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.
|Other (Tell us who in the comments)||3|
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)
Lion Links: 12/5/23
Exploria Stadium will host Copa America games, Pride reportedly make offer for Crystal Dunn, Americans in midweek action, and more.
Good morning, everyone. I’m still dragging a little bit after having a shortened weekend due to work, but I hope all of you were able to hit the ground running yesterday and started your weeks off on the right note. As usual, there’s a lot of interesting things to discuss today, so let’s get after it.
Exploria Stadium Picked as Copa America Venue
The host cities and venues for next summer’s Copa America tournament were revealed and Orlando City’s Exploria Stadium has been chosen. The Lions’ home will have games on June 29 and July 1, and both games could be very important ones as they will take place during the final day of play for Groups A and C. We also know that the USMNT will play its group stage games in Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City. The semifinal matches will be held at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, with Charlotte also hosting the third-place game. We’ll know very soon which teams will be playing in Orlando, as the draw will take place on Thursday.
Orlando Pride Reportedly Make an Offer for Crystal Dunn
The Orlando Pride have reportedly made a large offer to bring Crystal Dunn to Orlando, with CBS Sports reporting the amount prepared by the Pride to be more than $400,000. However, negotiations between the Pride and Dunn are reportedly no longer ongoing.
The 31-year-old is a free agent after announcing that she was not returning to the Portland Thorns after three seasons there. She is one of the more notable free agents this off-season and the Washington Spirit and NJ/NY Gotham FC are also interested in signing her ahead of the 2024 season.
Americans in Midweek Action
There are a number of American players who will be playing games this week, so make sure you have some of these marked down on your calendar. First up is a match that could feature up to three players currently in the USMNT pool, as Jordan Pefok, Joe Scally, and Borussia Monchengladbach will face Kevin Paredes and Wolfsburg in the DFB Pokal. Tomorrow sees Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson, and Fulham playing Matt Turner’s Nottingham Forest, although the USMNT’s starting goalkeeper is not likely to play. The week finishes with Juventus and Weston McKennie facing Napoli in league play, although Tim Weah is still an injury doubt.
USWNT Aims for Change in Mentality
The 2024 calendar year is going to be an important one for the United States Women’s National Team, and the team wants to start it off on the right foot. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore is viewing today’s match against China as a chance for the team to continue building a new identity and to keep developing tactically after a disappointing early exit from this summer’s World Cup. While Emma Hayes has been named the team’s new head coach, she won’t officially join up until Chelsea’s club season ends in May. Until that happens, there’s plenty of work to be done with the Gold Cup just around the corner in March, followed by the Olympics in Paris in July.
The Soccer Tournament Adds Women’s Competition
Following the success of last year’s first edition of The Soccer Tournament, the organizers have added a women’s competition for next summer’s event. The seven-a-side tournament will now also feature an eight-team women’s bracket which will also have a $1 million prize up for grabs. The decision was made after an all-women’s team led by Heather O’Reilly drew significant support when it competed last year, despite not picking up a win. The men’s tournament will also be expanding to 48 teams for this year’s competition, after featuring 32 participants during the summer.
- Ramiro Enrique has been called up to Argentina’s training camp for its 2024 Olympic team.
- Orlando City’s documentary about the 2022 U.S. Open Cup victory has won a Suncoast Emmy.
- In the 2023 Women’s College Cup final, Florida State beat Stanford 5-1 to win its fourth national championship.
- David de Gea is reportedly open to signing for Newcastle United following Nick Pope’s shoulder dislocation.
- The English FA has charged Manchester City with failing to control its players, following Erling Haaland’s reaction on social media to a decision made by referee Simon Hooper.
That’s all that I have for today. Y’all stay safe out there.
Lion Links: 12/4/23
Crew to host MLS Cup final, LAFC returns to MLS Cup, Tim Howard to be inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame, and more.
Good Monday morning, Mane Landers. The weekend brought us some drama-filled conference final action, and we now know who will play for the MLS Cup. But before I dive into that, I just want to take a quick minute to say with mixed emotions that this will be my final Lion Links here, but don’t be sad, because the rest of the boys will still be bringing your daily content needs and coverage. I’ll be stepping away as my wife and I are soon to be first-time parents, and I’m looking forward to all that entails. I appreciate each and every one of you readers for taking the time to scroll through my articles each week. If you’re interested in writing for TML, we could definitely use the help so please reach out. Now, let’s get into the links!
Columbus Crew Claim Hell Is Real Comeback
After a rocky start, the Columbus Crew became the first team to overcome a two-goal deficit on the road and advance in a single-leg round in the history of the MLS Cup playoffs. FC Cincinnati got off to a great start behind USMNT striker Brandon Vasquez, who opened the scoring, but it was captain Luciano Acosta’s sublime free kick finish that stole the show in the first half.
