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Orlando City at New York City FC: Five Takeaways

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BRONX, NY — This league is the best league.

Just when you think Orlando City is going to be flying back home with a 2-1 loss at the hands of its expansion class rivals, the Lions juke left, spin right, and deliver a late equalizing goal in the 94th minute to leave Yankee Stadium with a 2-2 draw and five points from their last three games heading into the Copa America break.

I don’t know how the Lions manage to pull so many points out of their pocket late in matches like they do, but they do and you can’t knock them for it.

Our five takeaways from the match:

The Comeback Kids

Like I just said, I don’t know how Orlando City manages to pick up so many late results, but it’s become a staple of this club, and a defining characteristic for this mostly young group of players. Just this season alone, the team has managed to find goals late against clubs like Real Salt Lake, New England, Philadelphia, and now, New York City.

One things’ for sure about Orlando City: if you think they’re out of a match, you’re not watching Orlando City.

Depth Shows

Orlando City was without five regular starters on Sunday — David Mateos, Kaká, Darwin Ceren, Rafael Ramos, and Cristian Higuita — and it would have been very easy to write the Lions off before the opening whistle — and if we’re being honest here, I may or may not have. But it just goes to show how much better this team is than last season’s squad because of the depth they have coming off the bench. To be able to have a guy like Tommy Redding play so well against David Villa like he did. And a young player like Harrison Heath, making his first start of the season against a midfield stacked with stars like Andrea Pirlo and Mix Diskerud — and no, he didn’t have the greatest game, but he battled and helped at times.

The frustrating thing about Orlando City is that this is a talented group that struggles when healthy. It’s just about getting the key players to contribute, and on Sunday, the club got contributions from some players that are normally coming off the bench.

The Beast Runs Loose

While a lot of focus has been on the underwhelming performance of Antonio Nocerino this season, I don’t think enough credit has been given to Julio Baptista for just how well he’s fit in here with Orlando City.

We’ve seen him mostly coming off the bench for the Lions, and providing an effective spark from his 34-year-old legs. On Sunday, he scored Orlando City’s first goal on a good hold-up play inside the box to turn and shoot for the goal, and he nearly got on the end of a bicycle kick on Kevin Molino’s game-tying goal.

The guy really is a beast, and not just for his size, but for his play at times, too.

Least Valuable Player: The Yankee Stadium Turf

It’s no secret that the Yankee Stadium turf is far from the best in MLS — it’s actually among the worst, if not the actual worst — and Sunday’s match showed just why. Putting sod over dirt is always messy; letting it sit hardly three days before use is even worse, and it was pretty evident from the constant slipping and sliding we saw from players — and even the assistant ref at one point! — throughout the match. It’s embarrassing for NYCFC and MLS to have to continue playing on this, and is a whole other reason why Yankee Stadium is not a viable long-term option for that club.

Tommy Redding Can Defend, Son

I’m sure I said this same thing after the last time Orlando City went to Yankee Stadium earlier this season, but Tommy Redding is a great young defender with loads and loads of potential for the Lions. Redding was tasked with stopping David Villa, one of the most accomplished strikers of his time, and he absolutely held his own against the former World Cup winner, not backing down for a second. It just goes to show how high this kid’s ceiling really is.

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What are your takeaways from the match? Comment below!

Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Kyle Smith

Let’s look back at The Accountant’s fifth MLS season.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Fullback Kyle Smith was originally signed on Dec. 21, 2018 when James O’Connor was Orlando City’s head coach. He proved to be a valuable Swiss Army knife-type player and earned a new contract on March 29, 2021 through the 2022 season with a 2023 club option. Orlando City picked up his 2023 option at the end of the 2022 season but then signed Smith to a new one-year contract for 2023 just weeks later with an option for 2024.

Let’s have a look back at The Accountant’s fifth MLS season.

