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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Atlanta United: Final Score 1-1 as Lions Throw Away Second Road Lead This Week



For the second time this week, Orlando City struck first but then produced no offense at all, conceded late, and settled for a 1-1 draw. This time it was against rival Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Lions (8-7-6, 30 points) got an early goal from Mauricio Pereyra, but then struggled to find any possession beyond midfield for the rest of the game, and generated next to nothing in the attack. Atlanta (6-8-6, 24 points) generated plenty but once again Pedro Gallese helped his team at least earn one point after Juan Jose Purata equalized.

“A great point for us. Very proud of the work the players did in the field,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “Obviously, there is a lot of things that we would like to get better at, but at this stage of the season, this amount of games, the point is very, very valid for us against a rival that — especially in the second half — threw all that they had, and we couldn’t keep the ball and keep it away from those attacking sides.”

Pareja’s lineup included Gallese in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo and Junior Urso manned the central midfield behind an attacking line of Jake Mulraney, Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Ercan Kara up top. Joao Moutinho and Adam Grinwis returned to the team sheet on the Orlando bench.

The Lions started quickly and won several early set pieces. They made one pay off 10 minutes in due to a pair of Atlanta mistakes. Torres was losing the ball at the top of the box when George Campbell kicked him with a meaty challenge to draw the whistle. While goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo was setting up his wall on his left, he was still in that position well after the whistle blew and Pereyra smashed a perfect free kick into the inside netting on the opposite side of the goal to make it 1-0.

“I was waiting to shoot over the wall and then I listened to the whistle and the keeper stayed on the other post,” Pereyra said. “And I just kicked the ball. Always in soccer you should be more concentrated and be smarter, and I took advantage of that.”

It was Pereyra’s first goal since May of 2021.

After the goal, the rest of the first half was all Atlanta — to the point where I’m not even sure Kara touched the ball again before halftime with the exception of one or two aerial attempts that skipped off his head and to the defense when Orlando sent the ball long.

The hosts had a number of dangerous chances, starting in the 17th minute when a perfect ball from Luiz Araujo found Marcelino Moreno over the top. Rather than shooting first time, Moreno took a touch, which allowed Ruan to knock it free. Jansson did just enough to thwart the second ball in.

Much of the remainder of the opening period was spent in Orlando’s half. Atlanta won a series of set pieces and the Lions looked to counter but were never able to do so. In the 23rd minute, Aiden McFadden got a couple of crosses in. Torres cleared the first one down the pitch and the second was too close to Gallese.

Purata smashed a shot wide from distance in the 27th minute, just moments after Amar Sejdic sent a free kick from the right straight at Gallese.

Torres let Atlanta off the hook for an errant pass in its own third in the 33rd minute by collecting the loose ball and then promptly dribbling into a thicket of three defenders, where he was dispossessed.

Ronaldo Cisneros did well to direct a free kick cross on target while falling away from goal in the 38th minute, however, Gallese was able to tip the shot over the bar and Schlegel cleared the ensuing corner.

There was a scary moment late when Moreno beat Smith at the end line and dribbled into the area. While standing behind the end line the two players tangled and Moreno visibly flopped. There was a loud penalty shout from the crowd — less so from the Atlanta players — and Victor Rivas held up play for the video assistant referee to have a look, but there was nothing given.

Jansson cleared a late free kick service and that was it for the first half in which the Lions did nothing but defend after their 10th-minute goal.

Atlanta finished the half with more possession (58.1%-41.9%), shots (3-2), corners (2-1), and passing accuracy (86.7%-82.1%). Each team managed one shot on target.

The second half was, if anything, even more lopsided in favor of the hosts than the final 30 minutes of the first. The Lions struggled to string together two passes and could scarcely get out of their own half.

“The strategy since the beginning was to reduce the spaces between the lines of (Atlanta), where they have very crafty players who can use those spaces,” Pareja said. “And on the other side, we wanted as well to have control of the ball and create some sequences that provide us some chances. I think we did it in the first half. In the second half, we knew the reaction of Atlanta was coming. We were not very clear in keeping the sequences longer, and then it was heavy to maintain our team in a different place on the field. We couldn’t keep the ball.”  

