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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Houston Dynamo: Player Grades and Man of the Match



In two meetings with Houston, no Orlando City player has scored a goal. That’s bad. But, no Dynamo player has scored against the Lions. That’s good.

It was a difficult game with all of the midweek distraction of Adrian Heath’s firing and a short turnaround on three days rest against a Houston team that has been much better in recent weeks. It would be easy for the Lions to simply roll over and get ready for the new coach that the club is searching for.

But, to Bobby Murphy’s credit, he had the lads in purple prepared to play. Despite a lack of precision in the final third, Orlando City played a pretty solid game from start to finish, ending the game with 62.8% of the possession and an 84.5% passing success rate. It was only in the final third where the field is most congested that things broke down a bit.

Houston was unable to mount much of an attack or keep the ball, but the Dynamo were occasionally dangerous on the counter. When they were, Joe Bendik was there, as was the post in the 88th minute. In the end, it was just another draw — the team’s ninth on the season.

Let’s get to tonight’s player grades.


G, Joe Bendik, 7.5 -€” He only finished with three saves but Bendik had to be sharp on all of them. From Alex’s 21st-minute effort to a pair of dangerous Will Bruin chances late in the first half, including a diving save that just brushed the ball a smidge wide. Second clean sheet of the season for Joe, and first since the third game of the year.

D, Luke Boden, 5.5 -€” Bodz got a bit better as the game wore on but he struggled with the quality of his set pieces, especially corner kicks. He completed a respectable 87.7% of his passes, but that can be misleading, as much of his distribution was across the back or short passes to Shea — many of which were immediately returned, which is illustrated by his game-high 96 touches. He was much better than Monday, however, so perhaps it’s something he can build on.

D, Seb Hines, 6 -€” With the exception of one horrendous giveaway that started a counter, and one long run by Boniek Garcia on which he and David Mateos didn’t communicate properly, it was a solid night for Seb. He completed 86.7% of his passes, got a head on a very difficult cross to at least get a shot attempt out of it, and made two tackles, while sticking to his mark on set pieces.

D, David Mateos, 7 -€” The Spaniard is a favorite punching bag for fans but it was a good night for David. He was second on the team with 90 touches, completed a game-high 94.7% of his passes (minimum 10 attempts), and played in several nice long balls that probably should have connected. He made three tackles to lead the defense.

D, Kevin Alston, 5 -€” Kevin had problems with his offensive delivery but he still managed a very solid 93.3% passing rate overall. He still has an issue or two per game with losing track of the weak side attacker although he did well to challenge players and force them to move laterally tonight, giving them a lower percentage shot.

MF, Harrison Heath, 7.5 -€” A very solid performance on what had to be an emotional night for H. He led all non-defenders in passing rate (88%), created a chance offensively, and made a few well-timed runs to try to get forward. He provided good coverage behind the attacking midfield and helped link the play in the middle of the pitch.

MF, Cristian Higuita, 7.5 (MOTM) -€” The Colombian led all Lions with five tackles and completed 81% of his passes. He was not only his usual effective presence in central midfield, but Higuita also did more of the heavy lifting in getting the ball forward into the attacking third. Although he usually struggles to complete passes on the offensive half of the field, tonight he was able to feed the ball in to Kevin Molino, Brek Shea, Cyle Larin and Darwin Ceren. Just slightly better defensively for me, so he edges H for my Man of the Match.

MF, Brek Shea, 7 -€” In the early going, Brek struggled to get going, but as the game wore on he got stronger. He made seven crosses on the night and several of those required timely and precise touches by the defense to keep them away from Larin running into the box. He struggled a bit with his passing (75%) but most of those were attacking attempts, as Brek seemed loathe to drop the ball backward.

MF, Kevin Molino, 6 -€” Provided a moment of magic that just about turned into the game-winning goal early in the second half, running through several defenders to get clear and attempt a chip shot on target. Unfortunately, Deric saved that shot. Aside from that, Molino completed 76.5% of his passes and could never quite find the final through ball for his teammates. He had two of Orlando’s six shots and the only one on target, but he lost the ball frequently in traffic and almost entirely disappeared after Julio Baptista came on, pushing the Trinidadian to the right side.

MF, Darwin Ceren, 5.5 -€” Darwin is a lot of things, but a right wing is not one of them. He lacked quality in the final third, though that is belied by his completing 83.3% of his passes. The main goal of having him play there was to put an additional difficult defender in front of Houston fullback DaMarcus Beasley, and that seemed to work, as the former U.S. international was fairly quiet all night on the attacking end.

