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Lion Links: 11/3/22

Celebrating Orlando City’s year, MLS names its Best XI, USWNT will play friendlies in New Zealand, and more.

AC Milan v FC Salzburg: Group E - UEFA Champions League Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

How’s it going, Mane Landers? We’re another day closer to the weekend and hopefully some relaxation. I don’t have many plans beyond trying out a new tapas place that just opened up nearby and enjoying brunch over espresso martinis with a friend that will be in town. But for now, let’s dive right into today’s links from around the soccer world.

Celebrating Orlando City’s Year

Orlando City put together a great collage that highlighted some of the most memorable parts of 2022. I always love these kinds of compilations as they can almost transport you back to that exact moment the photo was taken. Although Orlando won’t be taking part in Saturday’s MLS Cup final, it was still a great year filled with amazing goal celebrations, new faces, and a shiny trophy.

MLS Announces Best XI of 2022

MLS named its Best XI after the 2022 season and it features a front line of FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez, LAFC’s Carlos Vela, and FC Dallas’s Jesus Ferreira. MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar is in the midfield alongside Daniel Gazdag, Sebastian Driussi, and Luciano Acosta. It’s certainly a strong attack and I can’t think of a midfielder to replace any of those four, although Cristian Arango, Lucas Zelarayan, and Brenner would have a case.

The Philadelphia Union have the most representatives on the team, with Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake, joined by Defender of the Year Jakob Glesnes, fullback Kai Wagner, and Gazdag. The inclusion of Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman instead of Alex Callens, who was a finalist for Defender of the Year, as the third member of the back line is a bit odd to me. I also would’ve liked to see some fullbacks receive love in these end-of-year honors.

USWNT Will Take on New Zealand Twice in January

The United States Women’s National Team will head to New Zealand in January for a training camp and two friendlies against the Ferns. It should be a worthwhile trip for the USWNT as these friendlies are at the same venues the USWNT will play at during the 2023 World Cup. The two nations will first face off on Jan. 17 in Wellington and then meet again in Auckland on Jan. 20. Although these two teams have played against each other 19 times, this will be the first time they clash in New Zealand. USWNT Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski spoke about how valuable the friendlies will be for the team.

“Everything about this trip is a positive for our team ahead of the World Cup,” said Andonovski. “We will get some quality training time together and have two tough matches against a great opponent that is hosting the World Cup. We also get to experience the long travel and familiarize ourselves with the host cities, the stadiums, the training grounds and the culture, and hopefully we’ll play in front of some big crowds supporting the home team. It will be a great way to start the year.”

USMNT Announces Friendlies to Open 2023 in California

The United States Men’s National Team will play a pair of friendlies in Southern California for its first games of 2023. The USMNT will host Serbia at Banc of California Stadium on Jan. 25 before welcoming Colombia to Dignity Health Sports Park on Jan. 28. Both opponents are currently in the top 25 of FIFA’s rankings, so these should be good matches to gauge where the team is following this year’s World Cup. The U.S. will host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada, which puts more of an emphasis on friendlies over the next few years, as the USMNT won’t need to qualify. Hopefully we see some of those friendlies take place in Orlando, considering the city wasn’t selected to host in 2026.

Champions League Group Stage Comes to an End

There were a pair of winner-take-all matches as the Champions League’s group stage came to a close. Olivier Giroud starred for AC Milan with two goals and two assists as the Italian club beat RB Salzburg 4-0 to reach the knockout stage. RB Leipzig cruised to a 4-0 win against Shakhtar Donetsk in Poland to book its ticket in the next round and send the Ukrainian club to the Europa League.

Juventus fell 2-1 at home to Paris Saint-Germain, but was still able to secure a spot in the Europa League rather than finishing last in Group H as Benfica won 6-1 over Maccabi Haifa. While that result was lopsided, the two teams were level at halftime and Benfica had a reason to pile on the goals. Joao Mario’s goal in stoppage time lifted Benfica over PSG to win the group due to the seventh tiebreaker of away goals. It’s as if the ghost of the abolished away goals rule reared its head and now an unlucky group winner will face PSG.

Six Americans remain in the Champions League, including Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, and Milan’s Sergino Dest. The draw will take place on Monday at 6 a.m.

Free Kicks
  • If watching carefully, you’ll be able to spot Orlando’s Facundo Torres and Cesar Araujo in Uruguay’s training.
  • West Brom Head Coach Carlos Corberan stated that former Lion Daryl Dike is in the last step of his recovery from an injury that’s sidelined him since August.
  • Former Lion Hadji Barry is a finalist for USL Championship MVP and was named to the All-League Second Team alongside former Lion Cam Lindley. Congratulations also go out to Rodrigo Lopez, who played for Orlando in the USL back in 2012 and was named to the All-League First Team.
  • Ethan Horvath made three saves to earn his seventh clean sheet this season as Luton Town battled Reading to a scoreless draw. Meanwhile, fellow American goalkeeper Zack Steffen came up with one save in Middlesbrough’s 3-1 win over Hull City.
  • American defender Chris Richards spoke about the racism he’s faced throughout his life and how he uses his platform to make a difference. As a Black man, I can personally attest that it can feel like racism is a tidal wave that can’t be beaten, just endured. But this interview helped remind me that the little things we can all do to support one another aren’t so little at all.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and rest of your week.