Orlando City built a 2-0 lead against the Philadelphia Union but ultimately dropped points due to a cross that went in the net after missing its target, a howitzer first goal from a guy who will likely never, ever do that again, and an overturned call that was exceedingly questionable in a 2-2 draw at Exploria Stadium. The Lions (7-5-6, 27 points) squandered a two-goal lead on a pair of plays that didn’t seem dangerous at the time and drew the Philadelphia Union (9-5-4, 31 points) after match referee Alex Chilowicz had disallowed a third Orlando goal by Ivan Angulo for a perceived foul in the buildup.
City finishes the season series 1-0-1 against the Union but it could have been more.
Duncan McGuire and Martin Ojeda scored early in each half (although McGuire may end up with both goals after getting a slight touch on Ojeda’s shot) and things looked good for the hosts, but Jack McGlynn’s cross into the box missed everyone and got past Mason Stajduhar at the far post, and then Jose Martinez ran onto a clearance and launched a rocket from distance that left the Homegrown goalkeeper no chance in the 90th minute, as the Lions suffered another late heartbreaking draw at home.
“It was obvious that during the game we were losing energy, but the boys had the personality to overcome and trying to match a good team,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The frustration that I have and probably everybody with the decision is incredible. But I’d rather just control my words and just worry about getting the things we need to control better and concentrate in those key moments that they’re hurting us on our ways here at home. It’s painful, but we keep going.”
Pareja’s lineup featured Mason Stajduhar making his second straight start in goal, behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Cesar Araujo and Felipe started in central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Mauricio Pereyra, and Ojeda, with McGuire up top.
The first half was a bit of a mess, with both teams having some good spells of possession but not doing much with them. The Lions were a bit more untidy at the back than the visitors, conceding several set pieces that weren’t necessary.
Philadelphia got the game’s first shot in the fifth minute with Joaquin Torres firing right at Stajduhar for the easy save after Araujo gave the ball away easily at midfield. Torres should have done better with the opportunity.
The teams exchanged blocked shots over the next few minutes. Smith had a chance blocked after Orlando’s first decent spell of attacking possession. A block near the top of the box may have prevented Jack McGlynn scoring off a Union set piece in the 11th minute.
The Lions broke through in minute 13. Pereyra sent an incisive pass through the middle to Ojeda, who flicked it into the path of McGuire. The rookie’s first touch was too heavy but he went to ground to win it back, got up, and slotted inside the left post past former Lion Joe Bendik to open the scoring. It was McGuire’s team-leading sixth goal of the season.
“Great ball from Ojeda,” McGuire said. “I took a poor touch but then I saw the defender coming across really hard. So, I thought that if I could slide, he would maybe fall over and I could get up and it worked out perfectly, I guess, so I’ll take it.”
The Union got a series of set pieces after the Orlando goal and nearly paid one off when a cross in for Jack Elliott found the big defender, but he nodded his shot just over the crossbar in the 27th minute.
Three minutes later, the Lions got a corner and Carlos came within inches of doubling the lead. The Brazilian got his head to the cross and headed it down into the ground. The bounce took it over Bendik but he was able to get a touch to it at the last second to knock it over the bar.
The last chance of the half came in the 42nd minute. The Lions built a nice attack that ended in a shot by Angulo from the right side, but his shot was right at the goalkeeper.
First-half possession was nearly equal, with the Union ekeing out a 50.5%-49.5% advantage. Orlando City had more shots (5-3) and shots on target (3-1), and passed a tiny bit more accurately (86.6%-86.5%). The Union racked up twice the corners as the Lions (6-3).
Felipe’s awful giveaway in the early going of the second half nearly gifted Philadelphia a chance but the Union were called for a foul in the attack in the 51st minute. Seconds later, Stajduhar made a huge save to deny Julian Carranza on the break after another Orlando turnover.
