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Orlando City vs. Arsenal, International Friendly: Final Score 3-1 as Lions Fall vs. Gunners

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Orlando City played like the better side for 45 minutes in a midseason friendly against Arsenal, but the English Premier League giants took control in the second half en route to a 3-1 win over the Lions at Exploria Stadium. Facundo Torres canceled out an early Arsenal goal but Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson scored after the hour mark to put the match away.

“That exposure today was positive,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said about the club’s showing. “I think in the first half especially, we had a lot of personality. And I’ve gotta say that probably we were the best team on the field. And then we knew who is Arsenal and after that they started getting on top of us.”

The start of the match was delayed by more than an hour due to lightning in the vicinity of the stadium. Fans huddled on the concourse or waited in their cars through a heavy downpour, and nearly every time it seemed the skies would calm, another lightning strike came. Eventually, Mother Nature let the lads play.

Pareja’s lineup included a lot of starters despite the heavy weather and congested fixture schedule, offering Arsenal the respect of at least beginning the game with close to a full-strength starting XI. Pedro Gallese started in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Michael Halliday. Cesar Araujo was joined in central midfield by Andres Perea, behind an attacking midfield line of Jake Mulraney, Torres, and Benji Michel, with Alexandre Pato as the striker.

Many fans were surprised to see so many regulars — and some key starters play a lot — in the midst of a heavy schedule. Pareja said he rested Mauricio Pereyra and Ercan Kara as a precautionary measure but wanted some players who needed to regain their rhythm some minutes — particularly Carlos, Pato, Perea, and Moutinho, who saw his first minutes since pulling up prior to the road game at Cincinnati.

“You always want to compete,” Pareja said. “They don’t want to lose games. They want to compete. They don’t want to come off. They want to stay (in the game). It was a great experience for the club.”

Halliday mostly played well, particularly in the opening 20 or 25 minutes, although he did show his inexperience a few times. One of his few errors was when he had a good chance to get in a cross with the Lions in transition and didn’t hit it well, sending it over everyone.

“It’s crazy to me, being so young and just coming into it so quickly, like with the national team, getting minutes there, building experience, and then hopping from there into playing vs. Arsenal,” Halliday said. “I’m critical to myself on mistakes I make, but a pretty solid performance, but I definitely want more and I think a lot of that just comes with more experience and more minutes played.” 

It didn’t take the Premier League side long to score but it was unlucky for Orlando. Gabriel Martinelli played a nice 1-2 with Sambi Lokango and fired the return pass toward goal. The ball hit Carlos in the back and changed directions, which gave Gallese no chance to stop it and Arsenal was up 1-0 just five minutes in.

Orlando kept its shape well in the first half and the Lions were accurate with long balls and switches, which led to more chances than the visitors. Pato had a great opportunity in the 10th minute but got under his shot and sent it into the stands. Michel’s pass to him bounced and the forward just didn’t make good contact.

Michel should have leveled the game in the 24th minute when Torres sent him a good through ball. The Orlando Homegrown Player was away for a breakaway but fired straight at goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who made the save to preserve the Gunners’ lead. Michel and other Lions were able to take advantage of Arsenal center backs Rob Holding and Pablo Mari throughout the first half, particularly with direct balls and timely switches of play.

Torres tied the match five minutes later. Taking a good long ball from Carlos, he fired from the top of the semicircle just outside the area and sent a perfect strike inside the right post to tie the match at 1-1.

Araujo did well to block a shot by Eddie Nketiah off an Arsenal corner kick in the 37th minute to keep things level.

Perea was teed up at the top of the area in the 44th minute but he sent his shot into the upper deck, paying his respects to Carlos Rivas.

Arsenal had the last decent look in first-half stoppage, as Nketiah did well to free himself up in the box for a shot but hit it wide of the right post. The teams went to the break level at 1-1.

Orlando City held more possession (55%-45%), won more corners (2-1), attempted more shots (5-3), and got more on target (3-1). The Lions were also more accurate in the passing game (86.4%-85.7%).

The energy changed a bit after the break, possibly because Arsenal brought on Gabriel Jesus, who fired his first shot attempt in the first minute of the second half, but it was straight at Gallese.

Mulraney made a good move to beat his defender in the 52nd minute but his cross in for Michel was too close to substitute goalkeeper Matt Turner.

