Connect with us

Opinion

Orlando City’s Top Home Performances of 2023

Which home matches left you speechless on your drive back home this season?

Published

on

Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Tonight Orlando City will take the field against the New England Revolution in its last regular-season home game of the year. Early in the season there were certainly several instances of frustration during home matches as leads were squandered late or lower caliber opponents seemingly had their way within the walls of Exploria Stadium. Despite that, the Lions have continued to elevate their level of play throughout the season, especially at home over the last several months, leaving fans dumbfounded at some of the amazing results we have seen in person. Tonight’s game notwithstanding, (hopefully I eat all these words and have to add it to my list) here are my top three MLS matches played in front the OCSC faithful this season.

Fourth of July Fireworks

Anyone who lives and works in Central Florida is no stranger to nightly fireworks at numerous local theme parks. What fans may not have been prepared for this past Independence Day was a straight steamrolling of Orlando’s visitors from the north, Toronto FC. What sets this match apart is that it certainly was positioned on the calendar as a possible trap game as a midweek fixture with a big match out west looming against Real Salt Lake in just a few days. Instead of succumbing to the trap, Orlando City came out of the starting blocks in a full-out sprint, scoring two goals before the match reached the 30th minute, courtesy of Ceasar Araujo and Duncan McGuire.

The Lions scored twice more in the second half, with Dagur Dan Thorhallsson and Ercan Kara each finding the back of the net. A handful of firsts were checked off the list, as Araujo scored his first MLS regular-season goal, Thorhallsson opening his scoring account as a Lion, and Orlando City as a whole winning for the first time on the Fourth of July in four attempts. Did I mention that this match marked the most goals Orlando City has scored in a match for the entire season, at four — tied with another match which will show up later.

Orlando Hosts the Best of the West

A little over a month ago, Orlando City was in the midst of arguably its toughest four-game stretch of the season and it started by playing host to new MLS expansion team and Western Conference frontrunner, St. Louis City. The result of that match could have very easily swung the rest of the season for the Lions in a positive or negative direction. The lead up to the match had some extra special sauce sprinkled on it when comments were made by former Lion Nicholas Gioacchini, who had apparently had this match circled on his calendar for some time. Gioacchini tried several times to give his new squad the lead in the first half but ultimately had to be subbed off at halftime after picking up a knock. From the start, the Lions were the aggressors, holding the advantage in possession (55.1%-44.9%), shots (6-5), shots on target (1-0), corners (4-1), and passing accuracy (83.8%-80.5%). Designated Player Facundo Torres got OCSC on the board first, scoring right after halftime, firing an absolute bullet past Roman Burki.

Orlando City looked as if it had fallen back into its familiar early season form of relinquishing leads when after a lengthy VAR process St. Louis was awarded a leveling goal in the 79th minute. The teams traded halfhearted attempts over the waning minutes of the match until second-half sub Ramiro Enrique earned a free kick in the final minutes of the match. The ensuing play led to a blast from Rafael Santos, which hit the arm of Anthony Markanich. Video review was once again called into action and referee Joe Dickerson awarded Orlando City a penalty kick. Torres stepped up to the spot and iced the match as he earned a game-winning brace.

The Cardiac Cats were alive once again and surely that proved to be the most exciting moment at Exploria all season long…or so we thought.

What the (Bleep) Just Happened?

One match after defeating the top dog in the Eastern Conference and eventual Supporters’ Shield winners FC Cincinnati on their home turf, Orlando returned to the City Beautiful to take on another challenger from the Buckeye state, the Columbus Crew. The Crew came into the match as one of the hottest teams in MLS. The only problem for them was that Orlando proved to be just a tad hotter. I wish I could tell you that the Lions blew this game wide open like they did against Toronto. They didn’t. I wish I could tell you that they scored four goals like they did against Toronto. They did. And I wish I could tell you the game wasn’t as exciting as the match against St. Louis City. It was, and then some! Columbus scored early when Julian Gressel took advantage of a poor turnover in Orlando City’s own end and basically walked in a chip shot from Diego Rossi. The match headed into the break with the visitors up 1-0 after a sloppy first half from Orlando City. The Lions equalized quickly after halftime and new energy poured over Exploria as DP Martin Ojeda scored in the 48th minute to level the match.

It was just after Ojeda’s goal that the train exploded off the tracks and the match turned into an instant Orlando City classic. Rossi and Cucho Hernandez scored 12 minutes apart in the 56th and 68th minutes, and it looked to those in the stands that the great run of form Orlando had enjoyed was finally crashing down to Earth. It looked that way to everyone except the 11 on the field, who used a final hydration break and key offensive substitutes of Torres and Jack Lynn, along with Luca Petrasso and Michael Halliday, to do the unimaginable. Torres, who missed the starting 11 with a knock, injected instant energy onto the pitch and found the back of the net in the 73rd minute, bringing Orlando City back within a goal of being level with a decent amount of time left on the clock.

