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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Minnesota United

Get up to speed on Minnesota United, courtesy of the people who know the team best.



Photo by Tim McLaughlin / courtesy of Northland Soccer Journal

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

Orlando City at New York City FC: Five Takeaways

What did we learn from Orlando City’s 2-0 loss to NYCFC?



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City traveled to a baseball field to take on New York City FC. This time it was Citi Field and not Yankee Stadium. While it is a slightly bigger field, it’s still not the way that soccer should be played. Nevertheless, the Lions had the opportunity to secure a playoff berth with a win or a draw against the Pigeons. A 2-0 loss to NYCFC made that a lot tougher.

What follows are the five takeaways from a mostly forgettable match in which Orlando City clinched a playoff berth despite the loss.

Gallese Keeps it Close

It started early with a huge save from Pedro Gallese on former Lion Andres Perea’s shot from inside the box. El Pulpo even made the save on Santiago Rodriguez’s penalty kick, but the follow up by Mounsef Bakrar was well away from him and thus there was not any way for him to make the save. Gallese ended up with five saves on the night and was a big reason that it wasn’t worse than it was.

Enrique is no Defender

Ramiro Enrique tracked back in defense, following Rodriguez after a midfield turnover. Unfortunately, Enrique is not a defender and he got his feet tangled with Rodriguez. Although it was initially called a goal kick and no foul was given, referee Ismail Elfath took another look at the play on the replay monitor. The penalty was probably rightly called and Rodriguez took the shot. As mentioned above, Gallese made the save but it still ended up in the back of the net due to a failure to react before Bakrar.

Second Half Adjustments

Oscar Pareja made some halftime adjustments, moving Ivan Angulo from the left side to the right, and pushing Facundo Torres more central. At the 58th minute mark he brought on Martin Ojeda, Duncan McGuire and Luca Petrasso. Given how Enrique and Rafael Santos were playing, this was a good decision. However, given these were offensive minded changes, Orlando City gave up a second goal. We’re so used to Pareja’s adjustments creating results that when they don’t, it’s a bit of a surprise.

Hangover Match

Orlando City played an emotional and draining match on Saturday. Enrique was a hero in that match, but was unable to sustain his performance in his time on the pitch against NYCFC. Of course, he wasn’t the only player who didn’t play as well as last match. The entire team looked out of sorts all night. The Lions have been good on the attack recently, but were unable to generate much in the way of decent chances. Of the 11 shots taken by Orlando City, only two were on target. I don’t usually say that Pareja should rotate the lineup heavily, but perhaps he should have on this night. I doubt it could have been worse.

Sloppiness is Contagious

Every team has sloppy matches. Some more than others, but it shouldn’t be surprising. What matters is when the sloppy match happens, how bad does it hurt? Fortunately, Orlando City made the playoffs thanks to Atlanta United earning a draw against D.C. United. The irony of Atlanta helping Orlando make the playoffs is something to enjoy.

Now, the sloppiness I mentioned. Rodrigo Schlegel was not his usual self. As mentioned above, Santos was not good, nor was Mauricio Pereyra. So many of Orlando City’s players were just a bit off, and the loss is the result. I’m not going to dwell on it though because it was merely match number two of three in a nine-day period. The Lions are in the playoffs and Inter Miami is up next.

That is what I saw in Orlando City’s loss to NYCFC last night. The good news is that Orlando City is now playing for home field advantage in the playoffs. Let me know your thoughts below.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 9/21/23

Orlando City clinches playoff berth despite loss, Eastern Conference standings remain close, USWNT plays South Africa tonight, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

How’s it going, Mane Landers? Last night’s result wasn’t the best outcome by any means, but losing on the road on short rest after a huge win isn’t the worst thing in the world. We’ll just have to shake that loss off and look forward to more soccer while we have it. Before we dive into today’s links, let’s all wish a happy birthday to Orlando City B midfielder Imanol Almaguer!

Orlando City Clinch Playoff Spot Despite Loss

The Lions weren’t able to put together a comeback in their 2-0 loss on the road to New York City FC. Playing at a narrow Citi Field, Orlando was not able to get much of anything going on offense and was shut out for the first time since July 8. The loss snapped Orlando’s six-game unbeaten streak in MLS play as well. Although the Lions are headed back to Florida emptyhanded, they did qualify for the playoffs due to other results in the league. Orlando will look to right the ship when it hosts Inter Miami this Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Eastern Conference Remains Tight After Midweek Matches

Orlando wasn’t the only Eastern Conference team to clinch its spot in the playoffs after the latest midweek matches, with the Columbus Crew and Philadelphia Union both qualifying. Cucho Hernandez had a hat trick within the first 23 minutes of the Crew’s 3-0 win at home against the Chicago Fire. A penalty kick in stoppage time by Daniel Gazdag salvaged a point for the Union in a 2-2 draw with Charlotte FC. FC Cincinnati also needed a late equalizer from the penalty spot in its 1-1 draw with CF Montreal. As for how Orlando’s rivals fared, Atlanta United drew 1-1 with D.C. United and Miami beat Toronto FC, 4-0. Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba both exited in the first half and Miami Head Coach Tata Martino stated that neither will play against Orlando this weekend. Of course, that could just be misdirection. We’ll know for certain come Sunday.

