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Orlando City at New York City FC: Final Score 2-0 as Lions Remain Winless in 2018

Despite some reinforcements on the pitch, a sloppy performance gifted the hosts two easy goals.



Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

Orlando City gifted New York City FC a pair of easy goals off turnovers in the second half and the Lions fell to 0-2-1 on the young season after a sloppy St. Patrick’s Day matinee at Yankee Stadium. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi found the breakthrough in the 62nd minute after Yoshimar Yotun’s difficult back pass led to Joe Bendik’s turnover in the box. Sacha Kljestan’s defensive third miscue set the stage for Maxi Moralez to double the score in the 74th.

It was a typical game at Yankee Stadium, with the ball pinging off shins all over the place, nobody having time on the ball, no real build-up play from either side, and, in the end, a couple of mistakes making the difference.

Orlando (0-2-1, 1 point) falls to 5-3-2 in the all-time series after a game that was evenly played for an hour turned on two horror plays in a 12-minute span and New York City FC (3-0-0, 9 points) — playing without David Villa — took full advantage.

Jason Kreis made a few changes to the lineup, inserting RJ Allen at right back for Scott Sutter, alongside Jonathan Spector, Amro Tarek, and Mohamed El-Munir. Cristian Higuita got his first start, playing the base of the diamond beneath Will Johnson and Yotun, with Kljestan debuting as a Lion at the top of the midfield. Chris Mueller and Justin Meram started up top. Josué Colmán made the 18 for the first time and eventually made his MLS debut.

The first half was largely devoid of scoring chances, with the action pinballing back and forth between the two penalty areas. New York City was the sharper team in the final third but couldn’t really generate many opportunities despite their passing and possession advantage.

The Lions got the first good look just five minutes in, but Mueller’s shot from just above the penalty spot was deflected over the bar and out for a corner. Moralez nearly got in behind off a Jesus Medina pass, but he was offside at the 10-minute mark.

Spector had a scary minute in the 16th, clashing heads with Maxime Chanot in the air on a corner kick. After a few minutes to collect himself and get checked out, Specs returned to the match.

Meram got the game’s first shot on goal in the 32nd minute, firing from the left side just above the penalty area. However, his attempt was too close to goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who made a comfortable save. Allen’s cross nearly found its way inside the back post a minute later, but Johnson was wise to the danger and caught it.

In the 34th, the hosts nearly broke through. Rodney Wallace’s shot went off the right post and the Lions were able to clear the danger on the rebound.

The Lions nearly sprung Kljestan in the 39th minute, but Alexander Ring made a nice play to backtrack and get in between City’s attacking midfielder and the ball to prevent a scoring chance. Orlando got a stoppage-time corner for the final chance of the half, but the cross fell just inches behind Johnson’s foot and he couldn’t sweep it back far enough to get a shot. The teams went to the break deadlocked at 0-0.

Each team attempted three shots in the opening period but only one was on target — Meram’s saved effort. The Lions had only a paltry 37% of the possession, but they seemed comfortable laying back and waiting to spring the counter. The trouble with that was a lack of sharpness in the final third, with Meram in particular missing on passes around the area. Orlando City connected on just 65% of its passes in the first 45 minutes and just 53% in the final third.

Spector could not continue and subbed out at the half, giving Lamine Sané his MLS debut.

Seven minutes after the restart, Meram came within inches of snapping the scoreless tie and scoring his first Orlando City goal, but his shot fizzed inches wide of the goal in the 52nd minute. A minute later, Moralez did the same thing at the other end for New York City.

Meram got to the end line in the 57th minute and cut a pass back into the box but it was behind Kljestan as the Lions continued their lack of clinical play in the final third. Three minutes later, Meram tried to send in Allen but overcooked his pass and it went harmlessly out for a goal kick.

Five minutes later, the hosts got on the board. Higuita’s nonchalant pass in the midfield was easily cut out and started the play toward Bendik’s goal, Yotun sniffed out the danger and seemed to have everything calmed down but he stayed on the ball far too long and eventually was pressured into a back pass to Bendik. The pass had a bit of air under it and bounced in front of Joe, who appeared to try a one-touch pass rather than try to smash it down the field. Instead, it was an awful turnover to Tajouri-Shradi, who took a touch to his right and buried his shot to make it 1-0.

Apparently unfazed by what just happened, the Lions barely got away with another bad back pass moments later. The slow roller back to Bendik was dangerously close to being picked off as Joe sat back and waited for it rather than attacking it. It reached him about a half a second before it could become an embarrassingly easy second goal.

In the 74th, the Lions weren’t as lucky. Trying to break out of his own end, Kljestan sent a soft pass that never reached its target and instead was picked off by Saad Abdul-Salaam, who crossed in for Jesus Medina, who then flicked it on for Moralez’s easy finish. Orlando was also essentially finished at that point, trailing by two with 16 minutes to play.

Richie Laryea and Colmán came on to try to pull Orlando back into the game and both had some nice individual moments, but neither could stem the tide. Colmán made a terrific play to slice through two defenders in the box in the 79th minute but there was no one at the back post to attack his cross and it drifted harmlessly out of the area. Tarek and El-Munir tried their luck from long range in the last 10 minutes and both got their shots on goal but didn’t trouble Johnson.

Will Johnson hit the crossbar late and Mueller’s stabbing effort was deflected wide for a corner in the 92nd minute on Orlando’s final opportunities to salvage something from the game.

Orlando out-shot NYCFC, 11-10 (3-2 on target) and improved the final possession and passing numbers a bit (41% and 70%, respectively), but the two turnovers in the Lions’ own end proved fatal.

The Lions have a week off before returning home to play the New York Red Bulls on March 31 at 1 p.m.

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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