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Lion Links: 12/31/22

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Happy New Year’s Eve, Mane Landers! We are officially waving goodbye to 2022 and saying “Hello, 2023!” When the ball drops at midnight, I’ll be spending some time on the couch, watching the festivities tonight with family this year. Hopefully, I can still get around to visit those today who I still have not seen yet this holiday season before heading back to work and normal day-to-day life.

As we wrap up this year’s Lion Links, I want to say on behalf of myself and all of The Mane Land staff — it has been an honor and a privilege to collect and report club- and soccer-related news for you all this year. We wish you all a happy and healthy 2023. Now, check out the final links of 2022!

Get to Know Orlando Pride’s Mikayla Cluff

The Orlando Pride went “Outside the Lines” with midfielder Mikayla Cluff. The Utah native and BYU product talked about her hobbies, some of which fans might find surprising, how competitive she and her husband are when it comes to…well, everything, and how a general lack of belief in the Pride helped fuel the team in 2022. Orlando ultimately didn’t make the postseason but the Pride gave the playoffs a much better run than most expected, climbing into the thick of the race until the final six games. Give the video a watch and get to know the Pride midfielder better.

Cristiano Ronaldo Reportedly Joins Al-Nassr

It appears to be the end of an era as Cristiano Ronaldo has signed a contract with Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr for $75 million per year through the summer of 2025.

With the deal, Ronaldo appears to be giving up his top-level playing career but it will ensure he is extremely well remunerated in his compensation package.

“I am excited to experience a new football league in a different country,” Ronaldo said in Al-Nassr’s statement announcing the deal. The vision of what Al Nassr are doing and developing in Saudi Arabia both in terms of men’s and women’s football is very inspiring. We can see from Saudi Arabia’s recent performance at the World Cup that this is a country with big football ambitions and a lot of potential. I am fortunate that I have won everything I set out to win in European football and feel now that this is the right moment to share my experience in Asia. I am looking forward to joining my new teammates and together with them help the Club to achieve success.”

The logistics behind Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia have been agreed upon with the club. The deal includes a home for the striker and his family in an affluent area close to the training ground, along with his salary worth well in excess of $1 million per week. Ronaldo could see his earnings more than double through the sale of his image rights. He is also expected to have a role in the Saudi bid for the 2030 World Cup.

In addition to Ronaldo, Al-Nassr is eyeing his former teammate Sergio Ramos. Ramos and Ronaldo played alongside each other at Real Madrid from 2009 to 2018, winning four Champions League titles and two La Liga championships. Ramos would be able to sign as a free agent with the 36-year-old’s contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring at the end of this season.

Top Targets for January Transfer Window

Despite inflation and other financial instability around the globe, the English Premier League still broke its spending record in the summer transfer window, dishing out $2.2 billion. That was more money than Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, and the German Bundesliga combined. With the World Cup over and finances set to be stretched further, free transfers will become even more important, and there are plenty of star players available as free agents at the end of the season if they don’t put pen to paper soon.

Real Madrid has a host of players out of contract in the summer such as Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Marco Asensio, Luka Modric, and Dani Ceballos. French World Cup star Adrien Rabiot’s future at Juventus is up in the air, as the club deals with a host of financial and legal issues. N’Golo Kante, Chelsea’s 31-year-old midfielder, has become less of a key player for the Blues in recent seasons and has suffered more injuries.

The World Cup thorn in the USMNT’s side, Memphis Depay, has had no hope that he will be given a chance at Barcelona with only two appearances in La Liga this season. He is Xavi’s sixth-choice forward and the club is looking to get him off the wage bill.

These are just a handful of top players in a very long list that scouts are soon to be calling about. One thing is for certain, it is sure to be a very busy January.

English Premier League Friday Recap

We were blessed with two EPL matches Friday. Brentford defeated West Ham, 2-0. Star striker Ivan Toney left the field on the back of a cart after suffering what appeared to be a serious injury to his right knee. The 26-year-old, who scored his 11th goal of the EPL season, now sits third in the league scoring rankings but was in considerable pain as he received treatment for nearly five minutes before he was carted off at the end of the match.