Just as the Union appeared to be growing into the game, the Lions scored their second. Ojeda took a pass from Angulo on the right and cut back into the middle, using the defense as a screen and sent a screamer inside the left post that took a minor deflection off McGuire and beat Bendik, making it 2-0 in the 54th minute. As of this writing, Ojeda has been credited with the goal, although a replay clearly shows it took the smallest of deflections off the rookie striker. Either way, it was a crafty move by Ojeda to deny Bendik sight of his shot.
Both players were gracious about who should get the goal.
“I’m not going to take that goal away from Ojeda,” McGuire said.
“I’m not sure who’s going to end up being credited with the goal,” Ojeda said. “It’s kind of divided. If it’s me, it’s me. If it’s Duncan, then it’s Duncan. But I’ll say that Duncan apologized to me afterwards.”
The two-goal lead lasted only six minutes. McGlynn sent a good cross into the box but it fizzed over the heads of his striker and two defenders. Stajduhar realized too late that the ball’s curl would take it inside the post and he reacted late to it, giving the Union life in the 60th minute.
With the Lions starting to look leggy in the final half hour — Orlando City was on short rest compared to Philadelphia, which hadn’t played in 11 days — Pareja switched to a three-man back line, sending Rodrigo Schlegel and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson on for Smith and Felipe. Angulo became the right wingback opposite Santos.
Angulo should have put the game to bed in the 73rd minute. A scramble to the right of the goal had Bendik out of position and McGuire laid off a pass for him to hit into the empty net but from only eight yards out he somehow got under it enough to send it over the bar on a terribly wasteful effort.
Pareja tried to combat tiring legs by replacing Ojeda with Ramiro Enrique, McGuire with Ercan Kara, and Santos with Gaston Gonzalez. McGuire needed attention from the trainers before leaving but walked off under his own power and after the match said he was fine.
The Lions appeared to put the game to bed in the 86th minute as Angulo atoned for his earlier miss. Kara held off Martinez and made a run forward with the ball, muscling past the defense, drawing Bendik out of position, and finding Angulo for the easy goal. The 17,516 in attendance erupted but Chilowicz signaled that he would look at the replay. He came back, disallowed the goal, and booked Kara for fouling Martinez in the buildup. Kara’s arm came up to hold off the midfielder but Martinez made a complete meal of little contact and it was nothing worse than happened a dozen other times in the game.
“I saw the ref already and it is incredible,” Pareja said about the controversial play. “I mean, we need to protect the game. That’s our frustration tonight. It’s happened before. Nothing we can say.”
“I thought it was unfair,” McGuire said of the play. “I thought (the goal) should have been given, but at the end of the day you’ve got to play the game. After that, it’s still game on and you have to finish the game out. I definitely think it should have been a goal but, can’t do anything about it now, sadly.”
Chilowicz, you may recall, was the same official who overturned an offside call on a Daniel Gazdag goal in this exact same fixture last year after reviewing the play and then ruled that a mugging of Carlos in the box at the end of that match was not a penalty because of an exceedingly minor and routine shirt grab happened before the mugging.
Disaster, which has struck now in three of the last four home games, struck again in the 90th minute. The Lions were handling everything Philadelphia threw at them and what appeared to be a routine clearance out of the box off the head of Carlos bounced in front of Martinez. The midfielder smashed a wicked blast off the right post and in, giving Stajduhar no chance. The Lions went from having a two-goal cushion to being level in just minutes.
Without having seen any goals from any of the other games tonight, I’m certain this will be MLS Goal of the Week.
“Unbelievable goal from Philadelphia and not much you can do about that but I think as a whole group we can maybe do a little bit more to take the three points at home,” McGuire said.
Both teams went for the win after Martinez’s equalizer. Enrique had a golden opportunity on the left in the 94th minute but sent his shot off the crossbar. Two minutes later, a ball into the box found Mikael Uhre, who put his attempt off the crossbar at the other end. Moments later, the game was over.