Mulraney conceded a free kick in the 49th minute and Ruan followed that up by conceding the first of several corners he gave Atlanta shortly after that. Despite the set pieces, it was Sejdic who got the first real look at goal in the second half, but he fired wide of the left post in the 54th minute.

Tesho Akindele and Benji Michel were sent on for Kara and Mulraney to add fresh legs but not much changed on the field. Atlanta, getting all of the attack and rarely being threatened, threw even more offense on the pitch after that, introducing Josef Martinez and Thiago Almada.

Orlando won a corner on a rare foray up the field in the 64th minute but it was Atlanta that nearly scored off of it. The clearance turned into a transition opportunity and multiple Lions failed to break it up until Araujo finally tracked down the ball and made a good play to prevent a scoring chance.

Pareja sent on Carlos and Perea for Smith and Torres to try to find some more width on the defensive end and create some natural outlets since the team couldn’t get out of its own third. That didn’t work as well as he’d hoped as poor passes and anywhere-will-do clearing nearly always found an Atlanta player instead and in fact the move ended up costing the Lions moments later.

On a long-range set piece, Perea was lined up by Purata and was late stepping up, keeping him onside. Carlos was the next closest defender but expected Perea to have Purata covered. As a result, the Atlanta defender got in alone behind the defense and headed home the service from Almada to make it 1-1 in the 71st minute.

Former Lion Dom Dwyer spelled Cisneros three minutes later and his introduction gave the Atlanta offense an additional boost.

After Orlando defended a few more set pieces — and Jansson did well to smother a cross attempt in the six after a turnover by Carlos — Martinez fired just wide in transition in the 80th minute after a poor touch by Pereyra turned the ball over near midfield. Two minutes later, Gallese made a huge save to thwart a 2-v-1 opportunity and although the rebound fell to Martinez, the bounce was too much for him to handle. Then, Gallese made an even bigger stop moments later. Dwyer received the ball at the top of the area and was able to turn and smash a hard shot toward the upper left corner. Gallese somehow got over and got a hand to it to keep the game tied in the 82nd minute.

“We are trying to get better in the offensive side and (figuring out) how can we keep the ball longer and how can we create actions since we’re still battling with that side of the game,” Pareja said. “We have been depending a lot on our defenders to maintain us in the games and Pedro is part of them. It’s not what we want when Pedro has to work that much. He is part of our team. He’s doing a good job. Hopefully in the next (games) we don’t make him work that hard.”

The save took its toll on El Pulpo, who had to receive treatment from the training staff after landing on his right shoulder following the acrobatic save.

Martinez nearly single-handedly provided a late winner for the host a few times down the stretch. In the 89th minute, he fired a blast just over the bar. In the 92nd minute, Martinez hit the post on a transition opportunity.

The Lions nearly stole all the points in the 94th minute. Second-half sub Alexandre Pato ended up with the ball just outside the top of the area. He fired a hard, low shot to the right that crashed off the post, coming within inches of finding a winner.

Moreno hit a shot wide in the 95th minute and the Lions had to survive a 97th-minute corner to bring home a point.

Atlanta dominated on the stat sheet as much as it did on the field after the 10th minute, finishing with much more possession (61.9%-38.1%), shots (18-3), shots on target (4-1), corners (10-2), and passing accuracy (88%-80.6%).

This is a game Orlando could have lost by four or five goals if the Five Stripes had been a little more accurate with shots or if Gallese hadn’t come up huge a few times. The Lions were fortunate to get anything from a performance like this, but they’ll take it because it was on the road in a rivalry game. The performance, however, underlined the problems this year’s team has — primarily the imbalance between the offensive and defensive ends of the pitch.

“It’s something that we need to keep improving and growing up together,” Pereyra said about Orlando’s league-worst minus-10 goal differential in the final 30 minutes this season. “We know that defending is not just a thing from defenders and the goals are not just a thing for the forwards. It’s a collective thing and we are a group and we try to pull together.”

The Lions are right back in action Wednesday night in a midseason friendly against Arsenal. The next Orlando City regular-season match will take place Saturday when the Lions host the Philadelphia Union at 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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