USWNT Plays South Africa Tonight

The United States Women’s National Team will play its first match since the World Cup tonight when it faces South Africa tonight at 7:30 p.m. at TQL Stadium. Following Vlatko Andonovski’s departure last month, Twila Kilgore will coach the team for these friendlies. It will also be Julie Ertz’s final game after 10 years of playing for the USWNT. The 31-year-old announced her retirement last month and spoke more about her decision ahead of tonight’s match. After tonight, the USWNT will play South Africa again on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Champions League Group Stage Rolls On

More clubs got their first taste of this year’s Champions League action as the group stage kicked off this week. Arsenal’s campaign got off on the right foot, with a 4-0 win over PSV Eindhoven that put the English club at the top of its group after a 1-1 draw between Sevilla and Lens. Manchester United had a rougher time, falling 4-3 on the road to Bayern Munich. Goalkeeper Andre Onana struggled and blamed himself for the loss. Real Madrid needed a goal from Jude Bellingham in stoppage time to win 1-0 over Union Berlin at home, while Lautaro Martinez scored a late equalizer in Inter Milan’s 1-1 draw with Real Sociedad. Elsewhere, Napoli beat Braga 2-1, RB Leipzig won 2-0 against a Benfica side that was reduced to 10 men early on, and Galatasaray and Copenhagen split the points in a 2-2 result.

Free Kicks

That’s all I have for you today. Be like a goldfish and enjoy your Thursday!

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. New York City FC: Final Score 2-0 as Lions’ Unbeaten Run Ends with a Thud

The Lions struggled yet again on a baseball field in an awful-looking road loss to NYCFC but clinched a playoff spot anyway.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

New York City is known as the city that never sleeps. It was the Lions who chose to sleep tonight, as the lads in purple turned in a performance as ugly as the pitch at Citi Field in a 2-0 loss to a New York City FC team that hasn’t been able to buy a goal recently. Mounsef Bakrar and Talles Magno scored on either side of halftime to lead the hosts to the win.

Orlando City saw its six-match unbeaten run snapped and fell to 7-8-7 in the all-time series, missing an opportunity to gain points on FC Cincinnati and allowing Columbus to close within two points. However, D.C. United’s draw against Atlanta United clinched the Lions a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs for the fourth straight season.

“We would have loved to celebrate (making the playoffs) with a victory today and a better result and a better performance but we couldn’t. We have no excuses,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We’re responsible for the things we do good and the things that we don’t do good. We played against a good team. I think they had the best chances. We had a few. We were not sharp in that end but we were not sharp in our defensive side either.”

Pareja’s starting lineup was nearly the same as in Saturday’s win over Columbus. Pedro Gallese was in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. Wilder Cartagena returned to the lineup, replacing Felipe alongside Cesar Araujo in central midfield. Facundo Torres was also back in the starting lineup, replacing Martin Ojeda on the attacking midfield line with Ivan Angulo and Mauricio Pereyra, while Ramiro Enrique got his second straight start up top.

Despite the strong lineup, the Lions could hardly have had a worse performance or result with a heavily rotated side and now the starters will be tasked with playing their third match in eight days when Inter Miami visits this weekend. On a small pitch, where movement has to be quicker and more precise, the Lions were neither.

The first few minutes of the game consisted of the teams fouling each other in the midfield. The hosts then got the game’s first big chance off of one of those fouls. New York City FC played a long-distance set piece short and worked it to the middle of the field before sending a chipped ball over the top. Orlando’s deefending was awful and two NYCFC players got in behind. Former Lion Andres Perea took a pass from Richie Ledezma and fired a shot from point-blank range. However, Gallese made a huge stop on his former teammate in the fourth minute.

Moments later, Perea whiffed on his initial shot attempt near the top of the area, then sent a half-volley, follow-up shot well over the bar as Orlando City struggled to get into the attacking half, as has often been the case on these baseball fields up north.

Orlando did get forward for the first time in the seventh minute, winning a corner, but Torres left his cross too close to Freese, who knocked it away.

