After a nice little break, we are once again on the eve of an Orlando City matchday. The Lions will hit the road to try to get back to winning ways, and fans will see a familiar face in the dugout as OCSC takes on the Adrian Heath-led Minnesota United FC.
A clash with Minnesota means I spoke with Alan Van Wyk, one of the writers over at Northland Soccer Journal, previously SBNation’s E Pluribus Loonum. Like ourselves, the folks over at Northland have recently gone independent, so make sure you go check out their new digs, especially since I answered some of their questions about the Lions over at their place.
Talk me through Minnesota’s transfer business from the end of last season until now. What were the key departures, if any, and who has come in to replace them?
Alan Van Wyk: It was a rather typical off-season for MN United. Alan Benitez, Abu Danladi, Oniel Fisher, Jonathan Gonzalez, Niko Hansen, Jacori Hayes, Aziel Jackson, Nabilai Kibunguchy [editor’s note: Nabi is now with Orlando City B], Justin McMaster, Romain Métanire, Callum Montgomery, and Tyler Miller were all let go. Most surprising, or at least most disappointing, were the departures of starting right back and previous MLS All-Star Métanire and U.S. international and starting goalkeeper Miller. After trying to be brought back from injury too quickly too many times over the past two seasons Métanire was released for injury reasons, while Miller was simply allowed to leave, with the club turning to young Canadian international Dayne St. Clair as their starting keeper.
Most of the club’s new signings were designed to add defensive depth to the team, a need that became especially pressing last season when the team struggled after losing center back Bakaye Dibassy, who is still out recovering from a rather freakish thigh injury, and to continue their desire to get younger. Coming in this year were young attacking player Cameron Dunbar, veteran defender Doneil Henry, who is still working his way back into fitness, veteran goalkeeper Clint Irwin, SuperDraft signee Ryen Jiba, young defender Mikael Marqués, defender Micky Tapias, veteran defender Zarek Valentin, and the most recent signing, young South Korean international striker Sang Bin Jeong.
Of most important note, at the moment, are Tapias, Valentin, and Sang Bin. Tapias has very quickly established a strong partnership with Michael Boxall in the center of the Loons’ defense, while Valentin looks to be an important option at right back. Sang Bin has yet to see significant minutes, after clearing paperwork and securing his visa, he was first available last weekend in Chicago, but he looked very good in his brief substitute appearance.
The Loons have had a good start to the season and only lost for the first time last week. What has MNUFC been doing well up to this point?
AVW: The next three answers all begin with some form of “missing DP playmaker Emanuel Reynoso,” but we’ll leave a fuller explanation of that situation for next. For now, Minnesota did have a great start to the season: a five-game opening run that began and ended with statement road wins against FC Dallas and St. Louis City, with a bye-week, another win, and two draws in between. As has been well established, Head Coach Adrian Heath is ride-or-die with the 4-2-3-1, which was built, in Minnesota, around Reynoso. In Reynoso’s absence, the team has turned to a more defensive 4-4-2, which has allowed them to sit back and absorb pressure while remaining opportunistic in attack. Averaging 43% possession this season, the Loons are quite comfortable without the ball, taking advantage of a few quick breaks and very well taken set pieces by Franco Fragapane for delivery and Kervin Arriaga on goal.
Like Orlando, Minnesota hasn’t been scoring a ton to start the year, with seven goals in six games. What do you think has been holding them back in front of goal?
AVW: “Missing DP playmaker Emanuel Reynoso.” This is going to get long, but, to back up for just a moment, Reynoso joined Minnesota in 2020 and immediately took over the team, forming an attacking partnership with Kevin Molino that the Loons rode to the conference finals of that season’s MLS Cup. Over the past few years, Heath and Chief Soccer Officer Manny Lagos have built the team around Reynoso. Last season, the club and Reynoso agreed to a new three-year with club option contract, and at the announcement everyone said all the right things: MNUFC were excited to have Reynoso long-term, Reynoso was happy to make a home in Minnesota, etc., etc., etc. Then Reynoso failed to report for camp in January this year. At first, his failure to appear was treated by the club as nothing exceptional: St. Clair was going to get a few days off after the World Cup, Kemar Lawrence was dealing with some personal issues in Jamaica and would join the team later in Florida, Fragapane would be a few days late, what with the difficulty of winter-weather/international travel from Argentina, and Reynoso was going to be late dealing with some “personal issues” at home.
