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Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Player Grades and Man of the Match

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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.

Starters

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.

Substitutes

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.

Polling Closed

PlayerVotes
Pedro Gallese26
Rodrigo Schlegel4
Junior Urso10
Mauricio Pereyra1
Facundo Torres8
Other (Tell us who in the comments)3

Orlando City

Orlando City Signs First-Round Draft Pick Jeorgio Kocevski

Orlando City signs its first-round draft pick Jeorgio Kocevski to a one-year deal with three option years.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City SC announced the signing of first-round 2024 MLS SuperDraft pick Jeorgio Kocevski today. The deal is through the upcoming 2024 season with club options for 2025, 2026, and 2027. The Lions selected the Syracuse midfielder with the 21st overall pick in the draft in December.

“Jeorgio has had a really strong preseason camp with us, demonstrating everything we saw in him when we were scouting him and analyzing his game in college,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “He’s done well working his way into the group, even starting in our friendly against Flamengo and holding his own against some of the best in Brazil, and we’re excited to have him with us this season.”

The box-to-box midfielder made three appearances this preseason, starting against Brazilian club Flamengo and the following scrimmage against USL Championship side Rhode Island FC. He came on at halftime against the Colorado Rapids last weekend, scoring the winning goal in the 90th minute.

Prior to being selected by the Lions, the Liverpool, NY, native made 71 appearances with 65 starts and logged 5,599 minutes for Syracuse in four years. He scored seven goals and recorded 18 assists, putting 33 of his 93 shots on frame. Additionally, he was part of Syracuse’s 2022 NCAA national championship team, playing 90 minutes in the 2-2 draw, but missing in the team’s victorious shootout over Indiana.

Kocevski had a breakout junior year, being named to the United Soccer Coaches’ All-South Region third team, All-ACC third team, NCAA All-Tournament team, and ACC All-Tournament team. During his senior year, he wore the armband for the Orange and was named All-ACC first team and ACC Co-Midfielder of the Year.

What It Means for Orlando City

Kocevski was the most likely pick from this most recent draft to be signed by Orlando City. The departure of club captain Mauricio Pereyra left a spot in the midfield and Head Coach Oscar Pareja seemed to feel the rookie could fill it from early on. His start against Flamengo was in the place of regular starter Cesar Araujo, who was on international duty with the Uruguay U-23 national team. He played against Flamengo’s best lineup and did quite well in almost an hour on the field in his first minutes of play at the professional level.

While a spot was open for the signing of Kocevski, he likely won’t see much of the field for the first team this season. In addition to being behind starters Araujo and Wilder Cartagena, the defensive midfielder will be behind Felipe on the depth chart. In all likelihood, the rookie will slot in with Orlando City B in MLS NEXT Pro to get some minutes, but there is room for him to start regularly with that team.

Kocevski is currently the only player signed by the club from the Lions’ 2024 draft class. West Virginia midfielder Yutaro Tsukada, Pittsburgh midfielder Filip Mirkovic, and Charlotte midfielder Riyon Tori remained unsigned, with the latter opting to return to school for his senior season.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 2/20/24

The Wall sells out, Robin Jansson earns recognition, Concacaf W Gold cup preview, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Happy Tuesday, everyone! We’re now just one day away from the first competitive Orlando City game of the year, and it can’t get here fast enough. As usual, we have plenty to cover this morning, so let’s jump straight into it.

The Wall Sells Out for Orlando City’s Season Opener

The Wall, the supporters section of Orlando City’s stadium, has sold out of single-match tickets ahead of Saturday’s home opener against CF Montreal. Limited tickets for the match are still available for the rest of the stadium, and hopefully it will fully sell out for the first match of the season. This Saturday will be the 10th consecutive time in which the Lions start their MLS season at home. It should be a great match and a chance for Orlando to get its season off to a good start between Concacaf Champions Cup matches against Cavalry FC.

Robin Jansson Praised as a Top Defender in MLS

Orlando City center back Robin Jansson was recognized as one of the best center backs in MLS by MLSsoccer.com‘s Joseph Lowery. The 32-year-old has been an integral part of Orlando’s defense since joining the league in 2019 and should continue anchoring the team’s back line this season. Not only is he excellent in terms of defense, but the Beefy Swede can also make an impact on offense with his passing and surprising runs up the field. Jansson is one of the most consistent defenders in the league and agreed to a new contract with the club earlier this month.

MLS Transfer News Roundup

The 2024 Major League Soccer season might kick off tomorrow, but transfers are still flying thick and fast, which means we have things to catch up on. We start with one of the teams opening the season tomorrow, Inter Miami, which has officially transferred midfielder Gregore to Botafogo in the Brazilian top flight. We move on to NYCFC, which has completed the signing of striker Jovan Mijatović from Red Star Belgrade. The 18-year-old Serbian youth international has inked a deal that runs through the 2028 season, with an option year for 2029. We finish up with the Houston Dynamo, which have signed Coco Carasquilla to a contract extension. The Panamanian midfielder’s deal now runs through the 2025 season and has option years for 2026 and 2027.

