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Challenges for Orlando City Down the Stretch

A look at the challenges facing Orlando City as the club races towards the playoffs.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

As the MLS season winds down, the fortunes of Orlando City stand upon a knife’s edge. To quote Galadriel from the Fellowship of the Ring movie:

“Your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the Company is true.”

Let’s take a look at the potential glory or ruin facing the Lions in the race to the playoffs.

The Strikers

This Orlando City team has grown into a club that can grind out results against the best in the league, but that doesn’t mean there are no potential issues. The biggest is the loss of Ercan Kara to Turkish Super Lig club Samsunspor. Though there are those that are happy to see the Designated Player head out, the timing couldn’t be worse. 

On The Mane Land PawedCast, we spoke of the danger of having only Ramiro Enrique and Jack Lynn as the backups to rookie sensation Duncan McGuire. McGuire rightly earned the starting position, but he’s still a rookie. He hasn’t played a full MLS season — the college season is shorter — meaning he might tire down the stretch. McGuire also hasn’t scored a goal in MLS since mid-July. The biggest risk is if he gets hurt, as he did in the last match against FC Cincinnati.

We don’t know the extent of McGuire’s shoulder injury, but any lost minutes are not good for the club. Enrique only has two goals and one assist to his name in his time with Orlando City. If McGuire is unavailable then Enrique is your starting striker. I like the young man, but do you want to bet the playoffs on his scoring prowess?

Behind Enrique is Jack Lynn, who has spent most of his time tearing it up in MLS NEXT Pro with Orlando City B. Yes, Lynn has 17 goals this season, but it’s not against the caliber of defense he will face if he sees minutes for the senior team. Having a guy with 13 total minutes played as the primary backup if McGuire is injured is not great. This is the one of the challenges ahead of Oscar Pareja as the hunt for the playoffs continues.

The Schedule

The Lions earned seven points over a tough eight-day stretch recently and are 6-1-3 over the last 10 MLS regular-season matches. That run of form is why Orlando City is sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference and even on points with the second-place New England Revolution — a club which the Lions will host in the last home match of the regular season. Maintaining that form will be a challenge.

At first glance, things don’t seem too bad for Orlando City with regard to the remaining matches. Orlando City faces four clubs below the line — CF Montreal, Inter Miami, New York City FC, and Toronto FC. So far this season, Orlando City has wins over Inter Miami and Toronto, a draw with NYCFC, and a loss to Montreal. Of course, that was before Messi arrived at Miami. NYCFC is almost a rivalry match and is away on a baseball diamond, and the Toronto match is also away.

The Lions also face three clubs currently above the playoff line — the Columbus Crew, the New England Revolution, and Nashville SC. Earlier this season, the Lions lost to both the Revolution and Nashville, while managing a road draw with Columbus. What I’m getting at is the final stretch of games is not going to be as easy as it might seem.

Some Hope

As I stated above, Orlando City’s margin for error is smaller thanks to the departure of Kara, but all is not lost. There’s every chance that McGuire will be able to get past the injury by the next match on Sept. 16, and the players really have come together to be better as a unit.

The emergence of Dagur Dan Thorhallsson highlights the depth of this club at certain positions. The availability of players like Martin Ojeda and Junior Urso to come off the bench or start as needed is crucial. It’s also possible that Enrique could blossom in a bigger role. Pareja is good at getting the most out of his players, and the recent results bear that out. Here’s hoping the club can have a strong finish to the regular season and head into the playoffs on a roll.

Orlando City

Orlando City vs. New York City FC: Final Score 1-1 as Teams Trade Second-Half Goals

The Lions and Pigeons split the points in a defensive struggle in the Orlando heat.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

The Lions struck first but could only hold the lead for five minutes as Orlando City and New York City FC split the points in a 1-1 draw before an announced crowd of 22,827 at Inter&Co Stadium. Ramiro Enrique scored in his fourth consecutive match for Orlando (9-9-7, 34 points) but a bad giveaway in the defensive third handed Hannes Wolf a chance to equalize for NYCFC (11-9-5, 38 points) in a defensive struggle.

“A big effort from the players after this couple weeks that we have been playing every three days, and I would like to value that effort,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The two teams tried to put a good performance, and from our side in the first half we had control but we were not as dangerous as we were coming in prior games. They kept possession sometimes in their half but not dangerous plays. Second half, it seems we brought more energy and we started creating better chances.”

