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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. FC Cincinnati



This week is a little different, as Orlando City has a rare Friday night game to shake things up a bit. The Lions head north to Ohio to try to exact some revenge against FC Cincinnati, the team that dealt OCSC its first loss of the season.

Ahead of this one I spoke to Geoff Tebbetts, one of the contributors over at Cincinnati Soccer Talk. Geoff was kind enough to help get us up to speed on FCC ahead of tonight’s rematch.

Brandon Vazquez continues to make scoring look fairly easy and now has eight tallies to go along with three assists. Are his scoring numbers something that you saw coming or has this been a pleasant surprise for the Cincy faithful?

Geoff Tebbetts: Sometimes it takes a coaching change to unlock the full potential of a player. Two years ago, under Jaap Stam, Vazquez started a handful of games up front with Jurgen Locadia, but FCC didn’t really have a playmaker behind him to thread the needle. Last year, Luciano Acosta was brought in to be that playmaker, but the formation favored a single striker and complimentary wingers, leaving Vazquez on the outside again as a substitute.

Considering the focus has been on Brenner and Acosta, the proof of Vazquez’s ability had been invisible, but when he was used more as a second striker at the end of the 2021 season, it bore fruit. Vazquez started scoring, but the lack of defensive depth meant that his goals didn’t lead to positive results.

Now that the goals are leading to positive results with the team behind him providing more of a defensive presence, yeah, it feels like a pleasant surprise, but it was there. It also helps that assistant coach Dom Kinnear is working more with Vazquez to achieve an attack that maneuvers better in the final third. Vazquez is finding cracks in the box, and crosses that were once missed are now meeting their targets.

The 26 goals FC Cincinnati has conceded is the third worst number in the East, and a goal differential one worse than Charlotte is the only thing keeping FCC out of a playoff spot at the moment. What does this team need to do to tighten things up at the back?

GT: What they need to do is tell everyone to forget about that first awful week against Austin!

The 5-0 away loss to Austin had many pieces missing from the start. Brenner and Alvaro Barreal were both out as they worked back into playing form after an extended off-season. Dom Badji and Alvas Powell both came on after the game had been long decided. The match was basically a disposable mulligan.

Since then, the 4-3-1-2 formation has been used much less and exchanged for a 3-5-2 formation or a 4-3-3 defensive formation. For both, Junior Moreno and newly acquired Obinna Nwobodo have played a solid defending midfield, while John Nelson has been a dependable plug-in at the left back after the team lost Ronald Matarrita for the season. Even rookie goalkeeper Roman Celentano has displayed smarts and technique from the back while Alec Kann has been out.

However, the team is still trying to figure out the composition of its back line. Geoff Cameron and Tyler Blackett are both underachieving this season, and Ian Murphy is still a bit green, even though he’s playing his comfortable center back spot. Nick Hagglund has been surprisingly the most consistent on the back line, but you need more than just one CB having an above-standard season. Chris Albright and Pat Noonan will need to search for another back when the transfer window opens.

After 15 games played Cincy has already matched the number of points it accumulated during the entirety of last year. What do you think the ceiling for this team is this year?

GT: As FC Cincinnati fans, we’ve been down this path before. FCC has had 11, 13, and 14 points at this point over the past three seasons. Eclipsing that point total before the halfway point of the season feels both glorious and harrowing. The floor has to fall under us at some point, right?

However, there is evidence that the team has turned misfortune into short-term success. The -4 goal differential isn’t terrific, but it is still miles better than the -16 differential at this point last year. Players are being mentioned as (dare we say it?) MVP candidates and possible USMNT call-ups. Most importantly, the team is winning at home!

The numbers are not lying. FCC had 10 instances in 2021 where they held a lead but lost points in the end (four draws, six losses), resulting in 26 lost points. The team lost games from goals given up in the 75th minute or later six times. In 2022, FCC has blown leads only twice, resulting in six lost points, and while they have lost twice in the final 15 minutes, they have also won twice in the final 15 minutes. That’s a positive turnaround, no matter how you slice it.

