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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Houston Dynamo: Final Score 2-1 as Ercan Kara Brace Lifts Lions



A brace by striker Ercan Kara saw Orlando City (7-5-4, 25 points) defeat the Houston Dynamo (5-7-3, 18 points) 2-1 at Exploria Stadium. The Dynamo got one back right after the Lions’ second goal through Sebastian Ferreira and thought they’d equalized just before full time. But the hosts were able to hold on for the win.

The Lions were missing a key player for this game as center back Rodrigo Schlegel was suspended for yellow card accumulation. Ruan returned to the lineup after being an unused sub in New England on Wednesday night and Kyle Smith, who started on the right for Ruan earlier this week, moved over to center back to replace Schlegel.

As a result, the back four in front of starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese consisted of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Kyle Smith, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo and Junior Urso played behind Facundo Torres, Mauricio Pereyra, and Jake Mulraney, just as they did Wednesday night. Additionally, Kara re-entered the lineup in place of Alexandre Pato, who started on the bench.

The Lions got off to a good start in this game. In the second minute, the hosts got their first chance when Moutinho sent in a cross looking for Mulraney. The Irishman attempted an acrobatic attempt on goal, but it was blocked and cleared. A minute leader, Kara had his first chance when he got his head to a Pereyra cross. However, the ball was right at Clark, who made the easy save.

The first chance for Houston came in the seventh minute when Ferreira received a low cross at the top of the box. With his back to goal, the striker immediately dropped the ball back to Corey Baird, who was approaching the box. Baird sent a hard shot on target but it was right at Gallese.

The Lions lost a key player for their next game after Jansson was booked for disagreeing with a foul called on Pereyra. Rosendo Mendoza was quick to issue Jansson the yellow, which results in the center back being suspended for the team’s game Friday night in Cincinnati. It will be the second consecutive game that the Lions will be without one of either Schlegel or Jansson.

Orlando City controlled most of the first half, holding more possession and chances. It finally broke through in the 25th minute. Mulraney collected the ball on the left and played it back for Moutinho. The Portuguese defender played it across for Pereyra whose first touch was a flick over the defense for Torres making a run. Torres quickly played it across for Kara in front of goal for the Austrian to tap it in.

“It’s great,” Kara said about playing with Pereyra and Torres. “We all train together and we are connecting together. They are really good players. And I see also in the training we are getting connected and I’m very happy that the guys play with me, behind me, and they help you to score.”

With a one-goal lead, Orlando City continued its attack and had another good chance in the 36th minute. It started when Mulraney set up Torres on the left, but the shot was blocked by Tim Parker. The Lions kept the ball in the opposing half, allowing Pereyra to find Mulraney for a shot. However, Parker was there again to block it away.

In the 44th minute, Moutinho saw Pereyra making a long run down the middle of the field. Nearing the Houston penalty area, the defender sent the ball to Pereyra, placing him behind the defense. The Orlando City captain got a shot off before the defense could catch him, but it was right at Clark.

A minute later, the Lions came very close to doubling their lead. Receiving the ball outside the box, Moutinho attempted to send it back in. The ball bounced off the arm of Beto Avila, clearly not in a natural position. Mendoza pointed to the spot, awarding the Lions a penalty.

However, replays showed that Avila was clearly outside the box when the ball hit his arm. As a result, VAR requested a replay and the call was changed to a free kick just outside the box.

The change almost didn’t matter as Kara stepped up to take the set piece. He sent a low, bending ball around the wall that looked to be heading just inside the far post. But Clark made an excellent diving save, tipping it around the post and keeping the game at 1-0.

After drawing with most of the first team against the Revolution on Wednesday night, it was questionable how the team would come out in this game. But Orlando was without question the better team in the first 45 minutes. It ended the half with more possession (52.9%-47.1%), shots (9-3), shots on goal (4-1), and duels won (28-22).

