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Lion Links: 7/8/18

Orlando City visits Los Angeles, the Pride host the Spirit, a World Cup update, and more.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy, Mane Landers, and happy Sunday. I hope the weekend has been treating you well. I’ve been on vacation (from my real job) since July 3 and it’s been refreshing to...let me cut the bullshit, it’s been awesome. I truly love my job and the people that I work with, but it’s always nice to take a few days off and relax a bit (when I say relax, I really mean sleep in. play soccer, and go to Orangetheory Fitness classes — which are excellent, but I digress).

I’m actually looking forward to heading back into the office on Tuesday: a place where there are true football fans aplenty...and all of our brackets fell apart early. I’m not sure where I stand at the moment compared to my opponents, but I have my $5 at the ready because a Brazil-Spain final sure ain’t happenin’ this go round.

Any who, here’s your Sunday helping of Lion Links. Enjoy!

Orlando City Travels to Los Angeles in James C’Connor’s Debut

It was a late one for supporters here in Orlando and on the East Coast as the Lions traveled across the Continental United States to face MLS newcomers Los Angeles FC with an 11 p.m. kickoff. James O’Connor’s first lineup in charge of the Lions was an interesting look that featured Josué Colmán on the left flank, Dom Dywer up top, and Chris Mueller on the right. It was an unfortunate debut for O’Connor, as his Lions side lost for a ninth straight league match, 4-1. Of course, VAR was back at it in disallowing a Dom Dwyer equalizer, ruling Justin Meram offside. There’s no doubt going to be a lot of upset supporters with what seems to be a trend in being on the wrong end of VAR rulings, but hey, this is Orlando.

Also be sure to keep an eye out later today for Guilherme Torres’ five takeaways and our bearded guy’s player grades and Man of the Match.

Orlando Pride Come Back Against the Washington Spirit, 2-1

The Pride welcomed the Spirit into Orlando City Stadium last night in an affair that saw the Pride trailing early as Ashley Hatch put the Spirit up with a 25th minute header. The energy was high from the Pride in response though, and they were determined to leave their stamp on the match. Sydney Leroux brought it level just before the break with a good turn and shot to the near post. Marta provided the comeback heroics. Brandon Turton has your in-depth match recap.

World Cup Update: Semifinals are Set

I’m starting this one by saying that this is personally, already, the greatest World Cup I’ve ever witnessed (my first was Japan/South Korea in 2002). Throughout this entire tournament, and even throughout qualifying for some of these sides, miracles have been seemingly in abundance. For Russia yesterday, the miracles finally ran dry. Through 120 minutes of heart racing play, close calls, and injuries, it was Croatia that emerged triumphantly as they beat Russia on penalties, 2-2 (3-4).

The other quarterfinal yesterday, England-Sweden, was an exhilarating affair that saw England’s Harry Maguire score his first international goal with a first-half header. Dele Alli also notched a header of his own in the second half, and England advances to a semifinal where a tired Croatia side (see above) will be waiting for them.

A World Cup with 48 Countries?

It’s hard to start thinking about the 2022 World Cup when we’re still in the magnificent throes of the current tournament, but Qatari organizers of the 2022 World Cup have stated that they’re open to conversations over altering the format of the tournament in order to host 48 teams, rather than the current number of 32. Qatar, which believes they could host the potential 48-team tournament alone, holds the ability to essentially veto the plan — as FIFA has ruled that the host country’s consent is a precondition to the expansion. The country is excited about the prospects, but also hold caution in the case that it won’t be beneficial to the hosts.

“If we feel that it’s not in favor of us or of football, we won’t go for it,” (Nasser) Al Khater said at the opening of a Qatari hospitality house in Moscow’s Gorky Park. “If the format of a 48-team World Cup is an exciting format, and it doesn’t follow the traditional type of format, yeah, why not? It might add an exciting new element. Maybe it’s a sudden death, one game sudden death and you’re out, and maybe it happens before the rest of the teams come,” Al Khater said.

While a sudden death scenario is unlikely, the talks are in the works. Personally, I don’t see it happening. Europe’s top leagues have pushed back against the idea of losing another weekend of fixtures in November to accommodate World Cup matches, so adding days to the existing format won’t work. Squeezing in those additional matches at this juncture, just four years out, seems impossible if not unwise. That being said, Al Khater has also acknowledged that all preparation for their hosting of the 2022 tournament has been focused on accommodating 32 teams, not 48.

Free Kicks
  • Former Lion Antonio Nocerino has officially joined Benevento Calcio, of Italy’s Serie B. Cheers and best of luck, Antonio!
  • The U-20 Women’s National Team beat Brazil, 2-1, in their final preparation match before the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and before head coach Jitka Klimkova selects her 21-player roster for next year’s tournament hosted by France. The team will be considered among the strongest contenders to take the Cup.
  • Looks like Mexico’s Hirving Lozano’s World Cup exploits were noticed by some of Europe’s elite, as Manchester United is set to offer up £35 million to PSV for his services. Though something tells me they’ll need to shell out a lot more than that, especially once other clubs voice their inevitable interest.
  • England’s motorways were absolutely deserted yesterday (likely for approximately an hour or two) due to a wide majority of the nation being stuck to television sets to watch their national team beat Sweden, 2-0, and advance to the hallowed semifinal.
  • Speaking of England and their national team, a vehicle company has commissioned professional artists to recreate scenes from the country’s Round of 16 win against Colombia...using the dirt that’s built up on their white vans. The vehicular masterpieces include depictions of Jordan Pickford’s essential penalty kick save in the shootout, Harry Kane in celebration, and the three lions crest with a second star; symbolizing the chance that England has in bringing the cup back home for just the second time in their storied history.
  • Brazilian talisman Neymar has stated that his country’s exit to Belgium in the Round of 16 was the “saddest moment” of his career.
  • Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is “proud” of his country’s heroes and deep run in the tournament, according to a spokesperson of the Kremlin (had to put that last part).
  • Young American and Manchester City prospect Erik Palmer-Brown has been loaned to Eredivisie side NAC Breda. The answer to the quiz question: Earnie Stewart, the soon-to-be USMNT general manager. He played for the club from 1996 to 2003.
  • The General Secretary of the Swiss Football Federation made comments recently that are very likely to spark debate. He believes that a player with dual citizenship should only be permitted to play for a country if they drop their second nationality. The reason? His fear that prospects could benefit from his country’s youth development programs only to bolt for other national teams when the time comes.

That’s about it for me today, folks. Enjoy these World Cup semifinals that are bound to live up to expectations; France-Belgium on Tuesday and Croatia-England on Wednesday, both kick off at 2 p.m. ET.

Have an excellent week, Mane Landers. Push through Monday, and then we’re all smooth sailing into next weekend’s third-place match on Saturday (10 a.m. ET), and then the World Cup final on Sunday (11 a.m. ET). I just don’t want it to end.