Still playing from behind, Orlando City had no choice but to throw the kitchen sink at Columbus to try to salvage a draw at home. The equalizer came in the 86th from Enrique, who found himself in the right place at the right time to slot home a deflected header from a set play, and in the blink of an eye, Orlando City was level. The Lions could have sat back and parked the bus in hopes of splitting points, but the soccer gods had other ideas.

In the waning seconds of stoppage time, an Ojeda cross from a set piece 25 yards out squeaked all the way through to a diving Torres, who headed the ball back across the box to the waiting foot of Enrique, who buried the late game winner, sending the crowd into a feverish celebration.


So there you have it Lions fans, my top three home matches of this MLS season. Let me know in the comments below if you agree or if some other home matches fall into your top three ranking instead. I will happily eat crow if the final home game tonight can out-wow-factor any of these three matches above, and as always, vamos Orlando!

Opinion

Predicting Orlando City’s April Results

Let’s peek into the crystal ball and take a crack at predicting Orlando City’s games during the month of April.

Published

on

Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Every Major League Soccer schedule has its peaks and valleys, and Orlando City is currently traversing one of the valleys. After a fast and furious start to the year that saw the Lions competing in both the Concacaf Champions Cup and MLS play, OCSC won’t play another game until next Saturday, April 13. Since we’ve got a bit of time on our hands, I wanted to take a crack at predicting the outcomes of the three games that Orlando will play during the month of April. Away we go.

Saturday, April 13 — at D.C. United

The first game back following a two-week break sees the Lions travel to the nation’s capital to take on D.C. United. D.C. has been quite the bogey team for Orlando the last two seasons, frequently getting the better of the Lions despite being one of the league’s worst teams during that time. At the time of this writing, D.C. is eighth in the East with a record of 2-1-3 (9 points). The two wins came against Montreal, which has been decent so far, and New England, which has been absolutely woeful. Christian Benteke has four goals in four games, with three of them coming in the 3-1 victory over the Revs. The Lions will be coming off two weeks to work out some of the offensive kinks we’ve seen up to this point in the season, and they should have everyone available for selection after injuries and international call-ups thinned the ranks. Now seems like as good a time as any for OCSC to turn around its recent form against DCU, and I’ll pick the Lions in this one.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-1 D.C. United.


Saturday, April 20 — at CF Montreal

After D.C., the Lions will stay on the road and take on CF Montreal north of the border in a rematch of the season opener. As previously mentioned, Montreal has had a decent start to 2024 and is currently 2-2-1 (7 points) and in 10th place. In early March the Canadian club posted back-to-back wins against FC Dallas, which has been very poor so far, and Inter Miami, which has been pretty good. Matias Coccaro leads them with three goals in five games, with an assist thrown in as well. This is Orlando nemesis Josef Martinez’s first year on the team, and he’s got a goal and two assists in 249 minutes of play. The first time the two teams played this season it was a sloppy, scoreless affair, and one in which both teams may have felt they should have been victorious. I think it’ll be a pretty evenly matched affair once again, albeit one that’s higher scoring.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-2 CF Montreal.


Saturday, April 27 — vs. Toronto FC

OCSC rounds off the month of April with a visit from Toronto FC. Thus far, Toronto has been much improved from a woeful 2023 season, and is currently an aesthetically pleasing 3-2-1, (10 points) and sitting in fifth. The three wins have come against Atlanta United, which has been good, Charlotte FC which has been decent, and New England, which — as previously mentioned — has been quite bad. The Reds dropped games to New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City, and the prevailing theme in their matches this year has been struggling to put the ball in the back of the net. TFC has only scored multiple goals once, in its 2-0 win over Atlanta, and its six goals on the year is just one better than Orlando City’s tally of five. The team also has a lengthy injury list, and Lorenzo Insigne may not be available due to a hamstring injury. I think playing at home helps see the Lions through in this one, as the boys find their shooting boots.

Prediction: Orlando City 3-1 Toronto FC.


If things go as I predicted, Orlando will take seven points from an available nine, which would be a welcome sight after a sputtering start to 2024. Much of my predictions are based on the belief that this is a good team with good players, which simply needs a bit of time to integrate new faces and new ideas, and will start playing more in line with preseason expectations once it’s had time to do so. If chemistry is still slow to form after the two-week layoff, then the month of April could be a very different story, but for now I’m choosing the path of optimism. Vamos Orlando!

Continue Reading

Opinion

International Duty Provides Facundo Torres an Opportunity for Reset

Orlando City needs its Uruguayan star to find his best form.

Published

on

Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City closes out the month of March against Eastern Conference foes the New York Red Bulls tonight in Central Florida. For one of the first times this season, the Lions will look to take the pitch with a seemingly healthy and rested lineup. Orlando demonstrated what it was capable of last time out with a full week of training under its belt with a complete 2-0 victory against Austin FC.

The victory could be considered even more impressive due to the fact that it was achieved without six regular starters, five of whom were away representing their home nations and Cesar Araujo, who missed the match due to injury. Araujo’s availability at this time still is unknown but it is reasonable to expect that the remaining players who were away over the last week and a half will return to their usual slots in the starting 11.

