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Lion Links: 7/19/20

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Orlando City’s goalkeepers doin’ work, it’s hot in Orlando, MLS and NWSL tourney results, and more.

MLS: New York City FC at Orlando City SC Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Sunday, everyone. Orlando City has one more Group A match-up on Monday and it’ll be the toughest one yet, as the Philadelphia Union have improved by leaps and bounds over the last season and a half. But it’s nice knowing that regardless of the outcome, the Lions are assured of advancing to the knockout stage.

Hopefully you’re staying safe and sane and neither of those things is easy these days. Let’s jump into the news of the day.

Orlando City’s Goalkeepers Put in the Work

The toughest and most visible position in soccer is goalkeeper and it’s also a position where sharpness matters. It’s difficult for goalkeepers to stay sharp during a pandemic or even during the first couple stages of workouts. Orlando’s keepers were able to do so, and that paid off big for Pedro Gallese last week against New York City FC. Originally credited with seven saves, one of NYCFC’s shots was changed to off target, so he finished with six, but several of them were of the game-saving variety. El Pulpo said the coaching staff put together a good plan for the team’s goalkeepers to follow.

“It was difficult,” Gallese said through a translator. “It was a difficult time. But I think what the coaches were sending us and the plan that they laid out and what we were trying to do during that time really prepared us well for this tournament.”

Orlando Weather Continues to Be a Talking Point

Nobody knows better than Orlando residents that the weather here is ludicrous. I used to live in South Florida and thought that was hot and humid but at least down there we generally had a breeze blowing in off the ocean to move the air around. Here it’s oppressive and the air is so heavy that sometimes you feel like you need to chew it. This is what Orlando City has to deal with every single day, every single season. But folks like Frand de Boer and Jozy Altidore have whined about the conditions of the 9 a.m. games in MLS is Back. Of course, the Lions have to play at noon or slightly later in the afternoon multiple times each summer. Even they know the Central Florida heat index is not something one can fully ever get used to.

Orlando City defender João Moutinho said it’s hard to ever fully adjust to the conditions of playing in Central Florida.

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“This is now my third season and I can tell you that it’s still really hard for me to acclimate to this heat,” said Orlando City striker Chris Mueller, who has managed to score three goals during the tournament. “It’s really hard for whoever it might be. It’s no joke.”

MLS is Back Group F Results

In the 8 p.m. match Saturday, the Portland Timbers knocked off the Houston Dynamo, 2-1. Jeremy Ebobisse put the Timbers ahead at the break with a powerful shot just inside the far post. The Dynamo had two excellent opportunities to equalize before halftime on shots by Oscar Boniek Garcia and Alberth Elis but both sizzled just wide of the far post. Elis in particular had a sitter but could not put his shot on target. Diego Valeri doubled the lead just past the hour mark. Elis scored on a penalty to cut the lead in half but he was sent off shortly thereafter on a dubious call for a hand to the face and Portland hung on, clinching a spot in the knockout round after the late result.

Chicharito (calf) missed his first shot at El Trafico in the late Group F game Saturday, but it was predictably unpredictable, as usual, before LAFC won it, 6-2. An LAFC own goal opened the scoring, then the teams traded penalties by Diego Rossi and Cristian Pavon. Rossi leveled the game again in first-half stoppage time off the rebound of a save of a Bradley Wright-Phillips shot that Daniel Steres whiffed on clearing. In the second half, Pavon thought he’d restored the lead but he was a step offside, then Wright-Phillips gave LAFC its first lead just moments later. Rossi completed his hat trick with just under a quarter of an hour remaining and former Lion Mohamed El-Munir added an insurance goal a few minutes later and Rossi added a fourth at the death as the Galaxy defense is a mess.

Sky Blue FC, Chicago Red Stars Advance in NWSL Challenge Cup

The semifinals are set for the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup after Saturday’s two quarterfinal matches both went to penalty shootouts without a single goal during normal time. Sky Blue FC joined the Portland Thorns and Houston Dash in the semis with a penalty shootout win after a scoreless draw with the Washington Spirit. Kailen Sheridan stopped Bayley Feist in the fifth round as Sky Blue won the shootout, 4-3. Former Orlando Pride goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe stopped a Domi Richardson attempt but Sheridan’s save, along with a shot off the crossbar, sunk the Spirit.

The final participant to enter the semifinals was Chicago after the third penalty shootout in four Challenge Cup quarterfinal matches. The Red Stars and OL Reign went scoreless and Chicago won the ensuing penalty shootout, 4-3. Former Orlando Pride forward Rachel Hill was one of the successful penalty takers for the Red Stars.

We had one goal in four quarterfinal matches in the NWSL Challenge Cup, which is not great. Portland will face Houston and Chicago will take on Sky Blue Wednesday in the semifinals.

Free Kicks
  • Orlando City vs. Philadelphia is one of three games that ESPN has added to the network’s MLS is Back Tournament coverage. You can now watch the Lions against the Union either on TUDN or ESPN.
  • If you ever thought to yourself, “you know, I’d really love to watch former Orlando City goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh cook,” now you can.
  • MLS reported zero new positive COVID-19 tests in the latest round of testing. More than 1,300 tests were administered to 1,100+ people. Clearly the bubble is safer than the rest of Florida.
  • USWNT and Utah Royals defender Kelley O’Hara is hosting the Just Women’s Sports Podcast. The first show will drop Tuesday and will feature Orlando Pride forward Alex Morgan in her first interview since giving birth to daughter Charlie. For the record, The Mane Land PawedCast asked for Alex about nine weeks ago in preparation for our 200th episode. Maybe we were just too early.
  • Your obligatory Christian Pulisic link for the day.
  • Those born on this date include Lizzie Borden (1860), Queen guitarist Brian May (1947), late Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins (1952), actor/producer Anthony Edwards (1962), and Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch (1976).

That’s all my time this morning, folks. Enjoy what’s left of your weekend. Today’s MLS is Back matches include the Chicago Fire vs. San Jose Earthquakes at 8 p.m. and the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps at 10:30 p.m. The NWSL Challenge Cup is off until Wednesday.