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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew

Familiarize yourself with this week’s opponents, the Columbus Crew, courtesy of someone who knows them best.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

It was a pretty rocky week for Orlando soccer, but the only way out is through. Time to put bad results in the past and look forward to the next match. Tomorrow, Orlando City will take on the Columbus Crew up in Ohio, and try to right the ship after a rough couple of games.

A clash with Columbus means I spoke to Massive Report’s Pat Murphy. As always, Pat was very helpful in getting us up to speed with the Crew. Like us here at The Mane Land, Massive Report has gone independent and they’re continuing to do excellent coverage of the Crew, and I answered a few of their questions about Orlando City, so make sure you go and check them out over at their place.

Columbus has now played 10 league games under Wilfried Nancy. How do the Crew like to play under him compared to what you saw under Caleb Porter?

Pat Murphy: If you watched CF Montreal under Nancy last year, you have the answer to that question. More or less, he has tried to carbon copy what made Montreal successful in 2022 in Columbus.

The Crew play a 3-4-2-1 with one of the center backs stepping up into midfield often. The Black & Gold want to play out of the back with the center backs attempting to pull attackers to them before passing at times to open space to go forward. The wing backs create the width with central midfielders operating mostly out of a double pivot. There are two attacking midfielders behind the lone striker (typically, sometimes he’s played with two strikers) and that group is usually rather fluid.

As well as this worked last year in Montreal, it’s taking time for things to fall in place for the Black & Gold. This was a team that was built to play a 4-2-3-1 under both Gregg Berhalter and Porter, and so the pieces to play a completely different formation aren’t all there, especially after the starters. We’ll call it a work in progress.

The Crew have not struggled to score goals this season, as only Atlanta and St. Louis have more than Columbus’ 19 tallies. What has made the Crew so lethal on offense this season?

PM: That number is a bit inflated by two consecutive games earlier this year where the Crew combined to score 10 goals against an undermanned Atlanta United and a struggling Real Salt Lake. The only other times the Black & Gold have scored more than one goal in a game this year came in the two games against D.C. United (and that was still a D.C. team trying to figure things out).

What should be pointed out is that Designated Player striker Cucho Hernandez has played just four games this year after a knee injury forced him out for around two months. He has one goal, which came in the last game against Inter Miami, and if he gets going, that could really boost the offense. Hernandez has done more floating than he did after joining the team last year, which means he hasn’t been in front of the goal as much, but is still always dangerous. His combination with Lucas Zelarayan, plus central midfielder Aidan Morris adding goals to his game this year, could mean the offense does live up to its numbers so far.

Who were some notable off-season departures, and how have they been replaced?

PM: The biggest was Jonathan Mensah, who had served as the team’s captain and defensive rock for the last several years. He was traded to the San Jose Earthquakes shortly before the start of the year with the intent to replace him with a younger center back that more fits what Nancy wants from that position. The Crew had a target they were close with in Turkey, but that fell apart before the start of the season. The Black & Gold brought in Gustavo Vallencilla from the Colorado Rapids on a season-long loan and he has played well for the most part but has not replaced Mensah.

Pedro Santos and Derrick Etienne were both also rather notable departures. Santos, in particular, would have been interesting on this team given his ability to play left back or left wing, which would fit right into Nancy’s wing back role. Etienne had a good season last year but wanted more money than the team wanted to give him — and they appear to be right with an inconsistent start for him in Atlanta. As it turns out, he may not have fit well in Nancy’s system either, as the Crew has too many wingers and not enough wing backs.

Are there any players who will be unavailable due to injury, suspension, etc? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?

PM: Left wing back Will Sands is out for the season after he tore his ACL against Charlotte FC a few weeks back. Goalkeeper Eloy Room likely remains out with a knee issue that has lingered for a while. The Black & Gold may have an issue at center back, a position that already doesn’t have much depth, as Josh Williams is yet to play this year after an ankle injury in preseason, Milos Degenek and Steven Moreira left the game two weeks ago against Miami with injuries and Philip Quinton got hurt late in the Open Cup game on Wednesday.

