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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Sporting Kansas City: Final Score 2-2 as Lions See Go-Ahead Goal Pulled Back in First Draw

Orlando City picked up its first draw of the season in a 2-2 contest with Sporting KC on Saturday night at Orlando City Stadium.



Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

Orlando City played a game at home and did not win. Unfortunately, that was not a typo.

Coming off of a point-less, two-game road trip in the last week, Orlando City couldn’t recapture its winning ways at home in a 2-2 draw with Sporting Kansas City. The Lions dropped their first points at Orlando City Stadium after starting the season a perfect 5-0-0 in their new building in front of yet another sold out crowd of 25,527 — but they remain unbeaten here.

Orlando City fell behind a goal less than 10 minutes into the match, trailing at home for the first time this season on a Latif Blessing goal. The Lions answered later in the first half with a pair of goals from Cyle Larin and Kaká to take over the lead before Blessing scored a second in the second half. Jose Aja controversially had a goal waved off in the 76th minute that would have put the team back ahead but the assistant referee ruled that Will Johnson’s service curled over the end line before returning to the field of play for Aja to nod home.

Instead, Orlando (6-3-1, 19 points) walks away with its first draw of the season.

“Difficult game. Really difficult game against a really quality opponent,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “Really pleased with the guys’ work rate and effort, and their togetherness. I think at the end of the day I have to say that the draw was a fair result, and very pleased to take a point.”

Blessing opened the scoring early for Kansas City (5-2-4, 19 points) with a ninth-minute goal. Ricardo Salazar awarded SKC a free kick just outside Orlando’s penalty area after what appeared to be a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge by Jonathan Spector. After the Lions cleared the initial free kick, KC picked up the ball and recycled in another chance, with Gerso Fernandes centering a cross into the box that hit a slew of sliding bodies in front of Joe Bendik before finding Blessing for his first goal of the season.

After the match, Kreis said he expected Sporting Kansas City to start Soony Saad over Blessing and the speedy forward caught them slightly off guard.

Orlando’s first best chance of the night came in the 16th minute, when Carlos Rivas lofted a cross forward from the left wing, finding Larin running forward into the box. The Canadian timed his run perfectly and put his foot up to poke in the ball past Tim Melia for his seventh of the season after going scoreless for three games for the first time in 2017.

Just 10 minutes later, Rivas again found himself with the ball on the left side and sent in another cross for Larin that sailed over everybody and rolled towards the right sideline, where Scott Sutter was there to pick it up and send the ball back in. This time the only Lion in the box was Kaká, who chested the ball down, took one step forward, then curled a shot around two defenders and the goalkeeper to put the Lions ahead, 2-1. It was a top class goal for the captain, who now has three in five games this season — all since returning from injury four games ago.

“He’s been showing up at the right spots at the right time.” Kreis said of Kaká. “Tonight’s goal was special; to take it down that calmly and around that much traffic to be able to get it to the far post, there are not too many players capable of those types of goals.”

Orlando City came into the second half and put up a good opportunity right away in the 48th minute, when Johnson found Cristian Higuita on a sailing run up top with a great ball forward. Higuita was able to bring the ball down, but was fouled at the top of the box by Graham Zusi, who picked up a yellow card on the play. Kaká took the ensuing free kick, sending it just over the bar.

Moments later, on the other end, as Sporting KC mounted another attack on Orlando’s defense, with Bendik coming up with a big save on Roger Espinoza to preserve the lead for the time being — one of six saves on the night for Bendik, as United States Men’s National Team Head Coach Bruce Arena watched above from the club suites.

Larin was presented with another great opportunity in the 71st minute when Luis Gil, who had come into the game about five minutes earlier for Higuita, sent a nifty through ball forward to the Canadian, who had no one to beat but Melia, as both men reached the ball at about the same time. Melia made a sprawling save and Larin stayed down in pain for several moments.

Meanwhile, Kansas City continued to pressure, and finally broke through with a game-tying goal in the 74th minute from Blessing again. After Bendik saved Benny Feilhaber’s initial shot, Blessing was right there, a couple of feet away, to clean up the rebound and tuck it home, making it a 2-2 scoreline.

Two minutes later, Orlando City thought it had grabbed back the lead when Aja headed home a corner attempt from Johnson, but the goal was waved off. Gil would go on to put a decent shot on goal in the 95th minute, but it wouldn’t be enough for Orlando to grab all three points.

“Honestly, I was really sad,” Aja said of the goal that was waved off. “I thought it was a goal, and it would have been my first goal here with this club, and I can’t express how sorry I am about it.”

Even on the road, Sporting controlled a good deal of possession throughout the half and the match, finishing the night with 61.7% of the possession. Sporting out-shot Orlando, 14-7 (8-4 on target). An odd statistic was fouls. Salazar called eight first-half fouls — all on Orlando City. In the second half, he evened things up by calling seven on SKC to the Lions’ one.

The players, who were visibly exhausted and unhappy after the game, will have another short turnaround as the Lions travel to San Jose Monday after training for a Wednesday night game against the Earthquakes (10:30 p.m. ET).

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.

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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.



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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