Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. New York City FC
Familiarize yourself with a New York City FC team that looks very different compared to past years.
Orlando City’s busy month of May continues at a breakneck pace this week. The Lions will be back at home tomorrow night to take on New York City FC.
A visit from NYCFC means I spoke to Oliver Strand, the executive editor over at Hudson River Blue. Like us here at The Mane Land, the folks over at HRB have gone independent, and they’re continuing to do excellent work covering NYCFC, NJ/NY Gotham FC, and other soccer in the Tri-State area. I also took the time to answer some of their questions about Orlando City, so make sure you head over to their place and check those out!
Orlando and NYCFC both seem to have had an up-and-down start to the season. What’s the feeling among the fans about the first two months for New York?
Oliver Strand: Frustration and patience. Frustration because the team has put in some of the most lifeless performances in club history, which are especially jarring after the triumphs of 2021 and 2022. It’s not just that NYCFC has lost games it coulda/shoulda won, it’s that it can look nothing like the technical, possessive, progressive team we have come to expect.
Patience because the team is in the middle of a rebuild after losing most of its most important players (see below), and the fans fully understand this is a work in progress.
Who were some of the big off-season departures for NYCFC, and how have they been replaced?
OS: The short answer: Everybody, and nobody. The long answer: The backbone of the team that won MLS Cup in 2021 and made a deep run in the 2022 playoffs is now gone. Valentin Castellanos left last summer and hasn’t been replaced.
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson has been replaced by former backup Luis Barraza to mixed results. Playmaker Maxi Moralez was one of the best in the league, and he has nominally been replaced by the promising Richy Ledezma — he’s good, and shows signs of becoming great, but we’re at the start of that journey. Center back Alexander Callens was also one of the best in the league, and his replacement is Tony Alfaro, who is more of a depth piece.
To be fair, the additions to the defense are strong. Right back Anton Tinnerholm is gone, but new signing Mitja Ilenic is an 18-year-old Slovenian who puts in consistently strong performances. New left back Braian Cufré has made 10 of 12 starts.
But the biggest gap is in the attack. After Castellanos left, Héber and Talles Magno shared duties as the No. 9. Héber is now with Seattle, and Magno is back to his preferred position on the left wing, leaving the team without a focus to the attack. Santiago Rodríguez has played as a false nine a couple of times, but that’s not exactly a replacement. There’s a striker-sized hole in this team.
This is the team’s first full year with Nick Cushing at the helm, what type of soccer does he want NYCFC to play?
OS: He wants to pick up where Ronny Deila left off and play in a way that’s possession-based and progressive: Attractive, attacking soccer. It was clicking into place at the end of last year — the 3-0 win over Inter Miami in the MLS Cup playoffs was one of the most beautiful games NYCFC has ever played.
The problem is he doesn’t quite have the personnel to pull that off right now. Is it because of chemistry? Maybe they just need more time together. Is it ability? Maybe this group isn’t technical enough. Or is it desire? This team is missing that edge that Castellanos, Moralez, Callens, and Johnson brought to every game they played.
What we’re left with is possession-based soccer that rarely progresses into the attacking third. There’s a lot of triangle passes between the goalkeeper and defenders, but it’s not that attractive or dangerous.
Are there any players who will be unavailable due to injury, suspension, etc? What is your projected starting XI and score prediction?
OS: Alfredo Morales was out with an injury on Saturday. It’s hard to say who might make the injury list — NYCFC doesn’t announce it until the last minute. There are no suspensions.
The starting XI is also hard to say. Out of the 12 games this season, Cushing has played 11 different starting XIs. He experimented with a back three two games ago, echoing the back three he used at the end of the 2022 season to incredible effect, but then abandoned it on Saturday.
Here’s a best guess:
Luis Barraza; Braian Cufré, Maxime Chanot, Thiago Martins, Mitja Ilenic; Keaton Parks, James Sands; Richy Ledezma; Talles Magno, Santiago Rodriguez, Gabriel Pereira.
Final score: Orlando 2-1 NYCFC. It’s hard to see this squad winning on the road given its recent away performances.