The Lions tried to start the second half the way they ended the first, on the attack. They got their first second-half opportunity in the 48th minute when a counter attack saw Torres find Urso on his left. The midfielder found enough space to get a shot off, but it was right at Clark.

The early moments of the second half were subdued as both teams looked to gain control of the game. But the 57th minute started a flurry of action that changed the game multiple times.

It started when Houston did well to work the ball across the field. A combination of passes allowed Matias Vera to find Memo Rodriguez open on the left side of the box. The midfielder took a shot at the far post but it was just wide.

The Lions immediately went the other way. Moutinho received the ball on the left and sent a cross into the box. It was aiming for Kara, but went to Mulraney, who flicked it on with his head. The flick went right to Teenage Hodebe, who tried to clear it away only for it to land in front of Pereyra.

The Uruguayan fired a shot and the ball ended up in the back of the net, giving the Lions a 2-0 lead. It initially appeared as though the goal was scored by Pereyra, but Kara got the slightest deflection on it, resulting in his second goal of the game.

“For me, it was more Mauricio’s than mine,” Kara said. “But he say in the celebration, he say, it’s your goal and I say alright. And also these goals is great because it’s important that the team win. I’m happy that the goal is mine because it’s always good for a striker to have goals.”

It didn’t take long for Houston to respond and it got one back just a minute later. Zeca sent a dangerous ball into the box where Ferreira was able to beat Smith to it. The striker’s header was perfect, landing just inside the far post and out of the reach of Gallese’s outstretched arm. Just like that, it was a 2-1 game.

“I feel like we got that second goal and maybe we were slacked a little bit because we felt like the game was over and we’re gonna win anyway,” Moutinho said about the immediate response by Houston. “And maybe we got a little bit out of focus in the back and then they ended up scoring because the teams in this league, if you’re not focused, they’re gonna punish you and that’s what they did.”

The disappointing let up could’ve resulted in disaster for the Lions, but instead they nearly got that goal right back. In the 60th minute, Mulraney sent a cross into the box for Kara. Hodebe attempted to clear it but mishit the ball and it went right to Kara at the top of the six-yard box. The striker immediately turned it on goal but it went just wide.

The Lions probably got a little lucky in the 64th minute. With the Dynamo on the break, Gallese came out of his box in an attempt to clear the ball away. However, Ferreira got to it first and Gallese completely missed it. Instead, he got Ferreira’s leg and the striker went down. Fortunately for Orlando City, the referee only issued Gallese a yellow, determining that there was a defender close enough for it not to be a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

The ensuing free kick nearly saw the visitors tie the game. The set piece seemed to be from an innocuous position, but it was very well taken and beat a diving Gallese. However, it didn’t beat the post, bouncing off and allowing Orlando City to clear.

While Orlando dominated most of the game, Houston controlled the final 20 minutes as it searched for an equalizer. Closing out games has been a problem for this team and it was desperate to come away with three points.

In the 72nd minute, second-half substitute Tyler Pasher found Rodriguez in the box. The midfielder’s shot was blocked by Jansson, but it went right back to him. Rather than shooting again, he played it back for Pasher. The substitute’s shot was toward the far post, forcing Gallese to make a diving save.

Four minutes later, it was Pasher again causing trouble in the Orlando third. He took a shot from the corner of the box that didn’t seem too dangerous. However, it had some bend to it and appeared to be headed inside the far post. Gallese was up to the challenge again as the Peruvian international made another game-saving stop.

The visitors were desperate to find an equalizer and were willing to do anything to find it. In the 87th minute, Thorleifur Ulfarsson dribbled into the box, defended by Smith. Ulfarsson went down, claiming a foul on Smith. But replays showed Smith didn’t touch him and Mendoza was fully aware. The referee immediately went to his pocket, issuing Ulfarsson a yellow card for simulation.

A minute into injury time, Pasher had another opportunity from outside the box. The ball got through Smith and Sebas Mendez, but Gallese saw it the whole way and made the stop.