Pareja made just one change from the squad that beat Nashville SC 3-0 on the road Wednesday, dropping Facundo Torres to the bench and starting Nico Lodeiro. Pedro Gallese started in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena started in central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Lodeiro, and Martin Ojeda, with Enrique up top.

The first half was a defensive battle and probably not a match you’d use to change a soccer skeptic’s mind about the sport. With both teams playing their third match in eight days and the oppressive Central Florida heat, the teams tried to stay organized and wait for the other to make a mistake. As a result, there were no scoring chances of any kind in the first quarter of an hour.

Ojeda sent in a cross to Enrique in the 17th minute that had a lot of pace on it and the latter could only redirect it weakly toward goal. It wasn’t even technically a shot attempt. In the 22nd minute, Lodeiro sent a good ball from the right to the back post. Angulo got to it first but had no angle to shoot and put it into the outside netting.

Alonso Martinez fired New York City FC’s first shot from outside the box a minute later. It had a ton of power behind it but Gallese was able to fight it off.

Ojeda nearly picked out Enrique right in front from the left in the 27th minute but the ball was a bit too far out in front and Matt Freese pounced on it.

Just after the hydration break, Wolf got in behind Thorhallsson in the 34th minute down the left channel. He sent a good shot toward the back post but Gallese made the save, pushing the rebound out wide.

Two minutes later, Angulo cut in from the left and sent a shot toward the near post. Freese made the save and didn’t give up much of a rebound. The Colombian may have been better served to go for the far post.

That was the last half chance for either side in the scoreless opening period.

Orlando City had the halftime advantage in possession (56.7%-43.3%) and shot attempts (4-2), but the visitors held the edge in shots on target (2-1), corners (1-0), and passing accuracy (87.4%-86.3%).

Facundo Torres subbed on for Lodeiro to start the second half, but the visitors created the first clear-cut chance after the break. Keaton Parks got in behind Angulo and he and Santos couldn’t recover in time to prevent a good cutback pass into the area. No one was on Santiago Rodriguez — NYCFC’s biggest offensive threat — but the Uruguayan fired his shot over the bar from about 12 yards out in the 47th minute.

The Lions broke the deadlock five minutes later. Ojeda cut inside from the right and sent a shot toward goal that redirected off Enrique’s foot and caught Freese leaning the wrong way. The ball trickeled into the net near the right post and Orlando led 1-0 in the 52nd minute. It was Enrique’s fourth goal in as many games.

“It always makes me happy to score a goal,” Enrique said. “As a striker, it’s really important to be able to score, but I think tonight we leave the game with a little bit of a sour taste in our mouth, because we felt like we had that game and that we should have won.”

The lead lasted only five minutes. Cartagena’s howler of a turnover on a blind pass just outside his own penalty area went right to NYCFC’s Rodriguez, and the Pigeons paid off the short counterattack as the ball was slipped in to Wolf by Martinez, who chipped it into the far corner and out of Gallese’s reach to make it 1-1 in the 57th minute.

“We have the game one-zero. It is something this year that has been a challenge for us to open the games. And then this goal we conceded. This is why we have that sensation of frustration for us, that it was not that they did a lot of stuff to tie the game.”

NYCFC nearly took the lead a few minutes later on a simple long ball over the top that caught Santos napping. Mitja Ilenic blazed past the Brazilian and sent a chip shot similar to Wolf’s, but missed the target in the 62nd minute.

Torres cut inside on his left foot and fired in the 66th minute but pulled his shot to the right of the post. Enrique then fired a blast from outside the area in the 67th minute and Freese made a good save.

New York City was content to be physical when threatened by Orlando’s attacking players. The visitors finished with 20 fouls to the Lions’ 11 and ended the game with more yellow cards (4-1) as well. Strahinja Tanasijevic and Wolf were booked a minute apart for roughing up Ojeda and Torres, respectively.

Santos got away with a terrible turnover in his end in the 75th minute, hustling back into position to block Rodriguez’s shot just wide of the left post.

Cartagena nearly made up for his earlier mistake in the 83rd minute when he blasted a shot on target from long range. Freese was able to get over and make a diving, one-handed save on the play and needed treatment to his shoulder after hitting the ground hard.

The Lions were able to deal with several NYCFC set-piece opportunities down the stretch without too much trouble and the game went into eight minutes of injury time.