Concacaf W Gold Cup Preview

The inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup kicks off later today, so make sure you get up to speed on everything you need to know about the competition. The United States Women’s National Team has been grouped with Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, and will be looking for a strong showing following a disappointing campaign at last summer’s World Cup. The tournament will feature a total of 12 teams, with eight Concacaf representatives and four from CONMEBOL. The top two finishers in each of the three groups advance to the knockout round, along with the top two third-place finishers. The USWNT begin play tonight against the Dominican Republican at 10:15 p.m. from Dignity Health Sports Park.

Americans in Midweek Action

With a number of American players taking part in games during the working week, get everything marked down on your calendar so you don’t miss anything. Things get started this afternoon with a huge game, as Malik Tillman, Ricardo Pepi, Sergino Dest, and PSV Eindhoven take on Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League. European competition continues on Thursday as well, with Christian Pulisc, Yunus Musah, and AC Milan facing Rennes in the Europa League play. Things finish out on Friday as the red-hot Brandon Vazquez and Monterrey face Juarez in Liga MX competition.

Minnesota United Close to Coaching Hire

A coaching search that will surely go down as one of the most thorough in MLS history is nearing its conclusion, as Minnesota United is reportedly close to naming Manchester United assistant Eric Ramsay as the team’s new skipper. While nothing is official yet, Ramsay is said to be the leading candidate, and The Athletic‘s Tom Bogert says that the team is closing in on the hire. If he joins, Ramsay will become the youngest coach in league history at the tender age of 32, and he will also become Minnesota’s second coach following Adrian Heath’s departure in October of last year.

Free Kicks


That’s all I have for this morning. Vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

Orlando City’s 10th Anniversary is the Time to Remember the Club’s Originals

Orlando City’s 10th year in MLS should be used to honor the players who built the club.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

The 2024 season is Orlando City’s 10th in Major League Soccer. The club has scheduled several events throughout the year to celebrate having been in the country’s top division for a decade, but the season should also be a time for fans to reflect on the people who made it happen without getting to experience the result.

Orlando City arrived in Orlando in 2010 with the goal of reaching MLS. However, it was the first professional soccer team in the city since the 1990s and resides in a football hotbed, leaving many to wonder if the team would be successful. The most famous doubt came at the team’s inaugural media day, when longtime WESH 2 sportscaster Pat Clake told club founder Phil Rawlins and inaugural Head Coach Adrian Heath that, while he wished them luck, a professional soccer team in Orlando would never work.

The Orlando project got off to a much better start than the Austin Aztex, Rawlins’ former project. During the team’s first season in 2011, Orlando City substantially outdrew its predecessor, proving there was an appetite for soccer. But there was another factor to the team’s popularity. The Lions won…a lot.

The success of a team at home has a significant impact on the enjoyment of attending games. In four USL Pro seasons, Orlando City was 40-3-9 (W-L-D) at the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) and Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports, winning three regular season titles and two USL Pro championships. Seeing the local team win and score frequently is much more likely to result in people returning for more games. That’s exactly what the Lions did, and it helped to create a following.

When MLS considered Orlando City for expansion, the league looked at average attendance, season ticket numbers, and community involvement. All of these factors were directly related to the team’s success on the field. For this reason, the key players on those teams are responsible for Orlando City being in MLS in the first place. 

In addition to their work on the field, the players from the USL Pro era worked in the community to build a following. They spoke with local groups and were active throughout Central Florida, convincing people to attend games. It was all about the effort of getting the team into MLS. Unfortunately, many of those players didn’t get to experience the results of their labor.

The core of Orlando City’s team from 2011 to 2013 remained the same, with Miguel Gallardo in goal, Luke Boden at left back, Rob Valentino at center back, Kevin Molino and Jamie Watson in the midfield, and Dennis Chin up top. The success they had resulted in the club being announced as the newest expansion side on Nov. 19, 2013. However, of those six stalwarts, only Boden and Molino continued with the team into MLS.

Over the past 10 years, Orlando City has had several star and fan favorite players come and go. As the club’s USL Pro era gets further in the rearview mirror, the players who built the organization are forgotten or unknown by a large portion of the fanbase that didn’t experience the early seasons.

To the club’s credit, Orlando City worked to keep the memory of the team’s foundation alive in recent years. This preseason, Chin, Lewis Neal (a 2011 original who returned to the team in MLS), and Dom Dwyer (who was on loan with the team in 2013 and returned in 2017) were involved in the popular away jersey unveiling. Additionally, Chin signed autographs and took part in a Q&A session during the Society XXI preseason game against the New England Revolution. They’ve had other events, like the 2022 U.S. Open Cup games against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, when former players have been invited back.

Additionally, the club raised banners last year for the 2011 and 2013 USL Pro championships and announced this year that it will display the trophies in a new permanent exhibit called “The Vault.” The club also released an updated version of the three-lion USL Pro logo from those first four seasons.

When people consider the factors that resulted in Orlando City joining MLS in 2015, the fan support during the USL Pro years is the first thing that comes to mind. But without the success of those teams and the work the players put into building the following, the club likely never would’ve made it to the top division. This 10th anniversary season is a good time to remember those club legends.

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