F, Cyle Larin, 5 -€” The Canadian had 34 touches, which is 22 more than he had Monday night. Larin worked hard to get into dangerous positions but ran afoul of the offside flag several times, although I have an issue with at least one or two of those. He managed to get two shot attempts with an early dangerous opportunity that he fired wide with his left foot. Was forced to battle both David Horst and Raul Rodriguez most of the night in isolation, which limited his effectiveness.


D, Julio Baptista (60′), 4.5 -€” The Beast wasn’t able to leave much of a mark on the game after coming in for Ceren, although he did have one shot attempt and earned a free kick in a dangerous area. He had only 18 touches in his 30+ minutes and completed 77.8% of his passes.

MF, Servando Carrasco (88′), N/A -€” Serva came on for Harrison Heath near the end and registered only six touches. Not much time to get involved.

That’s how I saw the Lions’ performances tonight. Don’t forget to vote for your Man of the Match in our poll below.

Polling Closed

Player Votes
Joe Bendik 41
Harrison Heath 44
Brek Shea 22
Cristian Higuita 25
David Mateos 9
Other 10

Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/4/23

Crew to host MLS Cup final, LAFC returns to MLS Cup, Tim Howard to be inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame, and more.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Good Monday morning, Mane Landers. The weekend brought us some drama-filled conference final action, and we now know who will play for the MLS Cup. But before I dive into that, I just want to take a quick minute to say with mixed emotions that this will be my final Lion Links here, but don’t be sad, because the rest of the boys will still be bringing your daily content needs and coverage. I’ll be stepping away as my wife and I are soon to be first-time parents, and I’m looking forward to all that entails. I appreciate each and every one of you readers for taking the time to scroll through my articles each week. If you’re interested in writing for TML, we could definitely use the help so please reach out. Now, let’s get into the links!

Columbus Crew Claim Hell Is Real Comeback

After a rocky start, the Columbus Crew became the first team to overcome a two-goal deficit on the road and advance in a single-leg round in the history of the MLS Cup playoffs. FC Cincinnati got off to a great start behind USMNT striker Brandon Vasquez, who opened the scoring, but it was captain Luciano Acosta’s sublime free kick finish that stole the show in the first half.

It took trusting the process and the tactics of their first-year manager Wilfried Nancy, but the Columbus Crew fought back with late match heroics to seal the victory. Forward Christian Ramirez bagged the game-winning goal in extra time in the 115th minute.

“You can only fight for someone like that,” said Ramirez. “So many times you can feel that you’re getting the bad end of the stick at certain moments, but I haven’t felt that. I think numerous guys understand how he sees the game now, and we respect that. We talk about writing our story in the Columbus Crew history; this chapter wasn’t done. We got one more week, one more game.”

LAFC Returns to MLS Cup

The league’s defending champion, LAFC, will once again be playing in the final match of the postseason. After frustrating the Houston Dynamo throughout the Western Conference final, LAFC won 2-0. Houston might have dominated the stat sheet in possession, passes, and passing accuracy, but really it was just playing into the gameplan of LAFC.

“We knew that’s what they wanted. They wanted the ball,” said LAFC right back Ryan Hollingshead. “They like to play this little tiki-taka in the middle of the field, these little movements, little one-twos, three of their guys just kind of pass the ball, but they’re going nowhere. And so we just said, do whatever you got, have the ball as long as you want. They created zero dangerous chances. They had a half-chance in the first half on a cross to Baird and that was it. And so a lot of these teams, it’s like, yeah, they’ve got possession, they may be moving the ball. But if they’re not creating dangerous chances, who cares?”

MLS Cup Final Preview

The Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew will host Western Conference champion LAFC at Field on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m for the MLS Cup. The match will be No. 53 across all competitions this campaign for LAFC, and a victory would make the club the first repeat winners since the 2011-2012 LA Galaxy. The storylines leading to the match will likely center around the possibility of it being Carlos Vela’s final game for LAFC, but for the Crew, the bench players will be the ones to watch. In the 65th minute of the Eastern Conference final, Head Coach Wilfried Nancy brought in Julian Gressel and Christian Ramirez, who both played a pivotal role in two of the three Columbus goals in the comeback victory.  The Crew last lifted the MLS Cup in 2020, defeating Seattle Sounders 3-0 at Historic Crew Stadium.

