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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.

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.



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.



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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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Three Keys to Victory

What does Orlando City need to do to earn all three points at home against the Crew?



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City earned seven points during a three-match stretch over eight days. Now the Lions will look to keep things rolling against the Columbus Crew this Saturday night at Inter&Co Stadium. The Crew are currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 21 points compared to Orlando City in 10th with 16 points.

What do the Lions need to do to get a victory at home against the Crew?

Switch Focus

Orlando City has lucked out because Columbus striker Cucho Hernández will not play, as he is nursing a back injury. Hernández has often been a thorn in Orlando’s side when the clubs play, so his absence is definitely good news. However, that doesn’t mean that the defense can relax. The Crew still have a potent attack with players like Diego Rossi, Jacen Russell-Rowe, Aidan Morris, and others. Columbus has scored 19 goals so far this season, which is four more than Orlando’s 15. I think it is likely that Oscar Pareja will stick with the 3-5-2 formation, meaning the pressure will be on the back three of David Brekalo, Wilder Cartagena, and Rodrigo Schlegel.

Goals Needed

Orlando City left it late against San Jose before Jack Lynn scored in the 89th minute to give the Lions a victory. That’s not to say there weren’t wasted chances — because there were — but it was enough that night. It likely won’t be enough against Columbus. We don’t know the status of Duncan McGuire’s injury as of this writing, but I would be surprised to see him in the lineup, let alone getting the start. That means we will likely see Jack Lynn alongside Luis Muriel up top. Lynn is no McGuire, but he is able to get into good spaces in the box and has a nose for goal. Another goal from him or Muriel could make a big difference.

Scheduling Factors

I’m not saying that Wilfried Nancy will be looking ahead to the Concacaf Champions Cup final against Pachuca the following week, but a trophy is a trophy, and it could impact who he plays and for how long. He might be keeping Hernández out for precautionary reasons to allow him time to be ready for the final. It’s possible that he risks points against Orlando City in pursuit of hardware. Pareja doesn’t have it any easier with Orlando City playing a midweek match at the Chicago Fire next Wednesday before heading to New Jersey for a match against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, June 1. May has been brutal for the Lions, and though the team has made the most of it so far, it doesn’t get any easier. How much will rotation affect Orlando’s ability to get all three points?

That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!

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