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Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Final Score 4-3 as Lions’ Comeback Extends Unbeaten Run to Six

Down 3-1 late, the Lions rallied with a trio of late goals to stun the Crew in a wild finish at Exploria Stadium.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Jeremy Reper

Orlando City scored three straight goals from the 73rd minute on to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 win over the Columbus Crew in front of an announced crowd of 22,802 Exploria Stadium. The Lions (14-6-8, 50 points) made numerous mistakes against the high-scoring Crew (13-9-6, 45 points), paying for most of them, but Facundo Torres’ goal off the bench and Ramiro Enrique’s late brace led Orlando City to another Cardiac Cats-type finish.

Martin Ojeda also scored for the Lions, who managed to overcome goals by Julian Gressel, Diego Rossi, and Cucho Hernandez. The win extended Orlando City’s unbeaten run in league play to six matches (5-0-1) and lengthened the team’s home unbeaten run in all competitions to 11 matches (7-0-4).

“Today was another demonstration of the character of this group,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “And I want to honor that responsibility and that desire to overcome. It’s not easy to score goals when things don’t look good, and after (the Crew made it) 3-1, the team believed in the process, believed in the ways, and we kept the mentality intact.”

Pareja’s lineup had a few surprises. Pedro Gallese took his usual spot in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. With Wilder Cartagena suspended, Pareja opted to pair Felipe in central midfield with Cesar Araujo rather than Junior Urso behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Mauricio Pereyra, and Ojeda, with Ramiro Enrique up top. Duncan McGuire picked up a knock in training late in the week and did not dress, while Torres was away on international duty and started the game on the bench.

The Crew got the first shot of the game five minutes in when Rossi went for goal from a tight angle. Gallese had to be alert to fight it off for a corner kick. A minute later, Gallese again had to fight off a shot from his right as Yaw Yeboah smashed a laser toward goal.

The visitors took the corner short and the Lions stole the ball and should have scored in transition. Columbus goalkeeper Patrick Schulte was well outside of his box when Angulo got onto the ball at midfield. Rather than trying for the open net from distance, he took a touch, which allowed the keeper to scramble back. Angulo’s subsequent pass on the break for Thorhallsson was badly off line and the attack evaporated.

Santos tried a shot from long range in the 12th minute but it fizzed just wide of the right post.

Four minutes later, the Crew opened the scoring after an Orlando turnover in its own end. Pereyra and Araujo looked at each other on a pass between the two but neither went for it, allowing the Crew to collect. Rossi chipped a ball over the top for Hernandez’s run and Thorhallsson was caught out of line with his defensive teammates, keeping the play onside. That left Gallese alone against Hernandez, who calmly chipped him to feed Gressel in front for the tap-in.

Orlando was sloppy throughout the first half, often placing passes between two teammates who weren’t sure who the pass was supposed to go to. That sloppiness nearly allowed the Crew to quickly double the lead. Yeboah smashed a shot just wide of the near post after another such turnover in the defensive end.

The Lions should have equalized in the 26th minute. A good transition attack ended up with Angulo down the right. The winger sent a good pass into the middle to Enrique, but he fired his shot low and in the center of the net, which was the only place Schulte could have gotten to it, and he did. The save preserved the Columbus advantage.

Orlando again fashioned a good chance in transition in the 34th minute but this time Angulo overcooked his pass toward the end line for Ojeda. The Argentine fired a shot/cross in front of goal that hit Schulte, deflected off another body and went right back to the goalkeeper.

Gallese came up huge in the 42nd minute to keep his team in the game. Thorhallsson got beaten badly and Yeboah was in alone. Gallese denied his shot and the rebound found Hernandez, who fired with his first touch but it was right at Gallese, who managed to stop it with his legs without givine up a rebound.

That was the last good look of the half for either team and the Crew took a 1-0 lead into the break.

Orlando City held the halftime advantage in possession (54.4%-45.6%) and passing accuracy (85.4%-81.9%), while the Crew had more shots (9-4), shots on target (6-1), and corners (3-2).