Also across the league at Anfield, Liverpool came out on top 2-1 winners in a hard fought contest against Leicester City. It was the visitors who took the lead in the fourth minute as Patson Daka found Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, who scored for Leicester. Liverpool found the equalizer in the 38th minute when a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross was deflected into his own net by Wout Faes. This was just the first for Faes, however, as seven minutes later he deflected Darwin Nunez’s effort in to make it 2-1 after the Uruguayan’s chipped effort had come back off the post.

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Well, that puts a stamp on the final 2022 edition of Lion Links. The year as a whole had ups and downs for the club on both the men’s and women’s side and even for the Young Lions. But on the positive side of things, it was a year that saw Orlando City lift its first major MLS-era trophy. As we step forward into 2023, let’s all say it together — vamos Orlando!

Lion Links

Lion Links: 2/23/24

Orlando Pride’s Megan Montefusco placed on season-ending injury list, Orlando City’s chances to win it all, USWNT plays Argentina tonight, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Happy Friday! It’s the final Friday before we spend pretty much every weekend screaming our hearts out for Orlando’s soccer teams. Although I won’t be in Orlando for tomorrow’s game, I’ll be cheering along from Tampa and am looking forward to a strong start to the season from the Lions. Before we get into today’s links, let’s all wish a happy birthday to our favorite octopus, Pedro Gallese!

Megan Montefusco Placed On Season-Ending Injury List

The Orlando Pride suffered a blow to their defense as center back Megan Montefusco was placed on the season-ending injury list after undergoing surgery on her right foot. Montefusco joined the Pride through a trade before the 2022 season and did well coming off the bench last season to keep Orlando’s defense strong as the year wore on. The Pride have options to fill the void, as Carrie Lawrence is back in the fray after missing last season due to injury and Tori Hansen will be back once her time on loan in Australia is up. Orlando could also go out and bring in a veteran to replace Montefusco or sign Cori Dyke, who was drafted by the Pride in the second round. Regardless, losing Montefusco is rough, considering Rafaella will likely be with Brazil for the Olympics this summer.

Orlando City’s Championship Credentials

Joseph Lowery of MLSsoccer.com detailed the strengths and weaknesses of each MLS team in terms of having what it takes to win it all this year. Orlando City followed up a pretty stellar off-season with a nearly perfect preseason. Head Coach Oscar Pareja, winger Ivan Angulo, and midfielder Wilder Cartagena are all sticking around, while Robin Jansson, Facundo Torres, and the front office brain trust of Luiz Muzzi and Ricardo Moreira were locked down as well. Additions of David Brekalo, Luis Muriel, and Nico Lodeiro also ensured this team has few holes. There’s concern that there are too many mouths to feed though, and that no single player can take the reins of the offense. I disagree on that being much of an issue though, as the attack is fluid enough to beat different teams in different ways. The Lions may go without All-Star representation as a result, but they should rack up plenty of points spreading the wealth on offense.

USWNT Takes on Argentina Tonight

The United States Women’s National Team will face Argentina tonight at 10:15 p.m. in its second game of the inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup. The U.S. did well in its 5-0 win over the Dominican Republic, but there were opportunities to score even more. Since there will be reseeding for the knockout stages, scoring plenty of goals will benefit the USWNT. Midge Purce was excellent in the opener and the USWNT will need to be sharper at putting away good service from the wings. Argentina held Mexico to a scoreless draw in its opener and will likely be hungry to score its first goal of the tournament.

Keeping Up With the Europa League

The first round of the Europa League’s knockout stage came to a close after a drama-filled day of soccer. Only one game went to penalty kicks, as AS Roma beat Feyenoord after a 1-1 draw thanks to two saves from Mile Svilar in the shootout. There was a thriller in Azerbaijan as well. A red card reduced Qarabag FK to 10 men and Braga took full advantage, scoring twice to send the game into extra time. They then traded goals until 19-year-old winger Nariman Akhundzade gave Qarabag the winner in stoppage time. In Germany, SC Freiburg came back from a two-goal deficit to beat Lens in extra time as well.

Elsewhere, a red card doomed Galatasaray as Sparta Prague rallied late to win, and AC Milan survived a hat trick from Rennes midfielder Benjamin Bourigeaud to advance on aggregate. Sporting CP, Marseille, and Benfica all booked their spot in the round of 16 as well, with the draw set for today.

