It looked like Orlando City was about to absorb another loss on its three-game road trip, but the Lions rallied for two second-half goals, erasing a 2-0 deficit and earning a 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field in Columbus, OH. Ercan Kara and Duncan McGuire brought Orlando City (4-4-3, 15 points) back after first-half goals by Darlington Nagbe and Jacen Russell-Rowe had given Columbus (4-4-3, 15 points) a two-goal advantage in the opening period.
The draw snapped Orlando’s two-game losing streak in all competitions but extended the Lions’ winless streak to three matches.
“A really hard game today against this rival with a lot of dynamic,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I think they showed that potential in the first half and confused us and went up the sides of the field and overloades us there. We couldn’t control it right away. We had moments that first half when we probably could have scored a goal and take that pressure off, but it was hard and even harder when they scored the first goal.
“I really liked the reaction of our players. I think they showed our braveness and character one more time.”
Pareja returned to the three-man back line, with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese behind a defensive line of Rodrigo Schlegel, Robin Jansson, and Antonio Carlos. Gaston Gonzalez and Ivan Angulo deployed as wingbacks outside of central midfielders Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena. Facundo Torres and Martin Ojeda played beneath striker Kara.
Orlando City controlled much of the game’s first eight minutes but the remainder of the first half was all Columbus.
Before the Crew took control of the match, Orlando did a better job of keeping the ball when they had it, but still couldn’t hit the target with anything. Cartagena and Ojeda both tried to chip Crew goalkeeper Patrick Schulte but both found out that doesn’t work when you can’t hit the goal frame. Kara also had a couple of shot attempts that went over the bar. That was it for Orlando’s offense in the opening 45 minutes.
After Ojeda made a bad back pass to ignite the break the other way, the Crew took over the match. Cucho Hernandez just barely missed the net on a few opportunities and those warning shots went unheeded by the Orlando defense, which gave everyone far too much room.
Columbus broke the scoreless deadlock by taking advantage of Orlando’s inability to execute a throw-in. The Lions threw the ball in, quickly turned it over, and then it was a cavalcade of being late to the next pass recipient before the ball ended up on the right side with Alexandru Matan. Once the ball was on the right, every available defender followed Hernandez’s diagonal run through the box, so once Matan’s pass trickled across the top of the six, it was just a matter of which Crew player would tap it in. Nagbe took charge of that in the 39th minute.
Just before the half, things got worse. Mohamed Farsi got the ball on the right and sent a simple cross into the box that no one was in position to cut out. It found Russell-Rowe in front and the 20-year-old completely dominated Orlando’s best center back, overpowering Carlos to double the lead in the second minute of first-half injury time.
Orlando was fortunate not to concede a third as the Crew quickly got back into the attacking third in the closing minutes of the half.
The Crew dominated the stat sheet, holding a commanding 65.5%-34.5% lead in possession and also finishing the half with more shots (9-4), shots on target (2-0), corners (3-1), and passing accuracy (85.4%-70.4%).
Pareja made no changes at halftime and his team responded quickly. The Lions pulled one back through Kara’s strike just four minutes after the restart. Torres played the Austrian in with a beautiful through ball that Kara played deftly with his feet to place the ball out in front for himself. He was 1-v-1 with Schulte and calmly slotted past the goalkeeper to make it 2-1 with his second goal of the regular season and third in all competitions.
The goal came on Orlando’s first shot on target in more than a game and a half.
“It was a little bit behind me,” Kara said of the Torres through ball. “But the first touch was okay and the finish was one on one against the goalkeeper. He decided to move a little bit earlier, before I shoot, and he (went) in the wrong direction.”
The Crew nearly pulled that goal back immediately. Hernandez fired a shot that missed the post by inches, skipping harmlessly wide in the 51st minute. Moments later, after Orlando won a corner, the Lions played it short but made such a mess of it that Hernandez broke the other way. Fortunately for Orlando City, several Lions were in good position to cut off the Crew striker.