If this team can maintain its point trend compared to other teams, it’ll barely miss the playoffs, and that’s a positive for a city that wants the glory days of the USL to return. But if this team stays healthy, gets two above-average signings in the transfer window, and finds a way to turn on a second or third source of offense, why couldn’t a home playoff game be a possibility? That might be a big ask for a team that struggled last year, but if Vancouver and RSL could ride that wave in 2021, why can’t we?

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

GT: No suspensions expected here! While FCC does absorb yellow cards, only Nwobodo and Blackett are in danger of getting suspended from their next yellow card.

Moreno and Badji are the only real injury concerns. As of Thursday, Moreno has been doing side work with the squad, while Badji has been ruled out with a leg injury. Matarrita is still the only major injury (ankle) with no certain timetable for return.

Goalkeeper Alec Kann might be back after missing his last eight matches due to a lower body injury. Forward Calvin Harris has been out while awaiting a green card, so he might be out if he’s not back to full training. Acosta and Yuya Kubo had been in COVID protocol recently, but they should be healthy for the game.

Like the last match against Orlando, I’m guessing Noonan plays a 3-5-2 lineup.

Roman Celentano; Nick Hagglund, Geoff Cameron, Ian Murphy; Alvas Powell, Obinna Nwobodo, Luicano Acosta, Yuya Kubo, John Nelson; Brandon Vazquez, Brenner.

As far as predictions are concerned, I do see Orlando getting some measure of revenge. They’re much like FC Cincinnati in the sense that they have performed well on the road, but fallen on hard times at home. If Moreno and Badji were both expected to play, I would call for an FCC win, but I’ll pick a 2-2 draw.

Many thanks to Geoff for the excellent insight into FC Cincinnati. Vamos Orlando!

Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Junior Urso

The Bear returned unexpectedly in the middle of the season to bolster the Orlando midfield.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Midfielder Junior Urso joined Orlando City on Jan. 13, 2020 from Brazilian giants Corinthians on a multi-year deal. The Bear spent three years in purple before he and the club mutually agreed to part ways, terminating his contract for personal reasons on Nov. 10, 2022. Upon his return to Brazil, Urso joined Coritiba, but injuries limited him to just seven appearances. In a surprise move, Urso rejoined Orlando City on July 19, returning to the City Beautiful and accepting a backup role behind the Lions’ double pivot of Wilder Cartagena and Cesar Araujo.

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

Statistical Breakdown

Urso made his return to the pitch for Orlando City on Aug. 20, following the club’s run in Leagues Cup. In the MLS regular season, Urso made nine appearances (two starts), logging 250 minutes. Urso did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting just three shots, none of which found the target. The Bear completed 78.3% of his 115 total pass attempts but did not record a key pass or a successful cross. Defensively, Urso tallied two interceptions, five tackles, and five clearances. He committed two fouls, drew two on the opposition, and was booked just once.

The Brazilian also appeared in all three of Orlando City’s playoff matches, all off the bench, totaling 98 minutes. He did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting three shots, one of which was on target. He completed 86.4% of his passes, including three key passes, but did not connect on a cross. Urso chipped in one tackle defensively, committed two fouls, suffered three, and was not booked in the postseason.

Best Game

With a little less than a third of a season in purple and gold and serving primarily as a reserve player, Urso’s best match was his regular-season appearance on the road against Nashville SC on Oct. 4. The Bear came on for Facundo Torres in the 72nd minute and did what fans have always expected of him, which is to frustrate the living hell out of the opponent. Urso made sure that Nashville knew that he had entered the game, winning countless throw-ins, allowing Orlando to walk away with its first road victory at Nashville. Urso also recorded a shot in the match, which was the Lions’ only attempt other than Duncan McGuire’s goal, although it was perhaps a bit generous to call it a shot attempt. He passed at a 72.2% rate and recorded a tackle and a clearance and did his job helping the Lions see out a tight victory.

2023 Final Grade

As Urso came up short of the minimum total of 450 minutes played 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. While it was a surreal experience just to see the Bear back on the pitch for Orlando City after his sudden departure, a delayed return to the pitch due to a lingering knock and the play of the midfielders in front of him on the depth chart limited his ability to leave his mark on the season. However, it’s difficult to put a grade on the experience he brought to the squad.

