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Three Orlando City Players Who Could Be Difference Makers Down the Stretch

Which regular contributors posses the ability to push Orlando City to the promised land?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

After an eternity of a midseason pause for Major League Soccer and Liga MX to compete against one another in the Leagues Cup, the regular season finally returns tomorrow. Orlando City will be on the road in the Windy City against the Chicago Fire. With the final third of the season schedule set to pop off in rapid succession, three Orlando City players could have a big impact on how successful the Lions will finish the year.

Ivan Angulo

Angulo makes this list because of his ability to open the game up and get into positions which many players on the squad are simply unable to. Whether from taking the opposition off the dribble or by using his speed to beat other players to long balls, Angulo has constantly been a player who is able to get the ball into dangerous positions. With three goals and five assists on the year so far, Angulo has already surpassed the level of production that most expected out of the young Colombian for the year.

The problem with those numbers, however, is that when watching the games week in and week out, one starts to realize just how much more joy Angulo is capable of finding. At least a handful of times each game, Angulo finds himself either with an unobstructed shot or in position to make a meaningful play in the final third. The problem for him rests in that final touch or decision-making effort. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to predict that those opportunities will still be present over the last 11 games of the season, and if Angulo is able to convert just a third more of those chances than he has previously β€” either by finding the back of the net or by putting his teammates in the position to do so β€” he could be a force that propels the team even higher up the table.

Cesar Araujo

There will be no rest for the weary over the final third of the season, and very few cupcake matches remain on the schedule. Six of the final 11 matches are slated against teams currently above the playoff line, with additional challenging matchups against NYCFC at the abomination that is Yankee Stadium and a visit from everyone’s favorite circus, the team from Fort Lauderdale.

In order for the results to come and for the team to continue to gain points on the season, the defensive midfield will be called upon time and time again against a wide array of strong attacking opposition. Araujo has been the focal point of the OCSC defense in the midfield from the opening whistle of this season. Currently, he ranks second on the team in minutes logged, with 1,818 so far on the year, and Oscar Pareja will need to keep him on the field for as much of the final 11 matches as possible. He does so many of the little things that simply go unnoticed during a match and also has an uncanny ability to get under the opposition’s skin.

He sits second in tackles won on the season thus far and has suffered 63 fouls on the year, 25 more than the second-place Lion, Facundo Torres (38). Wrapped up so much in stopping the opposition, any offensive statistics that Araujo can contribute are simply a bonus, and on the year he has provided one goal and four assists. Including what has become his favorite way to get an assist, the long throw in.

Pedro Gallese

Let us be clear here, at times the Peruvian number one simply does things that other goalkeepers in MLS don’t seem to be capable of. Everyone loves a highlight-reel save, and it seems like Gallese can be counted on to produce one a match at minimum. Just take a look at this amazing effort from earlier in the year against D.C. United.

There is a reason why I still maintain that Orlando’s biggest off-season move was re-signing Gallese. The reason for this, however, isn’t the flashy saves, it is because his positioning, reaction time, and experience in goal allows for a certain degree of added protection in net which can compensate for shortcomings and slip-ups from the defense in front of him. Think of El Pulpo as the flex seal that keeps water out of the boat.

With seven clean sheets on the season, there is a real possibility that Gallese can reach double digits before the end of the regular season, which would be an all-time high for him as the Orlando City keeper. Gallese is also enjoying his second-best season since joining the club in terms of save percentage (69.4%), and while his passing distribution could improve a bit from his statistical averages of years past, he is still one of the most reliable forces in purple and gold week in and week out.


Those are the three players that I feel have the most potential to turn losses into draws and draws into victories. Are there any other players that you think will swing the course of the final third of the season for Orlando City? Let us know in the comments below.

Opinion

Orlando City’s Top Three 2023 Moments vs. Columbus

Relive the top three moments from the most exciting matchup of 2023

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Jeremy Reper

There is no debate about it, the two matches between Orlando City and the Columbus Crew during the Major League Soccer regular season provided the most entertainment out of any MLS series throughout the entire year. The teams combined for 11 total goals over two matches and both matchups were decided at the death. Prior to the kickoff tonight in the MLS Eastern Conference semifinals, lets take a walk down memory lane and relive the top three moments from those first two matches. If you are an Orlando City fan, then these moments are without a doubt ingrained in your memory, and if you are a Crew fan, well, either avert your eyes or really question the choices that led you to this blog in the first place.