It took trusting the process and the tactics of their first-year manager Wilfried Nancy, but the Columbus Crew fought back with late match heroics to seal the victory. Forward Christian Ramirez bagged the game-winning goal in extra time in the 115th minute.
“You can only fight for someone like that,” said Ramirez. “So many times you can feel that you’re getting the bad end of the stick at certain moments, but I haven’t felt that. I think numerous guys understand how he sees the game now, and we respect that. We talk about writing our story in the Columbus Crew history; this chapter wasn’t done. We got one more week, one more game.”
LAFC Returns to MLS Cup
The league’s defending champion, LAFC, will once again be playing in the final match of the postseason. After frustrating the Houston Dynamo throughout the Western Conference final, LAFC won 2-0. Houston might have dominated the stat sheet in possession, passes, and passing accuracy, but really it was just playing into the gameplan of LAFC.
“We knew that’s what they wanted. They wanted the ball,” said LAFC right back Ryan Hollingshead. “They like to play this little tiki-taka in the middle of the field, these little movements, little one-twos, three of their guys just kind of pass the ball, but they’re going nowhere. And so we just said, do whatever you got, have the ball as long as you want. They created zero dangerous chances. They had a half-chance in the first half on a cross to Baird and that was it. And so a lot of these teams, it’s like, yeah, they’ve got possession, they may be moving the ball. But if they’re not creating dangerous chances, who cares?”
MLS Cup Final Preview
The Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew will host Western Conference champion LAFC at Lower.com Field on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m for the MLS Cup. The match will be No. 53 across all competitions this campaign for LAFC, and a victory would make the club the first repeat winners since the 2011-2012 LA Galaxy. The storylines leading to the match will likely center around the possibility of it being Carlos Vela’s final game for LAFC, but for the Crew, the bench players will be the ones to watch. In the 65th minute of the Eastern Conference final, Head Coach Wilfried Nancy brought in Julian Gressel and Christian Ramirez, who both played a pivotal role in two of the three Columbus goals in the comeback victory. The Crew last lifted the MLS Cup in 2020, defeating Seattle Sounders 3-0 at Historic Crew Stadium.
2024 National Soccer Hall of Fame
On May 4, the National Soccer Hall of Fame will induct its 2024 class. Most notable will be long-time USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played 121 matches for the United States and had a successful career in the English Premier League. Other inductees will be USWNT World Cup winner Tisha Venturini-Hoch, 1996 Paralympic captain Josh McKinney, and USL founder Francisco Marcos.
Orlando Reportedly Set to Host USMNT-Brazil Friendly
The United States Men’s National Team is reportedly far along in negotiations to face Brazil in Orlando for a friendly leading to next year’s Copa America. The Yanks and Brazil last met in September 2018 in a friendly match in East Rutherford, NJ. The United States will host the Copa America from June 19 to July 14 as one of six invited teams to the South American competition. Brazil enter as the defending champion and should prove a worthy test for the Stars & Stripes to tune up for the Southern American title.
- Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.
- Liverpool scored in the 87th and 88th minutes to win 4-3 and climb to second in the EPL standings on 31 points.
- Manchester City and Tottenham played to a thrilling 3-3 draw that might find Erling Haaland charged by the English Football Association for criticizing the performance of the referees.
- Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen saw an eight-game winning run in the league come to an end with a 1-1 draw.
- Inter Milan secured a 3-0 victory at Napoli to reach the top of the Serie A table.
- Arsenal will face Liverpool in a massive FA Cup third-round clash in January.
- Wrexham reached the third round of FA Cup after defeating Yeovil Town 3-0.
That’s a wrap for my personal writing here for a while. It has been a pleasure to bring some coverage to you all for the past couple seasons. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. Vamos Orlando!
Orlando Pride Sign Defender Emily Madril to New Contract
2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Junior Urso
Lion Links: 12/5/23
Lion Links: 12/1/23
Orlando Pride Sign Finnish Goalkeeper Sofia Manner
2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Abdi Salim
Orlando City1 week ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Five Takeaways
Orlando City1 week ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Final Score 2-0 as 10-Man Lions Fall at Home in Extra Time
Orlando City1 week ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More
Orlando City2 weeks ago
Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew
Orlando City1 week ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Player Grades and Man of the Match
Lion Links6 days ago
Lion Links: 11/29/23
Lion Links2 weeks ago
Lion Links: 11/22/23
Lion Links1 week ago
Lion Links: 11/25/23