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Orlando City vs. Santos Laguna, Leagues Cup: Final Score 3-2 as Wilder Cartagena Wins it Late for Lions

Wilder Cartagena’s stoppage-time goal snapped a 2-2 deadlock and lifted the Lions into the Round of 32.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Wilder Cartagena’s late goal broke a 2-2 deadlock and lifted Orlando City to a 3-2 win over Santos Laguna of Liga MX tonight at Exploria Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 16,313. The Lions (1-0-1, 5 points) won the South 2 group in Leagues Cup and now advance to face rival Inter Miami in the Round of 32 on Wednesday. It was City’s first win ever against Liga MX competition.

The Lions fell behind in the first half on Raul Lopez’s goal before Duncan McGuire equalized. Mauricio Pereyra put Orlando City ahead just seconds after the restart, only to see Santos Laguna’s Harold Preciado pull it back 12 minutes later. Cartagena’s heroics came in the second minute of stoppage time to push the Lions to the top of the group and eliminate the Liga MX side from the competition. The Houston Dynamo (0-0-2, 3 points) finished second in the group and will advance to face Pachuca. Santos Laguna exits after a 0-1-1 record in group play.

“First, I want to congratulate our players for such an effort and a great victory over a great team,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I think we gave a good step today towards our objectives and obviously keep walking forward in Leagues Cup and also showed many other things that are going to help us for the end of the season. I think it was a very complete performance.”

Pareja’s lineup was the one he’s become accustomed to starting in recent weeks, with Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Cesar Araujo paired with Cartagena in central midfield, behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with McGuire up top.

Santos Laguna was more than happy to sit back and look to counter in the first half and got a chance in just the second minute with a shot from a severe angle by Duvan Vergara that Gallese was able to stop.

Orlando City should have scored from a set piece two minutes later. A training ground free kick from distance was sent into the left side of the box for Jansson, who sent it back for McGuire. The rookie’s shot hit the post, ending the danger, and the play may have been offside anyway had it gone in and then been reviewed. A minute later, McGuire fired a shot right at goalkeeper Gibran Lajud, but the flag did come up this time.

Carlos did well to knock away a dangerous cross in the 20th minute and it went out for the game’s first corner. Santos Laguna couldn’t make the set piece pay off.

Angulo was active in the first half but his final touch — whether a pass or a shot — was an adventure and not usually a good one. He took a layoff from Torres in space near the top of the area in the 24th minute but his shot was nowhere near the goal frame.

Santos Laguna opened the scoring off a terrible mistake by Orlando. Angulo got under an attempted switch but his touch was heavy and he gave it away immediately to Raul Lopez. The Santos Laguna right back used Jansson as a screen and fired a hard, low shot that curled and skipped up off the turf and past Gallese to make it 1-0 in the 41st minute.

The Lions responded quickly, working the ball to Santos on the left. The Brazilian sent in an inch-perfect cross to find McGuire, who powered his header inside the left post, tying the game at 1-1 in the 44th minute. It was the rookie’s 10th goal across all competitions this season.

“Just a good team buildup,” McGuire said. “You know, we’ve been talking about it all week — don’t put our heads down if we go down one, so it’s good to see a good response from the guys and get a quick goal back. It pays to practice that a lot. Rafa and I’ve got a good connection. We’ve always talked about how we want that ball delivered, how he’s going cross it to me, so just a good connection we’ve had. It was good to see it work out in the game.”

The final few minutes of the first half were uneventful and the teams went into the break deadlocked. Orlando City held the statistical advantage at the break in possession (53.6%-46.4%), shots (5-3), shots on target (3-2), corners (3-1), and passing accuracy (84.3%-79.4%).

Orlando City jumped out in front in the first minute of the second half. Pereyra cut from left to right outside the area and seeing no options, blasted a shot into the upper right corner to make it 2-1.

“I had the opportunity to shoot, and I didn’t used to do it but the guys are telling me that I need to do (it) more,” Pereyra said. “Of course I’m happy for that.”

The Lions looked primed to add an insurance goal in the 52nd minute when Torres found himself in space but he blasted his shot just wide.

Five minutes later, Juan Brunetta fired just inches wide in transition the other way. But a minute later, the Liga MX side scored anyway. The Lions cleared a set piece and Santos Laguna recycled, sending in a cross. Preciado headed it in to tie the match in the 58th minute. The Lions appealed for a foul on the play but after review the goal stood.

“We knew that there were going to be moments where Santos was going to hurt us,” Pareja said. “You don’t want it, but this is a natural thing. But we resisted to it and not just resist to it but we found ways to hurt them, and scoring three goals against them is not an easy task.”

Orlando City kept fighting to get back on top. A good buildup in the 66th minute gave Santos a wide-open look on the left from just outside the area but the fullback smashed his shot wide of the near post.

As the game progressed into the final 20 minutes, transition opportunities looked dangerous both ways. Pareja sent on attacking players Ramiro Enrique, Martin Ojeda, and Ercan Kara for the stretch run.

