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Lion Links: 6/18/22

Orlando City returns home, Pride buy out Amy Turner’s contract ahead of Portland trip, and more.

MLS: Orlando City SC at New England Revolution Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

There is nothing quite like waking up on a Saturday and knowing you get to head to Exploria Stadium. It truly is one of the best parts of being an Orlando City fan, and now that the international window is over — the tradition is back!

The Lions host Houston Dynamo at 7:30 p.m. tonight, so grab your tickets if you haven’t already. And when you wake up tomorrow after a long night of shouting for the Lions, grab the remote and turn on Paramount+, because the Pride are traveling to Portland for a Sunday afternoon kickoff.

Regardless of the outcomes, I’m personally really looking forward to this soccer-filled weekend. But now, what you all have come here for — the links!

Orlando City Returns Home

The Lions return home following the long international break and a trip to New England to host the Dynamo tonight. This will be the only match between the two clubs this season, and they have not played each other since the 2019 regular season, when City traveled to Houston. Orlando lost that 2019 match, 2-1. Tonight is also the first time the Dynamo have visited Exploria Stadium since September 2018, when the two teams played to a scoreless draw.

Orlando enters the match after picking up a point in a 1-1 draw Wednesday at Gillette Stadium against the New England Revolution. Robin Jansson scored his fifth goal as a lion and first goal of the year in the 35th minute while nutmegging the goalkeeper in the process. Meanwhile, Houston is coming off of the international break following a 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on the road. This game will conclude a stretch of four straight road games for the Dynamo dating back to a trip to the LA Galaxy on May 22.

We’ll have coverage throughout the evening.

Amy Turner Exits Orlando

The Orlando Pride have bought out the contract of defender Amy Turner. Turner joined the Pride in June of 2021 and went on to make 19 appearances for the Pride across all competitions, scoring one goal in that time. At this point, we can only speculate why Turner has decided to leave.

While the NWSL had previously imposed a roster freeze, Equalizer Soccer’s Jeff Kassouf reported that the freeze is over, although the investigation into Amanda Cromwell and Sam Greene is still going.

Orlando Pride Travel to Portland

The Orlando Pride are heading to Portland tomorrow night to take on the Thorns. Portland enters the match holding down third place in the NWSL with 13 points on the season. Notably, the team is on a four-game unbeaten streak and also leads the league in goals scored, with 15, and goal differential (+8). Thorns forward Sophia Smith is currently second in the Golden Boot race with six goals during the regular season. She has scored from the penalty spot in back-to-back games, so the Pride should know her spot-kick tendencies if there happens to be a foul in the box.

This is the first match between the teams in the 2022 season. Last season, the teams shared the spoils, with both teams going 1-1-1. The Pride won the first meeting at home while the Thorns won the second at Providence Park. The third match ended with a 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium. The Pride have not won on the road at Providence Park since May of 2018.

MLS NEXT Pro Provides Stepping Stone for International Soccer

Most soccer fans would agree that a lack of match fitness and minutes can hold players back from peak performance when stepping on the field for a tournament of any level. However, MLS continues to evolve and offer ways for players to find competition. This year was the inaugural launch of the MLS NEXT Pro competition. For players that qualify to represent the United States Under-20 team, these minutes could prove crucial as they gear up to begin the Concacaf Championship on Saturday, which could ultimately lead to a 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup and 2024 Olympics berth.

“I think the direction our country is going in terms of the competition platform that allows for the development of top talent is improving year in and year out,” U-20 head coach Mikey Varas told reporters in a conference call. “And whether it’s USL Championship, USL [League] One, or MLS [NEXT Pro], it’s helping tremendously, because it’s not easy to break into a first-team at the age that these guys are.”

Seventeen of the 20 players summoned by Varas to Honduras are currently on MLS rosters, and eight of those have earned significant minutes in MLS NEXT Pro. Only time will tell how clubs choose to use MLS NEXT Pro with their youth and reserve programs in the future. But for now, it seems to be a step in the right direction as eyes focus on the upcoming U-20 World Cup and Olympics.

Free Kicks

Hopefully, that was plenty of links for your daily scroll. This time of year it seems the transfer rumors are plentiful. MLS matches come faster and faster. And, a World Cup is upon us. There always seems to be a plethora of hot soccer gossip out there nowadays. No matter what your favorite kind is, be sure to check back here daily as we gather up the breaking news around the soccer world for you all. Now, pull on your purple jersey and head to the stadium. Vamos Orlando!