The only real opportunity in stoppage time fell to second-half sub Luis Muriel in the 98th minute. Just inside the top of the box, the ball cycled around and found Muriel in the middle. He turned and fired but didn’t get a lot of power on it and Freese was able to make the save.

That was that, and the teams had to settle for a draw.

The Lions finished with the advantage in possession (55%-45%), shots (12-8), and shots on target (5-3). Corners were even (5-5), and NYCFC passed slightly more accurately (84.9%-83.5%).

“Tough game,” Jansson said. “Two teams that really wanted it. I think that New York was a little bit better in the first half and we were a little bit better in the second, getting some good chances, and it was a tough opponent today. They did well. It’s always hard to play them. But overall, I think coming from a game two days ago and going into this one, I think we did a great job.”

The Lions’ four-game winning streak is over, but the unbeaten run stretched to five matches.

“We walk (away) with a bit of frustration, but as well with a lot of pride of what the boys have done,” Pareja said. “They have been the best team in Major League Soccer the last several games, knowing today that in front of our fans we should have won it. But we’ll carry that. We need to have energy for the next tournament and pause (of) the league, knowing that we are in a good moment and a good momentum, and I want to give that credit to the players that really have changed the story of our season so far.”


The Leagues Cup break is now upon us. Orlando City will next play at home next Friday against CF Montreal at 8 p.m.

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Orlando City vs. New York City FC: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More

The Lions look to keep rolling but host the last team to beat them.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Welcome to your match thread and preview for a Saturday night matchup between Orlando City (9-9-6, 33 points) and New York City FC (11-9-4, 37 points) at Inter&Co Stadium (7:30 p.m., MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+). This is the second and final scheduled meeting between the Lions and Pigeons this season after the teams met in the Bronx a few weeks ago.

Here is what you need to know ahead of the match.

History

The Lions are 7-9-7 in 23 meetings with NYCFC in the all-time series in MLS play and 7-9-9 including one playoff match and one U.S. Open Cup meeting (remember, games that go to penalty shootouts in knockout competitions officially count as draws), so the series between the two 2015 expansion sides has proven to be a competitive one. Orlando is 4-2-5 in home regular-season games in the all-time series and 4-2-7 at home in all competitions. Orlando City also beat NYCFC in the greater Orlando area in 2020 in the MLS is Back Tournament, although that was not in the Lions’ home stadium.

The Lions and Pigeons met at Yankee Stadium just a few weeks back on June 28, with New York City FC winning 4-2. An early Santiago Rodriguez goal opened the scoring and then things went horribly wrong when an obviously offside Malachi Jones collided hard with Orlando goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar. Both players left the game and both had season-ending surgery to repair broken tibias and fibulas. Javier Otero made his MLS debut in goal off the bench and the Lions allowed two goals in first-half stoppage time to let a close game get out of hand. Orlando pulled two goals back through Dagur Dan Thorhallsson and Duncan McGuire, but Mounsef Bakrar sealed the game late for NYCFC.

The lteams met was at Citi Field — a different baseball stadium than NYCFC’s usual one — on Sept. 20, 2023. The Pigeons were rude hosts, winning 2-0 on goals by Bakrar and Talles Magno. It snapped Orlando’s five-game unbeaten run but the Lions clinched a playoff spot that day anyway due to other results around the league.

These teams also met last year in Orlando on May 17, and with the Lions poised for a 1-0 win, NYCFC eked out a late 1-1 draw with an 89th-minute Gabriel Segal goal out of nowhere. Ercan Kara scored for Orlando City early on, but the Lions were wasteful with opportunities for the rest of the match.

The teams faced off at Red Bull Arena (one of NYCFC’s many homes away from home) on Oct. 2, 2022, with the Pigeons erasing a 1-0 halftime deficit that Facundo Torres provided. The “hosts” got second-half goals from Alex Callens and Magno to complete the comeback and win, 2-1. Earlier in the year at Exploria Stadium, the Lions got a Tesho Akindele goal at the death, stunning NYCFC as Orlando City won 2-1 on Aug. 28, 2022. Junior Urso and Maxi Moralez had scored early in the first and second half, respectively, to set up Akindele’s dramatic late winner.

Orlando City had a five-game unbeaten streak in the series (1-0-4) absolutely demolished on July 25, 2021 in a 5-0 OCSC loss at Yankee Stadium. The Lions started a makeshift lineup, and it showed, as the Pigeons got goals from Jesus Medina, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Moralez, Malte Amundsen, and Valentin Castellanos. Why the makeshift lineup? That match was sandwiched between home games against Philadelphia and Atlanta, with quick turnarounds for each. The strategy was sound, as Orlando won the other two games in that nine-day span.

