It’s never easy with this team, is it? Orlando City SC is back in the MLS Cup playoffs for the third straight year, but had to do it the hard way in a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew at Exploria Stadium on Decision Day. Junior Urso and Facundo Torres nullified Derrick Etienne’s goal, and the Lions will now face CF Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.
Here’s how I graded Orlando’s players in Sunday’s heart-pounding win.
GK, Pedro Gallese, 8 (MotM) — El Pulpo rebounded from the midweek loss to Miami in style. He made five saves on the day, several of which were seriously impressive. His first-half stonewalling of Cucho Hernandez nearly defied belief, as the Peruvian international got down low to his right to tip the ball onto the post and preserve a draw that wouldn’t last. It didn’t stop there though, as he made two late, great saves on Lucas Zelarayan to preserve Orlando’s slim lead and help put the Lions through to the playoffs. Gallese was successful on four of his seven long balls and completed 83.3% of his 18 passes. He takes the plaudits in this one.
D, Kyle Smith, 6 — Orlando Head Coach Oscar Pareja pulled a fast one in this game. It was expected that Smith would partner with Rodrigo Schlegel in central defense, only for him to be deployed at left back while Joao Moutinho was slotted inside. Despite the surprise, Smith had a solid game, notching two tackles, a clearance, a cross, and two accurate long balls while passing at a 77.8% clip. He also played roughly the last 20 minutes on a yellow card and was smart to avoid picking up another.
D, Joao Moutinho, 6 — I was originally quite fearful when I saw Moutinho at center back, as I had doubts about his ability to deal with some of the more physical aspects the position demands. As it turns out, I had no cause for concern, as he put in a steady performance in an unfamiliar role. His passing rate of 93.8% was excellent, and he also completed two long balls. Moutinho didn’t have any defensive stats, but he did have a shot that was off target. It will be nice to have Antonio Carlos back next week, but Joao did what he needed to do when it counted.
D, Rodrigo Schlegel, 7 — Schlegel put in a great showing against Columbus. He racked up three tackles, two interceptions, three clearances, a shot, a key pass, and drew a foul all while passing with 87.8% accuracy. His header back across the box late led to the Benji Michel shot that drew a penalty. The main black mark on his day was his positioning on Etienne’s goal, as he got sucked out too far from where he should have been by Lucas Zelarayan — leaving room behind him for Derrick Etienne to run into. Other than that, he was an immense figure in the back line in the most important league game of the season.
D, Ruan, 5.5— Ruan had a decent defensive showing in this one. He made three tackles and a clearance, and also won three fouls while passing at an 83.3% accuracy. He should have been quicker to tuck in and protect the space Schlegel vacated on Columbus’ goal, failing to track Etienne’s run. He also left Etienne too much space on the flank early for a cross that nearly gave Hernandez an early headed goal. Ruan couldn’t quite get going on the offensive side of things, and he’ll need to be more involved on that end if Orlando is going to advance past Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.
MF, Cesar Araujo, 6.5 — Araujo was his usual industrious self in the win. He did a ton of running in the Lions’ midfield and provided cover for when Mauricio Pereyra and Joao Moutinho ventured further forward. He chipped in with a tackle, an interception, two clearances, a block, a key pass, and a long ball. He also passed with 86.4% accuracy and did well to play over half an hour on a yellow card.
MF, Mauricio Pereyra, 7.5 — Like most of Orlando’s offensive players on the day, it took Pereyra time to get involved in the game. Once he did though, he was effective and finished with two key passes, an assist on Junior Urso’s goal, a cross, a long ball, a tackle, a clearance, and three fouls drawn. His passing accuracy of 83% on the day wasn’t his best, but he did well to bring the ball back out to find Urso with a good pass to his outside foot in order to give the Bear the chance to turn his man and get off a shot.
MF, Facundo Torres, 7 — Once Torres found his way into the game, he left his mark. He didn’t have a ton of shooting opportunities but helped affect the game with his passing, which he did with 93.3% accuracy while connecting on a cross and a key pass. He also had two shots, was fouled once, and most importantly, converted the penalty kick which sent Orlando City to the postseason for the third straight year. There was never really any doubt about the result when he set the ball down, and while goalkeepers seem to have figured out that he likes shooting to his right, when he puts the ball as far in the corner with as much power as he does, it’s tough to stop.
MF, Junior Urso, 7 — Urso had a rocky start to life in the first half. Several bad touches and misplaced passes meant there were concerns about the Bear having a bad game when Orlando could least afford it, but he came up big when he was needed most in the second half. He did ever so well to shield and turn his defender, shape his body and pick out the far side-netting to give Orlando a foothold in the game, and things kicked off from there. He finished with two tackles, two shots, two long balls, and 48 passes at a 95.8% passing accuracy.