Three minutes later, Orlando should’ve put the game away. Pato made an excellent run on a counter attack and found Benji Michel in the box. He played a perfect ball in front of Michel that the forward should’ve put away. But Daniel Steres slid in for a last-ditch attempt and made it tough for Michel. As a result, the shot sailed over the crossbar from right in front of the goal.

In the final minute of injury time, the Dynamo thought they’d equalized it. Tesho Akindele blocked a cross from Adam Lundkvist but the ball rolled back to former Lion Darwin Ceren. The El Salvadorian international sent a ball for Darwin Quintero, who had made a run between Smith and Jansson. The ball was a little behind Quintero so he attempted a bicycle kick. The ball glanced off his shin and past Gallese.

However, Quintero was just behind the back line and the assistant raised the flag to indicate he was offside. It took a few seconds before the Houston bench stopped celebrating, realizing it hadn’t equalized. That was the last chance for the Dynamo as Orlando City took the game 2-1.

While Orlando dominated the first half, Houston was arguably the better team in the second. It had more possession (60.4%-39.6%), shots (10-9), shots on target (4-2), and better passing accuracy (87.4%-79.4%).

In the end, Houston had more possession (53.8%-46.2%) but the Lions had more shots (18-13), shots on target (6-5), and won more duels (52-45).

“An important victory,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “Great first half. We saw a lot of things that are natural in this team, but today I thought we improved our sequences on the quality. And we kept saying that we have to be more polished and finish the game. Second half I have to recognize that Houston pushed and made us defend much lower than we wanted. And then we end up with the emergencies and urgencies in a game that could’ve been defined earlier. So that taste of not having a complete game is probably what we have right now.”

“Obviously tonight we got the win and it’s always good to get the three points ,” Moutinho added. “But I feel like we should have put the game away earlier, given the chances that we had.

“We’ve definitely been creating the chances necessary to put the games away,” he continued. “But something has been missing. The finishing is not quite there yet. And I think we really do need to improve on that because if you don’t put the games away, then the teams are gonna come back and they’re gonna score on you and then you’re gonna suffer until the end, like we did tonight.”

The Lions now have four points from their first two games coming out of the international break. The win pushes the team up to fourth in the Eastern Conference with 25 points on the season.

Orlando City will have a short week as it heads back on the road, taking on FC Cincinnati in Ohio on Friday.

Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/1/23

Rodrigo Schlegel fined, MLS roster updates, USWNT faces China tomorrow, and more.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Welcome to December, Mane Landers! It always feels like a good sign when a month starts on a Friday. I don’t have many plans this weekend beyond helping a friend move and trying to make pad Thai for the first time. It should be a nice next few days to reset after a hectic week. But for now, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.

MLS Issues Disciplinary Rulings After Playoff Games

Orlando City center back Rodrigo Schlegel was fined an undisclosed amount by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for not leaving the field in a timely manner after receiving a second yellow card in the team’s playoff match with the Columbus Crew. Schlegel did not crowd the referee or plead his case disruptively, but he did linger a bit before exiting the match. It was one of many fines handed out by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for violations during the playoffs, and Crew forward Cucho Hernandez was fined for embellishment for going to ground clutching his face after Schlegel shielded the ball from him.

The Vancouver Whitecaps players and staff received fines and suspensions for their actions during and after their playoff match with LAFC on Nov. 5. Head Coach Vanni Sartini was fined $20,000 and suspended for an additional five games for entering the field of play in a confrontational manner and his comments about the refereeing following his team’s elimination. Vancouver defender Mathias Laborda was also handed a one-match suspension for his actions during the match.