Philadelphia ended up with more possession (55.2%-44.8%), shots (10-8), shots on target (5-4), corners (7-4), and passing accuracy (82.3%-77.2%). Despite the statistical advantages, Orlando City rarely appeared to be in danger of conceding until the two vastly different goals went in.
“For the players, nothing but my respect for that effort tonight,” Pareja said of his side.
“After a game that we definitely think we should have won, I definitely think we are excited and eager to get on the road and play another game to show that maybe tonight was a fluke and we can get three points against a tough Seattle team,” Mcguire said.
The Lions have a quick turnaround, flying out Thursday ahead of Saturday’s match at the Sounders.
Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Final Score 5-0 as Meek Lions Trounced in Comprehensive Road Defeat
Lions get crushed from the jump in South Florida.
Orlando City conceded two ridiculously easy goals in the first 11 minutes and another easy one before the end of the half en route to an embarrassing 5-0 loss to Inter Miami (2-0-1, 7 points) at Chase Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. The Lions (0-1-1, 1 point) gave Luis Suarez his first two MLS goals and an assist in the opening half (and another assist later). Lionel Messi also scored a brace and Robert Taylor added a goal.
Orlando generated some scoring chances, but struggled to hit the target when the game was still within reach. With the loss, Orlando City fell to 5-4-3 in league play against their Tropic Thunder rivals from the south. It was the first time the Lions have been shut out in Fort Lauderdale, and this season marks the first time in club history that Orlando City has failed to score a goal through the first two matches in regular-season play.
“Obviously a disappointing day for us, recognizing from minute one to the end of the game that didn’t look like us in many areas,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “A team like them, you cannot permit them to have that many spaces, and lose that many duels, and give them that possibility to be sitting in our box in those counterattacks. Really disappointed, but we’re pushing as a group. You know I have big respect for this group, their professionalism in what they do, and if there is any possibility, we’ll search to find answers but this group’s professionalism will never be denied. We’re not going to leave this experience just to happen without taking the benefits of this, the reasons, and learn from it.”
Pareja’s starters included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, 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 Duncan McGuire up top.
It didn’t take long for the hosts to get on top and it was Orlando City helping the Herons score the first goal. Araujo made a terrible mistake with a blind back pass, turning the ball over. It ended up out wide on Julian Gressel’s foot and the winger found Suarez, who fired first time into the corner where Gallese couldn’t get to it, making it 1-0 in the fourth minute.
“From there, I feel we couldn’t really turn the game in our favor,” Jansson said.
Orlando had two great opportunities to answer quickly. The first came when Thorhallsson fed McGuire in front in the seventh minute. The striker couldn’t get his feet set properly and when the ball arrived he sent it well off target from just eight yards out. A minute later, it was Araujo with a blast from just outside the box but his shot sailed just wide of the upper left corner.
The Lions, predictably, paid for those misses. Miami got a fortunate bounce off of Cartagena’s tackle attempt. As a result, Suarez was sent in on a fairly routine through ball but Araujo had stopped tracking him and Schlegel got pulled out of position with an overly aggressive move, giving the former Barcelona man room to slip through the line. He beat Gallese to make it 2-0 in the 11th minute.
Orlando City finally settled into the match a bit after that, although the damage had been done already. The Lions won a couple of corners and Schlegel sent a header wide on one of them. On the other, the ball was knocked to Torres near the top of the box. The Uruguayan tried a volley shot but couldn’t keep it down and it sailed well over the goal in the 21st minute.
Ojeda tried to pick out McGuire in the 23rd minute but Drake Callender came off his line and may have gotten a slight touch to the excellent cross. At the very least, he put McGuire off with his presence and aggressiveness.
Miami unlocked the defense for an easy third goal in the 29th minute. Schlegel was slow to step up to spring an offside trap and the through ball found Suarez behind the back line. Gallese came off his line to try to disrupt the play, but Suarez squared it to Taylor for an empty-net goal.
Messi came close to making it 4-0 with a free kick in the 34th minute. He sent his shot off the outside of the left post and Gallese may have had it covered anyway, moving quickly to his right.
