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Lion Links: 3/15/23

Orlando City faces Tigres tonight, Orlando Pride sign Mikayla Cluff to new deal, Orlando City B schedule unveiled, and more.

NWSL: OL Reign at Orlando Pride Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

How’s it going, Mane Landers? It’s a pretty big day. Not only does Orlando City play Tigres in one of the biggest matches in club history, but season three of Ted Lasso is out! I hope you plan on enjoying today’s links alongside some biscuits with your boss, because today is going to be a doozy. Today is also Orlando captain Mauricio Pereyra’s birthday! We’ll have to wait for tonight to see if the birthday boy can lead the Lions to victory. Until then, let’s get to the links.

Orlando City Takes on Tigres Tonight

After a scoreless draw in Mexico during the first leg, Orlando City hosts Tigres tonight at 8:15 p.m. in the Concacaf Champions League. Although the Lions will have the home crowd on their side, the Liga MX club is no stranger to Exploria Stadium. Tigres won three Champions League games there during the team’s championship campaign in 2020. Orlando will need another strong game from goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, who came up with nine saves in the first match. Due to the away-goals rule, if Tigres scores just once, then Orlando will need to win outright in order to advance. Make sure to check back later today for our preview of tonight’s important match.

Orlando Pride Sign Mikayla Cluff to New Contract

Midfielder Mikayla Cluff has signed a new three-year deal with the Orlando Pride that lasts through the 2025 NWSL season. She was already under contract for the upcoming season, but now the club won’t have to worry about re-signing her later this year. The 24-year-old appeared in 18 of the Pride’s 22 matches last season, scoring twice. Drafted by the Pride in the second round of the 2021 NWSL Draft, Cluff is a young player with plenty of upside as Orlando continues to rebuild.

Orlando City B 2023 Schedule Revealed

The schedule for the upcoming MLS NEXT Pro season is out and the action kicks off next weekend. Orlando City B will open its season on the road against Philadelphia Union II on March 26 at 3 p.m. The first home match for OCB will take place just five days later, when Huntsville City FC (Nashville SC’s affiliate) comes to town on March 31. The 28-match season will end on Sept. 24, with OCB hosting FC Cincinnati 2.

There are also changes to the playoff format this year. Seven teams from each conference will make the postseason, with the top seed of each conference receiving a bye. The second and third seeds of each conference will then choose which opponent it wants to face in the conference quarterfinals. I’m a pretty big fan of that idea. It should give the top teams some more agency in their playoff path, while also putting a chip on the shoulder of the teams chosen.

Austin FC Eliminated From Champions League

In its second leg against Haiti’s Violette AC, Austin FC came up short at home in a 2-0 win. Austin needed at least three goals after losing 3-0 in the first leg, and the return of Sebastian Driussi certainly helped. Driussi scored twice in the second half, but Violette stopped the bleeding at Q2 Stadium to reach the quarterfinals. It’s one of the biggest upsets in tournament history and part of what makes Concacaf special. The Haitian club will take on whichever team advances between Tauro FC and Club Leon.

While Austin fell short, the Philadelphia Union soared. After a scoreless first leg, the Union put El Salvador’s Alianza FC to the sword. The Union won 4-0 at Subaru Park, with former Lion Andres Perea scoring a brace late in the match. A red card to Alexis Renderos in the 40th minute reduced Alianza to 10 men and the Union took full advantage.

U.S. Will Play Mexico in New Event

The United States Men’s National Team will face Mexico on April 19 in Glendale, AZ in the inaugural Continental Clásico. The new annual event will pit the U.S. against a top team from the Americas, starting with its biggest rival. The U.S. will aim for its fourth straight win against Mexico on home soil after beating Mexico three times in 2021. Since this match takes place outside of an international window, it will be interesting to see which Americans will be called up.

2026 World Cup Will Feature Groups of Four

FIFA announced that the 2026 World Cup will have 12 groups of four rather than 16 groups of three. The decision was made to mitigate the chance of collusion while guaranteeing each team got to play at least three games. However, now there will be a whopping 104 matches over the course of nearly 40 days. The top two teams from each will still qualify for the knockout stage, but this time alongside eight third-placed teams. While I’m glad about the size of the groups, I’m not a huge fan of 32 teams in the knockout stage. Sure, it makes for an easy bracket, but I’d rather just see the top eight group winners get a bye than see third-place teams advance.

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