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Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Final Score 2-1 as Lions Qualify for MLS Cup Playoffs with Win



Facundo Torres’ second-half penalty kick goal snapped a 1-1 draw and lifted Orlando City to a 2-1 home win over the Columbus Crew at Exploria Stadium on Decision Day. With the victory, the Lions (14-14-6, 48 points) qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs while knocking the Columbus Crew (10-8-16, 46 points) out of postseason contention.

Junior Urso pulled the Lions back into the game after Derrick Etienne’s first-half goal had put the Crew on top to start the comeback and Orlando finished above .500 at home (9-8-0) after a difficult season at Exploria Stadium.

“Very happy and very proud of the club, of the community who had put Orlando City on the map of MLS as a protagonist, and a community, a club, who wants to fight for things,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We feel great, and obviously with a big responsiblity to continue, but it’s a great day for us. We overcome, that’s the culture of us — probably too much, but we’re enjoying it. It’s a very difficult game today with all the circumstances around it but the boys found a way to qualify and it’s a big thing for us.”

Pareja’s starting lineup included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a makeshift back line of Joao Moutinho, Rodrigo Schlegel, Kyle Smith, and Ruan. Cesar Araujo started in central midfield with Mauricio Pereyra playing his deep-lying playmaker role behind an attacking midfield line of Ivan Angulo, Junior Urso, and Facundo Torres, with Ercan Kara up top.

The Lions plodded through the opening 45 minutes, playing cautiously but offering very little bite in the attack. There were far too many attempts to play the most difficult pass available in transition and Columbus did well to limit space.

Despite that, Orlando had the first look at goal with Schlegel popping a weak header well over the bar seven minutes in. Ruan was chopped down by Pedro Santos in transition two minutes later and the Crew fullback was booked for it but the Lions did nothing with the set piece.

Urso tried a shot from distance in the 11th minute but it was deflected and fell easily in for Eloy Room to collect.

After that, the Crew started to settle into the game and keep possession. The Lions did pretty well to limit clear-cut opportunities but only Columbus seemed likely to score for the rest of the half.

Cucho Hernandez headed just barely over the bar in the 14th minute after Ruan gave Etienne too much space on the flank to get a cross in. It was a lazy first half throughout by the Brazilian and his casual jog back on the switch of play allowed Etienne to easily collect it and get into position to send in a dangerous ball.

In the 22nd, Ruan was called for his second (incidental) handball in as many games, giving the Crew a set piece on the left. The visitors played it short and nothing came of it.

Gallese made a huge save in the 35th minute on Hernandez, who shot from the top of the area and picked out a spot just inside the left post. Gallese got there just in time to knock it off the post and keep it out.

Columbus broke through in the 38th minute and it was Ruan in the middle of things again. Lucas Zelarayan gathered a crowd of defenders in the top of the box and Ruan was negligent in letting Etienne get inside to run onto a backheel pass, slotting it inside the far post to make it 1-0. Ruan could perhaps have stretched out to try to block the shot but instead Etienne’s look at goal was unimpeded.

Etienne hurt himself on the play and had to be replaced by former Lion Kevin Molino.

Predictably, Orlando came out of its defensive shell after the goal and looked to push forward but presented no danger in the closing moments of the first half. Kara should have won a free kick just outside the box in stoppage time but instead referee Alex Chilowicz called the Austrian for the foul. I watched the replay three times on my monitor and didn’t see him do anything that warranted a whistle.

Columbus held a slight edge in possession (50.9%-49.1%) and passed slightly more accurately (88.6%-88.3%), but the visitors had more shots (7-3), shot on target (3-1), and corners (3-0).

“We felt the first half that we had low energy,” Pareja said. “Not that we didn’t want it, but they were playing us, especially in the middle, just putting a lot of numbers there that we couldn’t resolve. Junior and Mauricio were running way too much. And then the times that we possessed the ball we were turning it (over) very quick as well. But the key in the second half when we spoke was just to be patient. Trust in us. Trust in your teammates. I saw them with energy there. It was not on the field but the energy was within us.”

“When the first half was over we were in the locker room and Oscar tried to push us,” Urso said. “That moment we were out of the playoffs so we tried to do our best to turn the game to put us inside again.”

The Lions were much better after the break, especially Urso. Pareja moved the team out of a double pivot and played Urso, Araujo, and Pereyra as a three-man midfield and it allowed the Lions to get more involved. Orlando was also able to win the ball further up the pitch as a result.

Pereyra nearly sent Kara in behind in the 51st minute but he hit the pass too hard. But the captain found his assist a few minutes later. Pereyra sent a pass to Urso at the top of the area and the Brazilian made a fantastic turn to beat his defender, then slotted his shot inside the post to tie the game at 1-1 in the 56th minute.