2024 Outlook

Orlando City has yet to announce its end-of-season roster decisions as of this writing, but with Wilder Cartagena’s loan spell expired, the Lions would be wise to pick up Urso’s contract option for the 2024 season. If that happens, he would likely take up the No. 8 role with Araujo playing the No. 6 in Orlando’s double pivot (assuming Oscar Pareja also returns). Urso could split time at the No. 8 if Orlando adds a new starting No. 10, because in that case, Mauricio Pereyra might see some time in that spot. If a permanent transfer or loan extension for Cartagena is secured, Urso provides value off the bench, although he’s a bit pricey for a backup at $360,000.

Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/5/23

Exploria Stadium will host Copa America games, Pride reportedly make offer for Crystal Dunn, Americans in midweek action, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Good morning, everyone. I’m still dragging a little bit after having a shortened weekend due to work, but I hope all of you were able to hit the ground running yesterday and started your weeks off on the right note. As usual, there’s a lot of interesting things to discuss today, so let’s get after it.

Exploria Stadium Picked as Copa America Venue

The host cities and venues for next summer’s Copa America tournament were revealed and Orlando City’s Exploria Stadium has been chosen. The Lions’ home will have games on June 29 and July 1, and both games could be very important ones as they will take place during the final day of play for Groups A and C. We also know that the USMNT will play its group stage games in Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City. The semifinal matches will be held at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, with Charlotte also hosting the third-place game. We’ll know very soon which teams will be playing in Orlando, as the draw will take place on Thursday.

Orlando Pride Reportedly Make an Offer for Crystal Dunn

The Orlando Pride have reportedly made a large offer to bring Crystal Dunn to Orlando, with CBS Sports reporting the amount prepared by the Pride to be more than $400,000. However, negotiations between the Pride and Dunn are reportedly no longer ongoing.

The 31-year-old is a free agent after announcing that she was not returning to the Portland Thorns after three seasons there. She is one of the more notable free agents this off-season and the Washington Spirit and NJ/NY Gotham FC are also interested in signing her ahead of the 2024 season.

Americans in Midweek Action

There are a number of American players who will be playing games this week, so make sure you have some of these marked down on your calendar. First up is a match that could feature up to three players currently in the USMNT pool, as Jordan Pefok, Joe Scally, and Borussia Monchengladbach will face Kevin Paredes and Wolfsburg in the DFB Pokal. Tomorrow sees Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson, and Fulham playing Matt Turner’s Nottingham Forest, although the USMNT’s starting goalkeeper is not likely to play. The week finishes with Juventus and Weston McKennie facing Napoli in league play, although Tim Weah is still an injury doubt.

USWNT Aims for Change in Mentality

The 2024 calendar year is going to be an important one for the United States Women’s National Team, and the team wants to start it off on the right foot. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore is viewing today’s match against China as a chance for the team to continue building a new identity and to keep developing tactically after a disappointing early exit from this summer’s World Cup. While Emma Hayes has been named the team’s new head coach, she won’t officially join up until Chelsea’s club season ends in May. Until that happens, there’s plenty of work to be done with the Gold Cup just around the corner in March, followed by the Olympics in Paris in July.

The Soccer Tournament Adds Women’s Competition

Following the success of last year’s first edition of The Soccer Tournament, the organizers have added a women’s competition for next summer’s event. The seven-a-side tournament will now also feature an eight-team women’s bracket which will also have a $1 million prize up for grabs. The decision was made after an all-women’s team led by Heather O’Reilly drew significant support when it competed last year, despite not picking up a win. The men’s tournament will also be expanding to 48 teams for this year’s competition, after featuring 32 participants during the summer.

Free Kicks

  • Ramiro Enrique has been called up to Argentina’s training camp for its 2024 Olympic team.
  • Orlando City’s documentary about the 2022 U.S. Open Cup victory has won a Suncoast Emmy.
  • In the 2023 Women’s College Cup final, Florida State beat Stanford 5-1 to win its fourth national championship.

