After a lengthy weather delay, Orlando City battled with Inter Miami and won 1-0 thanks to an own goal from Damion Lowe. The shutout was a nice response from Orlando’s defense after conceding five goals to D.C. United earlier this week. All three of Orlando’s Designated Players started, but the offense had a hard time against Miami. Let’s dive into how each individual Lion performed in this win at Exploria Stadium.
GK, Pedro Gallese, 6.5 — His first and only save of the match was a huge one, making himself big and blocking a shot from Indiana Vassilev with his face in the seventh minute. It was a crucial stop to ensure Orlando didn’t fall into an early hole like it did Monday night. The rest of the night was fairly quiet for Gallese beyond coming out to collect dangerous balls from Miami into the box. His distribution was stellar, completing all but one of his 17 passes for a 94.1% success rate and connecting on four of his five long balls. This clean sheet was Gallese’s seventh of the year and first since May 14.
D, Kyle Smith, 6 — Playing at left back, Smith struggled at times to contain both DeAndre Yedlin and Vassilev. He wasn’t able to recover quickly enough after a turnover, leading to Vassilev’s shot on Gallese at point-blank range early in the match. He settled in a bit and received some help from Benji Michel to help keep Yedlin in check. Smith played every minute of the match and finished with two interceptions, a tackle, and a clearance. He also won three of his four aerial duels. Only one of his three attempted crosses connected, but it was a key pass that found Tesho Akindele late in the match. None of his four long balls were successful and he completed 83.9% of his 56 passes. The versatile defender has played everywhere along the back line this year, so let’s not forget he’s naturally a right back and is often playing out of position to fill gaps. After a rough game on Monday, this was a nice, albeit unspectacular, response from Smith.
D, Rodrigo Schlegel, 7 — The Argentine defender’s 88 touches were tied with Robin Jansson for the most on the team. The pair of center backs did well rotating the ball around so that Orlando could find new ways to attack. While he was only successful on one of his five long ball attempts, he did complete 90.5% of his 74 passes. He was solid on defense, contributing four clearances, three tackles, three interceptions, and two blocked shots. His tenacity helped him chase down attackers who got past him and step up and challenge players before they could make a play.
D, Robin Jansson, 7 — With Miami putting pressure on the team’s playmakers, Jansson completed 11 of his 16 long balls to help spark things on offense. The center back led the Lions with 75 passes, completing 88% of them, and contributed a key pass to break Miami’s lines and find Pereyra. His six clearances and three interceptions helped stop Miami in its tracks and he blocked a shot as well. It was a strong performance from the defender and he did it all without committing a foul or being booked for dissent.
D, Ruan, 6.5 — The right back was sprinting up and down his side of the field all night long and looked like the key to unlocking Miami’s defense in the second half. Ruan led the Lions with three key passes, using his speed to beat Christopher McVey and set up most of Orlando’s best chances. He should have had an assist after fizzing a ball in front of goal, but Michel couldn’t get his shot in the back of the net. Ruan made a nice run after a long series of possession from Orlando and got his head to the ball in the box, but Callender caught his attempt to center it. Both of his long balls were accurate and he was successful on 82.9% of his 41 passes as well. His quickness made him an asset in transition, but he could’ve done better during those opportunities with some better awareness to find an open teammate. His four unstable touches didn’t help matters on offense. Still, he was Orlando’s best weapon on offense. Ruan also showed plenty of hustle and had two tackles, even if his one-on-one defending could use some work.
MF, Cesar Araujo, 7.5 (MotM) — Araujo did a great job lending support on defense and frustrating opponents, leading Orlando with eight tackles and winning nine fouls. His role in the midfield was critical as he snuffed out plenty of Miami’s chances on the counter and hustled from start to finish. If Miami had the ball on Orlando’s side of the field, Araujo was usually there winning the ball back for his team. His passing could have been a bit better at times, but completing 83.7% of 49 passes isn’t terrible by any means and he had a key pass by finding Junior Urso in a dangerous spot at the top of the box. The 21-year-old is our Man of the Match for stopping Miami’s offense in transition and giving the midfield a needed edge.
MF, Junior Urso, 6.5 — The Bear had two shots and they were decent efforts. The first came in the first half and was blocked before going out for an Orlando corner. The second came after some great footwork to set up the shot, but Urso slipped on the wet field before shooting and couldn’t get it on frame. Urso saw plenty of the ball, playing every minute of the game and finishing with 75 touches and 63 passes at a strong 90.5% success rate. While he didn’t have a key pass or a cross, five of his six long balls found their target. He hasn’t scored in league play since March, but he did a good job setting up opportunities for himself to change that in this match.
