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Intelligence Report: Orlando City at Chicago Fire

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Orlando City is now 1-1 under Jason Kreis after Sunday’s festival of free Seattle runners, which probably still has Joe Bendik waking up in a cold sweat every night. The Lions need three points badly in just about every match, so of course they now go on the road where they’ve won a single game this season, in the very first away clash of the year (at New York City FC).

The Lions and Fire drew 1-1 in the first meeting of the season, way back in March. Orlando City drew first blood very early but allowed a tying goal not long after. And that was it for the scoring despite Chicago going down a man around the half hour mark with two posts keeping the lads in purple from claiming all three point. Can the Lions get that elusive road win and take the season series?

Here to help us scout the Fire is Jeff Engelhardt, editor-in-chief of SB Nation’s Chicago blog, Hot Time in Old Town. I also answered Jeff’s questions, which you can find over at their place.

How has this Chicago Fire roster evolved since the two teams met in the second week of the season and how have the changes affected the team’s play?

Jeff Engelhardt: A good amount has changed since these two teams first met early in the season. First off, the positive general vibes and excitement of having a new coach and a fresh start have worn off. That’s not to say the fan base has turned on Veljko Paunovic, but the lack of excitement from the fans, and perhaps even the players at times, is noticeable.

From a roster standpoint, one new face you will see that could definitely make a difference is midfielder/striker Michael de Leeuw. He has shown some flashes of promise but has not yet established the connection with David Accam that could be potentially explosive.

Khaly Thiam is more of a defensive midfielder and has had a very up and down stint with the Fire since joining in the late spring/early summer. He is a likely starter, but not guaranteed.  You’ll avoid transfer deadline signing David Arshakyan, who is a big target man but not yet with the team, and you may or may not see former Rapids striker Luis Solignac.

As far as affecting the team’s play, de Leeuw adds a bit more going forward but the confidence is still down and the team is still struggling. Luckily, they are generally far better at home than on the road. 

After a managerial change, it appears the new direction is to change the players. What is really at the root of why Chicago can’t get over the hump and turn around its form?

JE: I think a lot of the struggles come from having a lack of experience and a lack of a true, playmaking No. 10. Paunovic is still figuring out how to get the most out of this team and has a lot to learn and adjust to being a first-year coach.

Young guys like Jonathan Campbell, Brandon Vincent, Rodrigo Ramos, etc., are promising but understandably make rookie mistakes and are inconsistent. As this young coach and these young players grow, I think they will be better, but without a true playmaker in the middle of the field it might not matter much.  

I sort of compare it to the Boston Celtics. There are definitely good pieces in place and young guys with potential, but until that star comes along there won’t be much success. David Accam is truly a great player but because his game is based on speed, he is not really suited to elevate everyone around him. He is the one who needs those around him to provide service and support him and he just isn’t getting it enough. 

How much will the midweek U.S. Open Cup match at New England affect the starting lineup and why does Chicago seem to have so much success in the tournament regardless of how the team plays in the regular season?

JE: Well this is a pretty sore subject at the moment. It is great getting to four semifinals in a row, but losing in that round each and every time kind of makes it feel like the Fire are not all that successful in the tournament. But to the general point that they have relative success in the tournament, I think it is because of the history this team has and the expectation to take it very seriously from the opening round.

The Chicago Fire’s reputation was built in large part on winning the cup four times from 1998-2006. The tournament really helped put the club on the map. So it will always be more important to Chicago than most MLS teams, which explains the frequent deep runs in the tournament.  

I could see Tuesday’s match playing a part in the starting lineup. Matt Polster did not play a full game so he should start and goalkeeper Matt Lampson had a rough outing so Sean Johnson should be in net. Other than that, I don’t think you’ll get off the hook on the Accam front just because he played Tuesday (unless his red card carries over to MLS play. Then he won’t play, but I don’t think that’s the case). 

Are there any suspensions or injuries that will affect the lineup and can you please give us your projected starting XI and predicted final score?

