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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. D.C. United: Final Score 2-1 as Lions Choke Away All Three Points in Stoppage Time



Orlando City played an outstanding first half and solid road match overall but threw away all three points by allowing the tying and winning goals in a 2-1 loss to D.C. United at Audi Field. The Lions (8-9-6, 30 points) threw away a one-goal lead in the second half for the third consecutive road match but made it worse by allowing a second to host D.C. (6-12-3, 21 points) in its first match under new manager Wayne Rooney.

Junior Urso’s wondergoal put the Lions ahead in the first half but two huge missed chances on empty nets cost the team what would have been a commanding lead. Still, it was hard to imagine Orlando getting nothing from the game until Chris Durkin and Taxi Fountas scored in the 91st and 95th minutes, respectively.

With tonight’s loss, the Lions were swept in the season series by the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

“We have tremendous pain on tonight’s result after a great first half and part of the second one too,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We just ended up giving up a result that was very important for us. I think I did not coach them well, especially in the second half. I take that responsibility. I feel like I could have done a much, much better job of helping them.”

Pareja’s lineup reflected a “they can rest when they’re dead” attitude toward squad rotation, as the gaffer made no changes to the lineup that played Wednesday night in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals. Pedro Gallese started in goal behind a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo and Junior Urso took up their customary spots in central midfield behind an attacking line of Alexandre Pato, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Benji Michel in the striker role.

Despite a lack of rest, the Lions started the game on the front foot, harassing the hosts in their own end, causing turnovers, and getting numbers quickly into the attack. The waves of attack started in the fourth minute, with a fantastic pass from Pato sending Ruan down the right side. The right back’s crossing pass for Michel was just a tad too far out in front, however.

Three minutes later, Urso caused a turnover in the attacking third but Pereyra overcooked the entry pass. In the eighth minute, Michel sent a weak header on target that didn’t worry the goalkeeper. Nevertheless, the Lions grabbed the lead moments later.

Pato chipped a pass over the defense to Urso on the right side to create an attack in the ninth minute. Urso finished that attack with a chip of his own, sending an absurd ball over Rafael Romo and into the inside netting from the right side near the top of the box.

“Always in my career when I have that chance, I never tried to put it over the keeper,” Urso said of his unusual goal. “I always tried to bring the ball and tried to score on a hard shot. But today I had good confidence to do that. If I had the opportunity, I would change my goal for the three points.”

The rest of the first half seemed like a series of plays designed to test the will of all Orlando City fans, as the Lions continued to get into good scoring positions but refused to put a second shot in the net.

That started in the 19th minute when Torres took the ball down the left and fed into the box to Pato, who fired over the bar. Moutinho headed a recycled corner kick ball across the box to Michel in front in the 24th minute but he took too many touches and had his attempt blocked in front.

Urso sent a header wide in the 26th minute off a good cross from Ruan before the really egregious errors started. The first was a perfect ball over the top from Pereyra that sent Michel and Pato in behind the defense on the right. Michel pulled Romo way out of goal and fed to Pato, who turned and missed the gaping wide, goalkeeper-free net in front of him in the 28th minute.

In the 37th minute, Urso went for a brace with a good, low shot toward the right corner, but Romo made a good last-ditch diving save. A minute later, Michel had a worse miss than Pato’s empty-net whiff. Torres cut a beautiful ball back across the top of the six and Romo was caught at his post, but the Orlando attacker missed the net. The game could have been well over at that point but the Lions just weren’t ruthless enough.

Urso fired another shot at Romo in the 42nd minute but it was straight at the goalkeeper, giving him no trouble. It was the last decent look at goal for either side in the first half and the Lions took a 1-0 lead into the break that should have been three times that.

Orlando’s dominance in the game may not have shown on the scoreboard, but it did on the stat sheet, with the Lions leading in possession (51.8%-48.2%), shots (10-1), shots on target (4-1), corners (2-1), and passing accuracy (90.9%-87.3%).

The second half began a bit more evenly played after D.C. sent on Martin Rodriguez to add width to the midfield, substituting off Sofiane Djeffal. United found its footing in the match after Pereyra subbed off in the 55th minute for Andres Perea and started to create opportunities and get more possession in the attacking third.

“He came out with a pain in his knee,” Pareja said of Pereyra’s substitution. “He let us know in the middle of the game. We decided to continue in the second half with him and after 10 minutes or so the pain was increasing and he couldn’t continue. We lost control in there with the ball. I thought we had a lot of connections from (Pereyra) dropping those 10-15 yards and creating from there.”

The first warning sign for Orlando came in the 61st minute when a cross from Jackson Hopkins found Fountas in front for a golden opportunity. Gallese made himself big and came up with a huge save to protect the lead. The hosts sent the rebound wide.

Pato made a good run through the D.C. defense in the 64th minute but his shot was deflected out for a corner by Brendan Hines-Ike.

Pato had another look — this time in space at the left corner of the box — in the 69th minute but he missed the target again.

Orlando got sloppy in the late stages (almost like a team that played a midweek cup semifinal). A poor exchange in midfield gave the ball away in Orlando’s defensive third in the 71st minute but Hopkins sent his shot wide. Moments later, Ravel Morrison had his shot at the top of the area blocked.

The rest of normal time consisted mostly of Orlando doing well to hold the ball and eat up minutes and it seemed as though the Lions would come home with all three points but disaster struck in the 91st minute with a simple ball over the top to Ola Kamara on D.C.’s left side. Kamara cut back a diagonal pass to Durkin who sent it past Gallese to pull the hosts level.

Ruan was shaken up on the play and the time spent tending to him cost the Lions the point they still had, because it turned four minutes of stoppage into more than six. Kimarni Smith sent a ball into the area and this time Fountas didn’t leave his shot where Gallese could reach it.

The D.C. Designated Player’s winner in the 95th minute seemed a harsh result for Orlando but that’s what can happen when a team wastes sitters like the ones the Lions missed.

United turned most of Orlando’s statistical advantages around in the second half, finishing with more possession (56.3%-43.7%), passing accuracy (90.3%-89.7%), and corners (4-3). Orlando still had more shots (15-8), but each team finished with four on target.

“They added more numbers up front and started creating some sequences that for us were difficult to sustain, especially on the left side with the winger that they brought up,” Pareja said. “But then that’s circumstances in that moment we needed to have control the way we did it in the first half and we couldn’t do it.”

“I think the last 10 minutes were terrible,” Urso said. “The first half, we were really good on the field. In the second half we were really deep and then they had more control of the game. I think we have to keep more attention.

“Oscar puts us on the field to do what he says. He tells us to keep the ball and try to find space to score the goals, but sometimes we don’t try that. Sometimes we just stay and wait on the (other) team coming, so this is not the idea of Oscar. So, I think we have to follow what he says. And sometimes we don’t follow, we just defend there and wait for the other team coming, so I think we made a mistake.”

Apart from the U.S. Open Cup, it was a July to forget, and a critical month to get through. The Lions hardly navigated it in optimal fashion and continue to be fragile when the game most calls for nerve — moments in front of net and defending late against teams throwing numbers forward.

It’s something that needs to be fixed quickly or Orlando City will be on the outside of the playoff chase at season’s end.

The Lions will get a bona fide normal work week, returning to action next Saturday night when the New England Revolution visit 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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