Sunday, March 30, 2014

Boden makes case for soccer growth in Central Florida and rest of nation

Photo: Allison Petro / OCSC 
By Mike Gramajo

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Although Orlando City SC failed to earn a victory during their USL Pro home-opener vs. the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, which ended in a 1-1 draw last Saturday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, defender Luke Boden show cased what soccer in America has the potential of doing. 

The former Sheffield Wednesday man scored the equalizer for Orlando, after trailing 1-0 early in the second half, however, his stunning performance not only raised questions, but also gave an idea of what Orlando City’s style of play can bring to the table in terms of high standard soccer. 

“I think the culture here is great,” Boden told reporters after the draw vs. Pittsburgh. “People have come over and trained with us from England, and after the training session they say, ‘I wasn’t expecting that’ because people have the perception of, ‘this is America, America is not like that’ that’s not the case. 

“You see the kids now and you ask what’s your favorite sport, and they’ll say, ‘soccer, soccer, soccer’ and it’s massive already, and it’s only gonna grow. When we do possession and things like that, and when you go see MLS games the standard is way up there.”

If it’s not attendance figures, it’s Orlando City’s possessive style of play that has received plenty of praise from managers in MLS to those that guide clubs in the Barclays Premier League in England. 

“The club has all the right things to be in MLS,” said then-Stoke City manager Tony Pulis after the Orlando’s 1-0 friendly defeat to the Potters in 2012. 

With Major League Soccer making a return to Florida in the upcoming years, it’s only evident to say that the demographics have shifted not only across the nation, but in Florida as well. 

Orlando City is expected to make the jump to MLS in 2015, which will follow with Miami once David Beckham and his ownership group are granted access to property in Port of Miami for a privately-funded stadium. The goal for Miami’s entrance has been set for 2016 or 2017. 

Must-See Goal: Former Orlando City Dom Dwyer scores stoppage-time winner for SKC

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Orlando City draws Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Boden's goal salvages point for Lions

Photo: Ty Wright / Valencia Voice 
By Mike Gramajo  

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Orlando City’s final USL Pro home season didn’t get off to a great start. 

After conceding an early second-half goal, defender Luke Boden salvaged Orlando City SC one point, drawing 1-1 vs. the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. 

“We ended up chasing the game when you consider how much possession we had,” Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath told reporters after the game. “I got every confidence in this group, we scored a lot of goals in the last three years, and I guarantee we’ll score more goals this year.” 

Boden, who contributed in Orlando’s tying goal last week at Charleston, gave OCSC the 1-1 draw in the 57th minute after his cross towards the center box was reflected back to him, leaving him to drill the dead ball past the wall of defenders. 

“It was disappointed to draw than to win,” Boden told reporters. “We should of won the game, comfortably. We want to win the league and the championship, and with the group of players that  have, we can win. 

“The goals will come, I feel like everybody wants to beat us for the way that we play, that’s football. We have to keep playing how we are.” 

Despite maintaining possession for much of the game, the Lions would suffer a defensive collapse toward the early part of the second-half. Riverhounds forward Jose Angulo opened up the lead in the 49th minute after a miscue from defender Rob Valentino resulted into the Colombian slipping the ball past goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo. 

Final shot stats favored Orlando City, who outshot the Riverhounds 17-7, 12 of which came in the second half. 

The Lions come back the WWOS Complex when they meet the Rochester Rhinos on Saturday, April 5. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Here are the match highlights:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Orlando City draws Charleston at Blackbaud in 2014 USL Pro season opener

Photo - OSJ staff file
CHARLESTON, SC. — In the first match of their final USL PRO season, Orlando City SC drew the Charleston Battery 1-1 at Blackbaud Stadium. After conceding in the second half, City equalized in the 75th minute when new signing Austin Da Luz scored his first goal in purple and white.

The opening USL PRO match featured two of the league’s powerhouse teams, as both sides have claimed the past four USL PRO Championships.