JE: As long as Accam’s red card in the U.S. Open Cup does not carry over, the Fire should have a full roster to choose from. So I am going with that assumption and predicting this starting lineup:

Sean Johnson; Rodrigo Ramos, Johan Kappelhof, Jonathan Campbell, Brandon Vincent; Matt Polster, Khaly Thiam; Razvan Cocis, Michael de Leeuw, John Goossens; David Accam

I think the Fire will come out with a chip on their shoulder, but I still don’t think it’ll be enough to fully get out of this funk. Look for a repeat of the first game and a 1-1 draw with de Leeuw getting a goal and of course Cyle Larin. 

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Big thanks to Jeff from Hot Time in Old Town for undergoing that grueling barrage of questions and for giving us a bit of a scouting report on the Fire.

Lion Links

Lion Links: 7/19/24

Dagur Dan Thorhallsson signs new contract, Orlando Pride sign National Team Replacement Players, MLS roster rules change, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Happy Friday! I’ll be spending a majority of the day traveling, as I have a flight to Boston this morning and then a drive up to Maine. It should be a nice weekend with friends, and I’m planning on consuming as much lobster as possible while I’m up there. Let’s dive into today’s links!

Dagur Dan Signs New Contract

Orlando City has signed Dagur Dan Thorhallsson to a new contract that will keep him in the City Beautiful through 2026, with an option for 2027 as well. The versatile player joined Orlando before the 2023 season and has flourished at right back since moving there. He’s locked down the position, so it makes all the sense in the world that Orlando would want to keep him around. Thorhallsson has two goals and three assists to his name so far this season and is a key part of the team’s game plan when attacking.

Ramiro Enrique Makes Team of the Matchday Bench

Forward Ramiro Enrique earned a spot on the bench of the latest Team of the Matchday for his efforts in Orlando’s 3-0 win over Nashville SC on Wednesday. Enrique’s rocketed strike capped off a solid performance, as he was also a force in the air and looked dangerous at the top of Orlando’s offense. The 23-year-old forward was also selected as Man of the Match in our Nic Josey’s player grades for the game. Enrique now has three goals in his past three games, so it’s nice to see him get some deserved recognition.

Orlando Pride Sign National Team Replacement Players

Midfielder Claire Winter and goalkeeper Kenna Caldwell were signed by the Pride as National Team Replacement Players for this international break. The Pride are without seven players due to the Olympics and Winter and Caldwell are available for selection for the upcoming  NWSL x Liga MX Femenil Summer Cup. Caldwell was a non-roster invitee to the Pride’s preseason and has been training with the team since. Winter has played in Denmark, Spain, Ireland, and Puerto Rico over the course of her career, and she was also a National Team Replacement Player for NJ/NY Gotham FC back in 2021.

MLS Makes Changes to Roster Rules

MLS clubs will have a bit more flexibility in terms of roster construction after the league announced changes that go into effect now that the secondary transfer window is open. Teams can now use all three Designated Player slots and all three U22 Initiative slots, eliminating the limitations that hamstrung some of those slots in the past. There’s also now an option for teams to build their roster with two DP slots, four U22 Initiative slots, and $2 million more in General Allocation Money. Speaking of GAM, up to $3 million of total transfer revenues can be converted into it, which is more than double the amount that it was before.

Only time will tell if these changes are enough to make the league more competitive with others, both on the field and in the transfer market. I feel like the increased flexibility is a positive, and I suspect savvy general managers will find ways to optimize their rosters fairly quickly. Let’s hope Luiz Muzzi can work some magic this transfer window.

USMNT Falls in Latest FIFA Rankings

After a disappointing Copa America that included a group stage exit, the United States fell five spots to 16th in the latest men’s FIFA rankings. While the U.S. underperformed, I do think it’s worth noting that strong tournaments from Uruguay, Germany, and Switzerland also played a part in them rising above the U.S. in the rankings. Mexico dropped two spots to 17th, while Panama and Canada both jumped up eight spots to 35th and 40th, respectively.

Spain moved up five places to third in the rankings following its dominant Euro 2024 run, while Argentina remained at the top after winning Copa America. Colombia jumped up three spots to claim ninth place, while Croatia fell out of the top 10 and is now in 12th.

