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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. D.C. United: Final Score 5-3 as Lions Embarrassed at Home



D.C. United came in as one of the league’s most disappointing teams and was streaking the wrong way with no wins in six games, but that all changed in a 5-3 win over Orlando City at Exploria Stadium. United (5-9-2, 17 points) won for the first time since May 7, and got only its second road win of the season, while Orlando (7-7-4, 25 points) fell back below .500 at home (4-5-0) despite trying to stage a dramatic comeback from a 3-0 deficit.

Taxi Fountas scored a hat trick in the first 51 minutes of the game to put his team comfortably ahead and although the Lions rallied twice to get within a goal, continued mistakes in transition allowed D.C. to just keep scoring. Kimarni Smith and Nigel Robertha each scored their first goal of the season to offset the comeback attempt started by Facundo Torres, which also saw Ercan Kara and Alexandre Pato get on the scoresheet.

“Difficult result,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “Today in the first half we looked disconnected and I really gotta take that responsibility. Obviously we didn’t like that 25 minutes. I think this is the moment where I have to take responsibility. I think today they showed the spirit that they have as a group, just trying to bounce back and I have to review it well. I have to help them.”

Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan. Sebas Mendez joined Junior Urso in central midfield behind an attacking line of Jake Mulraney, Mauricio Pereyra, and Pato, with Kara up top.

The Lions played the first half like they thought the game started at 7:30 rather than 7 p.m., falling down two goals inside of the game’s first eight minutes. Fountas scored both goals easily, taking crosses in from D.C.’s right flank as United players abused Smith, beating him repeatedly.

Ruan sent in an early cross that a defender got a piece of, which unfortunately sent it to goalkeeper Rafael Romo and kept it away from Kara, who was crashing the net in the second minute. Shortly after that, D.C. seized control.

Drew Skundrich discarded Smith and fed a pass to Chris Durkin on the right side of the box. Durkin picked out Fountas, who was unattended and he picked, and hit, his spot, to make it 1-0 in the fifth minute.

Three minutes later, a simple ball over the top found Michael Estrada, who received only token resistance from Smith on his way into the box. He picked out Fountas, who shrugged off Schlegel and tapped home to make it 2-0.

The Lions didn’t exactly respond but they did get a shot off in the 11th minute, as Urso fired an effort that was blocked. Three minutes later, Smith got forward into space and had a go from distance but he scuffed his shot badly and it dribbled in meekly on goal.

The best chance came in the 21st minute when Urso got an open look in the box but Romo made a good save. The Lions put the ball in the net in the 24th minute off a set piece but it was waved off on an obvious foul on Kara, who made contact with the keeper, preventing him from making the easy catch.

Orlando had a couple more chances before halftime. Pato found space just outside the area twice but both times he tried to really smash the ball and got under it, sending it into the stands. Mulraney had a great opportunity in first-half stoppage time but the ball was bouncing and he couldn’t get on top of it, sending another chance into the seats.

The Lions dominated possession (73%-27%), but the early two goals dictated that, as United felt comfortable staying organized on defense and forcing Orlando to earn its way through, which didn’t happen often. Orlando also had more shots (8-4), shots on target (3-2), corners (5-2), and passing accuracy (89.5%-62.7%). Despite the statistical advantages, the scoreboard showed much different story.

Orlando fashioned a scoring chance right after the restart. Pereyra fed Kara into the area on the left and the big Austrian evaded the goalkeeper, but he couldn’t get his shot on frame from the tight angle.

Five minutes later, Fountas put the game away on a set piece. Schlegel fouled Durkin near the left corner of the box and Julian Gressel lined up over it, tapping it to his right at the whistle. Fountas smashed a shot though Orlando’s disorganized wall and inside Gallese’s near post to make it 3-1 in the 51st minute.

It was only after going down three that the Lions started to make a game of it. Pato was sent down the right and had Kara breaking but he hit his cross too softly and Romo caught it. A minute later, Kara smacked a shot off the right post in the 55th minute.

Torres put the Lions on the board two minutes later. Taking a pass from Pereyra to his right, Torres moved to the middle and fired a shot that gave Romo no chance. Orlando had finally broken through in the 57th minute.

“I’m a player that likes to shoot from outside the box, especially when I’ve got a little space,” Torres said through a club translator. “When I got it outside the box, there was space, and I didn’t have any problem shooting.”

Gallese made a huge save on Estrada in the 60th minute to keep Orlando in the match.

Jansson then sent a perfect ball to Torres in the 64th minute down the right and the Uruguayan did well to take it down and send Ruan down the right, but the speedy Brazilian made a mess of his cross. However, the Lions pulled another goal back two minutes later.

Ruan was fouled near the corner flag by Brad Smith and Torres took the set piece. He fizzed a dangerous cross in that Kara met in midair and headed home to make it 3-2 in the 66th minute. It was Kara’s seventh goal of the season.

It seemed it was suddenly game on. Ruan won a corner when his cross attempt was cut out but the Lions could do nothing with it. Just after that, Pato and Benji Michel tried to work a passing sequence that didn’t come off and D.C. recovered, leading to the winning goal. Skundrich sent the ball to Smith, breaking behind the Orlando defense and he slotted it past Gallese to increase the advantage to 4-2.