Thank you to Oliver for helping us get up to speed on NYCFC. Vamos Orlando!
Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids
Familiarize yourself with the Colorado Rapids, courtesy of someone who knows them best.
Another Orlando City game is almost upon us, as the Lions look to both extend their five-match unbeaten run and pick up two wins in a row. This week sees the Colorado Rapids come to town for the first home game of June.
A match with the Rapids means I spoke to Matt Pollard, of Burgundy Wave. That’s another site that has gone independent and the folks over there are continuing to provide great coverage of the Rapids, so make sure to check them out!
What were some of the big incoming and outgoing transfers for the Rapids ahead of this season?
Matt Pollard: The three biggest incoming players in terms of expectations were Kévin Cabral, Connor Ronan, and Andreas Maxsø.
Cabral is probably the highest-risk, highest-reward signing when it comes to the Rapids going after distressed assets. So far, it hasn’t panned out. He presses well, but that’s about it. The same issues he had at LA Galaxy (getting called offside, not finishing) are present here in Colorado. The difference is, he’s the focal point instead of the third player opposing defenses worry about.
Ronan and Maxsø have been great. Ronan was brought in to play alongside Jack Price. When Price went down for the season, Ronan stepped into the No. 6 role and adjusted well. He’s tidy at the back, works hard off the ball, and is one of the better assist providers on the team. Maxsø has been good defensively in the air and good at emergency defending. The Rapids typically give up goals by making a series of small errors. Rarely is the Great Dane one of those players who makes a mistake on a goal.
It’s hard to say if there were any significant departures from last year’s team. Most fans weren’t surprised or bummed out when Gyasi Zardes signed for Austin FC. The left back position has been an issue, so maybe Lucas Esteves. But he had some attitude issues and was hot headed. Robin Fraser’s such a culture guy, he wasn’t worth the headache.
It’s been a difficult start to the season for Colorado, what has been the biggest reason for the team’s struggles?
MP: Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Price went down for the season in his second appearance. Diego Rubio has had three separate injuries. Maxsø was under concussion protocol for two games. I’ve lost count of how many players have had hamstring issues. As I’ve written about previously for Burgundy Wave, the infrastructure at Dick’s (Sporting Goods Park) is showing its age. The team had a really bad stretch in March and April with practice fields and winter sticking around. They’ve missed key players. They’ve had limited depth. All while playing eight games in May. Hopefully a full week of training has them healthy and refocused for Saturday.
With plenty of games left to play and only sitting six points out of the play-in spots, the Rapids are far from dead and buried. What needs to happen for Colorado to turn the season around?
MP: Get healthy and get going offensively. Rubio is still their only reliable chance creator. All their goal scorers have been streaky. If Rubio comes back healthy and can give the Rapids the production he had last year (a club-record 16 goals and seven assists), that would be fantastic. Add in Cabral, Jonathan Lewis, and Braian Galván having a good finishing streak, and they could be ok. Orlando fans should be wary of Michael Barrios coming off the bench tomorrow. All 12 of his goals for the Rapids have come in the second half.
Are there any players who will be unavailable for selection due to call-ups, injuries, suspensions, etc? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
MP: The injury report just came out and there are only four players on it. That’s tied for the lowest of the season! Rubio is questionable, and Fraser’s been really cautious with his key players coming back from injury. I can’t see him getting more than 20 minutes Saturday. Moïse Bombito is suspended for a harsh second yellow against San Jose, so expect Lalas Abubakar to start at center back. Price is out, as mentioned previously. Max Alves is still removed from team activities as he’s under investigation for participation in a sports gambling scheme in his native Brazil.
Marko Ilic; Danny Wilson, Andreas Maxsø, Lalas Abubakar; Sam Nicholson, Keegan Rosenberry; Connor Ronan, Bryan Acosta, Cole Bassett; Jonathan Lewis, Darren Yapi.
I think Orlando wins a tight, ugly game. Oscar Pareja knows how to poop-house the Rapids. 1-0, Facundo Torres scores. I do think we’ll see one of the better performances from the Rapids of this winless stretch for what that’s worth.