The Lions equalized just three minutes after the restart. Angulo got the ball on the right side of the box and fed it across from right to left. It found its way through to Ojeda, who quickly turned and sent it in with his right foot to make it 1-1 in the 48th minute.

Columbus got back on the front foot after Ojeda’s goal. The visitors were getting to almost every loose ball and working their way through the Orlando defense with good passing sequences and even better movement off the ball that often caught the Lions off guard.

Rossi paid off that attacking play in the 56th minute, putting Columbus back on top. Yeboah played a through ball for Rossi’s crafty run in behind Schlegel and he slotted past Gallese to make it 2-1.

Pareja introduced Torres moments after his team fell behind for the second time. The Uruguayan had a leg contusion and Pareja didn’t expect to have his Designated Player available for this game but he was able to recover in time to make the matchday squad.

Despite the move to bring on Torres, who immediately made Orlando City a more dangerous-looking team with a couple of quick shot attempts, the Crew extended their lead less than 10 minutes later. The Crew attacked in transition and Santos was caught up the field. Alexandru Matan got in behind down the Crew’s right side and sent a centering pass to give Hernandez a tap-in. The Crew’s lead bulged to 3-1 at 68 minutes.

Pareja sent Jack Lynn and Luca Petrasso onto the field in the 70th minute for Angulo and Santos as the Lions desperately chased the game.

Orlando City pulled a goal back moments later. A beautiful long ball by Pereyra hit off Lynn and fell to Enrique, who finessed the ball through a Crew defender to Ojeda. The Argentine passed up a chance to shoot and sent it to Torres, who fired home to make it 3-2 in the 73rd minute with his 12th goal of the season.

Pareja made one more move, sending on Michael Halliday for Pereyra, moving Thorhallsson into the midfield. Halliday made an immediate impact, intercepting a pass and starting an Orlando City break. Aidan Morris made a perfect form tackle — American football style — to pick up a booking in order to break up the play.

Just a few minutes later, Torres was fouled by Crew defender Yevhen Cheberko about 25 yards out on the right side. Ojeda’s free kick hit off of Cheberko’s head, but instead of clearing it, his sideways header fell at Enrique’s feet. The MLS U22 Initiative forward slotted it past Schulte to level the score in the 86th minute.

“No matter the amount of hard work that you put in, the first objective always has to be to push the group further, to do whatever you can to help the group achieve the most they can and continue onward,” Enrique said of his role through a club interpreter. Whether you’re selected as a starter, off the bench, or even sometimes out of the group, you have to do whatever is in the best interest of the team to continue pushing them further and towards more success.”

As time wound down, the Crew managed to win multiple corner kicks but the visitors could not make them pay off. Referee Rubiel Vazquez tacked six extra minutes onto the 90 for one of the teams to find a winner. Orlando City took advantage of that, but it required a seventh minute.

With the seconds winding down, Orlando City won a free kick about 25 yards out near the left sideline. Ojeda took the free kick and sent a good cross into the box. The ball somehow missed a flying Schlegel attempt and Schulte’s charge off his line to try to punch it, but Torres was right behind him and went low to head the ball back across the box. Once again the ball fell at Enrique’s feet and he swept it home in the 97th minute to send Exploria Stadium into euphoria.

Enrique’s brace doubled his season total of goals from two to four.

“Just absolutely pure happiness,” Enrique said after the game, about what was going through his mind. “Happy to score the goals and I think, first and foremost happy for the three points.”

Columbus kicked off and the game was over with the Lions smashing and grabbing all three points.

The Crew turned around the possession numbers in the second half and led in most of the game’s statistical categories. Columbus held the advantage in possession (52.4%-47.6%), shots (15-14), shots on target (10-7), corners (9-2), and passing accuracy (85%-83.1%).

“I think Columbus is a great team. Today they dominated us in the beginning of the first half,” Pereyra said. “For us it was difficult to press them. But then, after, we showed personality. We showed desire and a winning mentality that we are having in the last 10 or 15 matches. I think we’ve improved a lot.”

“A lot of things to get better, but today it’s a good demonstration of this character, and we’re proud,” Pareja said.