This was the club’s stance until it wasn’t, ‘Reynoso is home dealing with some personal issues but will hopefully be joining the team soon.’ In early February, the league suspended Reynoso without pay for failing to show up, and the club revealed that there hadn’t been much contact with Reynoso or his people up to that point. They now hoped that “common sense would prevail” and that Reynoso would be joining the team soon. He remains suspended by the league and not a part of the active roster. There are, of course, as there always will be, a number of rumors about Reynoso’s absence, but there is very little that we actually know; the people who do know, both those with Reynoso in Argentina and those at the club, are not saying anything of substance. So he remains absent until he is not.
With that, to say that this team has been built around Reynoso is a bit of an understatement. For the past few seasons, the Loons’ strategy has been to not give up goals and get the ball to Reynoso as quickly and as often as possible and let him do something special — a strategy that has gotten them into the playoffs three years in a row. The team is still founded on a very stout defense, but has lost its structural ability to generate any offense. When the Loons return to the 4-2-3-1, as they did last weekend against Chicago, they remain a team divided, with six players sitting defensively deep, three players staying high on offense, and the No. 10 in the middle bridging the gap between the two. Reynoso was incredibly good at that role, receiving the ball just inside Minnesota’s half, turning and making a 10-to-15-yard run to start the attack. Robin Lod, who is being asked to play that No. 10 role in Reynoso’s absence, is an incredibly good player for the Loons and should consistently lead the team in goals and assists, but he is not good at turning and carrying the ball into the attack through the middle.
Without Reynoso in the 4-2-3-1, the striker is out on an island and the two wide midfielders are stranded in the in-between. The other problem for Minnesota’s offense this season has been the form of their two DP strikers, Ménder García and Luis Amarilla. Amarilla has seemingly lost all confidence and so is over-thinking and falling a step behind in everything he does, while García is still very young and growing into his game. With the right support, García will become a very good attacking player, but at the moment he is still a half season away from that. It is still very early, but it seems that as soon as Sang Bin is integrated into the team and finds his full fitness he will be starting up front, either alongside Amarilla or García in the 4-4-2 or by himself in the 4-2-3-1.
Are there any players unavailable to selection due to injuries, suspensions, call-ups etc? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
AVW: The two absences of note for the weekend will be Reynoso and Dibassy. The team has, in Tapias, found a way to cover for Dibassy’s absence in the center of their defense. They have not found a way to cover for Reynoso’s absence in the center of their offense. As for how the team will line up, only Heath and his staff know that. Most fans and media here are getting on board with the idea that this team works better in a 4-4-2, but as last weekend showed, there is still a commitment to the 4-2-3-1.
With that, the open questions remain up front and the decision to go with Amarilla, García, or Sang Bin or some combination of the three; whether Lod will remain in the middle of the field, or if he will move up front to a false 9, replacing one of the other forwards, or if he will return out wide, pushing Bongokuhle Hlongwane to the bench; and whether Hassani Dotson has done enough and has regained enough full fitness in his recovery from a season-ending ACL tear last year to move into the starting XI in midfield, giving Kervin Arriaga or Wil Trapp a rotational break before the team faces Seattle next weekend.
[No score prediction provided]
Thank you to Alan, for an in-depth look at MNUFC. Vamos Orlando!
Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Three Keys to Victory
What does Orlando City need to do to secure all three points in the home opener against CF Montreal?
Orlando City will host CF Montreal in the club’s first match of the 2024 MLS regular season this Saturday night. The Lions are coming off the Concacaf Champions Cup match against Cavalry FC Wednesday night. Orlando City will want to get things started the right way as expectations and aspirations are higher than ever for the club.
What does Orlando City need to do to secure a victory in the home opener against their Canadian opponents?
Orlando City has four matches in 11 days — the previously mentioned Wednesday match against Cavalry in Canada, the match against Montreal on Saturday, the return match against Cavalry in Orlando next Tuesday, and then a trip to Ft. Lauderdale to take on Inter Miami. That is quite a start to competitive play in 2024.
Because of the schedule congestion, Oscar Pareja will need to rotate players. That means we’re not likely to have the preferred starting 11 as much as any of us will like. Kyle Smith, Michael Halliday, Jeorgio Kocevski, and others will likely see playing time. How well Pareja manages when to use which players, and for how long, will determine not just the result of this match against Montreal, but for each of the other matches as well.