MF, Ivan Angulo, 6 — Angulo started on the left wing, but had one of his quieter games in purple against the Crew. He wasn’t bad, as he recorded two key passes and 31 passes at an 84% accuracy with two key passes, while also notching two tackles and an interception. But he wasn’t quite as involved in the attack as Orlando City needed for large parts of the game, although the same can be said about many of his fellow attacking players. Not a bad performance, but not his best either. He also picked up a weird yellow card when the refereeing crew botched his substitution off the field.
F, Ercan Kara, 5.5 — Kara was also quiet during this one, and struggled to get involved with play. Part of that can be attributed to Columbus being content to sit back when it didn’t have the ball, making it difficult for Orlando to get the ball up to the big Austrian. Part of it can also be attributed to his teammates not providing service. Still, one clearance, one block, two fouls drawn, and a 62.5% success rate on eight passes is likely less than what Orlando was hoping from him on the day. His 14 touches weren’t many, but his replacements combined for just four over the last 20 minutes, so regardless of who played up top, there weren’t many connections being made.
F/MF, Benji Michel (74’), 6 — Benji didn’t do a ton to light up the stat sheet, as he finished the game with a yellow card, three touches, one shot, and one completed pass for 100% accuracy. With that being said, the shot he did take hit Milos Degenek’s outstretched hand, giving OCSC the penalty kick that sent the team to the postseason. Right place, right time, and it was a shot that would have been on target had it not hit Degenek on the way through.
F, Tesho Akindele (89’), N/A — Akindele was brought on as a late sub with time running down. His only stats recorded were being caught offside once and misfiring on the lone pass he attempted, but he ran hard and pressed the Columbus back line while the Crew chased an equalizer.
MF, Andres Perea (89’), N/A — Another late substitution, Perea didn’t record any stats during his time on the field, but helped provide energy and fresh legs to get the game over the line.
MF, Wilder Cartagena (89’), N/A — There was a mess of miscommunication on the officiating crew’s part that occurred while Orlando tried to get Cartagena on the field. Once he was there, he connected on his lone pass and also picked up a yellow card while helping see out the game.
D. Mikey Halliday (95’), N/A — Halliday came on as the final time-killing substitute from Pareja and stayed mistake free as Orlando booked its third-straight postseason berth.
That’s how I saw the performances in yet another game with late heroics from the Cardiac Cats. It wasn’t perfect, and the first half was almost universally ugly and devoid of the necessary urgency, but the Lions managed to find the required gear and get themselves into the postseason yet again. Be sure to have your say on everyone’s performances and vote for your Man of the Match below.
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Orlando City Parts Ways with Captain Mauricio Pereyra
Orlando City and club captain Mauricio Pereyra have agreed to terminate his contract.
Orlando City announced this afternoon that the club and captain Mauricio Pereyra have mutually agreed to terminate his contract. The Uruguayan midfielder leaves the club after four and a half years in purple and two seasons as captain.
“Mauricio has embodied Orlando City since the moment he arrived to the club, and we’re very thankful for everything he has given to us, our fans, and the community,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “His contributions and impact to our organization will be felt for years to come, and we wish him and his family the best of luck in this next chapter of their lives.”
Pereyra originally joined the club on July 30, 2019 after his contract expired with Russian side FC Krasnodar. He made his debut on Aug. 17, 2019 against Minnesota United FC as a Designated Player, coming on at halftime for Robinho. He would go on to make 136 appearances in all competitions (122 starts) and record 10,027 minutes. The midfielder scored seven goals for the Lions and recorded a club record 47 assists.
His 136 appearances are third most in the club’s MLS era, his 121 starts are second, and his 10,027 minutes are third since the club jumped from USL Pro to MLS in 2015.
Following the departure of previous captain Nani after the 2021 MLS season, Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja named Pereyra the club captain. He led his team through an historic cup run in 2022, lifting the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the club’s first-ever major trophy. He captained the team again in 2023, leading the Lions to the MLS Cup playoffs for the fourth straight year and the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second time in that period.
The midfielder signed a new two-year contract on Nov. 23, 2022 that was supposed to keep him in Orlando through the 2024 MLS season. Muzzi used Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to buy down his contract, opening a Designated Player spot for the 2023 season. However, this decision ends his contract a year before its expiration.
“Thank you to everyone for these four years together. It was a pleasure to belong to this family and I am so thankful to every person that works for this club and that has helped this team grow and win titles from their place,” Pereyra said in a club press release. “I was honored and proud to be given the captain’s armband and, of course, thanks to the technical staff and my teammates who helped me to become better as a player. But more so made me feel loved and made me a better person. I’ll miss you, but from this next season and beyond you’ll have one more fan that will wish nothing but the best for you. I love you and thank you.”
The 33-year-old Uruguayan made 38 appearances in his final season for Orlando City, with 34 starts and 2,637 minutes across all competitions. He scored one goal and added 12 assists.
What It Means for Orlando
Pereyra is a significant player in Orlando City history. He was one of the first players signed by Muzzi after the GM’s arrival from FC Dallas and was a key part of the club’s turnaround from doormat to contender. The importance of his place in the team was shown when Pareja named him captain following the 2021 MLS season.