The Lions will have a quick turnaround before playing away at New York City FC on Wednesday at Citi Field.

Orlando City

Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Final Score 0-0 as Lions Drop Points, Remain Unbeaten in Opener

The Lions were much better in the second half but couldn’t find the final bit of quality to finish against Montreal.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City (0-0-1, 1 point) looked like a team that played on the other side of the continent a few days ago in a sloppy 0-0 draw against CF Montreal (0-0-1, 1 point) at home in the first game of the MLS regular season for both clubs. Orlando did put the ball in the net off of Felipe but the flag came up and review upheld the call.

With the draw, the Lions remain unbeaten on opening day (3-0-7) but settle for a scoreless draw for the third time in three openers under Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja. The Lions have not conceded a goal on opening night in five seasons under Pareja.

“Very intense game for both teams,” Pareja said after the match. “In the first half I thought it was a little bit rough and rocky for us. Couldn’t find the sequences that we normally have found in the way that we play and our model. When we had the ball we couldn’t create the sequences that get us much closer to the goal.”

Pareja went with a strong lineup, with little rotation from Wednesday night’s win in British Columbia. Pedro Gallese was in goal behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, David Brekalo — making his Orlando City and MLS debut — and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena manned the central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Nicolas Lodeiro (his first OCSC start), and Facundo Torres with Duncan McGuire up top.

Orlando City was nowhere near as sharp in possession during its second game of the week. The passes were often offline and when they reached the target, a wayward touch often turned the ball over. Additionally, the Lions were slow to get the ball out of their feet, allowing the more energetic visitors to dispossess them in dangerous areas repeatedly.

A turnover led to a good chance by Matias Coccaro in just the third minute and Bryce Duke fired one in at Gallese seconds later as the visitors looked to jump on top early.

Torres tried an inside-out shot from a severe angle on the right in the fourth minute but sent it into the outside netting.

Gallese then had to be sharp to deny Coccaro and Ariel Lassiter in the fifth minute as Montreal stayed on the front foot early, helped out by wayward passes and bad touches by the Lions, who also were the slower players to react.

Orlando had better spells of possession after that early Montreal flurry but did little with them. Lodeiro won a corner in the 10th minute and then sent in a good near-post delivery for McGuire, but the forward’s shot was blocked behind for another corner. Five minutes later, off another corner, a ball fell for McGuire, who lost control and it popped loose in the box. He and Araujo got in each other’s way going for the loose ball and the chance evaporated.

Araujo had a go from outside the box in the 26th minute but sent his shot well off target on an attack in which it appeared he had better options.

Brekalo sent a header on goal in the 44th minute but it was no trouble for Montreal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois.

There weren’t any clear-cut looks for either side the rest of the half and the game went to the break still scoreless.

Orlando City held more of the possession in the first half (59.2%-40.8%) but did little with it. The Lions also passed more accurately (86%-79.9%) and won more corners (5-1). Montreal had more shots (6-4), shots on target (4-1).

“We weren’t expecting them to be so compact,” Santos said through a club interpreter. “We were expecting them to play a little bit more open, and they were very compact. It was very difficult to find spaces and opportunities within the tight areas that they were creating. And that’s why we found it so difficult to score a goal.”

Pareja made one tweak to the lineup at the break, withdrawing Cartagena and replacing him with Martin Ojeda. With the visitors staying tightly compact, there was no need for a double pivot and the team played better after the change, with Araujo dropping between the defenders to start the attack and Lodeiro trying to pull the strings from a deeper position.

After the match, Pareja said he felt his team was spending too much time and energy getting the ball into dangerous positions. By dropping Araujo deeper to start the attack and having an extra playmaker on the field, his team was able to fix the problem, even if the Lions still weren’t sharp with the final ball.

The first chance of the second half came early, with Thorhallsson seeing his shot blocked in the box. The rebound fell to Ojeda, who shot from a tough angle on the left side but missed the target. Lodeiro had a shot blocked off a well-worked corner kick play in the 51st minute and Brekalo scuffed a shot wide.