The teams met in Orlando on May 8, 2021 and drew 1-1. Nani smashed a golazo in the second half to put the Lions on top, but Joao Moutinho fouled Tajouri-Shradi in the box and Castellanos scored from the spot to equalize.

The last meeting of the 2020 season happened in the postseason and things got weird. Orlando City ultimately prevailed in penalties after a 1-1 postseason draw on Nov. 21, 2020. Nani put Orlando ahead from the penalty spot, only to see Maxime Chanot equalize on a set piece. Extra time couldn’t settle it, so to penalties we went, and the Lions advanced thanks to a save by defender Rodrigo Schlegel — after goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was sent off with a second yellow for coming off his line early. Benji Michel’s blast was the difference in the shootout. (Seriously, just click the above link in this paragraph and relive that madness.)

The Lions and Pigeons wrapped the 2020 season series on Oct. 14 at Exploria Stadium, playing to a 1-1 draw. Chris Mueller opened the scoring but Keaton Parks equalized just before halftime. The first meeting of 2020 also took place in Central Florida in the MLS is Back Tournament on July 14, when Mueller’s brace and a late Akindele insurance goal led Orlando to a 3-1 win. Medina scored for NYCFC. That win snapped Orlando City’s 0-4-3 streak in the previous seven competitive meetings with the Pigeons. The last match in that winless streak against NYCFC was a 1-1 draw, with the Lions then dispatching NYCFC from the U.S. Open Cup in a penalty shootout on July 10, 2019. That night has been immortalized for the running of The Wall and Adam Grinwis’ heroics in goal.

The teams drew both regular-season meetings in 2019, 1-1 on April 27 at Yankee Stadium, and 2-2 on opening day at Exploria Stadium. NYCFC took all three meetings in a dismal 2018 season series. The Lions went 2-1-0 against New York City FC in 2017, including a win to christen the stadium now known as Exploria with Cyle Larin scoring the only goal in a 1-0 OCSC win. Orlando was 3-1-2 in 2015 and 2016 in the first six meetings with NYCFC.

Match Overview

Orlando City is riding a four-game winning streak since falling at Yankee Stadium on June 28. The most recent victory in that span was a 3-0 win at Nashville SC on Wednesday. Orlando has outscored opponents 13-2 during the streak, playing the best the team has all season. The Lions, however, have done much of that on the road, as they are just 3-5-3 at home in 2024. That said, the last home match saw Orlando beat D.C. United 5-0.

New York City FC is 3-6-3 on the road this season, so that does offer some comfort when compared to Orlando’s home record. The Pigeons are playing their fourth consecutive road game, having gone 0-1-2 in their first three away from Yankee Stadium in this stretch so far. That includes draws in their last two, with the most recent a 2-2 deadlock at Atlanta United on Wednesday.

Tonight’s match may come down to which can more successfully deal with tired legs and minds as each team is playing its third match in eight days in the lead-up to the Leagues Cup break.

Rodriguez has been the primary weapon for NYCFC this season, leading the club with eight goals and seven assists. Alonso Martinez also has eight goals and two assists. Both scored against Orlando in the last meeting.

“We have the experience on the last game [against New York City FC]. We know them and they know us as well, but now we are in a very different rhythm,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said ahead of the game. “I think we are just getting things together, and we hope that we can experience that in this game too, and in our home, and there’s nothing better than just winning games here in front of our fans.”

Orlando City will be without McGuire (international duty), Michael Halliday (knee), and Stajduhar (lower leg). New York City FC will be without Jones (lower leg), and no one else is listed on the availability report in the club’s game notes, despite Tayvon Gray, Kevin O’Toole, and Andres Perea all being listed as out Wednesday. It’s a little-known fact that in New York City, you bypass questionable on the way back to full fitness.

Match Content


Official Lineups

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, Nico Lodeiro.

Forward: Ramiro Enrique.

Bench: Javier Otero, Kyle Smith, Alex Freeman, David Brekalo, Felipe, Jeorgio Kocevski, Facundo Torres, Luis Muriel, Jack Lynn.

New York City FC (4-3-3)

Goalkeeper: Matt Freese.

Defenders: Christian McFarlane, Birk Risa, Thiago Martins, Mija Ilenic.

Midfielders: Justin Haak, James Sands,Keaton Parks.