Thank you to Matt for the excellent info and helping get us up to speed on the Rapids. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 6/9/23
Orlando City gets ready for the Colorado Rapids, OCB faces FC Cincinnati 2 on Sunday, U-20 World Cup final is set, and more.
How’s it going, Mane Landers? I hope this Friday finds you well as we gear up for a weekend filled to the brim with Orlando soccer. My friends are taking me out for teppanyaki and scorpion bowls tonight, so it should be a pretty nice day on my end. Hopefully your Friday goes smoothly as well. Now, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.
Orlando City Prepares for the Colorado Rapids
The Lions are on a five-game unbeaten run as they get ready for a home match tomorrow night against the Colorado Rapids. Facundo Torres scored twice in the team’s 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls last weekend. Hopefully he can keep the momentum rolling against a Colorado team that’s allowed 25 goals this season and sits last in the league in points per game, with just two wins in 17 matches. Pedro Gallese also recorded his 26th clean sheet for Orlando in last week’s win, and could make his 100th appearance as a Lion tomorrow night. The Lions will have to keep an eye on Irish midfielder Connor Ronan, who has six assists in his first season with the Rapids.
Orlando City B Aims to Bounce Back at Home
After a 3-0 defeat to Toronto FC II in Canada this past weekend, Orlando City B will look to right the ship on Sunday at home against FC Cincinnati 2. The Young Lions are unbeaten at home this season, winning four of their six games at Osceola Heritage Park. The last time these two teams played was in August of last year, with Cincy winning in the penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw. Although he didn’t score in that match, OCB forward Jack Lynn scored three goals against Cincinnati last year and currently leads OCB with six goals this season. Sunday’s match should be a good opportunity for OCB’s offense to bounce back against a leaky Cincy defense.
USMNT Players Focused Despite Coaching Search
With European seasons over, American players who have been plying their trade abroad are back in the U.S. to prepare for the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup this month. The team will be coached by B.J. Callaghan in an interim capacity while the search for a head coach continues. Although not having a permanent head coach for these tournaments isn’t ideal, Nashville SC center back Walker Zimmerman spoke on how the team still knows how to get the job done.
“We’re a team that has a very strong team chemistry, strong culture within our group. And we know that for us, not much has changed right now,” said Zimmerman. “We know the same principles, style of play, expectations, accountability – all those things are the same. So I think that’s player-driven, to hold each other accountable to the standards that we’ve set over the past four years. BJ, he’s on top of it. He’s knowledgeable about what we want to do, how we’re going to go about these games.”
The roster includes many of the players who featured in the World Cup last year, but the striker position is one to watch due to the new faces involved. Folarin Balogun is with the team for the first time and it will be interesting to see how he measures up against Ricardo Pepi, Alex Zendejas, and Jesus Ferreira. We will get to see who spearheads the USMNT’s attack next Thursday, when the Yanks take on Mexico in Las Vegas.
Italy and Uruguay Reach U-20 World Cup Final
Only two teams remain in the U-20 World Cup after Italy and Uruguay each won their semifinals. Uruguay, which beat the U.S. in the quarterfinals, beat Israel 1-0, thanks to a goal in the second half from Anderson Duarte. In Italy’s semifinal against South Korea, Cesare Casadei’s terrific tournament continued as he gave Italy the lead in the 14th minute. South Korea equalized soon after with a penalty kick, but 17-year-old forward Simone Pafundi scored a nice free kick to send Italy into the final.
The final will take place on Sunday at 5 p.m., with the third-place match set for 1:30 p.m. It will be Italy’s first time playing in a U-20 World Cup final, while it will be Uruguay’s third time after losing in 1997 and 2013.
- American defender Josh Wynder is headed to Benfica. The Portuguese club signed the 18-year-old from USL Championship club Louisville City for a reported $1.2 million transfer fee, which would be a record amount for a USL player.
- FC Cincinnati and the Houston Dynamo will host in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals. Both matches will be on Aug. 23, with the Dynamo playing Real Salt Lake and Cincinnati facing Inter Miami.