Free Kicks

  • New food vendors will be available for fans at Orlando City and Orlando Pride home games this year, with Flippers Pizzeria Company now a permanent addition. New options for the rotating carts include Pardon My Cheesesteak and Omusubee Japanese Rice Balls.
  • Congratulations to Pride defender Emily Madril on getting married!

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

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 2/22/24

Orlando City beats Cavalry FC, Lions receive General Allocation Money for Junior Urso’s rights, USWNT gets ready for Argentina, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

How’s it going, Mane Landers? It’s nice to start the morning fresh off of a huge win and I’m hoping that becomes a regular occurrence this year. Hopefully the work week has been kind to you as we ride the high of the Concacaf Champions Cup into Orlando City’s first game of the MLS season this weekend. For now, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.

Lions Win in Concacaf Champions Cup Opener

Orlando City kicked off its Concacaf Champions Cup campaign with a solid 3-0 win against Cavalry FC in Canada. Some players did better playing on the turf of Starlight Stadium in British Columbia than others, but the Lions ultimately did well on the road to make things less stressful for themselves for the second leg on Tuesday in Orlando at 6 p.m. Orlando’s offense showed little rust and the defense did its part in its first competitive match of 2024. Before the match, Head Coach Oscar Pareja announced that Robin Jansson will serve as the team’s captain this year, so it’s nice to see his tenure start with a clean sheet.

Junior Urso Signs With Charlotte FC

Orlando City received $50,000 in 2025 General Allocation Money from Charlotte FC in exchange for Brazilian midfielder Junior Urso’s right of first refusal. This transaction cleared the way for Urso to sign with Charlotte, joining on a deal through 2024, with an option for 2025. The Bear became a Lion back in 2020 and was an integral part of Orlando’s transformation under Head Coach Oscar Pareja that included winning the 2022 U.S. Open Cup. The 34-year-old impressed as a trialist with Charlotte during the preseason and should give Dean Smith’s side a veteran presence both on and off the field. While it’s never fun seeing a fan favorite playing for another Eastern Conference foe, I wish nothing but the best for Urso and hope he gets a warm reception when Charlotte visits Orlando this season on Sept. 18.

MLS Coaching Changes for 2024

There was a considerable amount of coaching turnover in MLS since last season, adding some intriguing storylines for this year. After a rough time in Miami, Phil Neville has a chance at redemption with a Portland Timbers side that narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year. The Colorado Rapids’ Chris Armas, D.C. United’s Troy Lesesne, and the New England Revolution’s Caleb Porter are other familiar faces in new places who could impress. As for those new to the scene, Dean Smith joined Charlotte from England, while Sandro Schwarz is now at the helm of the New York Red Bulls after years in Germany and Russia. I’m also interested to see how long it takes for John Herdman to turn things around with Toronto FC.

Analyzing Argentina Ahead of USWNT Clash

After a dominant 5-0 win over the Dominican Republic, the United States Women’s National Team will take on Argentina tomorrow in the Concacaf W Gold Cup’s group stage. The U.S. has won the past four meetings between the past two nations, and Argentina is coming off of a scoreless draw with Mexico. The Orlando Pride’s Mariana Larroquette spearheads an Argentine attack that can be a bit inconsistent when it comes to creating chances. That being said, Vanina Preininger can pull strings from the midfield and Argentina has multiple players capable of scoring from distance. Laurina Oliveros will likely start in goal after her clean sheet in the opener, and the defense also includes Kansas City Current center back Sophia Braun.

Free Kicks

  • The Orlando Pride’s Rafaelle and Adriana both started in Brazil’s 1-0 win over Puerto Rico.
  • The LA Galaxy signed Ghanaian winger Joseph Paintsil as their third Designated Player. The 26-year-old joins from Genk in Belgium and signed a contract with the Galaxy through 2027.
  • The Revolution beat Panama’s Independiente 1-0 on the road in the Champions Cup opener for both teams.
  • The new changes to MLS’ competitive rules, such as in-stadium VAR announcements and off-field treatments, have been postponed amid the league’s referee situation.
  • The United Soccer League announced that all 47 of the teams under its umbrella will take part in this year’s U.S. Open Cup.
  • Bayern Munich officially announced that Thomas Tuchel will leave once this season is over. Although Bayern is second in the Bundesliga standings, it’s lost its past three games, including a defeat to Lazio in the Champions League.
  • Porto scored a stunning goal in stoppage time to shock Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League.