Free Kicks

  • Former Lion Benji Michel will reportedly sign with Real Salt Lake. The Homegrown Player left Orlando on a free transfer to join FC Arouca in Portugal in January of 2023. It’s definitely going to be weird seeing him play for another MLS team if this comes to pass.
  • The Houston Dynamo made a splash by signing German winger Lawrence Ennali as a U22 Initiative Player. The 22-year-old joins from Polish club Gornik Zabrze for a reported transfer fee of $3 million and should give the Dynamo some needed firepower to compete in the Western Conference.
  • The Philadelphia Union traded away $150,000 in 2024 GAM to St. Louis City in exchange for Samuel Adeniran. The 25-year-old forward scored eight goals for St. Louis last season and the club can receive another $300,000 in GAM if conditions are met as well.
  • Toronto FC added American defender Henry Wingo as a free agent. although it gave $75,000 in 2025 GAM to D.C. United for his discovery rights. The 28-year-old has spent the past four years with Ferencvárosi and has MLS experience due to his time as a Homegrown Player with the Seattle Sounders.
  • The three divisions of the English Football League can be watched through CBS Sports this upcoming season. It’s notable news for those who want to watch Wrexham AFC or Americans like former Lion Daryl Dike.
  • Manchester United has officially signed 18-year-old defender Leny Yoro from Lille. Yoro started in 30 games for Lille last season and United reportedly paid a $67.6 million transfer fee for his services.
  • Patrick Vieira and Strasbourg have parted ways, leaving the French club without a manager just a month before the Ligue 1 season starts. Strasbourg finished 13th in the standings in Vieira’s first year with the club last season.
  • Borussia Dortmund has signed Serhou Guirassy, who scored a whopping 28 Bundesliga goals for Stuttgart last season.

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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Orlando City

Orlando City Signs Dagur Dan Thorhallsson to New Contract

The Icelandic midfielder-turned-fullback extends his deal to stay in Orlando through at least 2026.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City announced this afternoon that the club has re-signed Icelandic midfielder/fullback Dagur Dan Thorhallsson to a new contract. The new deal will keep the 24-year-old in purple through the 2026 MLS season with a club option for 2027.

“Since Dagur has arrived at the club, he has proven himself to be someone who is adaptive and versatile in all situations, showing a willingness to do whatever the team requires of him in any scenario,” Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi said in a club press release. “His dedication to hard work and to his teammates is visible every day. He’s a consummate professional, both on and off the pitch, and we’re excited to have him representing our club for the foreseeable future.”

The Lions signed Thorhallsson on Jan. 31, 2023 to a two-year contract with a pair of option years. He joined OCSC from Breidablik in Iceland’s top flight and made his first appearance for the club less than a month later, coming off the bench in Orlando City’s 1-0 opening day win over the New York Red Bulls on Feb. 25, 2023, coming on in the 78th minute to replace Martin Ojeda. After spot duty to start his Orlando career, Thorhallsson converted to fullback and has developed his game and has become a regular starter.

In his career with Orlando City, Thorhallsson has made 54 appearances (34 starts), playing 2,998 minutes. He’s scored four goals and added six assists, passing at an 85.7% rate. He was a part of one of the league’s best defenses in 2023 and has been a key part of a recent improvement by the Lions in their own end. Counting all competitions, Thorhallsson has participated in 65 games (40 starts), adding an assist in non-MLS games to go along with the numbers above. After his first season with Orlando City, The Mane Land staff gave Thorhallsson a solid grade of 6.5 out of 10 for the 2023 season.

“I am so happy to have extended my contract with this amazing club,” Thorhallsson said in the club’s release. “Since I came to Orlando, it has felt like home, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I have gotten to play for the best fans in the country. There’s nothing better than a warm, Orlando night at Inter&Co Stadium, so I can’t wait for many more to come. The fans deserve the best, and that is what I will continue to try to give while I am here in Orlando.”