Three minutes later, Angulo sent a weak shot easily into Sirois’ hands from a tough angle on the right with three teammates crashing the net. It was another example of the wrong decision at the end of a good sequence, which plagued the Lions all evening.

The Lions kept coming but nothing would go in. McGuire headed just inches over the bar in the 66th minute, and Thorhallsson sent a volley shot off the ground and similiarly just over the bar in the 74th. Two minutes later, Santos sent in a dangerous cross that was cut out at the last second by the defense for a corner. The ensuing set piece was knocked out of the box to Thorhallsson, who sent a shot well off target from distance.

The first of Montreal’s two golden opportunities in the second half came in the 79th minute, when former Lion Ruan sent in a cross that Josef Martinez fired wide on a first-time effort.

Orlando City scored in the 80th minute, but the flag came up. Substitute Ramiro Enrique sent a header toward goal and Sirois got a touch on it. The ball came off the crossbar, hit fellow second-half sub Felipe, and went into the goal. The flag came up for offside and it was a close call. After a review, the referee accepted the VAR decision to uphold the call.

Ojeda got a header opportunity in the 87th minute but didn’t get any power on it and Sirois was able to catch it easily. The flag again came up for offside in the 92nd minute and it was a costly one. Torres was fouled in the box and the referee immediately pointed to the spot for a penalty but the AR’s flag was in the air. Substitute striker Jack Lynn left too early in the buildup and it was a costly mistake, as the Lions were denied an opportunity to win the game from the spot in stoppage time.

Seconds later, disaster nearly struck. Montreal cut the defense open with one quick pass for Kwadwo Opoku, who sliced through with a well-timed run to get onto the pass. Beyond the last defender, the Montreal forward had only Gallese to beat, but the goalkeeper made a sensational play to come off his line aggressively and stuck out a leg to block the shot, preserving a point for his team.

It was the last opportunity for either side in the match and, despite a good effort, the performance was a little off as Orlando City dropped two points at home.

The Lions finished with more possession (60.1%-39.9%), shots (15-9), corners (9-1), and passing accuracy (86.2%-78.2%). Montreal managed more shots on target (5-4).

“We decided just to make a couple changes in the way we wanted to face the second half,” Pareja said. “Much better. Much better second half. So it looked more like us. We created the options to score, not being so clean, but we respect the job that Montreal did as well, because they put their team in a very low block in the second half. I think we dominated, not being that clear. We’ll take that point. I think we all had big expectations. I want to make sure that we all know that this is a long trip and we have to know how to navigate it.”

“The game did not turn out the way that we wanted. We wanted the win,” Santos said. “We unfortunately weren’t able to do that. We did get the draw, which is better than a loss, but we again wanted to win. We leave frustrated from this game because again, we wanted to win. We were always looking for the opportunity to make goals. We had our chances. But we’re going to continue to look ahead, because the tournament is long and we know that we’ll get opportunities moving ahead.”

Newcomer Brekalo had a solid first MLS game in his Orlando City debut, but said afterward he’s been not only waiting for his international paperwork to come through — and as a result has spent time training as if to start and other days as if he wouldn’t be playing — but he’s also been nursing an injury that he is managing with the medical team.

“I just tried to keep it simple today honestly,” he said. “But still, like I was forcing (things) a few times, but it will come, I think, with more and more trainings and games with my teammates. I was taking many heavy touches. I’m usually better than this, but like I said, it’s going to come and it’s going to be okay.”


The Lions are back in action on Tuesday when Cavalry FC visits Orlando in the second leg of the teams’ Concacaf Champions Cup series. Orlando City will then visit Inter Miami next Saturday in the first Tropic Thunder rivalry match of 2024.

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More

The Lions kick off their 10th MLS season at home with a match against CF Montreal.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Welcome to your match thread for a Saturday opening night matchup between Orlando City and CF Montreal at Inter&Co Stadium (7:30 p.m., MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+). This is the first of the two scheduled meetings set for the 2024 regular season, with the Lions making the return trip to Stade Saputo on April 20.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the match.