Statistical Breakdown

Smith appeared in 25 matches during the 2023 regular season, starting 17 times and logging 1,501 minutes. It was his third-most appearances but his second-most minutes since making the jump from Louisville City to MLS ahead of the 2019 season. He scored one goal and assisted on three others, setting a new career high in the latter category. Smith attempted seven shots, putting two on target. He passed at a 78.7% clip, including nine key passes, five successful crosses, and 36 successful long passes. Defensively, Smith recorded 35 tackles, 16 interceptions, 40 clearances, and two blocked shots. He drew eight fouls while committing 20 and was booked five times on the year.

The 31-year-old appeared in all three of Orlando City’s three playoff matches — both off the bench — and logged 65 minutes. He did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting one shot, which he put on frame. He passed at an 82.5% rate in the postseason. He posted two tackles and a clearance defensively. He did not commit a foul or draw one and he wasn’t booked.

In the 2023 Concacaf Champions League, Smith came off the bench in the first leg at Tigres, playing minutes, passing at just a 25% rate (small sample size), did not attempt a shot, did not draw or concede a foul, and was not booked.

During Leagues Cup play, Smith appeared in all three of Orlando’s matches (all starts), logging 150 minutes. He did not contribute to a goal or attempt a shot in the tournament, committing four fouls and earning two yellow cards. Smith did not play in Orlando City’s lone U.S. Open Cup match.

Best Game

Smith’s best match of 2023 came in Orlando City’s 1-1 home draw against Atlanta United on May 27, and not only because that’s when he scored his lone goal of the season, although that doesn’t hurt. El Soldado started and went the full 90 minutes. He fired two shots on the night, putting one on target (and in the net), and passed at an exceptional 90.3% rate on 31 attempts, which was his third-best passing night of the season. He completed two successful long balls on two attempts, chipping in four clearances (second only to Antonio Carlos), a tackle, and an interception on the night. His big moment came in the 30th minute, when a well-worked attack up the left kicked out to him on the right side. Smith was perfectly positioned and made no mistake in putting the Lions ahead 1-0.

Although the match was spoiled by a late equalizer, Smith turned in one of his best performances since joining Orlando City and if not for his goal, the outcome might have been a lot more somber than a 1-1 draw.

2023 Final Grade

Smith received a composite score of 6 out of 10 for his 2023 performance from The Mane Land staff. This is an improvement over the 5.5 he earned last year but slightly below the 6.5 he earned for the 2021 season. Previously, Smith was given a 5.5 in 2020 and he got the same score after the 2019 season. The staff awarded Smith for his effort, versatility, and willingness to do whatever it takes to win. He is the quintessential team player. But beyond all of the above, he simply played well most of his minutes on the pitch. At his age, he’s going to struggle to contain the league’s speediest wing players, particularly when playing on his weaker left side, but his ability to adapt is unquestioned. The perfect example of that was when he was tucking inside from his fullback spot earlier in the season to add an additional player to the midfield and freeing Facundo Torres up to have more space in which to operate on the right side.

2024 Outlook

Smith’s return may ultimately rest with whether or not Oscar Pareja stays on with the Lions, although a decision might need to be made earlier than that, as the club must make a decision on his option. Pareja has valued Smith’s versatility and work ethic over the last few years, and with more competitions and matches than ever before, it’s always good to have a depth player who can plug and play in multiple positions. He played his second-most MLS minutes in 2023, so he’s still seeing the field plenty.

If I had to guess, and this section is for exactly that, I’d say the club will either exercise his option or sign him to a new one-year deal with an option year for 2025. However, what complicates matters is that Smith is over age 24 and has played five MLS seasons, which means he’s eligible for free agency. If he’s back in 2024, I would expect him to again be a key backup at both fullback positions, getting some spot starts in U.S. Open Cup or when fixture congestion is heavy.