Prior to joining Orlando City, the native of Hafnarfjörður, Iceland native scored 11 goals and added seven assists in 40 appearances with Breidablik, helping the club win the Icelandic championship in 2022. He has appeared in four matches with Iceland’s national team and represented Iceland previously at the U-16, U-17, U-18, U-19, and U-21 levels, scoring two goals at the youth international level.

Thorhallson spent his youth career with Icelandic clubs Fylkir and Haukar, as well as Belgian side Gent from 2013-2018. He began his senior career with six appearances at Haukar in 2016 in his mid-teens. He returned to Iceland from Belgium and appeared in 16 matches with Keflavik, scoring one goal during the 2018-2019 season and appeared in one league match and four cup matches on loan with Norwegian side Mjøndalen IF. He signed with that club in 2019 and made 12 appearances in league play over two seasons from 2019-2021. During that time, he also played 12 games on loan with Kvik Halden FK in 2019, scoring five goals, and played in 20 matches on loan with Fylkir, scoring once.

What It Means for Orlando City

Thorhallsson arrived as a potential midfield replacement for Junior Urso at the beginning of 2023, but with his versatility and willingness to play anywhere, he cemented himself into the right back position around the Leagues Cup break in 2023, helping the Lions go on a successful final run that lifted the club to second in the Supporters’ Shield standings. While he is still developing at the position, and is sometimes still prone to errors, he’s only 24 and has plenty of upside.

Able to tuck inside and help in the midfield, play on the wing, and serve as a wingback or a fullback, Thorhallsson can plug into a lot of spots across multiple formations. He provides Oscar Pareja with some tactical options on how to use him. Thorhallsson has already equaled his goal (2) and assist (3) totals from 2023 in fewer games (albeit more minutes). He has a good rapport with winger Facundo Torres on the right side of Orlando City’s attack and possesses good instincts about when to overlap and when to cut inside.

The signing extends a promising Orlando City career. He should be in the midst of his prime years over the next two seasons, and provides a solid and dependable player.

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Orlando City vs. Nashville SC: Player Grades and MotM

How did your favorite Lions perform in Orlando City’s 3-0 road victory at Nashville?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

The Lions were on the road for the second time in as many matches, this time in the Music City facing Nashville SC in a rematch of last season’s Major League Soccer playoff series. Orlando continued its strong form on the road, picking up a 3-0 victory, and by doing so, clawed its way back to 500 on the season is are now sporting a positive goal differential.

Two different Lions found the back of the net and an own goal from the face of Alex Muyl led to a fourth straight OCSC win. Let’s take a look at how Orlando City’s players rated individually in their Eastern Conference matchup.

Starters

GK, Pedro Gallese, 6.5 — For the second game in a row, the Peruvian No. 1 did not have a lot to do during the match as Nashville’s offensive woes continued and the Lions limited the hosts to just two shots on target. Gallese faced eight total shots on the night but only had to make two saves. A clean sheet is a clean sheet, though. He completed 87.5% of his 24 passes, including eight of his 11 long-ball attempts. Gallese was fouled twice in the match and required the trainers to evaluate his shoulder late in the second half but was able to continue and see out the game.

D, Rafael Santos, 6 — Santos rejoined the starting 11 after being on the bench the last several matches. It was clear during the first few minutes of game time that there was some rust that needed to be worked out, as Santos had two dangerous giveaways in the defensive third. The Brazilian also conceded two unnecessary corners in the first half. He completed 80.4% of his 46 passes, including six of 13 long balls. Defensively, Santos contributed a team-high six clearances (which bumped his grade up half a point) and one interception. On the offensive side of the pitch, Santos was mostly absent, with no cross attempts, no key passes, and no shots, and he had one unstable touch. He was substituted out of the match in the 65th minute for Kyle Smith.

D, Robin Jansson, 6.5 — The captain did a little bit of everything against Nashville and was a solid presence in helping to secure the clean sheet. He completed 88.9% of his 45 passes but was only successful on two of his six long-ball attempts. Defensively, he had more of a quiet night with only one clearance, a blocked shot, and a successful aerial duel while committing one foul. Offensively, he was credited with one shot, which was off target, and he suffered a foul as well. Ultimately, statistical nights like this speak to how well Orlando controlled the midfield and stymied the Nashville attack before it reached the back line.

