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Lion Links: 12/19/20

Orlando City’s first team inspires academy players, Weston McKennie named U.S. Male Player of the Year, Atlanta United’s new head coach, and more.

MLS: New England Revolution at Orlando City SC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, Mane Landers. I hope you all had a good week as some of you will be on holiday break. I will be busy working at Disney Springs during my break from school but will find time to relax and catch up on plenty of shows. Don’t forget, we have two semifinal match-ups in the Concacaf Champions League tonight at Exploria Stadium. Now, let’s get to the links.

Orlando City’s Present and Future Share Strong Connection

Training at the same facility as the first team is paying off well for Orlando’s academy. Young players can see where they want to end up with the club in person, with first team players training in plain sight for inspiration. Orlando City B Head Coach Marcelo Neveleff has a strong connection with Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja and that trust leads to better integration between the two sides of the club. Both David Loera and Jordan Bender made professional debuts with the Lions and Neveleff detailed how his young players found success this past year.

“You can see our academy players walking by and watching Nani and Chris Mueller practicing. Our young players relate to their younger players mostly and they see that and they feel ‘Ok, I am this close,’ but realizing that the step to be on the first team is a big step to take. It was great because that situation reminded the players every day that they have to keep working hard to make it.”

Atlanta United Appoints Gabriel Heinze as New Head Coach

After a five-month coaching search, Atlanta United announced Gabriel Heinze as its next head coach. Heinze was in charge of Argentine club Velez Sarsfield for three years and hasn’t coached since the end of the 2019-2020 season. He led Velez to Copa Sudamericana qualification two years in a row. Atlanta United President Darren Eales shared his thoughts on why Heinze was the perfect fit for Atlanta.

“This is a milestone moment in Atlanta United history, and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome Gabriel as our next head coach,” club president Darren Eales said in a team release. “We cast the net widely for this important hire, and Gabriel quickly emerged as the No. 1 candidate. Gabriel is one of the top coaches in South American soccer and we are delighted that he chose Atlanta United. Whilst his resume speaks for itself, Gabriel’s playing philosophy and commitment to youth development closely align with our ideas at Atlanta United, and we are happy to welcome him as we move into our club’s next chapter.”

Heinze will take over a team that missed the playoffs in 2020 but won’t be short on any talent. Josef Martinez will return after he suffered a season-ending injury in the team’s first match of the year, and will play alongside Designated Players Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno as the Five Stripes look to bounce back in 2021.

Weston McKennie Wins U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year

United States Men’s National Team and Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie was named 2020 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year. McKennie is in his first season with Juventus after joining the Serie A club on loan from FC Schalke 04. He is the third American to score in Serie A and became a regular starter under Andrea Pirlo at Juventus. The 22-year-old had 29 appearances combined at both clubs this year, along with four goals and two assists. McKennie shared his thoughts on the moment.

“I want to thank everyone for this huge honor. It’s been a journey, especially through these difficult times during the pandemic,” the 22-year-old said in a release. “Our fans have stuck with us throughout and we really appreciate it. Hopefully in 2021 we can have many more memories together.”

McKennie was one of six finalists for the award and earned 44% of the vote, followed by Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic with 27%, and FC Barcelona outside back Sergiño Dest with 14%.

Americans in Action This Weekend

We have plenty of matches featuring Americans to keep an eye on today. In the Bundesliga at 9:30 a.m., Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig face Koln as they try to extend their win streak to three matches. Josh Sargent will try to snap Werder Bremen’s four-game losing streak against Mainz 05. In the afternoon match, we may see Chris Richards play in Bayern Munich’s game against Bayer Leverkusen at 12:30 p.m.

In La Liga, two USMNT players face off as Dest and Barcelona look to climb the table against Yunus Musah and Valencia at 10:15 a.m. on beIN Sports. McKennie looks to keep Juventus soaring in Serie A as the team travels to play 14th place Parma. Tomorrow’s big game will be in Ligue 1 as Timothy Weah’s Lille side tries to stay in first place on the road against Paris Saint-Germain at 3p.m.

OL Reign Denies Plans to Relocate Club

Former NBA player Tony Parker, who has a minority stake in OL Reign, expressed his desire to move the club to Miami in the future. However, Olympique Lyonnais released a statement denying reports that it’s considering relocating the team from the area.

Even though the club did confirm some of its executive members have projects in the Miami area, the statement clarified that those projects will not impact future plans for OL Reign in Tacoma.

Free Kicks
  • The new, as-yet-unnamed NWSL team in Kansas City announced its roster for the upcoming 2021 campaign. It will be a homecoming of sorts for six players who previously played for FC Kansas City.
  • Borussia Dortmund’s Youssoufa Moukoko made history in the Bundesliga yesterday by scoring in his team’s 2-1 loss to Union Berlin.

That will do it for me today, Mane Landers. Enjoy your weekend, take care of yourselves, and I’ll see you next time.