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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. D.C. United: Final Score 1-1 as 10-Man Lions Strike in Stoppage Time

Stefano Pinho’s dramatic first MLS goal pulls back a point for City after PC was sent off in the first half.



Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

After 10-man Orlando City’s unlikely come-from-behind 1-1 draw in the 2018 season opener, Justin Meram said he didn’t expect his first match here to feature a penalty against and a player sent off. Welcome to Orlando, Mr. Meram.

The Lions conceded on a set piece out of nowhere and then went down a man before rallying the troops and setting up Stéfano Pinho’s first MLS goal in the 93rd minute to send the sellout crowd of 25,527 home with a happy point. Pinho’s goal was his fourth in two games at Orlando City Stadium, but this time he was the hero instead of the villain as he lifted the Lions to a hard-fought point in a match fraught with adversity.

“I think this was a fantastic example of what our team is capable of,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the game. “There was some very good soccer tonight. We out-possessed D.C. United on a night when we were down a man for 60 minutes, so that says something. But I do believe that there’s still lots of room for improvement, obviously.”

The visitors sat back with the lead — provided by new boy and former Atlanta United midfielder Yamil Asad — and the extra man throughout the second half, and it proved their undoing.

With several regulars out with injury or suspension, Kreis turned in a lineup sheet that featured some surprises, including a pair of rookies and Victor “PC” Giro in the midfield. Joe Bendik was no surprise in goal, behind a back line of Mohamed El-Munir, Amro Tarek, Jonathan Spector, and Scott Sutter. Cam Lindley played holding midfield in his first MLS start behind Will Johnson and PC on either side of Yoshimar Yotun in the No. 10 role. Chris Mueller and Meram made up the strike force in the 4-4-2. The actual shape varied throughout the match, however, as players wove in and out, playing off of each other and it was sometimes interesting to see where everyone was on the pitch.

D.C. got on the front foot first, with a dangerous cross into the box just seconds into the match. Rookie Lindley then gifted the visitors a scoring chance with a turnover with perhaps his first touch. United broke in alone, 4-on-2. Ulises Segura got on the end of it and took a shot, but Spector recovered to force a bad attempt.

Orlando’s first good opportunity came in the seventh minute when a free kick nearly fell for Meram in the box, but it skipped away and D.C. cleared. From there, the Lions started climbing into the match and creating some half-chances but had trouble beating Steve Birnbaum and Frederic Brillant in the box.

United got the best early opportunity when video review overturned a no-call and awarded the visitors a penalty in the 19th minute for a Johnson handball just inside the box. It seemed a bit harsh, as Johnson was only a few yards away from Darren Mattocks.

“Initially I thought there would be no way that the penalty decision would go against us,” Kreis said, “because from my point of view it looked like arms were down and anytime there’s a ball that’s played that quickly from somebody’s foot to somebody’s arm in the penalty box on really what looks like a non-decisive situation…ask yourself a question, if it doesn’t hit his hand, where does it go? But I haven’t seen any video on it so I could be completely wrong.”

Joe Bendik came to Johnson’s rescue with a fantastic save to tip the ball off the crossbar. Spector dove to head the rebound out of danger.

D.C. broke through in the 32nd minute. Lindley was late on a challenge and caught Asad out wide of the penalty area. Asad took the ensuing free kick and it curled toward the back post, narrowly clearing two would-be United headers and it froze Bendik and skipped into the corner of the net to make it 1-0.

Late in the half, the game turned on another video review. PC caught Asad while in the air and referee Fotis Bazakos thought about it and eventually booked the Orlando midfielder. Then, just as D.C. was taking the ensuing free kick, a call from VAR Geoff Gamble prompted Bazakos to take a second look. For the second time, he changed his mind, showing PC a red card in the 41st minute for violent conduct.

“I think my player’s fouled first, honestly,” Kreis said of the challenge that sent off PC. “He was pushed from the back going up on an aerial challenge. Once he gets pushed from the back he’s just fighting to try to get his balance back. But sure, an arm was flailing and hit the opponent’s head.”

The Lions were able to see out the remainder of the first half, plus five added minutes, and go into the break down by a goal. Possession was nearly 50/50 at that point but United had a 7-4 advantage in shots (3-0 on goal). Paul Arriola’s 44th minute shot that Bendik stopped was the final good opportunity for either team in the first half.

Neither team made halftime changes and United felt comfortable to not press. The Lions took advantage, holding the ball for 61% of the second period and generating some excellent play through the midfield despite their numbers disadvantage.

The first warning sign for D.C. came in the 51st minute when Mueller smashed a shot from a tight angle off the outside netting. Meram nearly got to a cross from Mueller in the 54th but David Ousted’s outstretched arm got in the way and Bazakos gave a foul even though it was anyone’s ball and Meram had the better position.

Meram almost set up Yotun for the equalizer in the 57th minute. His cross fell onto Yotun’s left foot and only Brillant’s last-ditch intercession to clear it off the line kept the visitors on top.

Pinho came on a minute later for Mueller, making his MLS debut. Three minutes later, he appeared to be fouled by Birnbaum in the penalty area on a cross into the box and needed a minute to collect himself after a clash of heads got him just under the eye. Birnbaum appeared to get his arms up over Pinho’s back as the ball came in but no foul was called.

Meram and Yotun continued to work magic in the midfield, and Kreis sent Richie Laryea on for Lindley to try to add to the attacking flow. For about the next 10 minutes, it seemed the Lions were just a foot or so from finding the perfect pass or cross, but nothing quite materialized.

Then El-Munir made perhaps the play of the game to keep it a one-goal game.

After a cleared free kick, the ball fell for Mattocks already behind the defense around midfield but on his own side of the line, keeping him onside. Mattocks, one of the faster players in the league, seemed sure to have a breakaway chance on Bendik. But El-Munir ran him down at the end and knocked the ball away before the United striker could worry Joe with a shot.

“I’m speechless to be honest,” Meram said of the El-Munir recovery. “That’s pure determination, that’s pure heart of ‘I’m going to leave everything on the line for my teammates.’ Without that play we don’t tie this game.”

The ensuing corner kick pinged dangerously around the box before Bendik caught it.

Time wound down and the game entered five minutes of added time that proved to be D.C.’s downfall. In the 93rd minute, Spector got forward and played a give-and-go with Meram, who slotted a beautiful ball behind the defense. Spector had continued his run and the center back got all the way to the end line before squaring a perfect pass to Pinho at the top of the six. The Brazilian took just one touch to equalize.

“I’m so happy to score and help Orlando,” Pinho said. “I saw the fans go crazy. It was amazing for me.”

“That’s how we drew it up in training,” Meram joked about the tying play. “That’s a heads-up play by Spector to make a run and keep going and that just shows the determination and the heart of this team and I love that.”

The stadium erupted as the Lions scored their third opening day stoppage-time tying goal in four seasons. Neither team got a final good look for a game-winner but the draw definitely felt more like a win to Orlando City all things considered.

“Really pleased with the performance,” Kreis said after the match. “Really pleased with the effort level, the commitment level, the togetherness the team showed. The never giving up. The true grit that was shown by our squad was second to none. I couldn’t be happier. Obviously we ended up getting a point out of the affair, but had we not gotten that last-minute goal, I’d be just as happy.”

“It’s a great way to start the season when our backs were against adversity for a little bit,” added Meram.

Orlando City will be back in action next Saturday when Adrian Heath returns to the City Beautiful with Minnesota United.

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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