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Lion Links: 10/21/18

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Orlando hosts the Crew in the 2018 home finale, Justin Meram reflects, Ashlyn Harris’ journey, and much more.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Sunday, Mane Landers. Chances are you’re here to bide your time while you await Orlando’s clash with the Columbus Crew, so I’ll do my best to keep your spirits high while you wait. Today’s match should be an entertaining affair, with Justin Meram making a potential eventful return to Orlando City Stadium. I would imagine that it’ll be an emotional one for him...and for the supporters in attendance. Just remember to keep it classy; that’s how you Mane Landers do it.

That said, I’ll do what I can to keep today’s serving of Links classy for you! Let’s dive right in.

Orlando City SC’s Home Finale

There’s bound to be some drama. With the Lions hosting the Crew for their last home match of the 2018 campaign, Meram, if present, will likely be front and center, but that’s not what Head Coach James O’Connor is focused on. He’s acknowledged the event, but certainly will have other things to work on. Namely: winning.

“It’s the same as any other player who comes back,” O’Connor said. “You shake his hand, you wish him all the best and it’ll have no bearing on what we’re trying to do. I think, for us, we’ve been very intentional about trying to make sure that whoever it is that comes here, we focus on what we need to do.”

Clearly, O’Connor doesn’t want the return of Meram to overshadow what’s really at stake for his side — ensuring that his team executes his game plan and ends the home finale with three points in hand. That’s been a difficult thing to do for the Lions since the appointment of O’Connor, and to be frank, there’s no guarantee that Meram will make the trip. Even Orlando’s star players, like Yoshimar Yotún, likely still in contact with their former teammate, have no inkling of whether or not Meram will travel with the Crew.

“If he does come, it’ll be nice,” Yotún said. “It’ll be nice to play against him. They’re a good club that includes an ex-teammate from Orlando City. It’s always good to play against ex-teammates.”

Regardless, O’Connor is well aware of the opposition’s strong season, and need for a positive result to potentially break into the MLS Playoff picture. He anticipates a challenging affair.

“Columbus, obviously, a very experienced team and having a very strong year, as well,” O’Connor said. “So, it’ll be a tough game for us.”

It should be a good one, Mane Landers. So make sure you’re tuned in!

Meram Reflects on his Orlando Tenure, Gives Supporters Credit

Speaking of the controversial former Lion, regardless of whether we see him today or not, he’s certainly reflected upon his time in Orlando. He’s happier now that he’s with the Crew again, and finally provided some insight into the trials and tribulations that he experienced as a Lion.

“Some negative things that happened when I was there made me mentally stronger, so that was a positive,” he said. “[Learning] how to handle situations better – that was positive. I wasn’t perfect; I can be a man about it. I could have done things a little better.”

Meram goes on to express regret over his then-controversial goal celebration of closing his eyes and putting his fingers in his ears; alluding that he’s blocking out the criticism of the supporters. He does, however, give the Lions supporters some credit.

“The fans kind of blow things up, but they’re passionate, and I respect their passion,” he said. “To have a fan base when results aren’t going well and they’re still out there every game, I give them credit…and I’m thankful for a lot of them who were supporting me even when I was in a slump.”

Unfortunately, that’s not where the interview ended. He also took a swipe at his former side, implying that while there was a high level of quality on the pitch, there was a lack of a strong culture that cultivates results.

“There’s a lot of quality in that locker room, and they spent a lot of money to bring in a lot of quality,” he said. “But just putting quality on the field isn’t going to win you games. You have to have a collectiveness, a family mindset. I think that might have been lacking a bit.”

That said, Meram also stated that he doesn’t feel that there’s any beef between he and the club. My opinion? I find that hard to believe. His response when asked if he would celebrate if he scored against his former side: “We’ll see when the time comes, I guess.” Prepare for fireworks, folks.

The Journey: Ashlyn Harris

We all know and love Pride goalkeeping stalwart Ashlyn Harris, but perhaps we all didn’t know of her humble beginnings. Harris began her meteoric rise from Satellite High School here in Florida, and was tabbed as a future goalkeeping prospect at the tender age of 16. In a series from U.S. Soccer, Harris is the feature of a The Journey, detailing the lives, both on and off the field, of USWNT stars as they work towards potential 2019 World Cup glory. Check it out, she’s got quite the story...and you’d never guess who inspired her the most during her formative years.

FC Cincinnati Looks to Enter MLS as Champions X2

Similar to Orlando City SC and its entrance into MLS play, FC Cincinnati is looking to take down the USL Cup before becoming an official MLS club in 2019. The club has already won the regular-season title, and will now attempt to add one more championship notch to its proverbial belt before leaving the league. The Ohio club needed penalties last night to advance. The Lions, who won the USL in 2011 and 2013 while also taking down the Commissioner's Cup in 2014, reveled in glory before entering MLS play to much fanfare. Unfortunately, as we all know, that success has yet to translate to the next level and the Lions have yet to break into the MLS playoffs.

Free Kicks
  • Friendly reminder: be sure to stick around after today’s match to cheer on the Orlando City Special Olympic squad!
  • Ready to catch a glimpse of the Orlando SeaWolves against the Brazil National Minifootball team...with a bonus match? Check this out.
  • Yesterday brought good news for USMNT and Schalke starlet Weston McKennie, as he was back in action as the German side hosted Werder Bremen.
  • Check out a sneak peak of USMNT legend Paul Caligiuri’s (and others’) induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, courtesy of Major League Soccer!

That’s all I’ve got for you today, Mane Landers. Enjoy the 3 p.m. kickoff against the Crew! Hopefully the Lions bring the heat...because lord knows the supporters deserve it for braving this Florida weather to see them play. It’d be one hell of a showing to see the Lions down a Meram-led crew, but it could happen, so do your best to remain positive and show out for your boys in purple.