“In the moment of the goal, when Mauricio gave me the ball, I saw the defender was coming at my back,” Urso said. “So I just thought about the turn and tried not to put power on the shot, just to put it on the side and it was amazing. I try many times in training — I don’t know if you guys are there to see — there Mason (Stajduhar) stops my goals but this keeper, he don’t know me, so it was good. I’m happy.”

Two minutes later, the Lions should have had a free kick in a decent area outside the box when there was a handball but Chilowicz didn’t see it and the Crew broke the other way. The Lions were eventually able to snuff out the transition opportunity but Araujo was booked for a professional foul on the play.

Gallese did well to parry a Hernandez shot out of play in the 62nd minute and the Lions survived the set piece and a free kick conceded just outside the box by Schlegel.

Torres had been quiet in the match until the 80th minute, when he took a pass near the left corner of the box and fired a shot that forced a good save from Room to deny. On the ensuing corner kick, Torres sent an outswinger across the box and Schlegel headed back across to the front of the goal. Second-half sub Benji Michel chested the ball down and took his shot on the volley and it hit the outstretched arms of Crew defender Milos Degenek.

Although Chilowicz did not make a call initially, he ended up taking a look at the video monitor. The penalty was clear and obvious and Degenek was booked.

Torres immediately stepped up and he slammed his shot high to the right, over Room, who guessed correctly and appeared to be off his line early anyway. The Lions led 2-1 in the 84th minute. It was Torres’ ninth goal of the MLS season.

“When the penalty happened it was pretty much decided that I was going to take it,” Torres said through a club interpeter. “So the first thing I thought was, ‘Where am I going to put this ball?’ And then I just made sure I was focusing and concentrating on getting ready to take it and thankfully everything worked out.”

There was still a lot to do for Orlando to close out the match, and Zelarayan forced a good save from the Gallese in the 86th. Pareja subbed liberally down the stretch to get fresh legs on the pitch and Columbus wasn’t able to get into position for a clear-cut chance. The Crew’s best chance to equalize came in the 96th minute when Gallese made a good save to keep out another shot from Zelarayan.

The Lions saw out the remaining time and found themselves in the postseason for the third straight year — all three seasons since Pareja took over. They also managed to avoid missing the postseason after winning a trophy like the Seattle Sounders did.

Columbus finished with more possession (54.4%-45.6%), shots (13-8), shots on target (6-4), corners (7-3), and passing accuracy (89.6%-86.8%). But it was Orlando’s goalkeeping and shot placement that made the difference. Gallese finished with five saves.

“We spoke (at halftime) about being very strong in the first 15 minutes and just throw what we have in the second half, and the response was going to bring us more energy. And I thought that was what happened,” Pareja said. “So, I’m very proud of these guys. They showed us one more time the character that they have. And then the end of the game was a typical Orlando City game. We would like to suffer less but this is where we are today.”

Orlando City will play CF Montreal in the first round of the 2022 MLS Cup playoffs. The Lions split the season series with Montreal, with each team winning at home.

Orlando City

Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew

Find out what you should expect from the Columbus Crew on Saturday, courtesy of someone who knows them best.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

After returning from a successful trip to the West Coast, Orlando City will be staying in town for Memorial Day weekend. Next up on the schedule for the Lions is a visit from the reigning MLS Cup Champions, the Columbus Crew.

A date with Columbus means I spoke with Collin Johnson of the always excellent Massive Report, and he was kind enough to help bring us up to speed on what to expect from the Crew this year. I also answered some of Massive Report’s questions about Orlando City, which you can find over at their place.

Talk me through the Crew’s off-season transfer business. Who were some of the big departures, and who has been brought in to replace them?

Collin Johnson: It was a pretty quiet off-season from the Crew. They focused on extending current contracts (and getting rid of bad contracts) rather than bringing in a big name acquisition. The bigger news were the contracts they were able to get rid of. Kevin Molino’s $700k+ salary was bought out before the season started, while Julian Gressel ($900k+) opted to take a deal with Inter Miami after losing his place in the starting lineup during the 2023 MLS Cup playoffs.

Rudy Camacho, Steven Moreira, Darlington Nagbe, Mohamed Farsi, and Sean Zawadzki all signed new deals. Academy and Crew 2 midfielders Cole Mrowka and Taha Habroune signed full first-team deals, though both are expected to jump back and forth between the second team and the first team. Derrick Jones was signed as a free agent. Many thought the very tall defensive midfielder would slot in as a center back in the Wilfried Nancy system, but all of his time has been spent as a DM (and it has gone relatively well aside from a shocking red card against Charlotte).

The only transfer fee paid this off-season was, ironically, to Pachuca for Marino Hinestroza. Hinestroza is an MLS U22 Initiative player who plays a similar style to Alex Matan but is faster and a bit better at finishing. With Hinestroza on the field, Columbus looks to stretch defenses in a different way than the typical wingback defensive stretching.

Columbus has been excellent defensively, with the 13 goals conceded on the season tied for second-fewest in the league. What’s been working so well at the back?

CJ: The defensive recovery extends back to the 2023 season and probably has two factors. First is the team getting comfortable in the Wilfried Nancy system. The expectation is that players will hold onto the ball until the last second before playing a pass to get out of trouble. At times last year that resulted in turnovers and goals by opponents. You can really see this in the play of Yeven Cheberko. Cheberko struggled in his half season with the Black & Gold in 2023 but this season has played like a new signing, splitting time as the starting left center back. Cheberko has the ability to break multiple lines with his passing, and now that he has improved in his Nancy system confidence, he has begun to live up with the potential he had as a new signing.

The other factor is Rudy Camacho. Camacho joined in the summer transfer window from Montreal, so he was already familiar with the Nancy system. Immediately he slotted into the center spot of the back three and conducted the rest of the defense. As soon as he joined the team, the defense took a huge step forward.

The Crew have done about as good a job balancing Concacaf Champions Cup play and the MLS schedule as possible, and currently sit above the playoff line. How have they been able to find a good balance, when most teams struggle mightily in one competition or the other?

CJ: Realistically it has been a bit of a struggle. Columbus is getting results now but most of the matches during the meat of the Concacaf Champions Cup run were draws. When the Crew beat Montreal on May 16, that was their first league win since March 16. Still, grabbing some draws during that run and staying alive in the playoff hunt are absolutely accomplishments for this team. Part of the reason for this success is the team’s depth. Hinestroza adds another attacking option up top while Derrick Jones is able to spell Aidan Morris/Darlington Nagbe in the midfield. Zawadzki has been a Swiss Army knife for the Black & Gold, slotting in at nearly every position on the field aside from goalkeeper. Nancy has also been willing to use his substitutes after a 2023 season when his sub pattern was frustratingly limited.

The Black & Gold also have the good fortune to get a bye through the group stage of this summer’s Leagues Cup, so they can push a bit harder during a congested few months with the expectation of multiple weeks off in July.

Are there any players who will be unavailable due to injury, suspensions, etc.? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?

CJ: Cucho Hernandez is officially out for Saturday’s match. He has had a nagging back injury and it is expected that he is being held out as a precaution and to be healthy for the Concacaf Champions Cup final in June. Without Cucho these last two weeks, the Crew have grabbed back-to-back road wins for the first time in what seems like forever. Without Cucho, the attack is a bit more multi-faceted. Diego Rossi has picked up the slack and started to look like the former Golden Boot winner that he is.

Rossi will start with a target striker, assuming this is Christian Ramirez, and likely Alex Matan. Depending on the game state, Nancy will slot Jacen Russell-Rowe into Matan’s spot to attack with two target strikers up top. The midfield duo of Nagbe and Morris is a mainstay, though the team has tried to manage Morris’ minutes as the season has gone on. Expect to see Zawadzki or Jones replace Morris/Nagbe around the 75th or 80th minute. In the back we’ll see Yaw Yeboah, Malte Admundsen or Cheberko, Camacho, Steven Moreira, and Mohamed Farsi.

I’m guessing the below is what they roll out:
Patrick Schulte; Malte Amundsen, Rudy Camacho, Steven Moreira, Yaw Yeboah, Mohamed Farsi; Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe; Alex Matan, Christian Ramirez, Diego Rossi.

I don’t see Columbus grabbing a third straight road win but they are playing well right now so I’m guessing we see a hard-fought draw. Columbus 2-2 Orlando. 

Thank you to Collin for providing the scoop on the Crew. Vamos Orlando!

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 5/24/24

Orlando City prepares for the Crew, Barbra Banda an NWSL MVP favorite, Orlando Pride announce sleeve sponsor, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando Pride / Mark Thor

Happy Friday! The gauntlet of Orlando soccer home games starts tonight when the Orlando Pride take on the Portland Thorns in a clash of win streaks. I’m working for most of the weekend, but am looking forward to watching some soccer and playing my way through the Ace Attorney games during my spare time. For now though, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.

