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Orlando City vs. Atlanta United FC: Player Grades and Man of the Match



It was a moment of brilliance from Atlanta that tipped the scales in favor of the visitors, but for most of the match, those scales were pretty even. With the Hector Villalba strike, it now marks back-to-back home losses for Orlando City as the Lions head to Atlanta for next weekend’s match.

It was very even through most of the match and Orlando held a 14-8 shot advantage, but was stopped by Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan time and time again. The USMNT keeper came up with five total saves on Orlando.

Redemption can come for the Lions next Saturday, but until then, here are our grades from the match.


GK, Joe Bendik, 7 — Despite being hard done by the one goal, Bendik did his usual thing throughout the game and kept Orlando in it, making five saves. Had a good denial in the 23rd after Yamil Asad got a chance in on goal. Came up with a big stop on a Miguel Almiron shot in the 45th from the top of the box. Had another stop in the 70th minute after sub Brandon Vazquez got past Toia and tried to shoot near post. Came up with his biggest save of the night on an Almiron shot in the 85th minute, getting down to parry it away.

D, Donny Toia, 6.5 — Looked a bit outmatched at times, but had some recoveries trying to mark Julian Gressel most of the night. Had a good recovery run in the 16th minute to prevent a ball into the box from Gressel, who originally beat him down the line. Did a good job running down a ball forward in the attack in the 21st minute and earning a corner. Got the ball stuck under his feet as he tried to clear it in the 40th minute and almost gifted Atlanta a corner, but Bendik was able to knock it away for a throw-in. Had a shot in the 55th minute from outside the box on a volley, but it sailed well wide. Got burned in the 70th minute by Vazquez, but Bendik was able to save the subsequent shot. Led the team in tackles, with three.

D, Jonathan Spector, 7.5 (MOTM) — Specs Got a touch on a ball coming in from the wing and altered it just enough for Bendik to grab. Had a great header on frame in the 39th minute, but Guzan came up with a big save to stop it. Had a huge defensive play with a sliding tackle after Johnson had a gaffe, passing it right to Almiron in front of goal. Got another chance in the second half at a header, but Guzan once again got down to save it. Led the team in clearances, with five, and was second in interceptions, with two.

D, Jose Aja, 6 — Was fairly decent defense-wise up until the Atlanta goal. Had a chance offensively on a corner in the 22nd minute, but his header flashed just wide of goal. Got turned around as Asad got behind him in the 23rd minute, leading to an Atlanta shot on goal. Had a poor header in the 33rd minute as he tried to clear the danger in the box, but Sutter was able to clean up his mess. Committed a foul in the 48th minute on Asad to prevent him getting in on goal. Sagged off on Villalba on the only goal of the game, but that was only partly his fault.

D, Scott Sutter, 7 — A really good match again for Sutter. Did a great job on defense and getting forward in the attacking third. Had a great run in the 25th minute as he volleyed a cross into the box, which was headed away for a corner. Cleared away the danger in the box in the 33rd minute after Aja was unable to properly clear the danger. Finished the game second in interceptions, with two, and clearances, with two.

MF, Cristian Higuita, 6.5 — A much better game from the midfielder overall. Got into passing lanes and really disrupted the Atlanta offense. Also, did a good job getting forward into the attack. Had a poor one-touch pass in the 11th minute trying to pick out Toia on the other side of the field. Was a bit over aggressive at times and slid into rash challenges. Had a good opportunity in the 73rd minute after burning Greg Garza and putting a ball into the box, which was off by just a bit. Just a minute later, Higuita had another chance to put the ball in off a Kaká feed, but it again was just off. Earned a free kick in the 90th before coming off for Gil. Led the team in interceptions, with three.

MF, Antonio Nocerino, 6 — Not a very memorable match for Noce. Great job tracking Hector Villalba on a run in the 10th minute. Committed a foul on Almiron in the 12th minute, leading to a free kick for Atlanta. Tied for second on the team in interceptions, with two, and finished with a 69% passing percentage.

MF, Will Johnson, 5.5 — It was a night to forget for Will. Did a solid job trying to play quick passes along the wing, but often didn’t get forward enough in the attack. Had a terrible giveaway in the 41st minute, passing it right to Almiron in the box, but Spector was able to bail him out. Almost had another giveaway and tried to bicycle the ball away in the second half, but instead he kicked Yamil Asad in the head and was promptly shown a yellow. Had a chance to tie the game in stoppage time, but he hit his shot high over the bar after getting past his defender. Finished with an 81% passing accuracy, good for fifth on the team.

MF, Kaká, 6.5 — The captain was really onto something in the early parts of the game, but faded as the match went on. Issued a yellow card in the sixth minute for a late challenge on Yamil Asad after trying to win the ball back. Had an amazing run in the 17th minute as he took on the entire Atlanta defense, before laying it off for Barnes, who just missed. Had another great run in the 20th minute, sprinting right down the middle, before the ball was taken from him. Pushed forward in the 27th minute, laying a ball off to Barnes to play back to him, but it was just in front of the Brazilian. Played a great ball in for Rivas in the 36th minute, which he hit right to Guzan. Had a set piece in the 63rd to Spector, but it was saved by Guzan again. Had a shot in the 87th minute trying to curl one past Guzan, but he was equal to the shot. His grade would have been higher, but he finished the game with the worst passing accuracy of any player on the pitch (64% for the game).

F, Giles Barnes, 6.5 — Did well up top filling in for Larin and created some good chances Had a chance in the 17th minute after a great Kaká run, but missed it just wide. Tried an effort from outside the box in the 32nd minute, but it was right at Guzan. Had another chance at a header in the 44th minute, but he pushed off his defender as his chance went just over the top of the net. Drew a foul in the 63rd minute which led to a free kick. Came off in the 72nd minute for Larin. Finished the match with the most shots on goal, with three.

F, Carlos Rivas, 6.5 — Constantly used his strength to back down his defenders and earn a number of fouls in the process. Had a good run and a powerful strike in the 36th minute, but it was right at Guzan. Made a great run in the 57th towards goal and put a cross in, but it looked to have come off the Atlanta defender’s hand, but nothing was called. Tried an effort from distance in the 79th minute, but he sent it into the second deck. Finished the game with the second highest passing percentage, with 83% and second on the team in shots, with two.


F, Cyle Larin (72’), 6 — Came straight from the airport to the stadium and came on for the final 18 minutes, but didn’t have too much of an impact offensively.

MF, Richie Laryea (88’), N/A — Came in for Nocerino, but only registered two touches.

MF, Luis Gil (90’), N/A — Came in for Higuita in the last moments of the match. Had a few touches, but nothing game-changing.

That’s the way I saw the individual performances on this night. Vote for your Lion of the Match in the poll below.

Polling Closed

Carlos Rivas1
Jonathan Spector80
Scott Sutter12
Joe Bendik9

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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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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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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