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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2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Junior Urso
The Bear returned unexpectedly in the middle of the season to bolster the Orlando midfield.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
- 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.
- David de Gea is reportedly open to signing for Newcastle United following Nick Pope’s shoulder dislocation.
- The English FA has charged Manchester City with failing to control its players, following Erling Haaland’s reaction on social media to a decision made by referee Simon Hooper.
That’s all that I have for today. Y’all stay safe out there.
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.
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 Lower.com 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.
- Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.
- Liverpool scored in the 87th and 88th minutes to win 4-3 and climb to second in the EPL standings on 31 points.
- Manchester City and Tottenham played to a thrilling 3-3 draw that might find Erling Haaland charged by the English Football Association for criticizing the performance of the referees.
- Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen saw an eight-game winning run in the league come to an end with a 1-1 draw.
- Inter Milan secured a 3-0 victory at Napoli to reach the top of the Serie A table.
- Arsenal will face Liverpool in a massive FA Cup third-round clash in January.
- Wrexham reached the third round of FA Cup after defeating Yeovil Town 3-0.
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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