Gallese made a save on Russell-Rowe in the 55th minute and he may not have seen the initial shot, which hit him in the chest and bounced away.
The Lions broke the other way and had a good chance to score but Kara’s back-post shot didn’t have enough curl on it and stayed wide. The Austrian had an open Ojeda on the other side of the box but may not have seen him before attempting the shot, as he was trailing the play.
Pareja sent on fullbacks Kyle Smith and Michael Halliday for Ojeda and Schlegel. It seemed like a shape change was on but the team played the same way with Halliday pushing high and Smith staying deep in what continued to be more or less a three-man back line.
Despite the change, the Crew nearly restored their two-goal lead in the 64th minute. Russell-Rowe sent Hernandez in behind and the Columbus Designated Player beat Gallese. However, Hernandez was just a tad offside and after a short video review by referee Drew Fischer, the goal was waved off.
Araujo found the ball at his feet in the box in the 67th minute off a corner kick, but the Uruguayan scuffed his shot badly.
Three minutes later, Gallese made a comfortable save on Yaw Yeboah, who fired right at the Orlando keeper. Moments after that, Jansson unwisely played a ball to Cartagena with Nagbe lurking. Nagbe won the ball and Cartagena had to concede a dangerous free kick and absorb a yellow card. Hernandez smashed the ensuing free kick into the wall and then sent the rebound well off target in the 75th minute.
The dead ball situation before the goal kick allowed Pareja to send on McGuire and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson into the match for Angulo and Cartagena in an attempt to get more attacking players on the pitch.
It didn’t work right away. Aidan Morris fired a shot right at Gallese moments later and then Jansson made a fantastic play in the open field to dispossess Hernandez to prevent a transition opportunity.
McGuire sent Halliday into the box in the 81st minute and the fullback had time and space. Trying to pick out the far post, the Homegrown Player wastefully skipped his shot wide.
Yeboah smashed a shot off Gallese in the 83rd minute but it took a fortunate bounce and went off to the goalkeeper’s left, where there were no attacking players. It then appeared the Lions’ comeback bid would fall short as the Crew won some corner kicks and kept Orlando pinned in its own end for a few minutes.
The Lions eventually broke out, clearing a corner and getting forward in the attack.
Orlando’s equalizer came a set piece — an area that hasn’t been kind to the club in 2023 so far. Off a cleared Crew corner kick, the ball ended up with Torres, who won a foul just outside the top of the Columbus penalty area. He and Thorhallsson stood over the dead ball before Torres knocked it to the right and two Crew players collided trying to clear it. The ball fell into the path of McGuire, who smashed it off of Schulte and into the net for the equalizer in the 92nd minute. It was his team-leading fourth goal of the season.
Orlando saw out the remaining four minutes of stoppage time but it wasn’t without some scary moments. In the 94th minute, Gallese made the save of the match. A cross came into the box to substitute Isaiah Parente, who sent his first touch toward goal. The ball hit Smith and bounced toward goal but Gallese made a great reaction save to keep the game tied.
A minute later, Yeboah smashed a shot just wide after Araujo turned the ball over trying to send a breakout pass up the pitch.
Eventually, though, the Lions got over the finish line and earned a road point.
The Lions closed the gap in possession but the Crew still had more of it (59.5%-40.5%), along with more shots (22-10), shots on target (7-3), corners (6-5), and passing accuracy (84.7%-72.8%).
“The second half was great,” Pareja said. “The players took the game by the horns and I saw our team playing much more football and having that volume going forward and we tied it up. A deserved game for us and again credit for these players that showed character. Our willingness is intact.”
The Lions will enjoy this draw, as they won a point from a losing position in the second half on the road.
“It feels not like a draw, it feels like a win, because we came back from 2-0,” Kara said. “That gives us energy, motivation for Wednesday that we are able to play better. Now we need to put one step more on it, be all together, go out on Wednesday, and win the game.”