MF, Mauricio Pereyra, 5.5 — Miami’s game plan was to smother Pereyra with constant pressure whenever the ball was in his vicinity and foul when needed. Lowe often came out to challenge him no matter how deep in the midfield Pereyra received the ball. He had a few miscues early on and made some uncharacteristic mistakes, including a bad giveaway that sent Vassilev in on goal. Pereyra’s only shot of the match was sent into orbit. He settled in a bit in the second half and finished with 41 passes at an 80.5% success rate. Pereyra had two key passes, a successful long ball, and one of his two crosses was accurate. He also contributed two tackles and a clearance to help out defensively.
MF, Benji Michel, 5 — In his 100th appearance as a Lion, Michel played on the left wing and contended with Deandre Yedlin throughout the match. Yedlin was aggressive on that side of the field and Michel often dropped back to help the back line deal with him. Michel had a golden opportunity to score in the 58th minute as he crashed the box and got on the end of a cross from Ruan, only to send the shot directly at Drake Callender. It was Michel’s only shot of the match and Orlando’s only shot on target. His only cross was unsuccessful, although he did a solid job beating his defender and whipping the ball into the box with his weak foot. He only had 20 touches and 11 passes at an 81.8% success rate in 69 minutes of action before being subbed off for Jake Mulraney. Time and time again, Orlando’s possession ended because of Michel losing possession and he finished with five unstable touches.
MF, Facundo Torres, 6.5 — The statistics won’t reflect just how active Torres was in this match. On offense, Torres worked hard to make sure he was an outlet for passes, constantly made runs to try unlocking the defense, and had his head on a swivel with the ball at his feet to find the open man. His two shots were tied for a team high, although neither ended up on target. The 22-year-old completed all but four of his 36 passes for a strong 88.9% completion rate. His only cross missed its mark and he didn’t have any key passes, but his one long ball was accurate. Torres supplied plenty of defensive pressure from start to finish and had two tackles. He wasn’t able to bend the game to his will and have the kind of performance needed to break the game wide open, but it was still a solid outing from the Designated Player.
F, Ercan Kara, 5.5 — It was a quiet night for the Austrian forward as he wasn’t able to make much of an impact. Kara didn’t receive much service due to Miami’s defensive pressure on Orlando’s playmakers and a lack of crossing from the wings while he was on the field. He also didn’t have any aerial duels at all in the match, although he did have a clearance during one of Miami’s corner kicks. Regardless of the service, Kara needed to find ways to get involved while the team hunted for a goal. It was the first time this season that Kara started a match and didn’t record a shot. He only had 14 touches and completed eight of his 11 passes for a 72.7% success rate before coming off in the 68th minute.
F, Tesho Akindele (68’), 6 — The Canadian forward made some nice runs in the lead up to his first shot of the match. Akindele made a well-timed dash out wide to receive the ball in space and then held up play for Torres and Ruan to catch up and set up a shot for him that he sent wide. His second shot was a headed effort from a good cross by Smith that Akindele couldn’t make clean contact on. He had seven touches, completed one of his two passes, contributed a tackle, and won both of his aerial duels. The 30-year-old is still on the hunt for his first goal this year, but he did well coming off the bench to use fresh legs and his size to win the ball up the field.
MF, Jake Mulraney (69’), 6.5 — Mulraney’s only cross of the match was technically unsuccessful, but it resulted in the lone goal of the match. The Irishman’s cross in stoppage shouldn’t have caused any problems for Miami, but Lowe’s desperate attempt to clear it resulted in an own goal. It’s hard to give Mulraney much credit, but plays like that can’t happen unless the ball is put into the box. Mulraney had nine touches and completed all seven of his passes. It was his first time coming off the bench since May, with Michel getting the start on the wing opposite Torres.
F, Alexandre Pato (78’), N/A — Pato came on for Pereyra late in the match and had five touches, all in the opposing half. He completed two of his three passes, including a nice headed pass to lay the ball off to Urso that eventually led to Mulraney’s cross and the own goal. There weren’t any flashes of brilliance after coming off the bench from Pato in this one as he had no shots or key passes.
D, Michael Halliday (86’), N/A — The 19-year-old came on late and had nine touches while completing all five of his passes. His only cross could’ve been better, but it came after he won the ball in the air and dribbled down the wing himself. After the own goal, Halliday did his part to kill off the game. Halliday looked good when on the ball in this one and a congested schedule this month could mean more minutes for him in the near future.
That’s how I saw each player’s performance in Orlando’s home win over Inter Miami. Make sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below and vote for your Man of the Match.
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Lion Links: 12/1/23
Rodrigo Schlegel fined, MLS roster updates, USWNT faces China tomorrow, and more.
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.
- 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!
Lion Links: 11/30/23
Orlando City faces big questions, Matt Miazga suspended, Emma Hayes meets USWNT for first time, and more.
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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lion Links: 12/1/23
2023 Orlando Pride Season in Review: Kylie Strom
Lion Links: 11/30/23
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