The midfield duo of Nagbe and Morris is a mainstay, though the team has tried to manage Morris’ minutes as the season has gone on. Expect to see Zawadzki or Jones replace Morris/Nagbe around the 75th or 80th minute. In the back we’ll see Yaw Yeboah, Malte Admundsen or Cheberko, Camacho, Steven Moreira, and Mohamed Farsi.

I’m guessing the below is what they roll out:
Patrick Schulte; Malte Amundsen, Rudy Camacho, Steven Moreira, Yaw Yeboah, Mohamed Farsi; Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe; Alex Matan, Christian Ramirez, Diego Rossi.

I don’t see Columbus grabbing a third straight road win but they are playing well right now so I’m guessing we see a hard-fought draw. Columbus 2-2 Orlando. 


Thank you to Collin for providing the scoop on the Crew. Vamos Orlando!

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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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