D, Rodrigo Schlegel, 7 — Schlegel continues to start and Orlando continues to win, so for the time being there seems to be no need to change up the formula. Schlegel has expereienced somewhat of a midseason renaissance while fellow center back David Brekalo was away participating in the Euros. Against Nashville, he led the Lions in both touches (64) and passing attempts (55), completing 89.1% of his passes, including four of six long balls. Schlegel also won one aerial duel and contributed two tackles and two clearances, defensively. He committed two fouls without picking up a card and had two unstable touches.

D, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, 6.5 — Thorhallsson had his hands full defensively dealing with the pace of Canadian international Jacob Shaffelburg all night long. The defensive assignment limited his effectivness in the attack. He completed 32 passes at an uncharactieristically low 75% completion rate, including two of five long balls, and was unsuccesful on his lone throughball attempt. Defensively, he contributed one tackle but did well to frustrate the previously mentioned Shaffelburg throughout the game. He was issued a yellow card in the 22nd minute of the match for a tackle that came through Shaffelburg’s body but instant replay sure appeared to show that he made clean contact with the ball before the player. Offensively, he was credited with two successful dribbles and was fouled once. Like Santos, he had no shot attempts, key passes, or cross attempts.

MF, César Araujo, 7.5 — The Uruguayan defensive midfielder opened up his 2024 MLS account with the first goal of the match in the 19th minute on a long set piece delivered by Martin Ojeda. The goal set the tone early for Orlando City on the road. Araujo completed 86.1% of his 36 pass attempts, including one of his two long balls, while failing to connect on his lone crossing attempt. Defensively, he showed great chemistry with Wilder Cartagena in putting out fires before they started and keeping former MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar in check. He contributed two tackles, one interception, a blocked shot, and a successful aerial duel while comitting two fouls. Offensively, he scored on his only shot attempt and was fouled twice while being dinged for an unstable touch.

MF, Wilder Cartagena, 7  Once again the Peruvian defender was all over the field making plays and helping to control the midfield along with Araujo. So much of what Cartagena and Araujo do during the 90 minutes goes unrecognized because it does not show up on the stat sheet, but I thought Cartagena was instrumental in controlling the midfield against Nashville. Wilder completed 86.8% of his 32 passes and connected on all three of his long balls. Defensively, he had a team-high five tackles while adding two interceptions and a blocked shot. Impressively, Cartagena was able to have such an effective night defensively while only being whistled for two fouls. Offensively, he was credited with one shot that was way off target, and he was dispossessed three times with an unstable touch to boot.

MF, Iván Angulo, 7.5 — Angulo might as well just cameo as the Energizer Bunny at this point because the speedy Colombian just never stops moving. Against Nashville, Angulo continued to showcase his strong chemistry with his fellow attacking midfielders. Angulo completed a team-high 94.4% of his 36 passes, and tied Ojeda for most on the team with his four key passes. His speed drew a yellow card on Nashville center back Josh Bauer and set up a dangerous set piece opportunity in the 29th minute. Defensively, Angulo chipped in two tackles and one interception. Offensively, Angulo didn’t attempt a shot but was credited with an assist on the third goal of the match, finding Ramiro Enrique through traffic after picking up a loose rebound.

MF, Martín Ojeda, 8 — Ojeda appears to have cemented his role in the starting 11 for the home stretch of the season after another strong performance. He completed 88% of his 25 passing attempts including both of his long-ball attempts and four of his seven crosses. Like Angulo, he genereated four key passes on the night to lead the team. Ojeda got back to help in the defensive midfield, contributing three tackles. Offensively, Ojeda failed to record a shot, which is probably the most shocking statistic of the entire match, as he is not afraid to pull the trigger, but he was credited with an assist for delivering a perfect ball to Araujo on the Lions’ first goal. It was another dangerous delivery from Ojeda on a set piece that resulted in an own goal from Nashville and a 2-0 lead for Orlando City, and while he won’t officially get credited with an assist, the quality of his delivery from set pieces as of late has been top notch. He also made a sick play to get around Shaq Moore in the left corner to set up a scoring chance.