Orlando City’s road trip is over as the Lions head home for a midweek matchup Wednesday night against New York City FC.
2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Junior Urso
The Bear returned unexpectedly in the middle of the season to bolster the Orlando midfield.
Midfielder Junior Urso joined Orlando City on Jan. 13, 2020 from Brazilian giants Corinthians on a multi-year deal. The Bear spent three years in purple before he and the club mutually agreed to part ways, terminating his contract for personal reasons on Nov. 10, 2022. Upon his return to Brazil, Urso joined Coritiba, but injuries limited him to just seven appearances. In a surprise move, Urso rejoined Orlando City on July 19, returning to the City Beautiful and accepting a backup role behind the Lions’ double pivot of Wilder Cartagena and Cesar Araujo.
Let’s take a look back at Urso’s 2023 campaign.
Urso made his return to the pitch for Orlando City on Aug. 20, following the club’s run in Leagues Cup. In the MLS regular season, Urso made nine appearances (two starts), logging 250 minutes. Urso did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting just three shots, none of which found the target. The Bear completed 78.3% of his 115 total pass attempts but did not record a key pass or a successful cross. Defensively, Urso tallied two interceptions, five tackles, and five clearances. He committed two fouls, drew two on the opposition, and was booked just once.
The Brazilian also appeared in all three of Orlando City’s playoff matches, all off the bench, totaling 98 minutes. He did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting three shots, one of which was on target. He completed 86.4% of his passes, including three key passes, but did not connect on a cross. Urso chipped in one tackle defensively, committed two fouls, suffered three, and was not booked in the postseason.
With a little less than a third of a season in purple and gold and serving primarily as a reserve player, Urso’s best match was his regular-season appearance on the road against Nashville SC on Oct. 4. The Bear came on for Facundo Torres in the 72nd minute and did what fans have always expected of him, which is to frustrate the living hell out of the opponent. Urso made sure that Nashville knew that he had entered the game, winning countless throw-ins, allowing Orlando to walk away with its first road victory at Nashville. Urso also recorded a shot in the match, which was the Lions’ only attempt other than Duncan McGuire’s goal, although it was perhaps a bit generous to call it a shot attempt. He passed at a 72.2% rate and recorded a tackle and a clearance and did his job helping the Lions see out a tight victory.
2023 Final Grade
As Urso came up short of the minimum total of 450 minutes played to receive a rating on our 1-10 scale, The Mane Land has no choice but to mark his grade as incomplete for the 2023 season. While it was a surreal experience just to see the Bear back on the pitch for Orlando City after his sudden departure, a delayed return to the pitch due to a lingering knock and the play of the midfielders in front of him on the depth chart limited his ability to leave his mark on the season. However, it’s difficult to put a grade on the experience he brought to the squad.
Orlando City has yet to announce its end-of-season roster decisions as of this writing, but with Wilder Cartagena’s loan spell expired, the Lions would be wise to pick up Urso’s contract option for the 2024 season. If that happens, he would likely take up the No. 8 role with Araujo playing the No. 6 in Orlando’s double pivot (assuming Oscar Pareja also returns). Urso could split time at the No. 8 if Orlando adds a new starting No. 10, because in that case, Mauricio Pereyra might see some time in that spot. If a permanent transfer or loan extension for Cartagena is secured, Urso provides value off the bench, although he’s a bit pricey for a backup at $360,000.
Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)
Lion Links: 12/5/23
Exploria Stadium will host Copa America games, Pride reportedly make offer for Crystal Dunn, Americans in midweek action, and more.
Good morning, everyone. I’m still dragging a little bit after having a shortened weekend due to work, but I hope all of you were able to hit the ground running yesterday and started your weeks off on the right note. As usual, there’s a lot of interesting things to discuss today, so let’s get after it.