The Lions managed their best attack of the half in the 22nd minute, as the ball was sent from right to left, where it ended up with Torres. The Uruguayan found his countryman Pereyra near the top of the area, but the captain’s first-time shot deflected off a defender and out for a corner. The ensuing set piece found Santos at the near post but his redirected shot hit the outside netting.

NYCFC’s second excellent opportunity came two minutes later. Andres Jasson was well covered near the right sideline but somehow got in an accurate cross and Schlegel lost track of Bakrar, but the home team’s forward headed it over the bar.

The breakthrough went the hosts’ way after an Orlando turnover in the middle of the pitch. Enrique followed Santiago Rodriguez down the left sideline and when the opposing attacker cut into the box, Schlegel came over to close the play down. Before the defender got there, Rodriguez’s foot made contact with Enrique’s. The referee initially gave a goal kick but then took a brief look himself before awarding a penalty.

Gallese made a terrific diving save to stop the Rodriguez penalty, but Bakrar was first to the ball and headed it into the far corner to make it 1-0 in the 37th minute. Orlando players appealed for an encroachment call but the goal stood.

“I got the ball, played it into (Enrique’s) feet and was going to go for a one-two,” Thorhallsson said about the play that led to the penalty. He played it behind me and then he was tracking back and I was right behind him. I didn’t see the penalty but it looked like a penalty. And then Pedro saves the penalty, and I would say me and Rodri made the mistake of not blocking the guy to get the ball. So, just a fiasco and something we need to look into — me and everybody. Me especially.”

Neither team got a clear-cut look for the rest of the half but Torres earned a free kick in a dangerous spot in stoppage time. Pereyra went for goal but fired over the bar on the last chance of the opening period.

Orlando City finished with more first-half possession (56.4%-43.6%) but most of that was kicking it around the back line, looking for a way to break out on the narrow field. The Lions also somehow managed more shot attempts (6-5), although it didn’t seem like it, as most of them were of the non-dangerous variety, won more corners (2-1), and had the edge in passing accuracy (84%-81.3%). However, again, that’s largely due to passing it around the back line and back to Gallese. NYCFC fired more shots on target (3-1).

The Lions nearly equalized two minutes after the restart. A good cross from Santos found its way through traffic to Torres, but the ball was a bit behind him and he couldn’t direct it on frame as it fizzed wide.

Gallese then made a good save in the 51st minute when a shot from outside the box by Bakrar was deflected by Jansson’s foot. Perea got a free header on the ensuing corner but hit his shot right at his former teammate in goal.

Pareja sent fresh attackers on in the 59th minute, introducing Ojeda, Duncan McGuire, and Luca Petrasso for Cartagena, Enrique, and Santos. Seconds later, a ball fell kindly for Pereyra outside the box but he squibbed his shot badly off target.

Orlando appealed for a handball in the 62nd minute off a long throw by Araujo but there was no whistle. The Lions then had a prolonged spell of poor defense. It started with a free look for Magno in the box but he slipped while cutting inside for a better shot. He got his goal three minutes later as he found himself between an inattentive Schlegel and Thorhallsson, with neither player actually marking him.

The Lions learned nothing from the previous open looks by NYCFC and left Perea unmarked on a corner in the 77th minute. The former Lion sent his shot right at Gallese, however. Two minutes after that, Birk Risa was the man free for a header but sent it over the bar with Araujo not paying him closely enough.

Orlando got on the front foot down the stretch but couldn’t create anything dangerous from its possession. Ojeda won a couple of corners. Schlegel sent one of those headed just wide of the right post. Petrasso had a shot blocked late and the game’s last chance was a soft pop-up header by McGuire that went down as just the team’s second shot on target of the night.

There were no late-match heroics on this night.

Orlando City held the final edge in possession (59.5%-40.5%) and passed more accurately (83.6%-78%), but NYCFC finished with more (16-11), way more shots on frame (7-2), and corners (6-5). The only two shots on frame by the Lions couldn’t have been easier for Freese to handle.

“I don’t think we had a spark today, but I think we were a little predictable,” Pareja said. “I thought we had more problems today with dealing with the spaces and trying to put ourselves into the map of the field. We have to be able to do it, but we couldn’t do it. New York neutralized those things. They condensed with many numbers in behind. We tried to do the same but we were not effective.”

“It’s a little bit hard to be happy,” Thorhallsson said about clinching a playoff spot. “We can say sweet and sour emotion but of course it’s a little more sour because we lost the game.”

The Lions have another short turnaround, returning home for a Sunday night Tropic Thunder showdown against Inter Miami at 7:30 p.m.

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