Guessing Nancy’s starting lineup is typically tricky, but I’ll go with: Patrick Schulte; Steven Moreria, Gustavo Vallencilla, Malte Amundsen; Mohamed Farsi, Yaw Yeboah; Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe; Lucas Zelarayan, Alexandru Matan; Cucho Hernandez.

I said 2-0 Crew earlier this week on our podcast but the injuries at the back have me reconsidering this score. The Black & Gold need a win after dropping two in a row to struggling teams, so I think they pull one out at home but it could be an ugly 2-1 victory.


Thank you to Pat for helping us get caught up on the Crew. Vamos Orlando!

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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Lion Links

Lion Links: 2/19/24

Orlando City wins preseason finale, post-match concert artists named, U.S. Open Cup in jeopardy, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Merry Monday morning, Mane Landers. We’re about to get to see Orlando City play matches in both the MLS regular season and the Concacaf Champions Cup. Cavalry FC is up first on Wednesday and CF Montreal on Saturday. That’s a whole lot of Canada to start things off, eh? Before we get to the links, please join us in wishing a happy birthday to Orlando Pride star Marta, who turns 38 today.

Orlando City Defeats the Rapids in Preseason Finale

The Lions won their final preseason match against the Colorado Rapids 3-2 at Inter&Co Stadium on Saturday. Kyle Smith got the scoring going mere seconds into the match and Facundo Torres doubled the lead on a penalty kick before the end of the first half. The Rapids tied it up in the second half, but Orlando City rookie Jeorgio Kocevski scored a late winner in stoppage time to keep the Lions unbeaten in the preseason. Orlando ended the preseason schedule with a record of 4-0-1.

Orlando Postgame Concert Announced

As I get older, I see each decade get its time in the nostalgic spotlight. Evidently, it is the 1990s’ turn. Orlando City announced a concert that will follow the Austin FC match at Inter&Co Stadium on March 23. You didn’t ask for it — and neither did anyone else — but Vanilla Ice, Rob Base, and Montell Jordan are headlining an “I Love the 90s” post-match concert. I’m not entirely certain if everyone will be required to stop, collaborate, and listen, but it’s certainly a possibility.

PRO Referee Strike Looms

Normally, if I told you that Orlando City didn’t have to worry about the Professional Referees Organization (PRO), I’m willing to bet you’d be pretty happy. Now it’s a real possibility that the Lions’ first match will likely have stand-in referees. The Professional Soccer Referees Association rejected a new collective bargaining agreement with PRO, meaning that there will be a lockout. PRO has identified “qualified replacements” ready to make sure that matches will be able to be played.

Open Cup in Jeopardy

The start of the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is only a month away, although that isn’t a certainty. U.S. Soccer and MLS are still not seeing eye to eye regarding how many of the senior squads will participate. On the other side of the equation, the USL is pushing back against the demands from MLS.

Ultimately, this is a power struggle between the upper levels of organized soccer in this country. If a compromise solution can’t be found, it could mean that the Open Cup won’t take place this year. If that happens, it won’t help any of the involved parties and it will be devastating to the supporters of all the clubs at every level.

Free Kicks

  • Thanks to Zakaria Taifi’s mother, Alyssa Taifi, we know that Orlando City B defeated Philadelphia Union II by a score of 4-0 in a preseason scrimmage, and that there was some chippiness in the match.
  • Inter Miami is under pressure to get roster compliant. As such, Federico Redondo will not be joining the Herons due to Miami’s inability to bring him in because of MLS regulations regarding payment methodology.
  • Inter Miami midfielder Victor Ulloa announced he is retiring, which will also help Miami’s roster cap problems.

That will do it for today. Check back for our coverage of Orlando City’s two matches this week. Vamos Orlando!

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