Rodrigo Schlegel is serving a suspension in this first league match and will not be available. That means Orlando City’s newest center back, David Brekalo, will probably get the start alongside Robin “The Beefy Swede” Jansson. Having a good center back pairing is absolutely essential to the success of any defense. We know that because once Jansson and former Lion Antonio Carlos worked together for a while, they became an absolute fortress on the back line.
Now, Jansson will need to build the same chemistry with Brekalo if the Lions want to maintain their position as one of the best defenses in the league. With Schlegel unavailable, there is no question that Jansson and Brekalo will have the opportunity to start building that relationship. Hopefully, it will be good enough to keep Montreal — especially Josef Martinez — out of the goal.
Keep Torres Scoring
Facundo Torres had a great preseason. Orlando City’s new owner of the No. 10 shirt needs to keep doing the same. He’ll need to score goals, provide assists, and create problems for Montreal’s defense. Traditionally, Montreal has put out a three-man back line. While that means it’ll be a five-man back line when Orlando City has the ball, during changes of possession there should be space for Torres to get free and get scoring opportunities.
If Montreal smartly tried to contain Torres, then it will have to deal with Duncan McGuire, Nico Lodeiro, and Ivan Angulo. Orlando City’s offense has the potential to score quite a few more goals this season, and it all starts Saturday night against Montreal. Get two on the board and I think it will mean three points in the standings.
That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!
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.
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.
- 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.
- Manchester United left back Luke Shaw may be done for the season due to a leg injury.
- In the Europa Conference League, Israeli club Maccabi Haifa secured a 1-1 draw with Belgium’s Gent to advance to the round of 16.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and rest of your week!
Orlando City vs. Cavalry FC, Concacaf Champions Cup: Final Score 3-0 as Torres Brace Leads Lions to Road Win
The Lions are in the driver’s seat after a comprehensive victory over Cavalry FC in western Canada.
Duncan McGuire opened the scoring and Facundo Torres added a brace to lead Orlando City SC to a comfortable 3-0 win over Cavalry FC at Starlight Stadium in Langford, British Columbia in the first leg of Concacaf Champions Cup play. Orlando scored their first road goals in the competition and have a huge advantage heading into next week’s return leg.
“It’s very good for the team. The clean sheet is very important for us and scoring three goals is a good score for returning home,” Orlando City Assistant Coach Diego Torres said after the match. “Cavalry is a good team. The Canada league is a good league. All of our team respects all rivals. The team came here serious for the game.”
With Oscar Pareja sidelined due to suspension for a red card after the second leg against Tigres in 2023, Diego Torres’ lineup was made up mostly of presumed starters for the 2024 season, with Pedro Gallese starting in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena took their usual spots in the central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Martin Ojeda, and Facundo Torres with McGuire up top. Presumed starters Rafael Santos, Nico Lodeiro, David Brekalo, and Luis Muriel were not in the lineup, with the latter two new Lions not in the matchday squad.
Center back Daan Klomp was positioned on the line and was able to get in front of Araujo’s header on frame. On the ensuing corner, Schlegel got under his header and sent it well over the bar.
Cavalry’s defense again denied a shot off a corner moments later. This time it was Callum Montgomery knocking it away. The Lions recycled and a shot appeared to go out off the goalkeeper but a goal kick was awarded.
Araujo again got forward in the 13th minute and the defense again blocked it, although this time it was outside the six-yard box rather than on the line. Moments later, McGuire had a go from a tough angle on the left but he mishit his shot and it went out on the other side for a throw-in. Torres then fired from the top of the box in the 19th minute but his effort was always rising and sailed well over the bar.
The Lions found the breakthrough moments later. Cartagena sent the ball wide to Angulo on the left and the Colombian sent Ojeda down the flank. The Argentine sent a great cross into the area and McGuire redirected it past Cavalry goalkeeper Marco Carducci to make it 1-0 in the 21st minute.
Orlando stayed on the front foot and in the 27th minute it was Angulo dancing through the defense and sending a lethal-looking cross through the six. Unfortunately, none of his teammates were making runs on the far side and it skipped harmlessly through.
Cavalry then nearly fashioned something out of nothing when a ball into the area nearly found Sergio Camargo right in front. However, the ball got through to Gallese, who scooped it up.
Thorhallsson, who had a terrific first half, nearly sent in Angulo in the 28th minute on a quick counterattack and then sent a dangerous cross over Carducci in the 32nd that just needed a touch from a teammate but didn’t get one.
