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Lion Links: 5/20/18

OCSC faces potential must-win match, Union honor fallen heroes, Robles’ MLS ironman streak will end, and much more.

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Juventus v Hellas Verona FC - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Happy Sunday, Mane Landers. A tough road loss in Toronto on Friday night seemed to set the tone for a bleak weekend here in the Central Florida area, and the weather surely didn’t help. But every team has peaks and valleys, and quite frankly, this isn’t much of a valley.

The Lions are still in an advantageous position on the MLS Eastern Conference table, and the more and more experience the boys in purple gain with each other in real-time match scenarios, the better. There’s a lot to be optimistic about with this squad, and I hope our audience here shares that sentiment.

The Pride, too, give us much to be excited about, with a home clash against the undefeated North Caroline Courage coming up Wednesday. A win in that match would be massive, and I can’t wait to tune in for the action.

Other than that, it’s been a pretty slow weekend, folks. But here’s your Sunday serving of Lion Links. Enjoy.

A Win Against the Chicago Fire Critical for the Lions

Orlando’s loss was, well how do you put it...deflating. Losses against teams that are surely going to be in the playoff race deep into the season have been upsetting to say the least, and the Lions must do everything possible to ensure they don’t fall into a slump (as they did around this time last season). The players are well aware of the foreboding possibility of a slump, too.

“We have to be mentally very strong,” said midfielder Cristian Higuita after Orlando City’s match against TFC. “We have a great team and I felt like today, for the first time in four seasons that I’ve been here, we were superior to Toronto here at BMO Field. Unfortunately, they won, but I think that we showed we’re a very mentally strong team. I think we’re going to be able to prevent [another slump].”

The loss sets up what some are calling a must-win match against the Chicago Fire in Orlando City Stadium next week. Regardless, prosoccerusa.com’s Jordan Culver does a great job breaking down some key factors in what the Lions do successfully.

Philadelphia Union Players Wear Names of Fallen Heroes at Training

The Union partnered with the Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (TAPS) for an event that was held on Friday ahead of Military Appreciation Night, which was recognized at the Real Salt Lake match last night. The decision to partner with TAPS was a heartfelt move that emphasized the Union’s’desire to remain close to the local community, famous for its military roots. The Union’s players, typically outfitted in normal training gear, were provided specially crafted kits that were branded with the names of fallen soldiers on the back of them. The event also allowed victims of the fallen heroes the opportunity to share their stories of their loved ones with some of the athletes that they admire on match days.

“To see the Union players wearing their loved one’s name on the back of their jersey and just saying their name out loud and recognizing their loss and wanting to honor that is just beyond words, it’s so special for these families,” said Megan O’Keefe, TAPS entertainment and sports coordinator in a video released by the team. “Not that this is filling a void but it’s really giving them a new person to connect with and share their loved one’s story,” O’Keefe said.

NYRB Goalkeeper Luis Robles’ Ironman Streak Set to End

Luis Robles, arguably one of the best MLS goalkeepers of all time, will finally miss a match due to a knee injury. The keeper hasn’t missed a match in 183 straight, going the full 90 minutes in every single one of them. The legend started his first match near the end of the 2012 season, and there was simply no looking back. He seized the spot in between the sticks, and he quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with, posting 65 clean sheets through all competitions. Andrew Vazzano over at newyorkredbulls.com put together a handy little stat counter that emphasizes just how incredible Robles’ ironman streak was, and he also provides a more in-depth view of the streak ending, and even gets a quick word in with Robles himself. The streak ending is significant for the New York Red Bulls, who travel to face a streaking Atlanta team tonight. Ryan Meara will be the man to replace Robles on the evening. We’re rootin’ for ya, Ryan.

Timothy Weah Handed First-Ever Senior Team Start at PSG

Weah, the son of legendary striker and current Liberian President George Weah, was handed the first start of his senior team career for PSG as they traveled to Caen in the final Ligue 1 match of the season yesterday. The result on the day was a 0-0 draw, but Weah seeing out the full 90 minutes at striker (despite picking up a booking in the ninth minute) is significant and has two major implications. The first is that he’s now viewed as a talent that can break into the starting 11 of an elite European side, and that his ascendancy in exposure and stardom should surely follow suit. The second, which correlates directly with the first, is that the U.S. Men’s National Team may now have the young, budding stars it has lacked — and, most importantly, they’re being trained properly by some of the top clubs in the world. Ultimately, seeing Weah find success could prove vital to the development of the national team, the popularity of the sport in our country, and the future of our own national youth development. Plus, just imagine a fully-developed Weah, Cristian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams walking out for the Stars and Stripes together.

Gianluigi Buffon Ends His 17-Year Playing Career with Juventus

The legend’s final match for the The Old Lady couldn’t have gone any better, either. Earning his 301st clean sheet for the club, Buffon was substituted off after an hour of play with tears in his eyes, his teammates at his side, and the entire stadium in complete adulation. The supporters showed their love for their club legend by displaying banners and adoring gifts as he mingled with his fans, and Buffon returned the favor as he took a lap to honor the fans in attendance at his substitution. He ended the day by winning his ninth Serie A title. Nobody truly knows what’s next for the 40-year-old; rumors are that he’s been offered a playing deal with France’s PSG, while others say that he’s been offered an influential role within Juventus’ highest offices. Regardless, the man is a legend, and if his playing days are over I’ll personally be selfishly depressed that he’s no longer making incredible saves on my television.

Free Kicks
  • Everyone’s favorite Italian enigma, Mr. Mario Balotelli, has been called up to the Italian national team for the first time since the 2014 World Cup. Personally, I can’t wait to see him don the famous blue kit again. His former gaffer during their time at Manchester City, Roberto Mancini, is the one who gave him the call.
  • ESPN FC put together an excellent presentation that highlights Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta’s impactful career.
  • Chelsea downed Manchester United, 1-0, to win the FA Cup final.
  • Portuguese legend and Real Madrid star striker Cristiano Ronaldo has officially struck 450 times for Real Madrid. That’s just for Real Madrid. Sheesh.

All right, folks. That’s about all I’ve got for you today. Before I go, I want to leave you with a clip of who I think will one day become the greatest football manager of all time. That’s one hell of a bold statement, but I’ll stand by it to my grave. Fergie, José, Pep...you fellas better watch out for this kid: