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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Inter Miami, Leagues Cup: Final Score 3-1 as Lions Exit the Tournament

A tie score from halftime was broken by yet another soft penalty given to an Orlando opponent and the Lions are done with Leagues Cup.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Anyone who wants to see what the Lionel Messi era in MLS is going to be like had only to watch the way the game was officiated when Inter Miami defeated Orlando City 3-1 at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale tonight. Offside calls that weren’t, downy soft penalty calls, an ignored blatant foul right in front of the referee by the league’s new star man, and free kicks that should never have been given were the rule of the night.

But the Lions are not only out of Leagues Cup because of that. Orlando City also neglected to capitalize on chances in the loss, getting just one goal through Cesar Araujo — who had a second waved off for offside in the buildup. That wasn’t enough to overcome Messi’s brace and a Josef Martinez penalty that should never have been awarded. The latter broke a 1-1 deadlock just after halftime and was an obvious source of frustration for the team.

“I think we have to be clear. The game was disputed by the two teams and then analyzed tactically and analyze what could happen here and there. But we have to start with the reality of the call of the PK and other calls that were ridiculous,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I don’t want to say that the attention that we’re getting here with all that is happening, it becomes a circus. Today was a circus. The PK is unbelievable. It’s unbelievable. I don’t know if the VAR came today. So, if the VAR came today and we have the referee there, then we have to be on it and go see it (at the replay monitor), because the game deserved it.”

Pareja boldly made no changes whatsoever to the team that played four nights ago at home against Santos Laguna. Pedro Gallese took his customary spot in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Wilder Cartagena and Araujo manned the central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Duncan McGuire up top.

A lengthy delay for severe weather threw a damper on the proceedings, causing kickoff to push back from its 8 p.m. scheduled start time to 9:35 p.m.

Orlando City started with a good press and controlled play for the opening few minutes but Miami settled in and Martinez smashed a shot from outside the box that Gallese parried away in the fifth minute.

Two minutes later, Messi opened the scoring when Araujo got caught ball watching. The Argentine waited until Araujo’s attention waned and made a run into the box with no one on him. Robert Taylor lofted in a ball for him and it was an easy finish from point-blank range to make it 1-0.

The Lions responded well, sending in some crosses over the next few minutes but couldn’t get on the end of them.

Martinez fired over the bar in the 14th minute and then McGuire was sent down the left side of the box a minute later but his shot was always going left. Just after that, Araujo won a foul on the right and Sergio Busquets knocked it behind for a corner.

The Lions scored on the ensuing set piece. Orlando City played a corner short and Angulo darted toward the end line and sent the ball in front of goal. Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender knocked it away but it went straight to Araujo, who smashed it on goal. Callender got a piece of it but couldn’t keep it out as the Lions leveled the game in the 17th minute.

The next 15 minutes were back and forth and the Lions started to get to Messi as he was booked in the 21st minute for fouling Cartagena from behind. The next decent look fell to Orlando when McGuire sent a shot too close to Callender in the 22nd minute. Pereyra then got an opportunity a few minutes later but couldn’t dig the pass out of his feet.

Messi nearly restored Miami’s lead when he fired off the outside of the left post in the 32nd minute. That was followed by a good Orlando attack that should have resulted in a corner but the offside flag wrongfully came up. McGuire managed to hold his run but the assistant referee made an assumption on the play and the replay showed that assumption was clearly wrong.

Taylor fired just wide of the right post in the 41st minute after being given too much space outside the box. Gallese followed with a huge save to deny a Messi free kick in the 45th minute on a soft foul about 25 yards out just seconds after Pereyra seemed to be fouled from behind further up the pitch.

In stoppage time, Messi blatantly fouled Araujo and perhaps should have gotten a second yellow card, but the ref let it go and then booked Kyle Smith afterwards instead with both teams pushing and shoving.

Busquets put his hand to Smith’s throat in the scrum after the play but was not cautioned or penalized for it in any way. Miami was then allowed to take the free kick and play 30 seconds beyond the two minutes of stoppage time, with Benjamin Cremaschi firing just wide on the last kick of the half.

Miami dominated possession in the first half (71.9%-28.1%), fired more shots (7-5), and passed more accurately (90.5%-78.8%). The Lions won more corners (4-1), and both teams got three shots on target.

Referee Ivan Barton tilted the field in Miami’s favor just after the break. A through ball that Martinez had no shot at getting to was collected by Gallese as the former Atlanta forward fell in the box. A penalty was awarded immediately despite there being only the slightest contact. It was extremely soft and Barton did not go to the monitor to look at it himself. The VAR did not overturn it so the penalty stood and Martinez scored to make it 2-1.

“It’s not clear,” Pareja said. “The PK…the game doesn’t deserve that. (The match officials) don’t need to be protagonists. Just go and see it. The people want to see soccer and things have to be fair, and today was not the case.”

Chasing the game, Pareja sent Dagur Dan Thorhallsson and Ramiro Enrique on for Smith and McGuire. Orlando won a couple of set pieces but did nothing with them and then Pereyra fired a shot off a teammate and out for a goal kick in the 64th minute. That was the captain’s last involvement in the game as he was subbed out a minute later for Martin Ojeda, who was less than effective in his roughly half hour of work. He fired a shot in the 68th minute that was nowhere near the goal frame.

Moments later, Messi put the game to bed on the counter. A bad giveaway in the attacking third caught the Lions with numbers forward. The Lions tried to get back but a good quick layoff from Martinez to Messi confused Cartagena and Jansson, who both ended up on Martinez, only to see it get sent to Messi for the insurance goal.

To add insult to injury, Barton did go to the monitor late in the game after Araujo scored his second goal off a wicked cross by Santos. The ball bypassed Enrique, who had a shoulder offside but Callender was already hugging his near post and the ball passed out in front of everyone to Araujo at the back post for the finish. There’s no way that Enrique’s presence was an issue for Callender, given his positioning on the play but Barton ruled the Lions offside. It’s funny how going to the monitor can change one’s perspective and funnier still how selective referees in Orlando City games are about doing it.

“It doesn’t make sense at all,” Pareja said of the inconsistency in the referee going to the monitor or not. “I’d rather just be talking about the soccer tactics. We’re confused. We don’t know why he didn’t go see (the penalty review). Because he has the chance to see it, because that’s what the VAR is for. And then in the second one, there is a body (part) that was offside. It was not intervening that much, but he was offside and then he went (to the monitor) and that’s what he should have done. He has to be more consistent for sure, because the players get frustrated with those things.”

The final whistle on the charade blew moments later and the Lions were out of Leagues Cup.

Miami finished with more possession (63.8%-36.2%), shots (12-11), shots on target (5-3), and passing accuracy (89.1%-83.6%). The Lions won more corners (5-1).

In the end, Orlando City’s finishing wasn’t good enough and once the penalty changed the game, it was a difficult rest of the match.

“We were not sharp up front. We probably could have been more aggressive when we had the ball,” Pareja said. “And we’re going to take as well the blame on our team, that we couldn’t score. And then they opened the scoring in the first half and the second half very early. We could have avoided that. But honestly we are very disappointed in the game because of those two plays. This is not what we need.”

Orlando City will have a long rest now, as the next match isn’t until a visit to the Chicago Fire on Aug. 20. Inter Miami will take its sideshow to FC Dallas in the Round of 16.

Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/30/23

Orlando City faces big questions, Matt Miazga suspended, Emma Hayes meets USWNT for first time, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

November is finally coming to a close. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of a month for me, with highs, lows, and many things in between. All in all, I’m pretty glad it’s nearly over, although I expect December to be similarly hectic. At least this weather is allowing me to break out some winter clothes and turn on the fireplace in this new apartment. I’m not sure why a fireplace was installed in a Floridian apartment, but I’m not complaining. Let’s dive into today’s links!

Big Decisions Await Orlando City

With Orlando City’s season over, attention now turns to a critical off-season for the club. Head Coach Oscar Pareja is out of contract after leading the Lions to the playoffs for the past four years. The club will also need to decide if it will exercise the 2024 options on the contracts of both Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi and Technical Director and Assistant General Manager Ricardo Moreira. All three have orchestrated Orlando’s transformation that’s included winning its first trophy, having its best season this year, and qualifying for both the Concacaf Champions League and Champions Cup. Potentially transferring Facundo Torres to Europe, filling the empty Designated Player slot, and deciding which players to bring back for 2024 are also on the agenda. However, figuring out who will lead the Lions into this exciting next chapter is paramount. Personally, I think the club should do everything in its power to keep the people who brought Orlando to this point.

Matt Miazga Suspended for Three Games

FC Cincinnati will be without MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga for Saturday’s Eastern Conference final, as he was suspended by MLS for three games due to his misconduct after the match with the New York Red Bulls on Nov. 4. Miazga was also fined an undisclosed amount and will undergo a behavioral assessment as part of the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Following that aforementioned playoff match, reports surfaced that Miazga gained unauthorized access to an area reserved for the referees and acted aggressively. Any suspended games not served during Cincy’s playoff run will carry over into the 2024 season, although Miazga can petition for a reduction based on compliance with recommended treatment plans.

Emma Hayes Meets With USWNT Players and Staff

Emma Hayes, who was hired as the next United States Women’s National Team Head Coach earlier this month, made the trip to Florida to meet the team for the first time. Although she won’t be coaching the team for its upcoming pair of friendlies against China, she collaborated with interim head coach Twila Kilgore on the latest training camp roster and will continue to work with her until taking over in May. There won’t be much time between Hayes’ official start date and the 2024 Summer Olympics, making these moments of face time between player and future coach all the more important. USWNT captain Lindsey Horan spoke on the team’s goals after meeting Hayes for the first time.