Coming into today’s match, City has had the upper-hand against Charleston with the Lions’ boasting an 8-1-2 all-time record against the Battery. Most recently, Orlando defeated the Battery twice in three matches in 2013, including a win in the USL PRO semi-finals.

However, in the 2014 season-opener, the home-side began on the strong-foot and caused City to make numerous nervous clearances. Charleston’s chances came within the first five minutes, but Miguel Gallardo’s quality saves brought reassurance to the City backline.

After a turbulent start to the match, Orlando began settling in, and their possessive style of play became evident. By holding on to the ball, City controlled the tempo and forced Charleston to chase with heavy numbers in behind the ball.

Orlando City’s first chance of the match would come in the 11th minute when Austin Da Luz was found on the left-side of the area and drilled a low effort that was destined for the back of the net. Unfortunately for City, veteran Defender John Wilson managed to make a last-minute clearance from the goal-line to keep the match level.

New signing, Aodhan Quinn was given the nod from Head Coach Adrian Heath for his professional debut and had a good opportunity to put the Lions ahead in the 22nd minute. Orlando was awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position, just outside the Battery’s area, but Quinn placed his effort just over the bar.

The best chance of the half came in the 43rd minute, after an impressive build-up from the Lions. After a strong-challenge from Defender Justin Clark, City coordinated a calculated counter-attack that featured several one-twos and allowed Molino to find space in the final third.

Molino’s final effort forced Odisnel Cooper to parry it over the bar, providing an encouraging sign. in a first half that didn’t feature many clear-cut chances. The 0-0 score-line at halftime was a fair a reflection of the first 45, as neither side was able to create very many dangerous efforts on target.

The second half began with a much different tone, as Midfielder Darwin Ceren hit a cracking effort that skipped within inches of the post. In his USL PRO debut, the El Salvadorian National Team Captain was relatively quiet in the opening half but looked threatening with his first chance of the match.

Ceren was involved once again in the attacking third for Orlando in the 55th minute. After a poor clearance from the Battery, the ball landed back out to Ceren who skipped past Wilson and floated a lovely ball into Yordany Alvarez, whose header was saved by Cooper.

Moments later, Hertzog got his first good look of the game and nearly capitalized on an error from the Charleston backline. Known as a poacher, the former Vancouver Whitecaps Striker got in behind the defense and hit a strong effort that went just over the bar.

Nevertheless, the Battery continued to cushion Orlando’s heavy numbers and employ their pace up front for their counter-attacking tactics, leading to the first goal of the match.

Mamadou Diouf, who was brought on by Battery Head Coach Mike Anhauser in 58th minute, was released on the left-hand-side and took advantage of the lack of City defenders.

The speedy midfielder cut inside the area and snuck his effort past Gallardo at the near-post, putting Charleston up 1-0 in the 65th minute.

In light of the Battery’s goal, the numerous supporters who travelled to South Carolina for the opening match began singing even louder, motivating the Lions to push forward in search of a goal.

The Lions’ fans would get their wish when Da Luz pounced on a loose ball inside the area placed his strike past Cooper for the equalizer in the 75th minute.

Orlando made no effort to settle for a draw though, as Heath brought on attacking Midfielder Adama Mbengue and Forward Dennis Chin to provide more firepower up front.

Charleston, on the other hand, began dropping deeper in an attempt to secure at least a point. City continued to probe and found several chances from crosses into the box, but the Battery’s progression deeper into their half made it difficult to break-through and find a winner.

The Lions will now return back to Orlando to play their USL PRO home-opener against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at City’s 2014 stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

In 2013, City squared up against the Riverhounds three times and held a 1-1-1 record, with their only victory coming in the USL PRO playoffs at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

— Press release via Jhamie Chin / Orlando City SC 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Orlando City 2014 USL Pro squad (March 2.0)

Photo: OSJ Staff
By Mike Gramajo

Orlando City's final USL Pro season kicks off on Saturday when the Lions visit Blackbaud Stadium to face off against the Charleston Battery (7:30 p.m. ET WATCH HERE).

OCSC most recently made more additions to their squad, acquiring a total of four players in one week.

After receiving a total of four players from Sporting Kansas City prior to the 2013 season, Orlando were only able to nab midfielder Mikey Lopez on-loan. While the midfield position looks to be stacked-up compared to other USL Pro clubs, the Lions added a ninth midfielder earlier in the week after they announced the signing of former University of Akron midfielder Aodhan Quinn.

Depth in the goalkeeping position also expanded with the signing of Rafael Diaz, who played recently for St. John's University, while the defense also got a boost after Orlando welcomed back defender Justin Clark.

All four players are signed on for the 2014 USL Pro season, with the exception of Mikey Lopez who can be called up from Sporting KC at anytime during the season.

Below is the latest update on the Lions 2014 roster: 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Orlando City acquires midfielder Mikey Lopez from Sporting Kansas City on loan

Courtesy of Orlando City 
ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando City SC announced on Friday that the club will receive midfielder Mikey Lopez on loan from Major League Soccer affiliate, Sporting Kansas City.

Selected in the first round of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft out of North Carolina as a Generation Adidas signing, Lopez enters his second professional season in 2014.

The 21-year-old midfielder made his professional debut for Sporting Kansas City in the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and his rookie season was highlighted by his participation in the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. He appeared in all three matches for the U.S. in the tournament after helping to lead the United States to a runner-up finish at the U-20 CONCACAF Championship.

The loan from Sporting marks the second year in which both clubs have held this agreement. Last year, the relationship proved to be fruitful for both sides as Dom Dwyer scored a USL PRO league record 19 goals in 14 games. Upon returning back to Sporting Kansas City, Dwyer went on to the score the game-winning goal to put SKC through to the MLS Cup Final.

Midfielder Christian Duke and Goalkeeper Jon Kempin, who were also loaned to Orlando last year, will return back to USL PRO as the MLS side has also loaned them to newly added USL club OKC Energy FC for their inaugural season.

Orlando City and OKC are set to play each other twice this season, with the first fixture taking place in Oklahoma on April 26. Shortly afterwards, the Lions will host the Energy on May 4 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Throughout the 2014 campaign, Sporting Kansas City will have the option to recall any of the team’s three players.

--- Press Release per Jhamie Chin 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Orlando City 14' USL Pro squad (March edition)

Photo: OSJ Staff
By Mike Gramajo

With less than a week away if not days away, Orlando City's final USL Pro squad is looking more solid as the 2014 USL Pro season is bound to dawn.

The OSJ will continue to be on the latest track of new players that will be sporting the purple kit. 

February was a busy month in the transaction market for the Lions, which saw the midfielder Adama Mbengue re-sign with the club, and United States U-18 National Team defender Tyler Turner join OCSC after the Disney Pro Soccer Classic.

March, however, looks like it will be not a busy month full of transactions, but minor ones that can pay heavy dividends for Orlando City. The announcement of the club's first MLS homegrown player, Tommy Redding (Read my SBI recap on Redding), came earlier this week, and the arrival of the Sporting Kansas City loanees will soon be announced.

Below is the latest update on the Lions 2014 roster: 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Orlando City Notes: Heath on college friendlies; Latest on injured players; more

Photo: OSJ Staff
By Mike Gramajo

SANFORD, Fla. — After finishing unbeaten at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, Orlando City will now shift their focus on the upcoming college friendlies before they kickoff the 2014 USL Pro season. 

“We gave the lads three-four days off, too many of the guys were carrying around knocks, but today’s training was very lively,” head coach Adrian Heath told the OSJ after Wednesday’s practice. “We now have two and half weeks to prepare for the season, and we’ve done a lot of good stuff to prepare.” 

The Lions kickoff their slate of college friendlies when they welcome the Florida International University Panthers to the Seminole Soccer Complex on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. 

Checkout some of the latest news occurring in Orlando City preseason: 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Orlando City’s Adrian Heath speaking to Sporting KC this week about on-coming loans

By Mike Gramajo

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With weeks left in preseason, Orlando City SC’s roster looks to increase with a few new players, meaning the Lions will be awaiting on the arrival of the two Sporting Kansas City players that will be loaned to Orlando for the upcoming 2014 USL Pro season. 