The score almost got more embarrassing late in the half. Suarez again got in behind and scored but this time the flag came up and the offside call was upheld on review. It was extremely close, but the score remained 3-0.
That was the last close call of the first half and the Lions limped to the break down three goals.
The Lions held the advantage in possession (55.7%-44.3%) and corners (2-0). But Miami passed more accurately (90.6%-85.1%), fired more shots (5-4), and put more on target (3-0).
“Not good enough,” Jansson said of the performance. “It’s a derby and we’re coming out there with no energy, I feel. We don’t take control of the game like we normally try to do. Tonight was a rough one. It was not good enough on any part of the field, including myself, and I feel sorry for the fans who traveled here, and they deserve better.”
Pareja withdrew McGuire and Cartagena at the half, replacing them with Luis Muriel and Nico Lodeiro.
Ojeda appeared to pull a goal back just after the restart, playing his way through and slotting past Callender. However, Angulo was just offside in the buildup, negating the goal.
Messi came within inches of a fourth Miami goal in the 54th minute, sending a shot just outside the right post from the top of the area. The play was started by a turnover by Santos. A minute later, Santos didn’t pick up Gressel and Angulo stopped tracking him. That wasn’t optimal and Gressel ended up smashing a shot off the crossbar.
Things got worse for Orlando in a hurry after those chances. The Lions simply had no answers, giving up a pair of goals to Messi, as Miami continued to easily play into space behind the back line.
Schlegel again got pulled out of shape on a Miami transition attack. That allowed Jordi Alba to get in behind and shoot. Jansson cleared the ball off the line but could only knock it off the woodwork. Messi got the last touch of the ping-ponging ball and it trickled in to make it 4-0 in the 57th minute.
Four minutes later, Suarez blazed down the left and sent a good cross for Messi’s headed finish.
The Lions should have pulled a goal back in the 76th minute when Ramiro Enrique got in behind the defense. The Argentine left his shot too close to the center, where Callender still had to make a good save to prevent the goal.
Although Orlando City held more possession (52.8%-47.2%) and won more corners (5-1), Miami had the advantage in shots (11-8), shots on target (6-2), and passing accuracy (89.2%-85.6%). The Herons were much more lethal in front of goal, and Orlando was much sloppier in both final thirds. With the quality Miami has, that’s a poor combination and, as shown on this night, a game can get away quickly.
“We have to look at the game and see where we didn’t get our stuff done,” Jansson said. “We do it all the time, when we win and when we lose. We have to go through what we’re doing good and what we’re doing bad, because otherwise we will never become better. This was a bad take, and we’ve got to get the review, and get the analysis, and see where we had the most errors, and then we just have to take it from there.”
“We are responsible for a performance like this one, where nothing came right, and we will surely see what are the reasons and how can we improve it,” Pareja said. “We will continue with our heads up, and again, for me, I back this group up 100 percent. It’s a group that’s very professional. Didn’t play well today and nothing came right. We will take that responsibility, especially the coach. It’s not an easy result to absorb, but also we have the responsibility to bounce back immediately, and proximity (of the next game) helps give us the opportunity just to reshape again. But surely this will be in our memory for a little longer than normal.
“It’s just that they were better than us, and we didn’t do a good job today. We didn’t show up today the way we are…the start of the league doesn’t dictate the end of it.”
Orlando City has another quick turnaround before hosting Tigres in Concacaf Champions Cup action Tuesday night at home. The next league game is next Saturday when Minnesota United visits Inter&Co Stadium.
Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More
The Lions meet the Herons in the first Tropic Thunder battle of 2024.
Welcome to your match thread for a Saturday afternoon Tropic Thunder matchup between Orlando City and the team’s Publix Enemies, Inter Miami CF at Chase Stadium (4:30 p.m., FOX, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+). It’s the first of two scheduled meetings between the sides this season with the return leg in Orlando set for Wednesday, May 15. It is the only scheduled meeting in Fort Lauderdale.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the match.