Orlando lost the ball in the attacking third in the 73rd minute and it led to a chance at the other end, but Preciado fired wide of goal. A minute later, a dangerous attacking move down the left ended up in front for Omar Campos to direct on goal, but Santos was there to block the shot to preserve the tie.

Gallese did well to stop Preciado’s shot in the 80th minute but to be fair the Santos Laguna striker was in 1-v-1 and left his shot too close to the goalkeeper.

The winning play looked like it was going to go Santos Laguna’s way before it turned in Orlando City’s favor. The Lions lost the ball in the attack and the Liga MX side broke on a 5-v-3 transition opportunity. As the play entered the Lions’ attacking third, Araujo made a fantastic open-field play to take the ball away and start the break the other way. After a few touches in the attack, it ended up back on Araujo’s foot on the right side. The defensive midfielder slipped the ball in for Cartagena, who redirected it through Lajud, opening his Orlando City account on the winning goal in the 92nd minute.

“I’m very happy for the goal,” Cartagena said. “As a kid, you always dream of scoring goals like these and I was very happy that I was able to help the team. The play started with Cesar and then Facu, then to me, then to Kara, then to Cesar. I lifted my hand and Cesar saw me and he gave me a spectacular assist. My brother Cesar, that’s what he does.”

The winning goal never would have come without Araujo’s assist but it never even would have gotten that far without his timely tackle in transition.

“I saw them arriving. I saw them arriving with a lot of people,” Araujo said. “I tried to get as close as possible, and by luck I was able to win the ball and we were able to score on the other side.”

Orlando City finished with the advantage in possession (54.2%-45.8%) and passing accuracy (82.4%-80.3%). Santos Laguna finished with more shots (16-11) but each team got five on target. Both sides won three corners in the match.

“It was a tough game,” Cartagena said. “In the first 30 minutes we were very much on top of them and then they grew into the match. It was a very evenly disputed game, but we were able to get the better of them. I think that it was a great match for everyone to enjoy and we ultimately got the result.”

“Our preparation was based on being fine in the final thirds — theirs and ours,” Pareja said. “We knew that transitions in the middle were going to be wild, since you have players who can take that ball from defending third to the final third, and there is not too much time to think other than be good defending your area and then do the same in the other part. But again, we’re playing against one of the best teams in Mexico. This is a good response from our players and and for our fans as well.”


Orlando City has a short turnaround before playing at Inter Miami on Wednesday night in a Round of 32 Tropic Thunder matchup.

Orlando City

Orlando City Signs First-Round Draft Pick Jeorgio Kocevski

Orlando City signs its first-round draft pick Jeorgio Kocevski to a one-year deal with three option years.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City SC announced the signing of first-round 2024 MLS SuperDraft pick Jeorgio Kocevski today. The deal is through the upcoming 2024 season with club options for 2025, 2026, and 2027. The Lions selected the Syracuse midfielder with the 21st overall pick in the draft in December.

“Jeorgio has had a really strong preseason camp with us, demonstrating everything we saw in him when we were scouting him and analyzing his game in college,” Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “He’s done well working his way into the group, even starting in our friendly against Flamengo and holding his own against some of the best in Brazil, and we’re excited to have him with us this season.”

The box-to-box midfielder made three appearances this preseason, starting against Brazilian club Flamengo and the following scrimmage against USL Championship side Rhode Island FC. He came on at halftime against the Colorado Rapids last weekend, scoring the winning goal in the 90th minute.

Prior to being selected by the Lions, the Liverpool, NY, native made 71 appearances with 65 starts and logged 5,599 minutes for Syracuse in four years. He scored seven goals and recorded 18 assists, putting 33 of his 93 shots on frame. Additionally, he was part of Syracuse’s 2022 NCAA national championship team, playing 90 minutes in the 2-2 draw, but missing in the team’s victorious shootout over Indiana.

Kocevski had a breakout junior year, being named to the United Soccer Coaches’ All-South Region third team, All-ACC third team, NCAA All-Tournament team, and ACC All-Tournament team. During his senior year, he wore the armband for the Orange and was named All-ACC first team and ACC Co-Midfielder of the Year.

What It Means for Orlando City

Kocevski was the most likely pick from this most recent draft to be signed by Orlando City. The departure of club captain Mauricio Pereyra left a spot in the midfield and Head Coach Oscar Pareja seemed to feel the rookie could fill it from early on. His start against Flamengo was in the place of regular starter Cesar Araujo, who was on international duty with the Uruguay U-23 national team. He played against Flamengo’s best lineup and did quite well in almost an hour on the field in his first minutes of play at the professional level.

While a spot was open for the signing of Kocevski, he likely won’t see much of the field for the first team this season. In addition to being behind starters Araujo and Wilder Cartagena, the defensive midfielder will be behind Felipe on the depth chart. In all likelihood, the rookie will slot in with Orlando City B in MLS NEXT Pro to get some minutes, but there is room for him to start regularly with that team.

Kocevski is currently the only player signed by the club from the Lions’ 2024 draft class. West Virginia midfielder Yutaro Tsukada, Pittsburgh midfielder Filip Mirkovic, and Charlotte midfielder Riyon Tori remained unsigned, with the latter opting to return to school for his senior season.

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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.

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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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