Columbus Meet Duncan…Duncan, Columbus

Orlando City faced the Crew for the first time this season back on May 13 at a time when the season looked far, far different than how it ended up. Back then, Orlando City was still growing into its identity and the first two and a half months of the season showed just that with a rollercoaster of results. Prior to taking the pitch in Columbus, Orlando had dropped its two previous matches, including getting bounced out of the U.S. Open Cup. One part of the Lions’ identity that was already starting to take shape was their ability to perform on the road. The Lions went into halftime trailing 2-0 against the Crew. However, thanks to a quick strike out of the break from Ercan Kara, City was able to battle back, stealing a point on the road late, thanks to rookie striker Duncan McGuire.

It was McGuire’s fourth goal of the season at that time and ultimately became just another stepping stone on the path to the best road record in MLS. Casual fans may have believed that that moment was the pinnacle of excitement between these two squads. A little over four months later, however, the OCSC vs. Crew matchup took excitement to a whole different level.

Facu Changes the Momentum

Designated Player Facundo Torres initially was left off of the starting 11 for the rematch at home at Exploria Stadium on Sept. 16. after missing time for international duty and returning with a leg contusion. When he did finally see the pitch, substituting on for Felipe in the 57th minute, his team was staring at a 2-1 deficit, which became an almost insurmountable 3-1 deficit just over 10 minutes later when Cucho Hernandez scored in the 68th minute. Despite Orlando going down by two goals, it was clear to see that the injection of Torres onto the pitch had changed something in the way the team was playing. Torres was seemingly everywhere on the field and played at a pace which seemed to surprise the Black & Gold. Torres was able to pull one back for Orlando in the 73rd minute, setting up a mad dash to the final whistle.

Considering Torres was fighting through a knock and had been away from the team representing Uruguay, his effort alone over the final 35-plus minutes of the match was almost enough to warrant a place on this list β€” even if he hadn’t scored a goal and then also contributed even more…but we can’t spoil those moments yet.

Where Were You When…?

There are a handful of Orlando City moments over the past few years that truly stick in my head as memorable, like Daryl Dike scoring at the death against D.C. United, Alexandre Pato drawing the crossbar one match before Decision Day β€” and the subsequent goal being disallowed β€” and the sheer excitement of winning the U.S. Open Cup. The final 10 minutes of Orlando vs. Columbus instantly became one of those “where were you when it happened” type of memories for me and so many others that I have talked to throughout the season. After Torres won a foul and a free kick from about 25 yards out, Martin Ojeda delivered the set piece into a dangerous area. Second-half substitute Ramiro Enrique was in the perfect position to slot home the ball in the 86th minute to level the match at 3-3.

After seeing how things ended earlier in the season at Columbus, and knowing that my blood pressure can only go so high, that was surely the most exiting moment left in the tank, right? Orlando had fought back against all odds to steal another point and walk out with a draw β€” case closed. The only problem with that scenario is that no one told the Lions that they were supposed to settle for a draw.

Instead, in the seventh minute of stoppage time, Orlando once again won a free kick approximately 25 yards out, and once again Ojeda stepped up to put the ball into play. His delivery missed a soaring Rodrigo Schlegel before falling in front of Torres, who headed the ball low and back across the box where it found Enrique. The Argentine smoothly blasted it into the back of the net, sending all of Exploria Stadium into rapture.


How will these two teams top all this excitement as they kick off the next round of the playoffs? Truthfully, I have no idea. My heart rate and blood pressure could certainly be on board with a boring victory for the Lions, but something in my gut tells me we may be in line for fireworks a third time over.

What was your favorite memory the first two times these two squads threw down? Let us know in the comments below, and as always, vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

Defense Key to Orlando City Reaching Conference Final

Against the high-scoring Crew, the Lions will need another standout defensive effort.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City is set to open the Major League Soccer conference semifinals one week from today against the Columbus Crew. Earlier in the year, the two teams treated us to one of the most electric matches from the MLS regular season, as Orlando City overcame a two-goal deficit to win at the death.

This go-around, the match is win or go home, and Orlando City certainly cannot advance if it concedes as much to Columbus as it did during the last regular-season meeting.

Dating back to when the regular season resumed after the Leagues Cup, Orlando City has more or less established its defensive identity with a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. This group has gelled over the final third of the season and is responsible for numerous results which helped to propel the squad up the table leading up to Decision Day. Their largest task now lies ahead of them β€” shutting down the most potent and fluid offense in MLS this year.