A minute later, Jesus fired a shot from distance that seemed to catch Gallese a bit off guard. He made the save but couldn’t control the rebound, which resulted in an Arsenal corner but the Lions dealt with that. The visitors stayed on the front foot, with Nuno Tavares firing into the upper deck in the 57th minute. A minute later, Gallese made a big save on Nketiah in front and then had to knock aside an overzealous back pass from Halliday.

Arsenal regained the lead in the 66th minute during a scramble in the box. Substitute Kyle Smith slid across the area and tried to clear but only succeeded in teeing up a shot for Nketiah to knock into the net, making it 2-1.

The Lions tried to pull that goal back in the 71st minute when Tesho Akindele made a great move to get by a defender and picked out Michel with a good cross. Benji chested it down and then…well, I think he tried to play the ball over a defender to himself, but he didn’t come close to pulling it off, and the chance evaporated.

After another miss by Tavares from outside the box in the 79th minute, Arsenal put the match away. Reiss Nelson was left unattended by Ruan in the box and when the ball came to him, it was an easy finish. The Gunners led 3-1 in the 80th.

Granit Xhaka narrowly missed a free kick in the 86th minute and Gallese made a big save late on Nelson to prevent the final tally from getting any worse.

Arsenal turned all of the statistical advantages around in the second half, finishing with more possession (56.6%-43.4%), shots (19-5), shots on target (11-3), corners (4-2), and passing accuracy (90.3%-82.7%).

One of the main reasons Arsenal emerged in the second half was the introduction of starters Jesus, Xhaka, Martin Odegaard, and center backs Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba. The more solidified Gunners were going up against more tired starters and an assortment of substitutes that were either backups, OCB players, or — in the case of Ruan — just plain switched off.

In the end, the result doesn’t matter much and Orlando City at least acquitted itself well against a top European side.

“I was happy to see a very enjoyable game for the fans and against a fantastic rival,” Pareja said. “I was proud and ready to move on to the next one.”


With the friendly out of the way, Orlando City can focus on Saturday’s huge home match against the Philadelphia Union.

Orlando City

Orlando City Can Build Valuable Momentum in April

The last two games of April present a good chance for the Lions to keep building momentum ahead of a challenging May.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City got back to winning ways last Saturday and started a mini-undefeated streak in the process, as the Lions have now gone three games on the bounce without tasting defeat. OCSC has two more games to play during the month of April, and the scheduling gods have given the men in purple a chance to keep building on the recent run of good form, as a tricky and packed May schedule looms on the horizon. The last two April fixtures won’t be easy by any stretch, but an opportunity has presented itself if the Lions can play well and take advantage of it.

First, let’s turn our attention to Saturday’s game against CF Montreal up in Canada. Montreal currently has a record of 3-3-1 which is good for 10 points and eighth place in the Eastern Conference. These two teams faced each other in the very first game of the season, and it ended as a 0-0 draw, thanks largely in part to some shaky finishing on Orlando’s part and a couple excellent Pedro Gallese saves. Since then, Montreal has defeated a struggling FC Dallas team, an Inter Miami team that has looked equal parts unbeatable and extremely vulnerable at the back, and an FC Cincinnati side that so far has struggled to replace the goals of Brandon Vazquez. In other words, the wins haven’t come over bad teams, (aside from maybe Dallas) but rather teams that have had flawed, uneven starts to the season.

To be fair, many of the same criticisms could be leveled at Orlando City’s record. OCSC’s wins have come against Austin FC and D.C. United — two teams with leaky defenses that have each had uneven starts to the season — and the Lions have suffered losses that have ranged from uninspiring against Atlanta, to abhorrent against Miami. Where the two teams differ is that Orlando started the year battling on two fronts and then had key players missing through a combination of injury and international call-ups afterward. The Lions now have a nearly clean bill of health and looked much more cohesive with Wilder Cartagena and Cesar Araujo partnered in midfield once more — a welcome sight after some of the struggles that were endured when one or both were missing at various times.

The Canadian side also hasn’t kept a clean sheet since that opening game of the season against the Lions, a fact that could bode well for an Orlando side which has scored six goals in its last three games. As long as the defense can tighten up and not make the sorts of mental errors that led to goals against D.C. and the New York Red Bulls, there will be opportunities at the other end of the field for an attacking corps that has done a better job at putting the ball in the net than we saw during the first game of the season. In short, the game is a winnable one, and while getting road results in MLS is never easy, OCSC should feel reasonably confident about its chances to get points on its trip north of the border.