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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Lion Links

Lion Links: 2/21/24

Orlando City takes on Cavalry FC tonight, Lions sign Jeorgio Kocevski, USWNT wins in Concacaf W Gold Cup, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Hello, Mane Landers. I hope all is well with you in Florida as we get to watch the Lions in action tonight in the Concacaf Champions Cup. There’s not much new with me this week other than staying busy covering high school basketball and hockey. Let’s wish a happy birthday to Orlando Pride forward Amanda Allen. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.

Orlando City Takes on Cavalry FC Tonight

Orlando City will be in action tonight in the first round of the Concacaf Champions Cup, as it takes on Cavalry FC at Starlight Stadium at 10 p.m. This matchup will be the Lions’ first competitive match of 2024, with their MLS season opener against CF Montreal set for Saturday. The Lions were knocked out by Tigres due to away goals in last year’s Concacaf Champions League. Cavalry FC will make its debut in this competition tonight and qualified by winning the 2023 Canadian Premier League Shield. The second leg between these two sides will be on Feb. 27 in Orlando.

Orlando City Signs First-Round Draft Pick Jeorgio Kocevski

Orlando City signed 2024 MLS SuperDraft pick Jeorgio Kocevski to a contract through the 2024 season with club options for 2025, 2026, and 2027. Kocevski scored the game-winning goal in stoppage time in Orlando’s final preseason match against the Colorado Rapids this past weekend. The midfielder was selected 21st overall in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft by the Lions in December. He played four years for Syracuse, recording seven goals and 18 assists in 71 matches. Kocevski is the only player the club has signed from the Lions’ 2024 draft class and will likely get some minutes with Orlando City B this season.

St. Louis City and Philadelphia Union Win in Champions Cup

Orlando City isn’t the only MLS team kicking off its Concacaf Champions Cup campaign this week. St. Louis City edged out the Houston Dynamo 2-1, with rookie Hosei Kijima scoring the winner in stoppage time. The Philadelphia Union were on the road in Costa Rica to face off against Deportivo Saprissa and won 3-2, thanks to a hat trick from Julian Carranza in the second half. As for other tournament matches this week, the New England Revolution face Independiente in Panama tonight, with Nashville playing Moca FC in the Dominican Republic and FC Cincinnati taking on Jamaica’s Cavalier SC tomorrow.

USWNT Beats the Dominican Republic in W Gold Cup

The United States Women’s National Team got its Concacaf W Gold Cup campaign off to a great start with a 5-0 win against the Dominican Republic in Group A. Olivia Moultrie scored her first USWNT goal to give her team an early lead, with Lynn Williams giving the U.S. another goal before halftime. Moultrie scored another in the second half to earn her brace, and Jenna Nighswonger converted a penalty for her first USWNT goal as well. Former Pride forward Alex Morgan replaced Mia Fishel on the roster due to injury and scored from the penalty spot in stoppage time. The USWNT’s next game will be against Argentina on Friday at 10:15 p.m.

UEFA Champions League Roundup

The UEFA Champions League had plenty of drama as the round of 16 continued. Inter Milan won 1-0 in its first leg against Atletico Madrid at home, with Mark Arnautovic scoring the only goal in the match. In the Netherlands, PSV Eindhoven and Borussia Dortmund played to a thrilling 1-1 draw. The second legs for both matchups will be played on March 13. There is more Champions League action today, as FC Porto hosts Arsenal while Napoli takes on Barcelona.

Free Kicks

  • The latest MLS power rankings are out just before the regular season begins. Orlando City begins the season in the fifth spot.
  • Orlando City and the Orlando Pride announced fan experience upgrades at Inter&Co Stadium featuring Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology in merchandise shops, stadium Wi-Fi upgrades, and a jersey history experience.
  • The MLS Players Association released a statement on the ongoing referee lockout.
  • Here is the list of MLS Season Pass commentator assignments for opening week.

That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Wednesday and I’ll see you next time.

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