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Lion Links: 5/21/22

Orlando City visits Austin, Pride’s Mission Program returns, USMNT summer call-ups, and much more.

Pedro Gallese (1) in action during the MLS game between... Photo by Angel Marchini/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Happy Saturday, Mane Land fam! While there are no first-team matches for Orlando today, Orlando City B will be hosting Inter Miami II at 6 p.m. this evening. Orlando City will be traveling to Austin tomorrow while the Orlando Pride will be playing host to Chicago Red Stars at Exploria Stadium. No matter what you do with your Saturday, I hope you take the time to catch some European action as there are lots of storylines wrapping up today. It is sure to be an awesome, soccer-filled weekend. Now, your links from around the soccer world!

Orlando City Visits Verde

Orlando City finishes its three-game MLS road trip with Austin FC at Q2 Stadium. Not only does Sunday mark the first first trip the team has made to the venue, it will also be the first match between the two clubs in history. Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja should have a plan for stopping some of the potent Austin FC attack, as Maxi Urruti played under Pareja for three years at FC Dallas. Urruti is in great form with four goals and 11 starts. However, the main wild card for Pareja will be slowing down Austin’s Argentine playmaker Sebastián Driussi. An early MLS MVP candidate, Driussi already has seven goals and four assists thus far this season in only 12 matches.

Austin finished its expansion season last year in 12th place but has seemingly turned the corner this year. The team sits currently first in the league with 23 points and will surely look to extend that lead when the Lions kick off at 8 p.m.

Orlando Pride Host Chicago Red Stars

The Orlando Pride have announced the continuation of the Mission Program campaign, which was started last year to honor and pay tribute to the many pioneers who have made groundbreaking contributions in our society. The first match in the 2022 edition of the program is this Sunday, when the Pride and the Chicago Red Stars are set to kick off at 7 p.m. in Exploria Stadium. The match will be “Mission Planet Earth.” The Pride will highlight how the effort of our club, stadium, partners, and fans contribute to conservation by working together towards a more sustainable, greener future for our planet.

Orlando will be looking to continue its three-game unbeaten streak, which is a breath of fresh air from its earlier 2022 Challenge Cup games. On the other side of the ball, Chicago has won four straight road games against the Pride and is unbeaten in its seven all-time away matches in this series, which is the longest current streak of games on the road without a loss against a single team in NWSL. Another win would tie for the longest road streak against a single opponent in NWSL history — currently held by the Reign against both the Houston Dash and former league club, the Boston Breakers.

So far this season, Sydney Leroux leads the Pride with two goals while Gunny Jónsdóttir, Mikayla Cluff, and Toni Pressley have all also found the back of the net. The scoresheet for the Red Stars includes rookie Ava Cook, Bianca St. Georges, and Ella Stevens.

USMNT Summer Roster Released

USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter has chosen 27 players for the country’s final set of home matches before the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The U.S. will play four matches this June as it prepares for the sport’s biggest stage. The team will open the international window on June 1 against Morocco at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, followed by Uruguay on June 5 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

Later, matches continue with the launch of the 2022-2023 Concacaf Nations League as the U.S. will attempt to defend its inaugural title. It will play group stage matches against Grenada June 10 at Q2 Stadium in Austin and at El Salvador June 14.

“We are excited to get the group back together as we prepare to compete against two fellow World Cup participants and begin the defense of our Concacaf Nations League title,” Berhalter said. “With the World Cup six months away, we aim to maximize these opportunities and continue to progress as a team. We are looking forward to experiencing the incredible support of our home fans for the last time before we represent them in Qatar in November.”

Be sure to check out the full roster and let us know in the comments below who you think should have been added or should have stayed home.

Conor Doyle and Union Omaha Eye Open Cup

Union Omaha captain Conor Doyle knows what it takes to win the Open Cup, as he was on the 2013 D.C. United winning team. The Nebraska club from third-division USL League One, only in existence for two years, has nothing to fear according to the 30-year-old journeyman and team leader.

“It’s a win-win situation for us,” said Doyle, the only player with an Open Cup winner’s medal in the Union Omaha locker room. “We’re expected to lose (against MLS’ Minnesota United, Cup runners-up in 2019) and we can play loose and just try to enjoy it rather than be uptight and nervous.”

Everyone loves a great “Cupset” but few have been there to see it through. Doyle finds himself as a leader in the locker room, whether he wants to be or not. He is a veteran who has played abroad, internationally, and in the U.S. top flight. His experience is invaluable to a team with 14 players under the age of 25.

Doyle was able to lead the Owls all the way to the USL League One championship in 2021 during his first season with the club. The team finished as regular-season champions and clinched the top seed for the playoffs. Later, Union Omaha finished the season winning its first-ever championship, beating defending champion Greenville Triumph SC 3–0 in the final.

This year, the club is making waves in the U.S. Open Cup. On April 19, Union Omaha defeated the Chicago Fire in a penalty shootout in the third round of the tournament to become the first USL League One team to defeat an MLS team in the competition’s history. Only time will tell if the underdogs from Union Omaha can continue this incredible run at Allianz Field in St. Paul when the side takes on Minnesota United next Wednesday.

UEFA Champions League Overhaul

The UEFA Champions League as we know it is set to change for the 2024-2025 season and beyond. The latest favorite in the revamp shows a tournament that mirrors the format of Grand Slam tennis tournaments. What exactly does that mean? All 24 clubs that progress into the knockout stages of the competition will have their route right through to the final seeded and pre-drawn, based largely upon their group ranking. Country protection is also going to be eliminated, meaning clubs of the same league could face each other in the early knockout rounds. The top two teams in the group stage would not be able to meet each other in the knockout rounds until the final, as they will be on opposite sides of the draw. The current plan features:

- A final, 36-team group-stage table, that ranks teams from 1-24 based on how well they performed

- Teams that rank 1-8 in this group-stage table are effectively seeded and enter in the round of 16 — just like the group-stage winners are under the current format

- Teams ranked 9-24 play a knockout playoff round to reach the round of 16 and teams that finish 25-36 will be eliminated from Europe altogether

- The knockout bracket will be split in two. The best performing clubs in the group stage, ranked 1 and 2, will be drawn into positions at the opposite end of the bracket, thus unable to meet each other until the final

- Teams ranked 3 & 4, 5 & 6 and 7 & 8 will also be paired and have set positions in opposite halves of the bracket, determined by the draw

The calendar is also expected to be reworked. The Champions League group stage is to be played across eight of the 10 midweeks reserved for European football. The Europa League (September) and Europa Conference League (December) will each have one standalone set of games in the two spare midweeks. Both the Champions League and Europa League group stages will complete a month later at the end of January, while the Europa Conference League, which has two fewer group-stage fixtures, will still end in December.

Free Kicks
  • Raul Ruidiaz of Seattle Sounders FC won the Week 12 AT&T Goal of the Week finishing a 22-pass team buildup in the 28th minute.
  • Goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina of the Chicago Fire has chosen to represent the USMNT in goal. The 18-year-old opted not to go with Poland and discussed his difficult decision on social media.
  • The U-16 USWNT defeated France 3-1 in the UEFA Development Tournament.

Let’s finish today with a fun fact that some MLS-era City fans might not know: Austin FC is the first top-flight professional soccer team in the Austin area. The city’s previous experience with professional soccer includes the Austin Aztex, which moved to Orlando in 2008 and eventually became your Orlando City SC! Don’t call it a rivalry, but there is some distant blood between the two clubs. Vamos Orlando!