That leaves Toronto FC’s visit to the Purple Palace on Saturday, April 27. The Reds currently sit one spot below CF Montreal, in ninth place, with a record of 3-4-1 and 10 points. TFC’s victories have been over a New England team that has been struggling mightily, a Charlotte FC side that has had a decent but slightly inconsistent start to the year, and an Atlanta United outfit that can have the same said of it as Charlotte. The wins have all been solid ones, and the team looked pretty good in those three games.

On the flip side of things, the last of those wins came on March 23, with Toronto dropping its last three games in a row and conceding 10 goals in the process. They’ve got the second leakiest defense of any of the nine teams in the playoff places, while being tied with Cincinnati for scoring the fewest goals.

Then there’s the issue of player availability. The Reds’ injury list is a long one, with six players currently listed as out and an additional one as questionable. Among those listed out are Lorenzo Insigne, Richie Laryea, Brandon Servania, and Shane O’Neill. In other words, they’re likely to be missing guys that are key contributors for the team when healthy, and part of the recent losing streak can be attributed to dealing with the injury bug that’s bit the team with a vengeance. Playing on the road without a number of important key players is rarely a recipe for success, and Orlando City should have another good chance to pick up three points.


Now, this isn’t to say that taking all six points from these games is a foregone conclusion. MLS is a tricky league to get results in, and we have no way of knowing how the fortunes of Orlando, Montreal, and Toronto will change in the next eight days. But given the leaky defenses of the two Canadian sides, TFC’s injury situation, and Orlando City seemingly starting to find a better patch of form, the Lions have an opportunity to keep picking up points and climbing the Eastern Conference standings. Vamos Orlando!

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Lion Links: 4/19/24

Orlando Pride host the San Diego Wave, Orlando City B faces Crown Legacy FC, Europa League action, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

Happy Friday! Make sure to get your night plans in order as both the Orlando Pride and Orlando City B have games tonight. Figure out your drink of choice, charge those devices if you don’t plan on heading to the stadium for the Pride game, and knock out any chores before things get rolling. It should be a fun day, so let’s get it started with some links!

Orlando Pride Host the San Diego Wave Tonight

After earning their first win last week in Utah, the Orlando Pride are back in the City Beautiful for tonight’s game against the San Diego Wave at 8 p.m. The Pride’s four-game unbeaten run is on the line and will be put to the test against a Wave team that has four points from three games. San Diego has only scored two goals this season, but it has also secured a pair of clean sheets so far. The biggest storyline heading into the match is whether or not Barbra Banda will make her Pride debut. Hopefully Orlando can light it up at home and keep former Pride forward Alex Morgan and the rest of the Wave’s offense in check.

Orlando City B Takes On Crown Legacy FC

The Young Lions are also in action tonight at 7:30 p.m., with a match against Crown Legacy FC in North Carolina. Crown Legacy is only a point behind OCB, but is still searching for its first win of this MLS NEXT Pro season. OCB has played every game away from the Orlando area so far and ground out a 1-1 draw against Philadelphia Union II last weekend. Orlando hasn’t won a game since its season opener on March 16, but has been proven capable of getting points on the road. Wilfredo Rivera and Yutaro Tsukada linked up for the equalizer in that match, so hopefully they can keep that momentum rolling into tonight’s game.

Americans to Watch This Weekend

European soccer seasons and tournaments are nearing their ends and there are many Americans in important games this weekend. Haji Wright’s heroics put Coventry City into the FA Cup semifinals, and he will have a chance to impress again on Sunday against Manchester United. Elsewhere in England, Fulham duo Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream could put a dent in Liverpool’s title hopes, while Nottingham Forest’s Matt Turner and Giovanni Reyna will square off against Everton, as both sides aim to avoid relegation. Over in Italy, AC Milan duo Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah will try to stop Inter Milan from claiming the Serie A title in a rivalry match at San Siro. There’s also a showdown between Americans in the Scottish Cup semifinals, with Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers going up against Aberdeen and Dante Polvara.

Europa League Quarterfinals Come to a Close

The Europa League quarterfinals are done and dusted and only four teams remain in contention for some silverware. West Ham United took the lead against Bayer Leverkusen, but couldn’t overcome the aggregate deficit and the German club advanced. Leverkusen also scored a late equalizer to make it a 1-1 draw and extend its unbeaten streak to 44 games. Marseille scored at home against Benfica to send the game to extra time and then won the eventual penalty shootout. Atalanta did enough in a 1-0 loss to Liverpool to advance on aggregate, with Liverpool’s lone goal coming from an early Mohamed Salah penalty kick. AS Roma is also through to the semifinals after a 2-1 win against AC Milan, despite a red card in the first half. In the semifinals, Marseille will face Atalanta and Leverkusen will take on Roma.