History

The Lions are 8-9-3 against Montreal in the all-time regular-season series and 9-10-3 in all competitions since the club joined MLS. Orlando is just 4-4-2 at home against Montreal and 5-4-2 in all competitions held in Central Florida.

The teams last met on Sept. 30, 2023, with the Lions winning 3-0 in dominant fashion. Jonathan Sirois’ own goal opened the scoring, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson and Facundo Torres added strikes for Orlando City. That was a good measure of revenge for OCSC, after Montreal defeated Orlando City 2-0 and handed the Lions their first road loss of the 2023 MLS season on May 6 at Stade Saputo. A Robin Jansson own goal got Montreal started in the second half and Romell Quioto added a second goal four minutes later.

These two sides met in the 2022 MLS playoffs, with CF Montreal knocking Orlando City out of the postseason by a 2-0 scoreline on Oct. 16, with goals by Ismael Kone and Djordje Mihailovic — the latter coming deep in stoppage time from the penalty spot.

Each team won at home in the two-game, regular-season series in 2022, with Montreal thumping Orlando 4-1 on May 7. Joel Waterman, Mihailovic, Joaquin Torres, and Zachary Brault-Guillard did the damage on the scoreboard and Orlando City managed just two shot attempts, with Joao Moutinho’s goal on a set piece helping the Lions avoid a shutout. Orlando City did not have either starting center back for that match, and it showed. The teams also met on opening day of the 2022 season, when Orlando City captured a 2-0 home win behind second-half goals from Alexandre Pato and Benji Michel.

In 2021, the teams met in Montreal on Decision Day, with the Lions earning a 2-0 road victory at Stade Saputo to clinch a playoff spot. Sebas Mendez and Daryl Dike provided the goals. That season’s matchup in Orlando came on Oct. 20, 2021, with the visitors managing a 1-1 draw. Chris Mueller struck for the Lions just before halftime, but Rudy Camacho answered on a corner kick header shortly after the restart. The first meeting of 2021 took place Sept. 15 in Orlando with the Lions falling 4-2 and finishing the game with just nine men after both Nani and Andres Perea were sent off. Quioto led Montreal with a goal and two assists. Mathieu Choiniere and Quioto put Montreal up 2-0, but despite already being down one man, Jansson and Ruan tied things up. The visitors got two more from Lassi Lappalainen and Sunusi Ibrahim.

The teams met at Red Bull Arena in late 2020 as the then-Montreal Impact played home games in New Jersey due to the pandemic. Orlando City got a Dike goal in the 39th minute to win 1-0 on Nov. 1, 2020. It was the second meeting of the 2020 season, with Orlando also beating Montreal 1-0 in the MLS is Back Tournament knockout rounds on July 25 to advance to the quarterfinals. Tesho Akindele scored the game’s only goal on a Montreal defensive mistake.

Orlando City snapped a six-game winless streak against Montreal (0-5-1) in MLS regular-season play dating back to 2016 when the Lions put the Impact to the sword in a 3-0 drubbing at Stade Saputo on June 1, 2019. Nani (penalty), Akindele, and Will Johnson supplied the offense that day. The Lions fell 3-1 at Exploria Stadium back on March 16, 2019, and Ignacio Piatti was a big reason why, scoring his ninth and 10th career goals against Orlando, adding to a strike by Orji Okwonkwo. Dom Dwyer added a cosmetic goal late for Orlando City to spoil the clean sheet.

Montreal did not allow a goal against the Lions in 2018, sweeping the two-game set from Orlando, and the Impact shut out Orlando City in three of the six meetings in that 5-0-1 run. The lone draw in that time frame was a 3-3 shootout in Orlando in 2017, in which the Impact led deep in stoppage time, only to see Jonathan Spector’s well-placed header steal the Lions a point.

Orlando won the first two meetings in 2016 by a combined score of 6-2. The teams split three meetings in 2015, with each going 1-1-1.