Tesho Akindele came on for Ruan to add more attacking players to the mix and in the 78th minute, a ball in found Michel on the right. He headed the ball toward goal and it hit the outstretched arm of Brendan Hines-Ike. Referee Allen Chapman immediately pointed to the spot and then went over to look at the replay. After a short review, he came back and confirmed the penalty would be taken. Pato stepped up to the spot and hit it high to the left to pull Orlando to within 4-3 in the 80th minute.

The Lions had a golden opportunity to equalize in the 84th minute just after a corner kick. Jansson ended up picking up a loose ball near the top of the box and firing a shot that Romo blocked. The ball was just sitting in front of goal and Jansson ran toward the rebound but he couldn’t make contact with it and the chance evaporated. Seconds later, Akindele took a pass on the left side of the box. Romo came well off his line and blocked the shot to preserve D.C.’s lead.

Bad luck struck moments later when Pereyra pulled up after jumping up to catch a ball to take a throw-in quickly and he was subbed off for Jack Lynn. Pereyra will be evaluated Tuesday to determine the extent of the injury.

The Lions gave up a series of throw-ins in their own end as the seven minutes of stoppage time wound down and disaster struck on the last one. Cesar Araujo picked up a loose ball in the corner and tried to outlet to a teammate near the middle. Unfortunately, his pass went straight to Robertha, who sent the clinching goal past Gallese in the 96th minute.

Orlando ended up with a huge advantage in possession (72.9%-27.1%), corners (9-2), passing accuracy (88.1%-62.1%), and shots (19-9), and a slim advantage in shots on target (8-6). Nevertheless, a leaky transition defense proved costly. United entered the match with 18 goals scored in 16 games but exploded for five on this night in Orlando. That was plenty to offset the Lions’ biggest offensive output in a match this season — three goals.

“The second half was much better. We looked more like us,” Pareja said. “But the first two goals they took us in bad spots and that’s the price today.”

“It’s something that we need to fix,” Torres said of the team’s slow starts. “It’s frustrating, knowing that that’s been something that’s been hurting us right now. And we’re missing that consistency in our game. We’ve seen it. We need to continue tracking back defensively and make sure that we’re helping out.”

The Lions will try to bounce back this Saturday when Tropic Thunder rival Inter Miami visits Exploria Stadium.

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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Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/29/23

Orlando Pride players called up by Brazil, MLS announces 2023 Best XI, latest MLS roster moves, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Hello, Mane Landers I hope all is well down in Florida. I’ve been very busy working throughout the holiday weekend at Under Armour. This week I’ll be working at Wrigley Field for Winterland while getting ready to cover high school wrestling tomorrow night. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.

Pride Players Called Up By Brazil for Friendlies

Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle and forwards Marta and Adriana have been called up to the Brazil Women’s National Team for its upcoming friendlies.

Brazil will play two matches against Japan on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 in Sao Paulo before playing Nicaragua on Dec. 6 at Estadio Fonte Luminosa in Araraquara.

MLS Announces the 2023 Best XI

Major League Soccer announced its 2023 Best XI, recognizing the league’s top players at each position. There were no Orlando City players selected for the team and eight players received the honor for the first time. Those players are St. Louis City’s Roman Burki and Tim Parker, FC Cincinnati defender Matt Miazga, Atlanta United duo Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis, Houston Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera, LAFC’s Denis Bouanga, and Columbus Crew forward Cucho Hernandez. Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar made the Best XI for the third consecutive time, while teammate Walker Zimmerman was named to it for the fifth time. MLS MVP Luciano Acosta of FC Cincinnati rounds out the list.

Latest MLS Off-season Roster Moves

The Colorado Rapids announced their latest roster changes as they prepare for the the 2024 season under new Head Coach Chris Armas. The club exercised its options for defender Andrew Gutman, midfielder Ralph Priso, and forward Calvin Harris. The Rapids declined contract offers to seven players, with the most notable names being defender Steven Beitashour and goalkeeper William Yarbrough, although the Rapids are in discussions about re-signing Yarbrough. Elsewhere, the New England Revolution exercised the permanent transfer option on forward Tomas Chancalay, signing him to a Designated Player contract through 2026, with a club option for the 2027 season.

UEFA Champions League Roundup

Champions League action returned in Europe, as we get close to wrapping up the group stage in a couple of weeks. Manchester City overcame a two-goal deficit to beat RB Leipzig 3-2 and win Group G. Newcastle United had a chance to qualify for the round of 16 but gave up a late penalty to Paris Saint-Germain, which Kylian Mbappe converted to end the match in a 1-1 draw. Borussia Dortmund beat AC Milan 3-1 to book its spot in the knockout stage. PSG, Newcastle, and AC Milan are all still alive in Group F heading into the final matchday in December. Shakhtar Donetsk won 1-0 against Royal Antwerp and also still has a shot to advance on the final matchday. Lazio, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Young Boys all won their respective matches as well. Today’s matches include Manchester United on the road against Galatasaray, Real Madrid taking on Napoli, and Sevilla facing off with PSV Eindhoven.

Free Kicks

  • Concacaf has announced that BMO Stadium, Dignity Health Sports Park, Shell Energy Stadium, and Snapdragon Stadium will be the four venues that will host matches for the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup.
  • Barcelona midfielder Gavi will be sidelined for up to 10 months after undergoing knee surgery after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee.
  • The International Football Association Board approved a trial for sin bins, meaning players punished for dissent or specific tactical offense would be temporarily removed from the match for a set amount of minutes.
  • You have got to see this goal from Cwrt Rawlin FC in the Welsh seventh division.

That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Wednesday and I’ll see you next time.

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