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Lion Links: 2/9/20

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The Lions win, Nani’s unlikely journey to professional soccer, Orlando City was first in something, and more.

MLS: FORWARD25 Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Sunday, Mane Landers. As you read this, I’m most likely playing a match with my own club team, Orlando United FC! Today marks the season opener for the Central Florida Soccer League, and I couldn’t be any happier. Adding to that happiness? A Nani backflip! That’s right, the Portuguese star was shining brightly last night, as Orlando City SC won a preseason match. Ah, the positivity and optimism is flowing. What a time to be alive.

All right, let’s do this thing. Here’s your Sunday helping of Lion Links. Enjoy!

Lions Down the Impact in Open Door Scrimmage

The Lions played host to the Montreal Impact last night in preseason play at Exploria Stadium and managed to walk out with a 1-0 win courtesy of a peach of a goal from Nani. He notched a goal for the Lions with a free kick and followed it up with his favorite celebration: the Nani backflip (which, I love, but holy hell do I get nervous when he does this). The match was a back and forth affair, but the Lions looked strong and appeared to be the deserved winners. The last few minutes of this one were particularly chippy, which is an interesting takeaway from a preseason match that doesn’t actually mean anything, but I expect nothing less from both professional clubs.

Nani Beat the Odds

Speaking of Nani, the man himself opened up in a recent interview, touching on the long, crazy, and unlikely path he took to become a professional soccer player. Apparently, young Nani fell in love with the sport at the tender age of seven thanks to his brother. Due to a friend of his in school, he decided to join a club and begin training. It wasn’t an easy journey for a young child, as his new training ground wasn’t close to him and he was forced to walk or run to the facility, which was about an hour and a half from his home. Upon arrival, he wasn’t received as you would expect. He was laughed at and mocked initially, but he quickly proved himself and turned his doubters into believers. He didn’t stick around there for long, though, as he revealed that it wasn’t sustainable on an everyday basis. Nani then reveals that, against his mother’s demands, he found a new group of friends that he could travel with to a different club in order to train. That club quickly recognized the inherent talent that the young Nani brought to the pitch, and in the middle of a training session, he was taken away to sign his first soccer contract. The club promised to work with he and his mother to ensure that it works out for all parties involved. The rest is history that we’re all more than aware of. Legend.

The U.S. Women Face Off with Canada Today

With qualification for the Olympics already in the bag, the U.S. Women’s National Team will host the Canadian National Team in Los Angeles in qualification play. I would expect to see a few fresh faces in this one, as the Yanks have already qualified. This should, ideally, serve as a valuable experience for some of the women on the roster who don’t see regular minutes for the national team. Canada has also qualified, meaning this could be a match with new names on the pitch for both sides — and an exciting opportunity to look into the future of each team. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on, and I can only hope that both sides avoid injuries in the buildup to what’s bound to be an exciting Olympic tournament this summer.

MLS Standing Sections: Orlando Set the Trend

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Orlando City was first! That’s right, we won something! Orlando City created the first large-scale safe standing section in North America when the club’s grounds opened in 2017. And now? The LA Galaxy, D.C. United, the New York Red Bulls, and MLS newcomers Inter Miami will all include similar standing sections for their respective stadiums in 2020. It should be noted that the San Jose Earthquakes have had a section for standing that they’ve dubbed the “Supporter’s Terrace,” but it’s quite small in comparison to Exploria Stadium’s famed purple wall. The trend may pick up even more steam in 2021, as Austin FC should feature a similar section. But hey, the Lions did it in MLS first. Just saying.

Free Kicks
  • In case anyone was wondering, former Lions captain Kaká still has that magic touch in his boots. If you listen closely, you’ll hear someone directing him to “cut back.” As Mr. T would say, “I pity the fool.”
  • Andres Iniesta lifted the Japanese Super Cup yesterday in historic fashion, as both Vissel Kobe and Yokohama F. Marinos performed dreadfully in the penalty kick shootout, with the two teams missing a combined nine consecutive pens. Iniesta’s Vissel Kobe finally claimed the win on pens, 3-2. Iniesta, of course, made his.
  • The Italian Serie A race is now considered to be wide open, as Juventus dropped to Hellas Verona yesterday, 2-1. Cristiano Ronaldo did, however, set a record at Juve by scoring in a 10th consecutive league match.
  • I’m sure you’ve heard about the coronavirus and its fatal impact, so this shouldn’t really be too surprising. New Manchester United loanee Ighalo won’t be making it to the club’s warm weather training camp in Spain due to his possible (major emphasis on possible) exposure, as he was in China prior to his recent move to Manchester. The fear from the club is that he’ll have his travel restricted, as everyone coming from the area are at the moment.
  • Let’s end on a funny, shall we? Everton’s Djibril Sidibe was forced to make a quick substitution when Theo Walcott went down due to an injury, and well, let’s just say that it wasn’t actually quick. The man forgot his left sock in the dressing room, so he ran back to grab it before jumping out onto the pitch minutes later. Carlo Ancelotti was left fuming, at least at first, but I’m confident that the three points taken away from the match will calm that a bit. Let this be a lesson to all of us: always have your gear ready to go!
  • Also, what a play by the father here...cheeky is an understatement, but the lads walked away with a souvenir that’s priceless! Well played, sirs, well played.

All right folks, that’s it for me today. Vamos Orlando (City and United!) and have a great week.