Free Kicks

  • Houston Dynamo Head Coach Ben Olsen has agreed to a new contract that will keep him with the club through 2026. Olsen has quietly dragged the Dynamo out of the Western Conference’s basement and won last year’s U.S. Open Cup as well.
  • New York Red Bulls defender Andres Reyes was suspended an additional match for violent conduct in the team’s match against the Chicago Fire. This means Reyes will miss tomorrow’s match against LAFC and the home game against the Vancouver Whitecaps on April 27.
  • American left back Jorge Villafana is hanging up his cleats. He won the MLS Cup with the Portland Timbers back in 2015 and the Concacaf Gold Cup with the U.S. in 2017.
  • Replays won’t be a part of the FA Cup for the next six years. This will ease some of the schedule congestion for English Premier League teams, but it denies lower-division sides the chance at more revenue.
  • The folks over at Stars and Stripes FC shined a spotlight on forward Jubilo Iwata, who currently leads Japan’s J1 League in scoring after eight games. It’s always cool to learn more about some of the lesser-known players in the U.S. player pool.
  • An NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers will be played in Brazil at Corinthians Arena. However, there’s an unofficial rule at the stadium that green can’t be worn, as it is the color of Corinthians rival, so we’ll see if that’s adhered to come September.
  • Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird’s production company will adapt Cleat Cute, a romance novel by Meryl Wilsner about love between teammates on a women’s soccer team. As someone who’s read it and loved it, I’m pretty excited for the show to say the least.

That’s all I have for you today. Stay hydrated and enjoy the games today. Go Orlando!

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Orlando City

Orlando City at CF Montreal: Three Keys to Victory

What does Orlando City need to do on the road against CF Montreal to take home all three points ?

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City opened the season against CF Montreal, playing to a 0-0 draw at Inter&Co Stadium back in February. Now, the Lions head to the Great White North to play the pesky Canadian club again. There’s no Concacaf Champions Cup competition to worry about this time, so hopefully Orlando City can get a victory.

What does Orlando City need to do to follow up the D.C. United victory with another win?

Just Say No

Outscoring your opponents while giving up two goals is all well and good, but outscoring your opponents while also keeping a clean sheet is much better. Orlando City has given up 13 goals over seven matches. It’s actually worse than that considering that the club has two clean sheets meaning those 13 goals came in just five matches. The Lions need to do better at not conceding goals.

Of course, one of those clean sheets came against Montreal to start the season, and the entire defense is seemingly healthy and ready to go. Our old foe Josef Martinez is always a threat and Matias Coccaro has three goals for Montreal so far this season. Stopping them is crucial. If Orlando City can maintain the same defensive discipline it showed in the previous match against Montreal, it will make earning points on the road much easier.

Designated Player Goals

Orlando City has scored seven goals so far this season. Duncan McGuire leads the team with three goals, thanks to his goal last week. Do you know who hasn’t scored yet? If you said any of Orlando City’s Designated Players, you would be correct. I’m not going to ring any emergency bells just yet, but it’d be a lot cooler if Luis Muriel, Martin Ojeda, or Facundo Torres scored a goal this week.

I think they are all close to breaking out. Torres has scored this year, just not in the MLS regular season. Muriel has been getting closer each match, and is still contributing in other ways. The same can be said of Ojeda. My point is that the goals are coming. Perhaps a trip to another country is exactly what they need to get off the mark.

The Battle on the Wings

Orlando City will be playing against former Lion Ruan. He lines up on the right for Montreal and will be a challenge for either Rafael Santos or Kyle Smith, depending on who gets the start. Of course, if Ivan Angulo is playing in his usual role on the left side of Orlando City’s attack, there could be some interesting races between the two speedy players.

I think that the other side of the field is where the match might be won or lost. Since Orlando City fell out of the Concacaf Champions Cup, the team has been on a more regular schedule. That has allowed Dagur Dan Thorhallsson to regain his form in the right fullback position for the Lions. He scored a goal last week, has an assist on the season, four crosses, and 10 key passes. He is an integral part of Orlando City’s attack and if he can win the battles against Raheem Edwards and Joaquin Sosa on the right side of Montreal’s lineup, he could have another big night.


That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!

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