- Speaking of FC Cincinnati, the club is reportedly close to signing Gabonese forward Aaron Boupendza as a Designated Player for a $7 million transfer fee. Boupendza had 11 goals in 17 appearances for Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League this past season.
- Brooklyn will be home to a USL League One team, which will begin playing in the 2025 season.
- Liverpool agreed to buy back its Melwood training ground with the intention of turning it into a training facility for its women’s team.
- Czech police stated that 23 West Ham and Fiorentina fans were arrested for their actions while in Prague for the Europa Conference League.
- Liverpool signed midfielder Alexis Mac Allister to a contract through 2028. The 24-year-old had 12 goals and three assists last season for Brighton.
That’s all I have for you today. Have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!
Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids: Three Keys to Victory
What does Orlando City need to do to earn all three points at home against the Rapids this Saturday night?
Orlando City is back home in Exploria Stadium and hosting the Colorado Rapids this Saturday night. The Lions are coming off a big road win over the New York Red Bulls, and will want to extend the five-match unbeaten streak. What does Orlando City need to do to secure all three points at home this weekend?
Survive the First Half
Colorado has been better in the first half of matches this season than in the second half. The Lions can expect the Rapids to come out strong, looking for an early goal. If Orlando City can play smart on defense, maintain possession, and limit Colorado’s chances for the first 45 minutes, plus stoppage time, the odds of winning at home go up.
I’m most worried about the first 15 minutes and the last five minutes of this half. It’s going to be contingent upon the effective midfield pairing of Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena to break down the Rapids’ attack. Araujo was in training this week despite going off injured in the last match, indicating it wasn’t that serious and he may be available. Cartagena has quietly been fantastic the last few matches, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue.
Behind that pair is another line of defense, including Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos, that can clean up anything else that gets through. Carlos has mostly been great, although he’s had a few less-than-stellar matches, and Jansson has been excellent. If Orlando City weathers the first half in good shape, I’ll feel better about the Lions getting three points.
Ride the Hot Feet
Oscar Pareja has trotted out the same starting lineup the last couple of matches, and I don’t expect he will mess with the success. After the last match, Ivan Angulo and Facundo Torres will be feeling pretty good, and we don’t want those confidence-boosting performances to be wasted. There will be plenty of time to let them rest if they can help provide the team with a two-goal lead after the 60 minute mark.
The same goes for Ercan Kara. No he didn’t have a goal last match, but that had more to do with dealing with the New York Red Bulls press than anything else. His last goal was three matches ago against Inter Miami, but he is putting the work in regardless, and I think he’s primed to find the back of the net against Colorado.
Regardless of the scoreline, look for Pareja to bring on Martin Ojeda and Duncan McGuire to either put the match away or look for a positive result. Duncan can be a terror against a team that doesn’t play well in the second half, and Ojeda seems due for a goal. He certainly isn’t shy about taking chances, and eventually one of them is going to result in a goal.
Too many times in Orlando City history, the Lions have played a team on a winless streak — the Rapids haven’t won in their last six matches — and been the team to let the opposition get back on track. The Lions are also riding a five-match undefeated streak heading into Saturday’s match. It’s the type of match that tends to worry scarred Orlando City supporters, and I have those bad thoughts and feelings as well. As Michael Scott said on The Office, “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.” If Orlando City could not feed into that phenomenon, it would be great.
I think that sometimes the Lions want to give the home crowd a win so badly that they get nervous and end up pressing too hard, or trying to slip a pass into too tight of a window. When that happens, the natural flow of an offense that is looking better, passing better, and scoring goals will give the ball away cheaply. My suggestion is for the players is to just relax. Pretend it’s a road match if necessary, but just keep calm and let the match develop naturally.
That’s what I’ll be looking for this Saturday night from my seat in Exploria Stadium. Since I’ll be down for this one, please make sure to say hello if you see me.
Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids
PawedCast Episode 351: Colorado Rapids Preview, the Miami Messi Mess, and More
Lion Links: 6/9/23
My First Orlando City Road Match: New York Red Bulls
Lion Links: 6/6/23
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