Exploria Stadium Picked as Copa America Venue
The host cities and venues for next summer’s Copa America tournament were revealed and Orlando City’s Exploria Stadium has been chosen. The Lions’ home will have games on June 29 and July 1, and both games could be very important ones as they will take place during the final day of play for Groups A and C. We also know that the USMNT will play its group stage games in Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City. The semifinal matches will be held at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, with Charlotte also hosting the third-place game. We’ll know very soon which teams will be playing in Orlando, as the draw will take place on Thursday.
Orlando Pride Reportedly Make an Offer for Crystal Dunn
The Orlando Pride have reportedly made a large offer to bring Crystal Dunn to Orlando, with CBS Sports reporting the amount prepared by the Pride to be more than $400,000. However, negotiations between the Pride and Dunn are reportedly no longer ongoing.
The 31-year-old is a free agent after announcing that she was not returning to the Portland Thorns after three seasons there. She is one of the more notable free agents this off-season and the Washington Spirit and NJ/NY Gotham FC are also interested in signing her ahead of the 2024 season.
Americans in Midweek Action
There are a number of American players who will be playing games this week, so make sure you have some of these marked down on your calendar. First up is a match that could feature up to three players currently in the USMNT pool, as Jordan Pefok, Joe Scally, and Borussia Monchengladbach will face Kevin Paredes and Wolfsburg in the DFB Pokal. Tomorrow sees Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson, and Fulham playing Matt Turner’s Nottingham Forest, although the USMNT’s starting goalkeeper is not likely to play. The week finishes with Juventus and Weston McKennie facing Napoli in league play, although Tim Weah is still an injury doubt.
USWNT Aims for Change in Mentality
The 2024 calendar year is going to be an important one for the United States Women’s National Team, and the team wants to start it off on the right foot. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore is viewing today’s match against China as a chance for the team to continue building a new identity and to keep developing tactically after a disappointing early exit from this summer’s World Cup. While Emma Hayes has been named the team’s new head coach, she won’t officially join up until Chelsea’s club season ends in May. Until that happens, there’s plenty of work to be done with the Gold Cup just around the corner in March, followed by the Olympics in Paris in July.
The Soccer Tournament Adds Women’s Competition
Following the success of last year’s first edition of The Soccer Tournament, the organizers have added a women’s competition for next summer’s event. The seven-a-side tournament will now also feature an eight-team women’s bracket which will also have a $1 million prize up for grabs. The decision was made after an all-women’s team led by Heather O’Reilly drew significant support when it competed last year, despite not picking up a win. The men’s tournament will also be expanding to 48 teams for this year’s competition, after featuring 32 participants during the summer.
- Ramiro Enrique has been called up to Argentina’s training camp for its 2024 Olympic team.
- Orlando City’s documentary about the 2022 U.S. Open Cup victory has won a Suncoast Emmy.
- In the 2023 Women’s College Cup final, Florida State beat Stanford 5-1 to win its fourth national championship.
- David de Gea is reportedly open to signing for Newcastle United following Nick Pope’s shoulder dislocation.
- The English FA has charged Manchester City with failing to control its players, following Erling Haaland’s reaction on social media to a decision made by referee Simon Hooper.
That’s all that I have for today. Y’all stay safe out there.
Lion Links: 12/4/23
Crew to host MLS Cup final, LAFC returns to MLS Cup, Tim Howard to be inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame, and more.
Good Monday morning, Mane Landers. The weekend brought us some drama-filled conference final action, and we now know who will play for the MLS Cup. But before I dive into that, I just want to take a quick minute to say with mixed emotions that this will be my final Lion Links here, but don’t be sad, because the rest of the boys will still be bringing your daily content needs and coverage. I’ll be stepping away as my wife and I are soon to be first-time parents, and I’m looking forward to all that entails. I appreciate each and every one of you readers for taking the time to scroll through my articles each week. If you’re interested in writing for TML, we could definitely use the help so please reach out. Now, let’s get into the links!