Match Overview

The Lions went 4-0-1 in preseason and enter this match fresh off a 3-0 win over Cavalry FC in Concacaf Champions Cup play on Wednesday night in British Columbia. Torres provided a brace after Duncan McGuire’s opening goal. As the Lions played during the midweek with mostly a first-choice lineup, it’s logical to expect some rotation for this match, including a change in defense as Rodrigo Schlegel serves his suspension for the red card he picked up in the playoff match against Columbus at the end of the 2023 season.

Orlando City comes off a 2023 campaign that saw the club go 9-3-5 in league play, 0-0-1 in Concacaf Champions League, 1-0-1 in Leagues Cup, and 1-1-0 in the playoffs at home. The Lions are 3-0-6 all-time in league openers (all at home), are 2-0-2 under Head Coach Oscar Pareja in openers, have won their last two straight, and are 1-0-0 in MLS openers against Montreal.

Tonight’s visitors have yet to play a competitive match in 2024 under their new head coach, Laurent Courtois, and went 0-3-1 in the preseason, which doesn’t usually mean much. The club was dreadful on the road in 2023, finishing 2-13-2 away from home. That terrible road record largely prevented the Canadian side from making the postseason. Montreal finished just two points out of the playoff places, ending up 12-17-5 and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

Looking to improve from scoring just 36 goals during the 2023 season — tied for third worst in the Eastern Conference — Montreal has added former Inter Miami and Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez. He’s always a handful, and Orlando City will not only be without Schlegel, but as of Friday the club was still waiting for the international paperwork for new center back David Brekalo, who has been training with the Lions. Likewise, the paperwork had not yet arrived as of training on Friday for new striker Luis Muriel, so either McGuire will need to play on short rest or Ramiro Enrique could get the start.

The visitors tonight will feature a familiar face as former Lion Ruan is now with CF Montreal after spending last season with D.C. United. Other new faces for Montreal include Uruguayan striker Matias Coccaro, midfielder Dominic Iankov, and fullback Raheem Edwards.

“We’re feeling good. The boys have approached the match in a very professional manner this time when we have been busy, but we were missing the competition, so it’s good,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said. “After the result in Canada, we came up with big expectations of ourselves. The opener, being in front of our fans, and having a good start. So, we’ll get optimistic and it’s going to be a long journey, like always, but we’re ready to do it.”

The Lions have no one listed on their availability report. Schlegel will miss the match with his suspension, and it remains to be seen if Brekalo and/or Muriel will be cleared to play. Montreal will be without Róbert Thorkelsson (adductor) and Lappalainen (ankle), while Nathan Saliba (bone bruise) and Joaquín Sosa (lower leg) are day-to-day.

Match Content


Official Lineups:

Orlando City (4-2-3-1)

Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese.

Defenders: Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, David Brekalo, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson.

Defensive Midfielders: Cesar Araujo, Wilder Cartagena.

Attacking Midfielders: Ivan Angulo, Nico Lodeio, Facundo Torres.

Forward: Duncan McGuire.

Bench: Mason Stajduhar, Kyle Smith, Michael Halliday, Abdi Salim, Felipe, Jeorgio Kocevski, Martin Ojeda, Ramiro Enrique, Jack Lynn.

CF Montreal (3-4-3)

Goalkeeper: Jonathan Sirois.

Defenders: Gabriele Corbo, Joel Waterman, George Campbell.

Midfielders: Ariel Lassiter, Mathieu Choiniere, Samuel Piette, Ruan.

Forwards: Bryce Duke, Matias Coccaro, Dominik Iankov.

Bench: Sebastian Breza, Raheem Edwards, Fernando Alvarez, Ousman Jabang, Victor Wanyama, Rida Zouhir, Kwadwo Opoku, Sunusi Ibrahim, Josef Martinez.

Referees:

REF: Rafael Santos.
AR1: Andrew Hanks.
AR2: Albert Kyei-Mensah.
4TH: Amin Hadzic.
VAR: ?.
AVAR: ?.


How to Watch

Match Time: 7:30 p.m.

Venue: Inter&Co Stadium — Orlando.