Orlando City Gets Ready to Host the Crew

Orlando City is on a three-game unbeaten run and will take on the Columbus Crew Saturday night in an Eastern Conference showdown. The last time these two sides met was in the 2023 Eastern Conference semifinals with the Crew winning in extra time to eliminate the Lions. It’s the third consecutive road game for the Crew after winning 3-1 against both CF Montreal and the Chicago Fire. Saturday’s match is also the Crew’s last match before the Concacaf Champions Cup final on June 1. Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja spoke on how the Lions will be up to the task regardless of which players take the field for Columbus. Pareja also spoke about how Duncan McGuire is working his way back from the injury he suffered last week.

Barbra Banda Named MVP Frontrunner

ESPN updated its rankings of players in contention to be named NWSL MVP this season and Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda tops the list. The Zambian forward hasn’t been with the Pride for long, but she has scored six goals in six games to help the Pride win seven straight games. Opposing defenses haven’t figured out a way to stop her, and it’s fair to think of her as an MVP favorite alongside fellow attackers in the league like Sophia Smith and Temwa Chawinga. Pride defender Emily Sams also earned herself a spot on the list, ranking 11th. It’s nice to see her get some deserved recognition for her role in the Pride’s stellar defense this year.

Orlando Pride Announce Sleeve Sponsor

A partnership was announced between the Orlando Pride and Heart of Florida United Way, a charity that’s supported families in Central Florida for the past 85 years. As part of the partnership, Heart of Florida United Way will become the first sleeve sponsor for the Pride and its logo will be on the right sleeve of both of the Pride’s jerseys this year. A new ticket program is also being created for 50 tickets to be donated to a local charity for each Pride home game.

Orlando City Unveils Watch Party Schedule

The schedule for this Orlando City season’s watch parties is out, along with the lineup of this year’s included pubs. Each pub will have MLS Season Pass access for fans to watch Orlando’s games this year and there will be chances to win tickets and autographed items at the watch parties as well. There are three new pubs added to the lineup this year, including The Castle Irish Pub at College Park, Paddywagon Irish Pub in Dr. Phillips, and Winter Garden’s Hagan O’Reilly’s. The first watch party will be at The Hammered Lamb in Ivanhoe Village on June 1 when the Lions face off against the New York Red Bulls.

Free Kicks

  • Pride midfielder Evelina Duljan was called up to join Sweden’s U-23 team for the upcoming Four Nations Tournament.
  • NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman became the first woman to be named Sports Business Journal‘s Sports Executive of the Year.

That’s all I have for you this time around. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Three Keys to Victory

What does Orlando City need to do to earn all three points at home against the Crew?



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City earned seven points during a three-match stretch over eight days. Now the Lions will look to keep things rolling against the Columbus Crew this Saturday night at Inter&Co Stadium. The Crew are currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 21 points compared to Orlando City in 10th with 16 points.

What do the Lions need to do to get a victory at home against the Crew?

Switch Focus

Orlando City has lucked out because Columbus striker Cucho Hernández will not play, as he is nursing a back injury. Hernández has often been a thorn in Orlando’s side when the clubs play, so his absence is definitely good news. However, that doesn’t mean that the defense can relax. The Crew still have a potent attack with players like Diego Rossi, Jacen Russell-Rowe, Aidan Morris, and others. Columbus has scored 19 goals so far this season, which is four more than Orlando’s 15. I think it is likely that Oscar Pareja will stick with the 3-5-2 formation, meaning the pressure will be on the back three of David Brekalo, Wilder Cartagena, and Rodrigo Schlegel.

Goals Needed

Orlando City left it late against San Jose before Jack Lynn scored in the 89th minute to give the Lions a victory. That’s not to say there weren’t wasted chances — because there were — but it was enough that night. It likely won’t be enough against Columbus. We don’t know the status of Duncan McGuire’s injury as of this writing, but I would be surprised to see him in the lineup, let alone getting the start. That means we will likely see Jack Lynn alongside Luis Muriel up top. Lynn is no McGuire, but he is able to get into good spaces in the box and has a nose for goal. Another goal from him or Muriel could make a big difference.

Scheduling Factors

I’m not saying that Wilfried Nancy will be looking ahead to the Concacaf Champions Cup final against Pachuca the following week, but a trophy is a trophy, and it could impact who he plays and for how long. He might be keeping Hernández out for precautionary reasons to allow him time to be ready for the final. It’s possible that he risks points against Orlando City in pursuit of hardware. Pareja doesn’t have it any easier with Orlando City playing a midweek match at the Chicago Fire next Wednesday before heading to New Jersey for a match against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, June 1. May has been brutal for the Lions, and though the team has made the most of it so far, it doesn’t get any easier. How much will rotation affect Orlando’s ability to get all three points?

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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