Forwards:  Santiago Rodriguez, Alonso Martinez, Hannes Wolf.

Bench: Luis Barraza, Tayvon Gray, Talles Magno, Mounsef Bakrar, Julian Fernandez, Jovan Mijatovic, Maxi Moralez, Agustin Ojeda, Strahinja Tanasijevic.

Referees:

REF: Joe Dickerson.
AR1: Eric Weisbrod.
AR2: Justin Howard.
4TH: Calin Radosav.
VAR: Alejandro Mariscal.
AVAR: Jonathan Johnson.


How to Watch

Match Time: 7:30 p.m.

Venue: Inter&Co Stadium — Orlando.

TV/Live Stream: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+.

Radio: FM 96.9 The Game (English), Mega 97.1 FM (Spanish).

Twitter: For rapid reaction and live updates, follow along at @TheManeLand, as well as Orlando City’s official Twitter feed (@OrlandoCitySC).


Enjoy the match. Go City!

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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. New York City FC

Get all the information you need on NYCFC, courtesy of someone who knows them best.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Another Orlando City match is right around the corner, and the Lions will try to keep the good vibes going during what has been a productive July. It won’t be easy though, as they welcome New York City FC to the familiar confines of the purple palace.

A date with the Pigeons means I caught up with Matthew Mangam, of the excellent Hudson River Blue. As always, he was very helpful in bringing us up to speed on New York City.

When last we talked, you said that this team needed to find its offensive spark again. It certainly managed to do that when it put four past Orlando City. Has that trend continued in the games since then?

Matthew Mangam: It definitely did not happen in the two matches after the win against Orlando. NYCFC did score first against Austin but ultimately lost, and couldn’t even manage two shots on goal against Chicago, drawing 0-0. Last game, NYCFC came back from 2-0 down to tie 2-2 with Atlanta United. The goals came from unusual scorers, Mounsef Bakrar and Talles Magno. So, the offense hasn’t been great recently but with the return of Magno, it can only get better. Players like Hannes Wolf and Santi Rodríguez have slowed down as of recently, resulting in guys like Alonso Martínez to see less of the ball and get fewer scoring chances.

With 29 goals conceded, NYCFC has one of the stingiest defenses in the league, what has made that unit so good?

MM:  NYCFC’s defense is solid, but it wouldn’t be complete without Matt Freese. The All-Star snub has made tons of amazing saves this season to earn NYCFC results and he seems to get better and better as time goes on. Also, the back line of Birk Risa and Thiago Martins has been consistent throughout the season, allowing for the two to get comfortable playing together. Although the right back spot has changed every so often, Kevin O’Toole has stayed as the starting left back. James Sands as the defensive midfielder does a great job in winning the ball back and protecting Martins and Risa. The defensive unit is the same from last season, so it’s only getting stronger with every game played.

It’s always fun to check in on former Lions, so tell me a bit about Andres Perea. How has he performed this season?

MM: Andrés Perea has been good this season, but not as good as he was last season during his loan spell. Perea does have two goals this season and one assist, but he’s given the ball away more than last season. He’s also not been as accurate passing-wise but I am still a huge advocate for him. He just suffered an injury against Chicago and may be out for some time, but I have no doubt that when he returns he’ll be back to his usual self. We’ve seen Nick Cushing use Perea in a three-man midfield with Keaton Parks and Sands as well. He doesn’t seem to be a certain starter, but he’s one of the few midfield depth pieces NYCFC has.

Will anyone be absent due to injuries, suspensions, call-ups, etc.? What is your projected starting XI and score prediction?

MM: NYCFC had five players out against Atlanta. The only set returner is Sands, who is back from yellow card suspension. I’m not sure if Cushing will want to rush back players such as Tayvon Gray, O’Toole, and Perea with such a quick turnaround. Malachi Jones had surgery after the injury he suffered against Orlando and will be out for several months. So, to guess a starting XI that I don’t think will be right, this is definitely the hardest one to predict yet this season.

4-2-3-1: Matt Freese, Christian McFarlane or Kevin O’Toole, Birk Risa, Thiago Martins, Ilenič or Tayvon Gray, James Sands, Keaton Parks, Agustin Ojeda, Santi Rodríguez, Hannes Wolf, Alonso Martínez.

I think the final score will be 2-2, it’ll be an entertaining game.


Thank you to Matthew for the information on NYCFC. Vamos Orlando!

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