MF, Facundo Torres, 6.5 — The Summer of Facu cooled off only slightly against Nashville in a sense that the DP failed to find the back of the net, but Willis robbed him blind on a 1-v-1 opportunity in the second half. He did almost everything else in the match. Torres completed 82.8% of his 29 passes and was unsuccessful on his lone long ball and lone cross. Defensively, he contributed one interception and a clearance and was issued a yellow card for blocking a Nashville restart in the 64th minute. Offensively, he led Orlando City both in shot attemps (3) and shots on target (2), and was credited with a successful dribble while suffering one foul and being dispossessed once. Of note, Facu failed to leave the field in a timely manner when he was substituted for Luis Muriel in the 77th minute, resulting in Orlando City being forced to play a man down for a brief period due to the new MLS rule.

F, Ramiro Enrique, 8 (MotM) — With the insurance goal in the 81st minute, Enrique now has three goals in three matches, and that is a great sign that the offense is clicking. His goal against Nashville was an absolute rocket, which slammed off the underside of the crossbar. He completed 71.4% of his 21 passes, including one key pass. The striker got back defensively and added one interception and two clearances on the night while committing one foul. Enrique stood out on offense with six aerial duels won and his holdup play showed maturity and composure. His lone shot attempt was the scorcher that put Orlando up 3-0, and he logged one successful dribble while being fouled twice. My only knock on his effort against Nashville was that he had three unstable touches and was called offside on what would have been a good goal-scoring opportunity if he had held his run for a second longer and then picked out a wide open Torres instead of firing the ball directly at Willis.

Substitutes

D, Kyle Smith (65′), 5.5 — Smith was swapped out of the starting 11 against Nashville and replaced Santos in the late stages of the match. The human Swiss Army knife played well in a reserve role but could have done better controlling the ball, where the Accountant only completed 60% of his 15 passes. To his credit, Smith did connect on two of his three long-ball attempts. Defensively, it was a quite night statistically, as Smith did not record a defensive stat. His best moment of the match came on his pass down the line to Angulo, which sprung the Colombian into the attack prior to the third goal of the match.

MF, Nico Lodeiro (65′), 6 — Lodeiro is starting to embrace the super substitute role more, and for a player of his historical quality, I would much rather have 20-30 minutes of fresh legs than see the elder statesman slug his way through an hour plus of game time. Against Nashville, Nico completed 63.6% of his 11 passes, and he recorded a shot attempt which was saved after a nice run into the box. Defensively, he did not conrtibute a measureable statistic.

F, Luis Muriel (75′), 5.5 — The Colombian entered the match with Orlando up by two goals and worked to help see out the result. Unfortunately, Muriel could not capitalize on the momentum that he generated against New England off the bench the match before and largely was ineffective with the ball at his feet in this one. He completed both of his passes, which included a long ball, and was off target with his lone shot attempt, which was blocked in the buildup to Enrique’s goal, while being whistled for offside. Muriel had two unstable touches and was dispossessed once. Defensively, he did not contribute a statistic. It would be nice to see more from the Colombian on a consistent basis.

D, David Brekalo, (87’), N/A  The Slovenian international came on with the Lions up by three goals and helped to ensure a clean sheet. At this point, Brekalo is healthy and has been back from the Euros for a few matches, but I suspect that Head Coach Oscar Pareja’s reason for not starting him has much to do with not wanting to disturb the current chemistry between Jansson and Schlegel. In short reserve action, Brekalo completed all four of his passes, which included one long ball. It will be interesting to monitor the center back pairing moving forward during Leagues Cup and down the stretch of the regular season.

MF, Jeorgio Kocevski (87′), N/A — Jeorgio subbed in alongside Brekalo and was able to get a few minutes of cardio in, but was not on the field long enough to earn a grade. He completed both of his passes.


That’s how I saw the individual performances on Wednesday night. What did you think? Be sure to let us know in the comments, and vote in the poll below for your Orlando City Man of the Match.

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