No matter though, the Icelandic fullback got his assist in the 38th minute. Tucking inside for much of the night, he sent Torres wide on the right. The Uruguayan cut inside from the right at the top of the box and sent a shot on target. The ball bounced off the artificial turf in front of Carducci, who got a hand on it but couldn’t knock it wide of the post. Torres’ strike made it 2-0.
Cavalry won a late corner but sent the cross right at Gallese at the end of the half and that was it as far as the scoring chances. The Lions took their 2-0 advantage to the locker room.
At the break, the Lions held the advantage in shots (9-2), shots on target (3-0), passing accuracy (97.3%-73.5%), and corners (3-2).
Cavalry started the second half with more energy. Smith did well to win a goal kick to thwart an early attack and Schlegel got a head to a dangerous cross in the 49th to clear Orlando’s lines.
Orlando’s first decent chance of the second period came in the 53rd minute when Araujo stole a ball in the attacking third on the press. He found Ojeda on the left and the Argentine sent a cross in front, however, the defense again cut it out for a corner. The Lions couldn’t do anything with the set piece.
The game got a little chippy after that, with Cavalry’s Charlie Trafford picking up a yellow card for stepping on McGuire’s foot during a challenge. Moments later, a worse-looking challenge by Trafford on Thorhallsson went unpunished with a second yellow, despite being a worse foul.
Torres was then taken down on a rough challenge by Montgomery, who was booked. Ojeda went for goal from distance on the set piece, but Carducci made the save at the hour mark.
Gallese nearly got crossed up in the 61st minute when a fluttering ball fooled him and he had to fight it off to avoid an embarrassing situation. That was the start of a couple of chances for the hosts, sandwiching the Orlando City debut of Lodeiro, who subbed on for Ojeda.
In the 62nd minute, Cavalry created something off a throw-in, sending a ball into the box for Jesse Daley, who sent his weak effort right at Gallese on a wasted opportunity. Moments later, Jansson conceded a free kick and Cavalry nearly paid it off. Klomp got his head to the service but sent it just inches over the crossbar.
Cartagena nearly scored a surprising goal in the 68th minute when he sent a chip towards Carducci’s goal. The Cavalry goalkeeper was backpedaling and had to tip the shot over his crossbar.
Five minutes later, substitute Ramiro Enrique set up Lodeiro in the box but the midfielder sent his shot off the crossbar in the 73rd minute. Angulo followed with a shot that was blocked by the defense for a corner.
Two minutes later, the Lions put the game to bed. A fantastic sequence set up Torres’ brace. Enrique did well to send Angulo in behind the defense on the left. The Colombian sent a perfect cross to the back post and Torres sent a diving header off of Carducci’s hands and in to make it 3-0 in the 75th minute.
Cavalry got back on the front foot for a few minutes after the third goal. Camargo sent a shot right at Gallese in the 79th minute
Orlando should have scored again seconds later. Another excellent buildup play from Enrique and Angulo ended up on Araujo’s foot right in front of goal, but the midfielder couldn’t dig it out of his feet and the defense arrived to knock it away.
A poor giveaway by substitute Rafael Santos on the left sideline gave Cavalry a chance in the 82nd minute. The cross in front was deflected out to the top of the area. Diego Gutierrez smashed a shot toward goal, but Felipe took one for the team and blocked it out for a corner. Klomp was nearly sent in behind on the recycle of the ensuing set piece but the defender was either offside or was judged to have fouled Gallese and Orlando was awarded a free kick. Gallese then scooped up a one-hopper off a shot from a tight angle to his right in the 88th minute.
That was the last half chance for either side and the Lions saw out three minutes of injury time to claim their first Concacaf Champions Cup victory.
The final statistics were more flattering for the hosts than the halftime numbers. Orlando led in possession (55.4%-44.6%), shots (13-9), shots on target (5-4), passing accuracy (85.1%-82%), and corners (6-4).
“Now we prepare for the next leg at home,” Diego Torres said. “I know this game is very important. And the next game now is very important.”
“I wanted the players to be brave, and there’s certainly things that we can learn from it,” Cavalry Head Coach Tommy Wheeldon said. “I don’t think it was a three-nil game. I think between both boxes we matched up with them very, very well. I think they probably defended better in there’s and they finished better in ours, and that’s the difference.”
Orlando City will host Cavalry FC next Tuesday night in the second leg. Prior to that, the Lions have a quick turnaround ahead of Saturday’s MLS opener at home against CF Montreal at 7:30 p.m.
Orlando Pride Place Megan Montefusco on Season-Ending Injury List
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