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

Radio: Real Radio 104.1 FM (English), Acción 97.9 FM and 810 AM (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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Opinion

Three Bold Orlando City Predictions for 2024

Here are three specific bold predictions for the MLS season ahead.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City kicks off the 2024 MLS regular season this evening at home against Eastern Conference foe CF Montreal. After having disposed of one Canadian team already this week with the Concacaf Champions Cup victory Wednesday night in Langford, B.C., the Lions will look to continue the opening day success that they have enjoyed throughout their years at the expense of some other friends from the great white north.

You can catch up with all of our pregame coverage here at The Mane Land, but prior to the season officially starting this evening, I thought it was the perfect time to cover my three biggest and boldest predictions for the squad this year.

Oscar Pareja Wins Coach of the Year

While the 2023 MLS Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year recipient was the much deserving Pat Noonan for the work that he did somewhat unexpectedly with former wooden spoon winning, FC Cincinnati, there were grumblings that Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja should have been the coach to take the award home. Doing more with less and boasting the league’s best road record, as well as one of the best overall records throughout the final months of the season, it would have been easy to make the argument that Papi deserved the award. What is even more impressive with the coaching job that Pareja did last year was that after an up-and-down beginning to the campaign, many (not yours truly included) thought that the team should move on from the head coach.

After signing a new contract with the team in the off-season, Pareja returns a strong lineup, and the players without a doubt would run through a wall for their manager. Papi brings a distinctly South American flair to the Orlando City sideline, which resonates with his players, and if the end of the season form from 2023 can be reached just a little earlier this season, then Orlando and Pareja should find themselves at or near the top of the table. Playing with a target on their backs as favorites to end this season with hardware may be a new position for the Lions, but Pareja is seasoned enough to help his players drown out the noise and hunt for results. For those reasons, I think he will be named the 2024 Coach of the Year.

Multiple Players at the MLS All-Star Game

Orlando did not have anyone selected to the 2023 MLS All-Star squad last year, nor the 2022 version a year prior. But that trend ends this year, as I predict that a minimum of two Lions will see their names selected for the annual all-star matchup. Captain Robin Jansson, long recognized as one of the top center backs in Major League Soccer, will be selected to represent the purple and gold, and Designated Player Facundo Torres will also see his name selected, based upon what is going to be a stellar start to the season.

This feels less like an incredibly bold prediction, but it makes sense both on the surface and when you break down the caliber of both players. It will probably wind up being my safest of the bold predictions. Jansson has already been called upon as the new team captain and he will be the instrumental piece in keeping the Lions’ defense organized and efficient. Add in the ability for him to find a goal or two from some set pieces this year, and he becomes an instant need on the All-Star squad. Torres, on the other hand, has put up All-Star quality numbers in each of his first two seasons with Orlando City. The main problem is that he has gone on heaters to put up those numbers after the All-Star Game has come and gone. If Torres has the start to the season that everyone is projecting that he is capable of, then there is no denying his name on the ballot.

Orlando City Finishes the Year Third Overall in MLS

Success of any kind in professional sports is incredibly hard to achieve, which is why teams like the 1990s-2000s Yankees, the Tom Brady-led Patriots, and the last two decades of the Alabama Crimson Tide have been so special to witness. In a seller’s league, where top talent often finds its way across the pond, it becomes even more difficult for MLS squads to put up multiple successful years back to back as they deal with continual roster turnover.

Orlando benefits this year from bringing back a large majority of its seasoned players and has had the chance to build chemistry and continuity on and off the field. That fact alone should do wonders for the early season results. I suspect Eastern Conference teams like Cincinnati or Columbus to push towards the top of the table, as well as a team like New York City FC, which fell off last year. And there are several top quality squads out west, which will continue to pile up results against a somewhat weaker conference. With all of that said, Orlando has already proved that it can play with the best talent in MLS, and if the Lions can start the year stronger than last and continue to hunt for results on the road like they did a year ago, then they should find themselves near the top of the table come the end of the year once again.


Those are my three bold predictions for Orlando City as we start the 2024 MLS season. Do you agree with my hot takes or do you think I am riding too high on the team to start the year? Let us know the answer in the comments below. If you see me in the stadium tonight then don’t be afraid to say hey, and as always, vamos Orlando!

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