MLS Teams Update Rosters as Deadline Looms

The deadline for MLS teams to decline contract options is today and clubs around the league are getting their affairs in order. The Portland Timbers confirmed that Sebastian Blanco won’t be with the team next year, as he was out of contract after seven seasons with the club. Designated Player Jaroslaw Niezgoda and fellow forward Franck Boli had their options declined by Portland as well. FC Dallas triggered the options on the contracts of midfielder duo Asier Illarramendi and Liam Frasier, while declining the options for midfielder Facundo Quignon and defender Jose Martinez. The New York Red Bulls kept a key part of their defense by signing Dylan Nealis to a contract through the 2024 season. Nashville SC declined seven options, and veterans Dax McCarty and Fafa Picault are out of contract. Both players could be worth keeping an eye on as an Orlando supporter, depending on if Wilder Cartagena and Ivan Angulo will return. According to The Athletic‘s Tom Bogert, McCarty is not likely to return to Nashville.

Racing Louisville Names Beverly Yanez as Head Coach

Beverly Yanez was announced as Racing Louisville’s next head coach after serving as an assistant coach during the 2023 season. The 35-year-old retired as a player in 2020 and was an assistant coach with NJ/NY Gotham FC for two years before joining Louisville prior to this season. Louisville has yet to reach the playoffs since joining the NWSL in 2021 and Yanez is now the club’s third head coach. She’s earned plenty of praise from Louisville’s players and it will be interesting to see how her first season as a head coach goes in 2024.

Alejandro Bedoya Receives Impact Award

Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya won the MLS Impact Award, along with a $100,000 contribution by Audi to The Philadelphia Equity Alliance. Bedoya has worked with the nonprofit to promote inclusive economic growth and reduce poverty. He was also named 2022 MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year for his efforts to make a difference in the Philadelphia community. The Crew’s Darlington Nagbe and Nashville’s Taylor Washington were the other finalists for this year’s award.

Analyzing China Ahead of USWNT Friendlies

The United States Women’s National Team will close out its 2023 schedule with a pair of friendlies against China this month. The two nations will clash tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale before playing again in Frisco on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Although China lost all three of its group stage games in this past summer’s World Cup, it recently won the bronze medal in the Asian Games. China fell short in Olympic qualifying though, and 2022 AFC Women’s Coach of the Year Shui Qingxia’s contract was terminated, with Wang Jun taking over in an interim capacity for these friendlies. The USWNT should be able to find success on set pieces and crosses, although China has been working on strength training this year to compensate for that weakness. Tang Jiali, Zhang Linyan, and Shen Menglu are a few of the players in China’s versatile attack that could spell trouble for the Americans.

Free Kicks

  • Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle started as Brazil’s captain and Marta and Adriana came off the bench in a 4-3 win over Japan in a friendly. In her international debut, 19-year-old forward Priscila gave Brazil the late winner. The two teams will play again on Sunday.
  • The Kansas City Current dedicated their press box to journalist and Kansas City native Grant Wahl.
  • The New England Revolution have promoted Curt Onalfo to sporting director after four years as the club’s technical director. Onalfo served as the interim sporting director after Bruce Arena’s resignation in September and now gets the job fulltime.
  • The MLS Players Association released a statement regarding Matt Miazga’s three-game suspension.
  • Pierre Emerick-Aubamayeng scored a bicycle kick and a late winner as part of his hat trick in Marseille’s 4-3 win over Ajax in the Europa League.
  • The 2023 Women’s College Cup semifinals kick off tonight, with Florida State facing Clemson and BYU playing Stanford. There are many talented players in action who are worth watching tonight before the NWSL Draft next month.
  • Lyon, which is last in Ligue 1 with just seven points from 12 games, has sacked Fabio Grosso after less than three months as head coach.

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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Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/30/23

Orlando City faces big questions, Matt Miazga suspended, Emma Hayes meets USWNT for first time, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

November is finally coming to a close. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of a month for me, with highs, lows, and many things in between. All in all, I’m pretty glad it’s nearly over, although I expect December to be similarly hectic. At least this weather is allowing me to break out some winter clothes and turn on the fireplace in this new apartment. I’m not sure why a fireplace was installed in a Floridian apartment, but I’m not complaining. Let’s dive into today’s links!