Over the two regular-season matchups, Orlando conceded five goals to the Crew. The only other team in the Eastern Conference to tally as many goals over the course of the regular season against OCSC was the New England Revolution, which also netted five goals this year against the Lions. Luckily for Orlando City, the Lions were able to secure four points out of six, even with gifting the team from the Buckeye State five goals.

While it is always a better idea to score more goals than your opponents, the playoffs are a different beast entirely, and Orlando City does not have a great track record of scoring multiple goals in its playoff matches of years past. In fact, Orlando has yet to score more than one goal in an MLS postseason match. Therefore, the best way for the Lions to advance to the conference final will be by leaning on their defensive unit. Jansson and Schlegel must specifically be steadfast in the back against the likes of Diego Rossi and Cucho Hernandez, and while Orlando has feasted lately by allowing its wingbacks to advance forward and contribute in the attack, Thorhallsson and Santos will need to be able to transition quickly in order to cover their bases.

Luckily for the boys in the back, they will also benefit from what can only be described as one of the best defensive midfield duos in MLS from this past year in Wilder Cartagena and Cesar Araujo, who can function as a giant Band-Aid over multiple wounds.


Which defensive-minded player do you think will be the key to shutting down the Crew attack? Let us know in the comments below and as always, vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

Rodrigo Schlegel Has Earned the Right to Continue Starting

Even with Antonio Carlos healthy again, Rodrigo Schlegel’s performances have earned him the right to stay in the starting lineup.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

There was an understandable amount of angst and hand-wringing after Antonio Carlos suffered another leg injury back in August, especially after it was determined that he’d be spending extended time on the sidelines. It was the second leg injury of the 2023 campaign for one half of Orlando City’s starting center back pairing, and it came at a time when the Lions needed to keep picking up wins in order to maintain its place in a crowded Eastern Conference.

Lions fans know that Rodrigo Schlegel, the next man up, is one of the better backup center back options in the league, so by no means was the sky falling. That being said, Rodrigo has had a penchant for getting pulled out of position at times, and Carlos and Robin Jansson are one of the best center back duos in Major League Soccer. Schlegel has stepped up in a big way though, and he’s deserved to continue starting despite Carlos being healthy again.

That’s not to say that he hasn’t had some shaky games, and the 1-1 draw against Charlotte FC and 2-0 loss to NYCFC weren’t the best performances he’s ever had in a purple shirt. For the most part though, he’s looked more assured and has played better as he’s racked up more game time. There’s something to be said for building up match sharpness, and for my money that’s been the case with Schlegel.

He also stepped up his performances down the stretch of the regular season and has continued that into OCSC’s postseason matches. During the 3-0 win over Montreal he had a tackle, a block, four clearances, drew a foul, completed a dribble and passed with 87% accuracy. He turned in a similarly strong performance in the second regular-season match against Nashville SC, as he racked up three blocks, three clearances, a tackle, and interception while passing with 88% accuracy.

Those games were just a teaser of what he’s capable of though, as he dropped a worldie of a performance in the Lions’ away playoff game against Nashville. Rodrigo tallied a tackle, an interception, a whopping 11 clearances, drew two fouls, and connected on a long ball. His 41% passing accuracy was pretty ugly, but it came in a game where Orlando took the lead early and spent large stretches of the rest of it simply repelling danger from the box. He also made an absolute nuisance of himself to the opposition, constantly getting under the skin of the guys wearing yellow, and doing little things to keep them off balance and out of rhythm.

The question of who Oscar Pareja would start once Carlos was fit again was an interesting and not entirely straightforward one. There are good arguments to be made for both options, and I wasn’t sure which way he would go. On the one hand, Carlos and Jansson have several seasons worth of chemistry built up, and when they’re on and clicking there aren’t many MLS center back pairings I’d take over them. Logic says that you want your best XI on the field when you get into the pressure cooker of the playoffs, and that would mean starting Carlos.

The other side of the coin says that if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Orlando has given up less than a goal per game with Rodri stepping in to start since the return from Leagues Cup, and the Lions have pitched back-to-back shutouts when its mattered most. He hasn’t given Pareja any reasons to bench him, he’s match fit and not lacking any match sharpness, and those things matter in games where the pressure is ratcheted up to 11.


At the end of the day, I think keeping him in the starting XI is the right decision. He’s been playing well, the defense and team as a whole have been playing well, and the stats back that up. Sometimes it’s best to just not mess with a good thing. Here’s hoping that good thing continues for three more games. Vamos Orlando!

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