“I’m speaking to Peter (Vermes) hopefully on Wednesday this week,” said OCSC head coach Adrian Heath after Saturday’s 4-4 draw vs. New York Red Bulls. “Obviously we got to speak about what we feel our needs are, and what he’s got as well. He has a lot of games coming up with the CONCACAF (Champions League). He’s giving two to Oklahoma (Energy FC) as well, it’ll be interesting.” 

Since affiliating with the MLS club last year, Sporting KC sent four players on-loan during the 2013 USL Pro season, and it paid big dividends for the Lions and players as well. 

Initially, Sporting sent forward Dom Dwyer, midfielder Christian Duke, defender Yann Songo’o and goalkeeper Jon Kempin to Orlando City last year, though Dwyer’s well-form was convincing to earn him a call-up to Kansas City during the middle of the USL Pro season. 

Kevin Ellis, CJ Sapong were the two other Sporting KC loanees that joined the Lions during the latter part of the USL Pro season, mainly because of Dwyer’s return to Kansas City and Songo’o’s release from the club. 

With Sporting KC also affiliating themselves with incoming USL Pro club Oklahoma City Energy, Vermes will have to divide the four players, meaning the Lions and Energy will each receive two players on loan for the upcoming season. 

Stay tuned with the OSJ for the latest players transactions in Orlando City.  

Molino saves Lions, as Orlando City draw Red Bulls in thrilling end to Disney Pro Classic

Photo: Allison Petro / OCSC 
By Mike Gramajo

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Kevin Molino’s late-game equalizer salvaged Orlando City SC a 4-4 draw vs. the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night, during closing night of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. 

Both teams declined to finish the game in a penalty shootout, resulting into sharing third place in the preseason tournament. 

“I think it’s the first time I’ve been involved in two 4-4 results, back to back,” Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath told reporters after the game. “I thought we conceded poor goals. I thought some of our combination play in the middle was very good, it gives us something to build on.” 

Adama Mbengue found the Trinidad & Tobago international on the counter, which resulted into Molino sliding the ball past NYRB goalkeeper Luis Robles. 

Forward Corey Hertzog gave the Lions the early lead in the seventh minute, after a mess up in the Red Bulls back line resulted into the former Whitecaps man to capitalize on the mistake. The Red Bulls were able to equalize in the 29th minute, when midfielder Lloyd Sam found forward Bradley Wright-Phillips

Despite going into halftime even 1-1, second-half substitute Dennis Chin scored two minutes into the match, heading in a close-range ball off a corner kick taken by Austin da Luz. However, five minutes later Wright-Phillips scored his second and equalized after a counter-lead by Sam found the Englishman who’s shot deflected off an Orlando City defender. 

Goals kept coming, Red Bulls defender Ibrahim Sekagya gave New York the 3-2 lead in the 68th minute after Dax McCarty’s free-kick found Wright-Phillips, who’s shot got deflected which left the ball alone for Sekagya to execute on the error. 

Despite having already a goal, Dennis Chin left the game in the last 10 minutes after what it looked to be a leg cramp had the forward laying on the field, which resulted into defender Joseph Toby substituting in. 

“He’s got a little slight pull, he should be okay,” said Heath on Chin’s injury. 

With the Lions trailing, Adama Mbengue equalized for OCSC when his screamer from long range beat goalkeeper Luis Robles in the 76th minute for the 3-3 tie. 

Midfielder Jonny Steele gave the Red Bulls the lead again in the 80th minute after another defensive miscue gave the Northern Irishman the opportunity to slide the ball past Gallardo for the 4-3 lead. However, Molino’s goal five minutes later negated the Red Bulls the victory for the 4-4 draw. 

Up next, the Lions play a variety of collegiate friendlies when they take on the Florida International University Panthers on Saturday, March 8 at the Seminole Soccer Complex.