Big Decisions Await Orlando City

With Orlando City’s season over, attention now turns to a critical off-season for the club. Head Coach Oscar Pareja is out of contract after leading the Lions to the playoffs for the past four years. The club will also need to decide if it will exercise the 2024 options on the contracts of both Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi and Technical Director and Assistant General Manager Ricardo Moreira. All three have orchestrated Orlando’s transformation that’s included winning its first trophy, having its best season this year, and qualifying for both the Concacaf Champions League and Champions Cup. Potentially transferring Facundo Torres to Europe, filling the empty Designated Player slot, and deciding which players to bring back for 2024 are also on the agenda. However, figuring out who will lead the Lions into this exciting next chapter is paramount. Personally, I think the club should do everything in its power to keep the people who brought Orlando to this point.

Matt Miazga Suspended for Three Games

FC Cincinnati will be without MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga for Saturday’s Eastern Conference final, as he was suspended by MLS for three games due to his misconduct after the match with the New York Red Bulls on Nov. 4. Miazga was also fined an undisclosed amount and will undergo a behavioral assessment as part of the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Following that aforementioned playoff match, reports surfaced that Miazga gained unauthorized access to an area reserved for the referees and acted aggressively. Any suspended games not served during Cincy’s playoff run will carry over into the 2024 season, although Miazga can petition for a reduction based on compliance with recommended treatment plans.

Emma Hayes Meets With USWNT Players and Staff

Emma Hayes, who was hired as the next United States Women’s National Team Head Coach earlier this month, made the trip to Florida to meet the team for the first time. Although she won’t be coaching the team for its upcoming pair of friendlies against China, she collaborated with interim head coach Twila Kilgore on the latest training camp roster and will continue to work with her until taking over in May. There won’t be much time between Hayes’ official start date and the 2024 Summer Olympics, making these moments of face time between player and future coach all the more important. USWNT captain Lindsey Horan spoke on the team’s goals after meeting Hayes for the first time.

“There’s so much talent in this team, and I don’t think the world has seen enough of it yet just because we need to go out and show it,” Horan said. “We need to be able to mesh together and show everything that we have, and what we’re all about, and how we can really collaborate and play together — be more of a team and be a powerhouse again.

“It’s going to be exciting for us to have her and see what she can do with this team and how she can help us moving forward.”

Ricardo Pepi Sends PSV Into Champions League Knockout Stage

PSV Eindhoven clinched its spot in the next round of the UEFA Champions League in dramatic fashion, with American forward Ricardo Pepi scoring the winner in a 3-2 comeback win over Sevilla in Spain. Trailing 2-0 in the second half, American left back Sergino Dest provided the assist on PSV’s first goal and Pepi found the winner in stoppage time, with fellow American Malik Tillman also coming off the bench. From his little flick to send a teammate forward to his run and clinical header, it was a great goal by the 20-year-old.

Elsewhere in the Champions League, Arsenal beat Lens 6-0 to advance, Real Madrid won 4-2 against Napoli to win its group, and Real Sociedad played to a scoreless draw with RB Salzburg. Manchester United remains in last place of its group after a 3-3 draw with Galatasaray, with goalkeeper Andre Onana unable to stop Hakim Ziyech from scoring off of two free kicks. All’s not lost for United though, as it can still qualify for the round of 16 by beating Bayern Munich at home so long as the other match ends in the group ends in a draw. It all makes for what should be an exciting final matchday in the group stage.

Free Kicks

  • The Kansas City Current announced that American midfielder Sam Mewis will not be returning to the club for the 2024 season. The 31-year-old has not played since 2021 as she continues to recover from a knee injury.
  • The Utah Royals have signed free agent forward Imani Dorsey on a contract through the 2025 season. Dorsey has most recently played for NJ/NY Gotham FC, although she didn’t participate in this past season due to mental health reasons.
  • Manchester United is reportedly ready to move on from Mason Mount just six months after he joined the team from Chelsea.
  • Tomasz Kwiatkowski, the video assistant referee involved in a controversial handball that eventually led to Paris Saint-Germain’s equalizer in stoppage time against Newcastle, was removed from his next scheduled duty by UEFA.
  • Amidst a four-game winless streak, French club Nantes has fired Pierre Aristouy as its manager, immediately replacing him with Jocelyn Gourvennec.
  • We’ll end our links with this interesting article that dives into how Romelu Lukaku unexpectedly arrived at AS Roma and how he’s thriving at the Italian club.