Columbus Crew Claim Hell Is Real Comeback
After a rocky start, the Columbus Crew became the first team to overcome a two-goal deficit on the road and advance in a single-leg round in the history of the MLS Cup playoffs. FC Cincinnati got off to a great start behind USMNT striker Brandon Vasquez, who opened the scoring, but it was captain Luciano Acosta’s sublime free kick finish that stole the show in the first half.
It took trusting the process and the tactics of their first-year manager Wilfried Nancy, but the Columbus Crew fought back with late match heroics to seal the victory. Forward Christian Ramirez bagged the game-winning goal in extra time in the 115th minute.
“You can only fight for someone like that,” said Ramirez. “So many times you can feel that you’re getting the bad end of the stick at certain moments, but I haven’t felt that. I think numerous guys understand how he sees the game now, and we respect that. We talk about writing our story in the Columbus Crew history; this chapter wasn’t done. We got one more week, one more game.”
LAFC Returns to MLS Cup
The league’s defending champion, LAFC, will once again be playing in the final match of the postseason. After frustrating the Houston Dynamo throughout the Western Conference final, LAFC won 2-0. Houston might have dominated the stat sheet in possession, passes, and passing accuracy, but really it was just playing into the gameplan of LAFC.
“We knew that’s what they wanted. They wanted the ball,” said LAFC right back Ryan Hollingshead. “They like to play this little tiki-taka in the middle of the field, these little movements, little one-twos, three of their guys just kind of pass the ball, but they’re going nowhere. And so we just said, do whatever you got, have the ball as long as you want. They created zero dangerous chances. They had a half-chance in the first half on a cross to Baird and that was it. And so a lot of these teams, it’s like, yeah, they’ve got possession, they may be moving the ball. But if they’re not creating dangerous chances, who cares?”
MLS Cup Final Preview
The Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew will host Western Conference champion LAFC at Lower.com Field on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m for the MLS Cup. The match will be No. 53 across all competitions this campaign for LAFC, and a victory would make the club the first repeat winners since the 2011-2012 LA Galaxy. The storylines leading to the match will likely center around the possibility of it being Carlos Vela’s final game for LAFC, but for the Crew, the bench players will be the ones to watch. In the 65th minute of the Eastern Conference final, Head Coach Wilfried Nancy brought in Julian Gressel and Christian Ramirez, who both played a pivotal role in two of the three Columbus goals in the comeback victory. The Crew last lifted the MLS Cup in 2020, defeating Seattle Sounders 3-0 at Historic Crew Stadium.
2024 National Soccer Hall of Fame
On May 4, the National Soccer Hall of Fame will induct its 2024 class. Most notable will be long-time USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played 121 matches for the United States and had a successful career in the English Premier League. Other inductees will be USWNT World Cup winner Tisha Venturini-Hoch, 1996 Paralympic captain Josh McKinney, and USL founder Francisco Marcos.
Orlando Reportedly Set to Host USMNT-Brazil Friendly
The United States Men’s National Team is reportedly far along in negotiations to face Brazil in Orlando for a friendly leading to next year’s Copa America. The Yanks and Brazil last met in September 2018 in a friendly match in East Rutherford, NJ. The United States will host the Copa America from June 19 to July 14 as one of six invited teams to the South American competition. Brazil enter as the defending champion and should prove a worthy test for the Stars & Stripes to tune up for the Southern American title.
- Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.
- Liverpool scored in the 87th and 88th minutes to win 4-3 and climb to second in the EPL standings on 31 points.
- Manchester City and Tottenham played to a thrilling 3-3 draw that might find Erling Haaland charged by the English Football Association for criticizing the performance of the referees.
- Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen saw an eight-game winning run in the league come to an end with a 1-1 draw.
- Inter Milan secured a 3-0 victory at Napoli to reach the top of the Serie A table.
- Arsenal will face Liverpool in a massive FA Cup third-round clash in January.
- Wrexham reached the third round of FA Cup after defeating Yeovil Town 3-0.
That’s a wrap for my personal writing here for a while. It has been a pleasure to bring some coverage to you all for the past couple seasons. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. Vamos Orlando!
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