Orlando City is 5-4-4 in the series in all competitions, 2-3-0 on the road in the MLS regular season, and 2-4-0 away in all competitions. The most recent meeting resulted in a 1-1 draw in Orlando on Sept. 24, 2023. Duncan McGuire brought Orlando back from a 1-0 deficit after David Ruiz had given the Herons a 1-0 lead early in the second half.
The most recent meeting in South Florida took place on Aug. 2 of last year in Leagues Cup action. The Herons were fortunate to not see Lionel Messi sent off with a second yellow late in the first half and even more fortunate to get a soft penalty call on Antonio Carlos as they won, 3-1. Messi opened the scoring after being ignored in the box early. Cesar Araujo made up for his uncharacteristic defensive lapse by scoring 10 minutes later. Josef Martinez put Miami back on top with the Downy-soft penalty just after halftime and Messi sunk in the dagger in the final 20 minutes.
The teams also met in Fort Lauderdale in MLS play on May 20, 2023, with Orlando City winning, 3-1. Ercan Kara’s early goal was canceled out by Leonardo Campana shortly before the hour mark, but Martin Ojeda and Rafael Santos found the net in the second half to power the Lions.
Inter Miami won at home, 4-1, on Oct. 5, 2022. Campana scored in the game’s first minute and Orlando City never settled in. Gonzalo Higuain added two goals — one from the spot — and Ariel Lassiter also scored before Kara pulled one back to spoil the shutout.
The first regular-season meeting of 2022 resulted in a 1-0 Orlando City win at Exploria Stadium on July 9, as a stoppage-time own goal by Damion Lowe was the difference between the Lions earning just one point or all three. The ball was sent into the box by Jake Mulraney.
The teams also met at Exploria Stadium on May 25, 2022 in U.S. Open Cup action, with the two sides needing extra time after a scoreless 90 minutes. In extra time, Miami got a goal from Jean Mota against the run of play, but Facundo Torres quickly equalized for Orlando. The match ended 1-1 and Orlando won the ensuing penalty shootout, 4-2. Bryce Duke was denied by Mason Stajduhar and DeAndre Yedlin missed the net during the spot kicks, while all four Orlando shooters scored.
The intrastate rivals played to a scoreless draw in Orlando on Aug. 27, 2021. Tesho Akindele missed a penalty in the match, but the Lions had several other good opportunities to score (but didn’t) in a wasteful performance. Orlando and Miami battled to a 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium on Aug. 4, 2021. Carlos scored in first-half stoppage time but was knocked into concussion protocol on the play by Kelvin Leerdam. Kieran Gibbs equalized in the 66th minute on a header in front of a less-than-attentive Ruan. Akindele had a goal called back after video review for being offside and the teams split the points. Earlier in the season, the Lions came from behind in Fort Lauderdale to win 2-1 on a pair of brilliant goals by Chris Mueller and Nani on June 25, 2021.
In the final meeting of 2020, the Lions saw their 12-match unbeaten streak end on Oct. 24 in a 2-1 road loss in Fort Lauderdale. Miami defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez’s header in the 89th minute was the difference after a Daryl Dike goal and an own goal off Robin Jansson saw the game tied up at halftime. The teams met in Orlando on Sept. 12, 2020 with Orlando battling to a 2-1 win on Mauricio Pereyra’s goal. The Lions had taken the lead on an own goal by Andres Reyes. Former Lion Brek Shea tied things up in the 65th, before Pereyra answered with a nice goal off the left post in the 69th minute.
The first meeting in Fort Lauderdale opened Phase 1 of Major League Soccer’s return to regular-season play after the MLS is Back Tournament. That one was an uncharacteristically sloppy match for the Lions, who fell 3-2 in Inter Miami’s first-ever home match. It was Miami’s first franchise win after an 0-5-0 start. Orlando trailed by more than one goal for the first time all season in that game. Dike and Nani provided the offense for Orlando, but Julian Carranza’s brace and Rodolfo Pizarro’s insurance goal were enough to lift the Herons.