2024 National Soccer Hall of Fame

On May 4, the National Soccer Hall of Fame will induct its 2024 class. Most notable will be long-time USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played 121 matches for the United States and had a successful career in the English Premier League. Other inductees will be USWNT World Cup winner Tisha Venturini-Hoch, 1996 Paralympic captain Josh McKinney, and USL founder Francisco Marcos.

Orlando Reportedly Set to Host USMNT-Brazil Friendly

The United States Men’s National Team is reportedly far along in negotiations to face Brazil in Orlando for a friendly leading to next year’s Copa America. The Yanks and Brazil last met in September 2018 in a friendly match in East Rutherford, NJ. The United States will host the Copa America from June 19 to July 14 as one of six invited teams to the South American competition. Brazil enter as the defending champion and should prove a worthy test for the Stars & Stripes to tune up for the Southern American title.

Free Kicks

  • Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.

That’s a wrap for my personal writing here for a while. It has been a pleasure to bring some coverage to you all for the past couple seasons. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. Vamos Orlando!

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/2/23

The Pride sign a new keeper, the MLS playoffs continue, the USWNT is in action, and more.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Salutations on this satisfactory Saturday, Mane Landers. We’re heading for the home stretch of 2023, and what a year it has been. Make sure that you are catching all of our Season in Review articles for both the Orlando City and Orlando Pride players. Things tend to happen personnel-wise in December, so be prepared. Until then, let’s check out today’s links. But first, let’s wish a happy 26th birthday to Orlando City goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar.

Pride Sign a New Keeper

The Orlando Pride signed Finnish goalkeeper Sofia Manner from FC Honka of Finland’s top flight, the Kansallinen Liiga. With the addition of Manner, the Pride have four keepers on the roster heading into 2024. Manner is expected to compete for the starting job, though the same could be said of both Anna Moorhouse and Carly Nelson. It is unlikely all four netminders will be on the Pride once the season starts. Manner has international experience and was the best keeper in the Kansallinen Liiga.

MLS Conference Finals Tonight

I wouldn’t blame you if you decided not to watch the remainder of the MLS playoffs after last weekend’s disappointing result. However, if you are going see how it all sorts out, you might want to study up on the matches. We’re all too aware that the Columbus Crew will be facing FC Cincinnati to see which club wins the Eastern Conference. Over on the other side, LAFC will take on the Houston Dynamo to determine the Western Conference champion.

MLS Player Moves

As the playoffs come to a close, the signings and transfers around the league are ramping up, but who will stay and who will go? New York Red Bulls midfielder Dru Yearwood is heading to Nashville SC as reported by The Athletic (paywalled) since Dax McCarthy is out of contract there and won’t be returning.

The Philadelphia Union have signed midfielder Jesus Bueno to a new three-year contract through 2026 with an option for 2027. Meanwhile, Gustavo Bou won’t be returning to the New England Revolution. So, um…maybe he’d like to come south and score goals for Orlando City rather than against the Lions? Before anyone gets too crazy, it should be on a non-DP deal.

USWNT Hosts China

The USWNT is back in friendly action against China this afternoon in Ft. Lauderdale at 3 p.m. and then on Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. in Frisco TX. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore will be in charge since newly-named Head Coach Emma Hayes doesn’t start until the 2023-2024 Women’s Super League season in England is over. Hayes is the current head coach of Chelsea FC Women’s. This is the first match between the two teams since 2018, and a lot has changed. The USWNT has been very solid on defense in 2023, allowing only two goals back in the SheBelieves Cup.

Free Kicks

  • If you haven’t heard of a “sin bin,” think of it like a penalty box in hockey. The idea has been getting a runout in lower league matches in English football by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) with some good results. It’s not yet confirmed, but MLS may institute the change in 2024. The idea is to reduce dissension by having a player sit for 10 minutes during a match. Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou has spoken out against the idea. What do you think of the concept?
  • Real Salt Lake has promoted Kurt Schmid to sporting director and interim chief soccer officer.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo will have to deal with a $1 billion class-action lawsuit for his role in promoting NFTs for Binance. Maybe that’s why he signed for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League?
  • Speaking of the Saudi Pro League, it looks like Mohamed Salah may not be leaving EPL side Liverpool anytime soon. The prolific striker is looking for a new contract to stay at Anfield.
  • I’ll take things Pedro Gallese would not do for $400, Alex.

That will do it for today. Please go forth and enjoy your weekend!

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Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Kyle Smith

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



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.

Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)

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