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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Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Alex Freeman

We start our Orlando City player reviews with a look at a Homegrown fullback who made his MLS debut this season.



Image courtesy of Orlando City B

Orlando City signed fullback Alex Freeman to a Homegrown Player contract on February 15, 2022. He became the Lions’ 12th Homegrown signing and his deal runs through the 2025 season with a club option for 2026, but the youngster did not see action in Major League Soccer last season. With the departure of Ruan, there was an opportunity for Freeman to win a job with the first team in camp but he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump, instead playing an important role with Orlando City B throughout the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season.

Let’s take a look back at Freeman’s 2023 campaign.

Statistical Breakdown

Freeman made his MLS debut on April 29 in a 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. It was not just his debut with the first team, but it was also his only appearance with the senior squad in 2023, although he did make the substitutes’ bench a few times after that. Officially, he logged only one minute, entering in the 93rd minute. He was only on the pitch a matter of seconds, so it’s unsurprising that he registered nothing on the stats sheet.

The son of former NFL receiver Antonio Freeman, Alex starred with OCB in 2023. In MLS NEXT Pro play, Freeman appeared in 24 of OCB’s 28 matches, starting 22, and logging 1,855 minutes. He finished tied for third on the squad in goals (4), adding three assists and passing at a 79.1% success rate. Freeman attempted 25 shots, putting 11 on target, and contributed 10 key passes. He committed 22 fouls, drew 27 on the opposition, and was booked four times. He also started OCB’s playoff match at Columbus, playing 89 minutes in the Young Lions’ 2-1 road loss. Freeman didn’t contribute a goal or assist or attempt a shot in the match, but he passed at an 88% rate, created one scoring chance, and committed one foul.

Best Game

With only one MLS appearance to his credit, the default best game for Freeman came on April 29 in Orlando City’s 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. Freeman didn’t even officially touch the ball in the game, but it’s not every day a teenager gets to play in an MLS match, and I’m sure it was a special moment for him. It was certainly a milestone in his professional soccer career.

2023 Final Grade

As Freeman fell well short of the minimum 450 minutes played mark to receive a rating on our 1-10 scale, The Mane Land has no choice but to mark his grade as incomplete for the 2023 season. There are areas of Freeman’s game that need a bit of refining, but at the same time, it’s easy to see why he landed a Homegrown contract, why Orlando City would find him an intriguing prospect, and why he’s been getting called up by the United States for U-20 international duty. His attacking presence was huge for OCB in 2023 and he was one of the key players that led the Young Lions to the postseason.

2024 Outlook

I would expect Freeman to get more seasoning at OCB in 2024, although he’ll be given opportunities in preseason camp to show whether he’s closed the gap on the likes of Michael Halliday and Kyle Smith (assuming both return). If the club moves on from both Halliday and Smith, it’s not hard to picture Freeman starting the season providing depth at right back for the first team. Having just turned 19 in August, Freeman has a lot of potential and he should start to unlock that within the next year or so.

This is the first of our 2023 Orlando City Season in Review articles. Every player who played minutes this past season and who finished the year on the club roster will be reviewed (exceptions may be made for players let go when the club officially announces its roster moves). Players who logged fewer than 450 minutes (combined regular season plus playoffs, Concacaf Champions League, U.S. Open Cup, and Leagues Cup) will receive a composite score between 1 and 10 as determined by a panel of The Mane Land writers, while those who did not reach that threshold will receive an incomplete grade.

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