The first Tropic Thunder match went Orlando City’s way, with Nani scoring late to lift the Lions to a 2-1 win over the upstarts from South Florida in the opening match of the MLS is Back Tournament. Despite it being a tournament match, it was also a league game. Juan Agudelo opened the scoring for the Herons, but Mueller equalized, setting the stage for Nani’s 97th-minute winner.
The Lions are coming off a 3-1 win over Canadian Premier League side Cavalry FC Tuesday. That victory gave Orlando City a 6-1 aggregate score across two legs and the Lions advanced to the Round of 16 in Concacaf Champions Cup. Despite heavy rotation, Orlando got goals from Nico Lodeiro, Ramiro Enrique, and Kyle Smith to advance.
Orlando City last played in a regular-season match a week ago at home against CF Montreal, drawing 0-0. Tonight’s match represents Orlando’s first road game of the 2024 MLS season.
Inter Miami is coming off a 1-1 draw on the road against the LA Galaxy last Sunday. The Herons (stop me if you’ve heard this before) got an enormous break when Mark Delgado was sent off with a second yellow in the 87th minute. Messi scored five minutes later against the shorthanded Galaxy and Miami claimed a point. Delgado’s second yellow was, of course, overturned unanimously by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, but the damage has been done.
The Herons are 1-0-0 at home, having dispatched Real Salt Lake 2-0 in Inter Miami’s home opener Feb. 21.
Miami is one of the favorites in 2024 and is playing confidently under Gerardo Martino and is one of the league’s heavy favorites to win MLS Cup. The Lions must do what they can to limit Messi’s involvement as much as possible. Miami’s attack is formidable enough that it helps the team’s defense, as it is often difficult to dispossess the Herons and maintain extended spells of possession long enough to get at Inter Miami’s back line. That’s exactly what the Lions love to do, so today’s match will be an interesting battle of wills.
It’s a rivalry game, so anything can happen. History suggests it’ll be tight.
“We’re very optimistic after advancing in the Champions Cup and in the performance that we had (at home) in the opener,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said. “We’re very confident to keep going in this journey. I know we’ll be busy in the next few weeks, but the boys are ready. We’re ready to compete. Now, we’re refocusing on going to Miami, the first time against our rival and getting a result there. Then we’ll think about the game on Tuesday (against Tigres), but first is focusing on our next rival. We already have our feedback, already have our reviews in, but now we’re ready.”
The Lions don’t have any players listed on the team’s availabilitly report. Miami will be without Benjamin Cremaschi (sports hernia), Facundo Farias (knee), Ian Fray (knee), Franco Negri (knee), and Robbie Robinson (medical evaluation), while Ryan Sailor (oblique) is questionable.
- The most recent episode of the PawedCast includes our key matchups and predictions for tonight, as well as our exclusive interview with OCSC rookie midfielder Jeorgio Kocevski.
- Our David Rohe provided his three keys to an Orlando City victory against Inter Miami.
Orlando City (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese.
Defenders: Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson.
Defensive Midfielders: Cesar Araujo, Wilder Cartagena.
Attacking Midfielders: Ivan Angulo, Martin Ojeda, Facundo Torres.
Forward: Duncan McGuire.
Bench: Mason Stajduhar, Kyle Smith, Michael Halliday, David Brekalo, Felipe, Jeorgio Kocevski, Nico Lodeiro, Ramiro Enrique, Luis Muriel.
Inter Miami (4-3-3)
Goalkeeper: Drake Callender.
Defenders: Jordi Alba, Tomas Aviles, Nicolas Freire, DeAndre Yedlin.
Midfielders: Diego Gomez, Sergio Busquets, Julian Gressel.
Forwards: Robert Taylor, Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi.