However, the 33-year-old has lost a step since arriving. It was visible as the past two seasons progressed and raised questions as to whether he was the right option in the starting lineup moving forward. The club’s sale of striker Ercan Kara to Turkish side Samsunspor opened up a Designated Player spot that could be used on that position if the club wishes.
While Pereyra was an essential part of the team during his time in Orlando, it seems impossible for him to stay without being in the starting lineup. As captain, he was never going to come off the bench, so leaving the lineup would inevitably mean his departure from the club.
Additionally, Pereyra moved forward this past season into a more unfamiliar role. He started as an eight when he arrived, but was forced into the attacking midfield when Junior Urso left. The club now has the option of moving Urso or Designated Player Martin Ojeda into the starting lineup, or using their now open DP spot on that position.
Lion Links: 12/6/23
Antonio Carlos linked with move to Fluminense, Emily Madril agrees to new contract with the Pride, USWNT beats China, and more.
Hello, Mane Landers. I hope all is well with you down in Florida. There is not much new with me, I’ve just been staying busy working at Under Armour and covering high school basketball and wrestling lately. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.
Antonio Carlos Linked with Fluminense
Orlando City center back Antonio Carlos was linked with a move back to Brazil, with Fluminense reportedly close to finalizing a deal to sign him.
Carlos initially joined Orlando on loan from Palmeiras before the 2020 season. Following that season, the club signed him to a three-year contract with an option for an additional year. The 30-year-old has been a key part of Orlando’s defense under Head Coach Oscar Pareja, although Carlos missed some time this past season due to injury.
Emily Madril Agrees to New Contract With the Pride
The Orlando Pride announced that defender Emily Madril has reached an agreement with the club on a new three-year contract through the 2026 NWSL season. Madril just finished her first season with the Pride, making 27 appearances for the club across all competitions and leading all rookies with 1,977 minutes played in the NWSL regular season. She was already signed to a three-year deal through 2025, but the Pride were able to find a way to keep her with the club for another year. Now the club can work on retooling its roster with a back line anchored by Madril and Rafaelle.
MLS 2023 College Showcase Begins Today
Major League Soccer announced the 44 invitees for the 2023 MLS College Showcase. The event will kick off today through Dec. 9 in Phoenix. One local player to keep an eye on is defender Jahlane Forbes out of Wake Forest. Forbes is from Clermont, FL and joined Orlando City’s academy in 2016. He has also played for Orlando City B, making three appearances. Forbes made 19 appearances for Wake Forest in the 2023 season, recording five goals and seven assists. Other top prospects to watch include Louisville defender Josh Jones, High Point’s Jefferson Amaya, and Marshall forward Matthew Bell.
USWNT Beats China in Final Friendly of 2023
The U.S. Women’s National team defeated China 2-1 at Toyota Stadium in its final match of 2023. The USWNT trailed 1-0 at halftime, but bounced back in the second half thanks to a pair of goals and a solid defensive effort. Jaedyn Shaw gave the USWNT its winner in the 79th minute, scoring in her hometown in a memorable moment for the 19-year-old. It was the USWNT’s second win over China this month after winning the first match 3-0 this past Saturday in Fort Lauderdale.
Former Lion Daryl Dike Nears Return with West Brom
After being sidelined with an Achilles injury since March, former Lion Daryl Dike could make his return to West Brom this month. Dike has been back at training with the club since last month to work his way back to fitness, and West Brom’s manager, Carlos Corberan, stated that that he would be an option in the squad by the end of the December if he keeps progressing well. The 23-year-old joined West Brom in December of 2021, but injuries have limited his playing time while in England.
- The Orlando Pride had a message for former Pride goalkeeper Erin McLeod after her farewell ceremony with the Canadian Women’s National Team during its friendly against Australia on Tuesday.
- The Chicago Fire have announced that Frank Klopas will return to the club to serve as head coach for the second time. Klopas was the head coach for the Fire from 2011 to 2013 and was the interim coach this past season after Ezra Hendrickson’s departure in May.
- Minnesota United announced that Sean McAuley will remain with the club as its interim head coach going into the 2024 season.
- Former Portland Timbers Head Coach Gio Savarese is reportedly in consideration for the open head coach position with the New England Revolution.
- The Seattle Sounders have reached an agreement with goalkeeper Stefan Frei on a new two-year contract that will keep him at the club through the 2025 season.
That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Wednesday and I’ll see you next time.
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)
Orlando City Parts Ways with Captain Mauricio Pereyra
2023 Orlando Pride Season in Review: Emily Madril
PawedCast Episode 391: Orlando City Off-Season Roster Predictions
Lion Links: 12/5/23
Lion Links: 12/4/23
PawedCast Episode 391: Orlando City Off-Season Roster Predictions
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Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Five Takeaways
Orlando City2 weeks ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Final Score 2-0 as 10-Man Lions Fall at Home in Extra Time
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Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More
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Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Player Grades and Man of the Match
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Lion Links: 11/29/23
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