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Lion Links: 7/30/21

Orlando City hosts Atlanta United tonight, Becky Burleigh prepares for Orlando Pride debut, USMNT wins over Qatar, and more.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

How’s it going, Mane Landers? Not only is today Friday, but it’s also an Orlando City game day! With so much soccer going on, I’m going to have a hard time adjusting once tournaments end and things slow down. Before we hop into today’s links, let’s wish a happy 31st birthday to former Lion Dom Dwyer, even if he’s playing for the enemy at Toronto FC this year.

Orlando City Hosts Atlanta United Tonight

After losing 5-0 on the road against New York City FC last week, Orlando City will aim to bounce back tonight at 8 p.m. against Atlanta United at Exploria Stadium. The Lions are unbeaten in their last five matches against the Five Stripes, with Head Coach Oscar Pareja managing to flip the script on what was a one-sided affair before his arrival. Atlanta hasn’t won in 10 games and is without notable players such as Brad Guzan, Ezequiel Barco, and Miles Robinson due to international duty. Former Lion and Orlando City B assistant coach Rob Valentino is Atlanta’s interim manager after the firing of Gabriel Heinze, so you’ll notice a familiar face on the sidelines.

As for the Lions, Nani and Chris Mueller are both tied with Kaká for the club’s assist record at 22. Mauricio Pereyra isn’t far behind at 18, so that will be a race to watch as we near the halfway point of the season. Orlando will certainly need some offensive impact from them due to a depletion in strikers on the roster for now. After that tough road result with a heavily rotated squad, Pareja is focused on ensuring the Lions are ready for this one.

“We’re here preparing again with another quick turnaround, preparing for our match against Atlanta,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said ahead of Friday’s match. “We’re trying to bounce back and engage in the couple of training sessions that we have in order to be prepared for the game tactically, with our strategy too and prepare our players mentally, physically and to be ready for the game. That’s our duty right now.”

Becky Burleigh Prepares the Pride for Tomorrow

Orlando Pride interim head coach Becky Burleigh will make her professional coaching debut tomorrow at 7 p.m. when the Pride take on the North Carolina Courage in a difficult road match. Burleigh retired this past April after over 30 years of coaching collegiate soccer, but will now aim to steer the Pride out of a five-game winless skid that’s included four losses. As she continues to build connections with players during training, Burleigh is focused on giving the players a framework that brings out their best in the existing system rather than an overhaul to match her style.

“Ultimately, my goal would be to create a platform for the players to be able to coach themselves,” Burleigh said. “This is a soccer players’ game, not a coaches’ game. And we need to give them the tools so that they’re prepared for that but at the same time, most of these women have so much experience and are so competent. Now it’s just providing the structure for them.”

USMNT Advances to Gold Cup Final

The United States Men’s National Team won 1-0 against Qatar in the Concacaf Gold Cup. Heroic saves from New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner kept the Yanks alive throughout the match as Qatar threatened to score early and often. Qatar’s Hassan Al-Haydos missed a penalty in the 61st minute and the USMNT started to impose itself on the match more after that. Gyasi Zardes scored the game-winner in the 86th minute after a great pass from Nicholas Gioacchini in the box. Orlando’s Daryl Dike started in the match and was subbed off for Zardes in the 63rd minute.

Although it’s another close result, the match was yet another shutout from the Yanks. The only goal they’ve conceded this tournament was in a 6-1 win over Martinique. With the win, the USMNT advances to its third-straight Gold Cup final.

In the other semifinal, Hector Herrera scored in stoppage time to give Mexico the winner in a 2-1 victory against Canada. It was a close game and a good showing from Canada, with the Revolution’s Tajon Buchanan scoring an equalizer in the second half. Orlando’s Tesho Akindele started for Canada as well, doing a decent job winning the ball upfield. The USMNT and Mexico will square off Sunday night in Vegas at 8:30 p.m.

MLS Summer Transfer Window Heats Up

Austin FC signed Argentine forward Sebastian Driussi as its third Designated Player. The 25-year-old heads to MLS after four seasons with Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia, scoring 24 goals and adding 22 assists across 138 appearances. Driussi could be just what the doctor ordered for an Austin side that’s been shut out nine times and has only scored 10 goals in its inaugural season.

The Colorado Rapids continued their wheeling and dealing this transfer window by sending $50,000 in 2022 General Allocation Money to Nashville SC in exchange for forward Dominique Badji. The Philadelphia Union also made a move and signed Venezuelan midfielder Jesus Bueno, who has captained Deportivo Lara since 2017. The Portland Timbers added Colombian winger Santiago Moreno as a U-22 Initiative signing. The summer transfer window ends on Aug. 5 and here’s a breakdown of potential players who could join MLS after strong performances in the Gold Cup.

Free Kicks

That’s going to be it for today, Mane Landers. Stay hydrated and dry out there as you enjoy all of the soccer. Go Orlando!