Bench: CJ dos Santos, Ryan Sailor, Sergii Kryvtsov, Shanyder Borgelin, Jean Mota, Lawson Sunderland, David Ruiz, Noah Allen, Leonardo Campana.
REF: Jaime Herrera.
AR1: Bruno Rizo.
AR2: Regis Cardoso.
4TH: Ivan Cid Cruz.
VAR: Sandro Ricci.
How to Watch
Match Time: 4:30 p.m.
Venue: Chase Stadium — Fort Lauderdale.
TV/Live Stream: FOX, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+.
Radio: Real Radio 104.1 FM (English), Acción 97.9 FM, 810 AM (Spanish).
Enjoy the game. Go City!
Luis Muriel Flashed Playmaking Ability vs. Cavalry FC
Luis Muriel showed signs of what he can do with a strong performance in his Orlando City debut.
Luis Muriel is the newest man to wear the no. 9 shirt for Orlando City, taking over for Ercan Kara after the big Austrian left the City Beautiful for the Turkish top flight last summer. Muriel arrived just before the season officially got underway, and we had to wait until the third game of the year against Cavalry FC to see him take the field, as the necessary paperwork had to be completed first.
Once he was on the field, he was a joy to watch. While Cavalry isn’t the toughest opposition that OCSC will face this year, the Canadians (et al) aren’t slouches either, and the Colombian gave them all sorts of trouble as soon as the game got underway. With 14 minutes gone, he directed a header on target, and moments later he broke through the defense with a great run, and only last-gasp closing down from two defenders and an excellent save from Marco Carducci denied him a goal on his debut. He also fizzed a dangerous shot just outside the post with a little under 30 minutes played, continuing his high level of involvement to start the match.
He wasn’t limited to just taking shots though. When Muriel’s signing was announced, Luiz Muzzi went out of his way to highlight the striker’s “…ability to combine with and make his teammates better.” That’s something that we got to see quite a bit of on Tuesday night, as the no. 9 repeatedly dropped into the midfield in search of the ball, showing up as far back as the defensive midfielders at times. Doing so pulled Cavalry players out of position, opened up space in the center, and made it easier for him to either connect with teammates or drive at the defense once he had collected the ball. He spoke after the game about how he liked to go find the ball and get into unexpected areas, and he certainly did a lot of that.
Muriel’s playmaking chops eventually paid dividends on the scoreboard when the Lions grabbed the opening goal of the game. He collected the ball on the right side of the box, and cut onto his left foot where he could have had a shot at goal. Instead, he picked his head up and squared a perfect ball for Nico Lodiero at the top of the 18-yard box, who made it look easy as he hit the well-weighted ball first time and put it off the inside of the left post and into the back of the net.
If you did your research, you had a pretty good idea of what the Lions would be getting when they signed the Colombian international to a three-year deal. Per FBref.com, in the last year, Muriel is in the 99th percentile for passes attempted per 90, progressive passes per 90, expected assisted goals per 90, shot-creating actions per 90, and successful take-ons per 90. He’s in the 98th percentile for shots per 90, and the 86th percentile for non-penalty goals per 90. Those numbers all paint the picture of a forward who scores but is also comfortable as a playmaker, doesn’t hesitate to get his teammates involved, and does so at a high level.
His numbers on Tuesday night only served to reinforce what the scouting told us. Muriel finished with three shots, two of which were on target, and completed 87% of his passes while recording a key pass and an assist — in his first competitive minutes with his new teammates. It was a well-rounded performance that allowed more traditional playmakers like Facundo Torres and Lodeiro to be limited to substitute appearances, helping to preserve their legs at a time when fixture congestion is high.
Tuesday night was a nice preview of what fans can expect when Muriel is on the field. His tendency to go looking for the ball and willingness to bring his teammates into play means that Orlando has the sort of striker that the club hasn’t really had before. It gives the team more options and tactical flexibility, and that’s going to be something to watch as the season continues. Vamos Orlando!
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