“There’s so much talent in this team, and I don’t think the world has seen enough of it yet just because we need to go out and show it,” Horan said. “We need to be able to mesh together and show everything that we have, and what we’re all about, and how we can really collaborate and play together — be more of a team and be a powerhouse again.

“It’s going to be exciting for us to have her and see what she can do with this team and how she can help us moving forward.”

Ricardo Pepi Sends PSV Into Champions League Knockout Stage

PSV Eindhoven clinched its spot in the next round of the UEFA Champions League in dramatic fashion, with American forward Ricardo Pepi scoring the winner in a 3-2 comeback win over Sevilla in Spain. Trailing 2-0 in the second half, American left back Sergino Dest provided the assist on PSV’s first goal and Pepi found the winner in stoppage time, with fellow American Malik Tillman also coming off the bench. From his little flick to send a teammate forward to his run and clinical header, it was a great goal by the 20-year-old.

Elsewhere in the Champions League, Arsenal beat Lens 6-0 to advance, Real Madrid won 4-2 against Napoli to win its group, and Real Sociedad played to a scoreless draw with RB Salzburg. Manchester United remains in last place of its group after a 3-3 draw with Galatasaray, with goalkeeper Andre Onana unable to stop Hakim Ziyech from scoring off of two free kicks. All’s not lost for United though, as it can still qualify for the round of 16 by beating Bayern Munich at home so long as the other match ends in the group ends in a draw. It all makes for what should be an exciting final matchday in the group stage.

Free Kicks

  • The Kansas City Current announced that American midfielder Sam Mewis will not be returning to the club for the 2024 season. The 31-year-old has not played since 2021 as she continues to recover from a knee injury.
  • The Utah Royals have signed free agent forward Imani Dorsey on a contract through the 2025 season. Dorsey has most recently played for NJ/NY Gotham FC, although she didn’t participate in this past season due to mental health reasons.
  • Manchester United is reportedly ready to move on from Mason Mount just six months after he joined the team from Chelsea.
  • Tomasz Kwiatkowski, the video assistant referee involved in a controversial handball that eventually led to Paris Saint-Germain’s equalizer in stoppage time against Newcastle, was removed from his next scheduled duty by UEFA.
  • Amidst a four-game winless streak, French club Nantes has fired Pierre Aristouy as its manager, immediately replacing him with Jocelyn Gourvennec.
  • We’ll end our links with this interesting article that dives into how Romelu Lukaku unexpectedly arrived at AS Roma and how he’s thriving at the Italian club.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and rest of your week!

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Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Alex Freeman

We start our Orlando City player reviews with a look at a Homegrown fullback who made his MLS debut this season.



Image courtesy of Orlando City B

Orlando City signed fullback Alex Freeman to a Homegrown Player contract on February 15, 2022. He became the Lions’ 12th Homegrown signing and his deal runs through the 2025 season with a club option for 2026, but the youngster did not see action in Major League Soccer last season. With the departure of Ruan, there was an opportunity for Freeman to win a job with the first team in camp but he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump, instead playing an important role with Orlando City B throughout the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season.

Let’s take a look back at Freeman’s 2023 campaign.

Statistical Breakdown

Freeman made his MLS debut on April 29 in a 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. It was not just his debut with the first team, but it was also his only appearance with the senior squad in 2023, although he did make the substitutes’ bench a few times after that. Officially, he logged only one minute, entering in the 93rd minute. He was only on the pitch a matter of seconds, so it’s unsurprising that he registered nothing on the stats sheet.

The son of former NFL receiver Antonio Freeman, Alex starred with OCB in 2023. In MLS NEXT Pro play, Freeman appeared in 24 of OCB’s 28 matches, starting 22, and logging 1,855 minutes. He finished tied for third on the squad in goals (4), adding three assists and passing at a 79.1% success rate. Freeman attempted 25 shots, putting 11 on target, and contributed 10 key passes. He committed 22 fouls, drew 27 on the opposition, and was booked four times. He also started OCB’s playoff match at Columbus, playing 89 minutes in the Young Lions’ 2-1 road loss. Freeman didn’t contribute a goal or assist or attempt a shot in the match, but he passed at an 88% rate, created one scoring chance, and committed one foul.

Best Game

With only one MLS appearance to his credit, the default best game for Freeman came on April 29 in Orlando City’s 2-0 home win over the LA Galaxy. Freeman didn’t even officially touch the ball in the game, but it’s not every day a teenager gets to play in an MLS match, and I’m sure it was a special moment for him. It was certainly a milestone in his professional soccer career.