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Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Abdi Salim

We continue our Orlando City player retrospectives with a look at one of the Lions’ 2023 draft picks.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City used its third pick of the 2023 MLS SuperDraft to select Abdi Salim with the 17th overall pick. Salim played his college soccer at Syracuse and the Lions picked up the center back to help with depth at a position that didn’t really have a ton of established bodies behind Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson, and Rodrigo Schlegel. He was then signed to a one-year deal in February that contained three option years for the 2024, 2025, and 2026 seasons.

Let’s have a look at Salim’s first season as a professional.

Statistical Breakdown

Salim made his Major League Soccer debut at home against FC Cincinnati on March 4. It was Salim’s only start of the year and he went the full 90 minutes as the Lions drew 0-0 against the eventual Supporters’ Shield winners. He made two other appearances in away games against D.C. United and Charlotte FC, both of which ended as 1-1 draws as he finished with 148 MLS minutes on the year.

Defensively he recorded four tackles, four interceptions, three clearances, a block, and won two aerial duels. He did not record any offensive statistics, but was solid with his distribution as he averaged 87.3% passing accuracy and completed one cross and one long ball each.

Given that it was only his first season as a professional, he spent the bulk of his time in MLS NEXT Pro with Orlando City B. With the Young Lions he played in 16 matches, starting 14 of them and racking up 1,162 minutes. He finished with 11 interceptions and a tackle while committing seven fouls and drawing 11 and picking up one yellow card. Salim took nine shots, put two of them on target, and scored a goal on each one he got on frame. He passed very well, finishing with a 90.2% success rate, two key passes, and 18 long balls.

Best Game

The honor of his best game goes to his first ever professional appearance, when he started and played the whole game in the aforementioned 0-0 draw against FC Cincinnati. Salim finished with three tackles, three clearances, and an interception while passing with 87% accuracy, completing a long ball on his only attempt, and helping the Lions keep a clean sheet at home. He was a bit shaky at first, as he was deployed as the third center back in a three-man back line, but he settled down in the second half and finished with a grade of 5.5 out of 10 from Nic Josey.

2023 Final Grade

Given that Salim didn’t crack 200 minutes and we require a minimum of 450 to award a grade for the season, he receives an incomplete for the 2023 season. He did some good things when down with Orlando City B, and filled in well enough with the senior side when called upon, but we simply need to see more of him in order to figure out what he’s really able to do.

2024 Outlook

It’s likely that Salim will spend more time with Orlando City B next season, but with no one seemingly laying claim to the fourth center back position, he should have a chance to show what he’s capable of during preseason. He seemed to be in competition with Thomas Williams for the back up spot not occupied by Rodrigo Schlegel, but he may have moved past him in the pecking order as he made more appearances than the Homegrown signing, both with OCSC and OCB. Regardless, as an inexpensive young player with potential, there’s no reason to think he won’t be here next year.


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Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/1/23

Rodrigo Schlegel fined, MLS roster updates, USWNT faces China tomorrow, and more.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Welcome to December, Mane Landers! It always feels like a good sign when a month starts on a Friday. I don’t have many plans this weekend beyond helping a friend move and trying to make pad Thai for the first time. It should be a nice next few days to reset after a hectic week. But for now, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.

MLS Issues Disciplinary Rulings After Playoff Games

Orlando City center back Rodrigo Schlegel was fined an undisclosed amount by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for not leaving the field in a timely manner after receiving a second yellow card in the team’s playoff match with the Columbus Crew. Schlegel did not crowd the referee or plead his case disruptively, but he did linger a bit before exiting the match. It was one of many fines handed out by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for violations during the playoffs, and Crew forward Cucho Hernandez was fined for embellishment for going to ground clutching his face after Schlegel shielded the ball from him.

The Vancouver Whitecaps players and staff received fines and suspensions for their actions during and after their playoff match with LAFC on Nov. 5. Head Coach Vanni Sartini was fined $20,000 and suspended for an additional five games for entering the field of play in a confrontational manner and his comments about the refereeing following his team’s elimination. Vancouver defender Mathias Laborda was also handed a one-match suspension for his actions during the match.

MLS Teams Update Rosters as Deadline Looms

The deadline for MLS teams to decline contract options is today and clubs around the league are getting their affairs in order. The Portland Timbers confirmed that Sebastian Blanco won’t be with the team next year, as he was out of contract after seven seasons with the club. Designated Player Jaroslaw Niezgoda and fellow forward Franck Boli had their options declined by Portland as well. FC Dallas triggered the options on the contracts of midfielder duo Asier Illarramendi and Liam Frasier, while declining the options for midfielder Facundo Quignon and defender Jose Martinez. The New York Red Bulls kept a key part of their defense by signing Dylan Nealis to a contract through the 2024 season. Nashville SC declined seven options, and veterans Dax McCarty and Fafa Picault are out of contract. Both players could be worth keeping an eye on as an Orlando supporter, depending on if Wilder Cartagena and Ivan Angulo will return. According to The Athletic‘s Tom Bogert, McCarty is not likely to return to Nashville.

Racing Louisville Names Beverly Yanez as Head Coach

Beverly Yanez was announced as Racing Louisville’s next head coach after serving as an assistant coach during the 2023 season. The 35-year-old retired as a player in 2020 and was an assistant coach with NJ/NY Gotham FC for two years before joining Louisville prior to this season. Louisville has yet to reach the playoffs since joining the NWSL in 2021 and Yanez is now the club’s third head coach. She’s earned plenty of praise from Louisville’s players and it will be interesting to see how her first season as a head coach goes in 2024.

Alejandro Bedoya Receives Impact Award

Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya won the MLS Impact Award, along with a $100,000 contribution by Audi to The Philadelphia Equity Alliance. Bedoya has worked with the nonprofit to promote inclusive economic growth and reduce poverty. He was also named 2022 MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year for his efforts to make a difference in the Philadelphia community. The Crew’s Darlington Nagbe and Nashville’s Taylor Washington were the other finalists for this year’s award.

Analyzing China Ahead of USWNT Friendlies

The United States Women’s National Team will close out its 2023 schedule with a pair of friendlies against China this month. The two nations will clash tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale before playing again in Frisco on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Although China lost all three of its group stage games in this past summer’s World Cup, it recently won the bronze medal in the Asian Games. China fell short in Olympic qualifying though, and 2022 AFC Women’s Coach of the Year Shui Qingxia’s contract was terminated, with Wang Jun taking over in an interim capacity for these friendlies. The USWNT should be able to find success on set pieces and crosses, although China has been working on strength training this year to compensate for that weakness. Tang Jiali, Zhang Linyan, and Shen Menglu are a few of the players in China’s versatile attack that could spell trouble for the Americans.

Free Kicks

  • Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle started as Brazil’s captain and Marta and Adriana came off the bench in a 4-3 win over Japan in a friendly. In her international debut, 19-year-old forward Priscila gave Brazil the late winner. The two teams will play again on Sunday.
  • The Kansas City Current dedicated their press box to journalist and Kansas City native Grant Wahl.
  • The New England Revolution have promoted Curt Onalfo to sporting director after four years as the club’s technical director. Onalfo served as the interim sporting director after Bruce Arena’s resignation in September and now gets the job fulltime.
  • The MLS Players Association released a statement regarding Matt Miazga’s three-game suspension.
  • Pierre Emerick-Aubamayeng scored a bicycle kick and a late winner as part of his hat trick in Marseille’s 4-3 win over Ajax in the Europa League.
  • The 2023 Women’s College Cup semifinals kick off tonight, with Florida State facing Clemson and BYU playing Stanford. There are many talented players in action who are worth watching tonight before the NWSL Draft next month.
  • Lyon, which is last in Ligue 1 with just seven points from 12 games, has sacked Fabio Grosso after less than three months as head coach.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!

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