March results came in like a lamb and are hopefully going to finish like a lion in terms of victories for Orlando City. The same can be said for Designated Player Facundo Torres. Now in his third season with Orlando, I feel like right about this time every year I have written an article about the team needing more from Torres. And then, every year Torres has responded in a big way throughout the late spring and early summer.

Zero goals and zero assists over three MLS matches is certainly not the start that Torres expected to begin the year, nor is it the type of start that Orlando could afford to bury behind other players’ efforts as the entire offensive unit has struggled to find its footing out of the gate. On the season thus far, Torres is completing 80.5% of his passes and has registered only a lone shot attempt on target on two total scoring attempts. He did manage three goals and an assist in Concacaf Champions Cup play, so the offense is there, it just hasn’t found its way into MLS matches yet.

For Orlando to climb its way back up the table, Torres has to reach the gear that everyone knows he is capable of now. Not the middle of June, or early July, but right now.

Torres is no stranger to slow starts in MLS play, but even by his standards 2024 has been sluggish so far. In 2022, his first year in the league, Torres managed one assist and five shot attempts (none on target) through his first three MLS matches. A year ago, El Cuervo scored one goal on five shots, putting just the one on target. So he’s a few shots and a goal contribution behind his usual pace, despite contributing offensively in Concacaf play.

After a short stint with the Uruguay Men’s National Team, Torres’ time to be the catalyst that Orlando City needs has arrived. The good news for Facu and Orlando City fans is that the Red Bulls are a squad against which Torres has historically preformed very strongly. The attacking winger scored three goals against the Red Bulls in 2023 alone.

I believe that Torres benefited from a short break away from the squad and will start to turn the corner soon. I will excitedly and expectantly be on the lookout for Torres to regain his form tonight and hopefully that will help elevate all of his teammates.


Is there anyone else who you think benefited from the early season international period? Let us know in the comments below and as always, vamos Orlando!

Continue Reading

Opinion

Strong Early Season Competition an Opportunity for Growth

Schedule congestion and tough opponents present opportunities for growth.

Published

on

Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

It is hard to imagine a more intense start to the season than the Lions have faced competing in both the regular season and the Concacaf Champions Cup at the same time, yet that is exactly the task that the boys in purple find themselves dealing with only days into the season. With both away and home matches already in the books, let’s examine how strong early season competition can be a key factor in the growth of the squad as the season progresses.

For comparison we can look back to one year ago, as thanks to winning the U.S. Open Cup, the Lions found themselves in the Concacaf Champions League for the first time in club history. During their short foray in the 2023 version of the competition, they were matched up against Mexican powerhouse Tigres UANL in a two-leg competition. Orlando did something that many MLS sides can not boast by coming out of the first leg in Mexico without conceding a goal and only failed to advance because of the competition’s away goals rule.

At the time, and even looking back through rose-colored glasses, those two performances demonstrated the quality that Orlando City was ultimately capable of, and it was a form which Orlando showcased in the later stretches of the 2023 season.

This year, once again Orlando is faced with stiff competition throughout its early season matches, which present a grand opportunity to build team chemistry and fortitude that will only truly manifest itself as the season progresses. While Cavalry FC may have not presented much a challenge on the pitch, the logistics of starting a season off thousands of miles away in the Pacific Northwest were challenges that the Lions had to face before a 48-hour turnaround to open the regular season against a CF Montreal side which some are projecting to be a surprise force in the Eastern Conference. Sandwich in the close-out leg against Cavalry in the CCC at home some 72 hours later, and you once again have a recipe for tired legs but early season growth through adversity.

Up next was Saturday’s forgettable trip to square off against archrival Inter Miami. A year ago, Orlando City was one of the only MLS sides to truly frustrate one of the world’s best and unfortunately for players, coaches and fans alike, the first meeting between the rival sides in 2024 ended with a landslide victory for Messi and friends. Still, despite the frustrating loss, there are lessons to be learned and mistakes to correct which can only help the squad grow as the season progresses.

As if all of the schedule congestion was not enough, Orlando learned that its prize for dispatching Cavalry in the CCC was a rematch against Tigres, once again in a two-match, survive-and-advance format. The first game will be played two and a half days after having been beaten down by Miami and the second will come a week later, with yet another MLS regular-season match crammed in between.

All in all, once Orlando City is done facing off against Tigres, the team will have traveled roughly 9,700 miles for matches in the first 21 days of the season and played a match roughly every 60 hours. These matches and the quality of the opponents present Orlando and its players with numerous chances for individual and squad growth, and the experience, especially for still a somewhat young team, is something OCSC can draw upon once the late season and playoff push portion of the calendar arrive. I truly believe this early in the season the importance of the results of the matches come secondary to the opportunities for growth when faced with so many challenges so quickly.


Let us know in the comments below if you think that the early season match ups against quality opponents will ultimately hurt or benefit Orlando City and, as always, vamos Orlando!

Continue Reading

Trending