2023 Final Grade

As Freeman fell well short of the minimum 450 minutes played mark 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. There are areas of Freeman’s game that need a bit of refining, but at the same time, it’s easy to see why he landed a Homegrown contract, why Orlando City would find him an intriguing prospect, and why he’s been getting called up by the United States for U-20 international duty. His attacking presence was huge for OCB in 2023 and he was one of the key players that led the Young Lions to the postseason.

2024 Outlook

I would expect Freeman to get more seasoning at OCB in 2024, although he’ll be given opportunities in preseason camp to show whether he’s closed the gap on the likes of Michael Halliday and Kyle Smith (assuming both return). If the club moves on from both Halliday and Smith, it’s not hard to picture Freeman starting the season providing depth at right back for the first team. Having just turned 19 in August, Freeman has a lot of potential and he should start to unlock that within the next year or so.

This is the first of our 2023 Orlando City Season in Review articles. Every player who played minutes this past season and who finished the year on the club roster will be reviewed (exceptions may be made for players let go when the club officially announces its roster moves). Players who logged fewer than 450 minutes (combined regular season plus playoffs, Concacaf Champions League, U.S. Open Cup, and Leagues Cup) will receive a composite score between 1 and 10 as determined by a panel of The Mane Land writers, while those who did not reach that threshold will receive an incomplete grade.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 11/29/23

Orlando Pride players called up by Brazil, MLS announces 2023 Best XI, latest MLS roster moves, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Hello, Mane Landers I hope all is well down in Florida. I’ve been very busy working throughout the holiday weekend at Under Armour. This week I’ll be working at Wrigley Field for Winterland while getting ready to cover high school wrestling tomorrow night. There is plenty to cover today, so let’s get to the links.

Pride Players Called Up By Brazil for Friendlies

Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle and forwards Marta and Adriana have been called up to the Brazil Women’s National Team for its upcoming friendlies.

Brazil will play two matches against Japan on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 in Sao Paulo before playing Nicaragua on Dec. 6 at Estadio Fonte Luminosa in Araraquara.

MLS Announces the 2023 Best XI

Major League Soccer announced its 2023 Best XI, recognizing the league’s top players at each position. There were no Orlando City players selected for the team and eight players received the honor for the first time. Those players are St. Louis City’s Roman Burki and Tim Parker, FC Cincinnati defender Matt Miazga, Atlanta United duo Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis, Houston Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera, LAFC’s Denis Bouanga, and Columbus Crew forward Cucho Hernandez. Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar made the Best XI for the third consecutive time, while teammate Walker Zimmerman was named to it for the fifth time. MLS MVP Luciano Acosta of FC Cincinnati rounds out the list.

Latest MLS Off-season Roster Moves

The Colorado Rapids announced their latest roster changes as they prepare for the the 2024 season under new Head Coach Chris Armas. The club exercised its options for defender Andrew Gutman, midfielder Ralph Priso, and forward Calvin Harris. The Rapids declined contract offers to seven players, with the most notable names being defender Steven Beitashour and goalkeeper William Yarbrough, although the Rapids are in discussions about re-signing Yarbrough. Elsewhere, the New England Revolution exercised the permanent transfer option on forward Tomas Chancalay, signing him to a Designated Player contract through 2026, with a club option for the 2027 season.

UEFA Champions League Roundup

Champions League action returned in Europe, as we get close to wrapping up the group stage in a couple of weeks. Manchester City overcame a two-goal deficit to beat RB Leipzig 3-2 and win Group G. Newcastle United had a chance to qualify for the round of 16 but gave up a late penalty to Paris Saint-Germain, which Kylian Mbappe converted to end the match in a 1-1 draw. Borussia Dortmund beat AC Milan 3-1 to book its spot in the knockout stage. PSG, Newcastle, and AC Milan are all still alive in Group F heading into the final matchday in December. Shakhtar Donetsk won 1-0 against Royal Antwerp and also still has a shot to advance on the final matchday. Lazio, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Young Boys all won their respective matches as well. Today’s matches include Manchester United on the road against Galatasaray, Real Madrid taking on Napoli, and Sevilla facing off with PSV Eindhoven.

Free Kicks

  • Concacaf has announced that BMO Stadium, Dignity Health Sports Park, Shell Energy Stadium, and Snapdragon Stadium will be the four venues that will host matches for the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup.
  • Barcelona midfielder Gavi will be sidelined for up to 10 months after undergoing knee surgery after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee.
  • The International Football Association Board approved a trial for sin bins, meaning players punished for dissent or specific tactical offense would be temporarily removed from the match for a set amount of minutes.
  • You have got to see this goal from Cwrt Rawlin FC in the Welsh seventh division.

That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your Wednesday and I’ll see you next time.

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