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Lion Links: 6/4/22

Pride lose on the road, CEO of USSF steps down, USMNT positional battles, and more.

NWSL: Orlando Pride at Houston Dash Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Mane Landers. With the international break still underway, we will not be seeing the Orlando City first team in action this weekend. And unfortunately, we did watch the Orlando Pride lose 5-0 last night. Do not worry though. There is still plenty of soccer to watch this weekend as the Young Lions take on NYCFC II at 7 p.m. tonight. The USMNT has another match as well against Uruguay tomorrow at 5 p.m. as they continue to gear up for this year’s World Cup. But no matter where this weekend takes you, I hope it is a relaxing and enjoyable one. Don’t go anywhere, it’s time for the links!

Pride Crushed by the Houston Dash

The Houston Dash put on a scoring clinic, defeating the Orlando Pride by five goals at PNC Stadium on Friday night. The scoring kicked off in the 27th minute and that was just the beginning of a long night on the road for the Pride. Shortly after, the goals began to pile on and Orlando never found an answer. While the Pride did finish the match with more possession, it was never a game that they seemed they might be able to work back into. Hopefully, the team can learn from this and put it behind them as they head to Chicago to take on the Red Stars next Sunday, June 12.

U.S. Soccer Federation CEO Stepping Down

The USSF has announced that CEO Will Wilson will step down on Oct. 31 “to pursue new professional ventures and opportunities.” He will continue as acting CEO and secretary general until that date while the federation searches for his replacement.

“It has been an honor to work with the U.S. Soccer board and the dedicated executives and staff at the Federation, and especially with Cindy Parlow Cone, during this pivotal time in sports and for the organization,” Wilson said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer. “My goal has always been to make sure the Federation was in a better place than when I started, and I’m stepping away knowing that the organization is positioned for continued long-term global success.”

Over the past two years, Wilson was heavily involved in transforming the federation. U.S. Soccer ended its partnership with the Development Academy system, resolved a number of lawsuits, announced the decision to market its own broadcasting rights, and signed a joint collective bargaining agreement between the USMNT and USWNT that equalizes both pay and World Cup bonuses.

It should be noted that Wilson will formally leave the federation just three weeks before the start of the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar. While some might think this is leaving at a pivotal time, the recent announcement of the joint CBA means he has left the federation in the strongest position it’s been in for years.

USMNT World Cup Roster Tryouts

This month’s slew of matches for the USMNT will be the longest stint together this year for the players. With two friendlies (vs. Morocco and Uruguay) and two Concacaf Nations League matches (vs. Grenada and El Salvador), there will be a lot of time in camp for USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter to evaluate his talent. Additionally, there will be one more short camp in September with two to-be-announced friendlies in Europe during that international window.

Shortly after, probably in early November, Berhalter and his staff will finalize which 23 or 26 (depending on FIFA’s final decision regarding roster sizes) players will board the plane to Qatar ahead of the USMNT Group B opener on Nov. 21. The players in the current camp all know now is the time to make their mark. Friendly competition among the squad during trainings, performances during matches, and overall chemistry and camaraderie all play into the decision.

“Sometimes when a new player comes into the group, it’s very difficult for them to break in. But what I hear time and time again, when new players come into our environment, is that they’re welcomed and they feel really comfortable, and they’re in a good position to perform. And that’s the most important thing,” said the coach.

“And I’m proud of that, because I know now is a competitive time, right? People are jockeying for positions on the World Cup team, potentially, but you don’t see it from these guys. You see they work extremely hard, and they’re extremely close together as a group, which is fun.”

Some athletes might shy away or fold under the pressure. But for the USMNT, the battle for minutes and spots coexists with respect, camaraderie and shared purpose. It represents an “iron sharpens iron” approach that has brought each of these players this far in their careers.

USMNT World Cup Opponent to be Decided

The USMNT is just a day away from learning its third Group B opponent at the 2022 World Cup. Wales and Ukraine meet in Europe’s last qualifying playoff final at Cardiff City Stadium. You can catch the match at 12 p.m. on ESPN.

Wales should have a full strength roster after resting a handful of top players in Wednesday’s 2-1 Nations League defeat at Poland. Wales is currently on an 18-game unbeaten streak on home soil, but has not qualified for a World Cup since 1958. The country has made two straight Euros appearances though. Gareth Bale, who is the country’s top goal scorer with 38 in 102 senior caps, defender Ben Davies, and midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen will likely all find their names on the marquee for the starting XI.

For Ukraine, this match is more than just soccer. The players see it as a way they can offer their fellow Ukrainians a morale boost amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of their country. Last Wednesday, they pulled off an epic 3-1 playoff semifinal victory over Scotland at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Emotions are surely still running high, but Ukraine will look to keep those in check as the side is now only one win away from returning to the World Cup. Ukraine last made the World Cup in 2006, though it logged a quarterfinal run at the 2020 Euros just last summer.

Free Kicks

Well, that’s all folks. I hope you enjoyed the links and are off on an adventurous weekend. Stay safe, make someone smile, text an old friend or loved one, and be a good human. Vamos Orlando!