That’s all that I have for today. Y’all stay safe out there.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/4/23

Crew to host MLS Cup final, LAFC returns to MLS Cup, Tim Howard to be inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Good Monday morning, Mane Landers. The weekend brought us some drama-filled conference final action, and we now know who will play for the MLS Cup. But before I dive into that, I just want to take a quick minute to say with mixed emotions that this will be my final Lion Links here, but don’t be sad, because the rest of the boys will still be bringing your daily content needs and coverage. I’ll be stepping away as my wife and I are soon to be first-time parents, and I’m looking forward to all that entails. I appreciate each and every one of you readers for taking the time to scroll through my articles each week. If you’re interested in writing for TML, we could definitely use the help so please reach out. Now, let’s get into the links!

Columbus Crew Claim Hell Is Real Comeback

After a rocky start, the Columbus Crew became the first team to overcome a two-goal deficit on the road and advance in a single-leg round in the history of the MLS Cup playoffs. FC Cincinnati got off to a great start behind USMNT striker Brandon Vasquez, who opened the scoring, but it was captain Luciano Acosta’s sublime free kick finish that stole the show in the first half.

It took trusting the process and the tactics of their first-year manager Wilfried Nancy, but the Columbus Crew fought back with late match heroics to seal the victory. Forward Christian Ramirez bagged the game-winning goal in extra time in the 115th minute.

“You can only fight for someone like that,” said Ramirez. “So many times you can feel that you’re getting the bad end of the stick at certain moments, but I haven’t felt that. I think numerous guys understand how he sees the game now, and we respect that. We talk about writing our story in the Columbus Crew history; this chapter wasn’t done. We got one more week, one more game.”

LAFC Returns to MLS Cup

The league’s defending champion, LAFC, will once again be playing in the final match of the postseason. After frustrating the Houston Dynamo throughout the Western Conference final, LAFC won 2-0. Houston might have dominated the stat sheet in possession, passes, and passing accuracy, but really it was just playing into the gameplan of LAFC.

“We knew that’s what they wanted. They wanted the ball,” said LAFC right back Ryan Hollingshead. “They like to play this little tiki-taka in the middle of the field, these little movements, little one-twos, three of their guys just kind of pass the ball, but they’re going nowhere. And so we just said, do whatever you got, have the ball as long as you want. They created zero dangerous chances. They had a half-chance in the first half on a cross to Baird and that was it. And so a lot of these teams, it’s like, yeah, they’ve got possession, they may be moving the ball. But if they’re not creating dangerous chances, who cares?”

MLS Cup Final Preview

The Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew will host Western Conference champion LAFC at Field on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m for the MLS Cup. The match will be No. 53 across all competitions this campaign for LAFC, and a victory would make the club the first repeat winners since the 2011-2012 LA Galaxy. The storylines leading to the match will likely center around the possibility of it being Carlos Vela’s final game for LAFC, but for the Crew, the bench players will be the ones to watch. In the 65th minute of the Eastern Conference final, Head Coach Wilfried Nancy brought in Julian Gressel and Christian Ramirez, who both played a pivotal role in two of the three Columbus goals in the comeback victory.  The Crew last lifted the MLS Cup in 2020, defeating Seattle Sounders 3-0 at Historic Crew Stadium.

2024 National Soccer Hall of Fame

On May 4, the National Soccer Hall of Fame will induct its 2024 class. Most notable will be long-time USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played 121 matches for the United States and had a successful career in the English Premier League. Other inductees will be USWNT World Cup winner Tisha Venturini-Hoch, 1996 Paralympic captain Josh McKinney, and USL founder Francisco Marcos.

Orlando Reportedly Set to Host USMNT-Brazil Friendly

The United States Men’s National Team is reportedly far along in negotiations to face Brazil in Orlando for a friendly leading to next year’s Copa America. The Yanks and Brazil last met in September 2018 in a friendly match in East Rutherford, NJ. The United States will host the Copa America from June 19 to July 14 as one of six invited teams to the South American competition. Brazil enter as the defending champion and should prove a worthy test for the Stars & Stripes to tune up for the Southern American title.

Free Kicks

  • Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.

That’s a wrap for my personal writing here for a while. It has been a pleasure to bring some coverage to you all for the past couple seasons. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. Vamos Orlando!

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