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Orlando City vs. Portland Timbers: Final Score 3-2 as Lions Roar Back from Two-Goal Deficit

Down 2-0, Orlando City got three late strikes to win its second straight game.



Carlos Romero, The Mane Land

These late-game comebacks are fun, but how many of these can our hearts take? Orlando City scored three times in a span of seven minutes to erase a 2-0 deficit and beat the Portland Timbers, 3-2. The smallest MLS crowd so far at Orlando City Stadium (22,337) was treated to a wild finish with goals from Chris Mueller, Sacha Kljestan, and Dom Dwyer in the 80th, 82nd, and 87th minutes, respectively.

Those three markers allowed the Lions to overcome strikes by Diego Valeri (pen.) and Bill Tuiloma.

The Lions (2-2-1) won consecutive games for the first time in 2018 and, indeed, in about a year, improving to 3-1-0 all-time in MLS play against the visiting Timbers (0-3-2, 2 points). And even though Orlando City out-passed, out-possessed, and out-shot Portland, Head Coach Jason Kreis said he was pleased with the result and effort but not the overall performance.

“I kind of feel like this week is very similar to last week in many ways,” Kreis said. “Incredible work rate by the guys, incredible that they stick together, incredible that they come back from two goals down. The effort and all those things are fantastic. I still think we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of improvement to make. So we cannot kind of let this result take us to a place where we start to feel comfortable. We have to improve.”

With nearly everyone available, Kreis started a 4-2-3-1 lineup full of expected starters. Only Oriol Rosell was not in the lineup.

Orlando City started on the front foot, with lots of possession in the attacking half and great movement in building up from the midfield. The Lions earned a corner in the first minute and Kljestan’s service fell to Lamine Sané, whose header flew just a foot or so wide of the back post.

Portland got the next good opportunity, as Scott Sutter was caught upfield on the attack. Will Johnson tried to cover for him but Andy Polo blew past him with a burst of speed and fired a shot that Joe Bendik got a piece of but the ball still went through his legs. Jonathan Spector was there to clear it off the line for a corner in the fourth minute.

Kljestan went for goal in the seventh minute on a free kick and got his shot through the wall, but it was straight at goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. Four minutes later, Justin Meram found Josué Colmán in the penalty area, but the Paraguayan’s shot was blocked by a defender. Seconds after that, Kljestan passed up a good opportunity to shoot and instead tried to find Colmán, but the pass didn’t get through.

Disaster struck in the 19th minute, when an initial call for embellishment and what would have been a second yellow card to Sebastian Blanco was overturned by video review and instead Portland was awarded a penalty due to a foul in the area on Mohamed El-Munir. Valeri stepped up and put the visitors ahead, 1-0, even though Bendik guessed the correct direction of the kick.

After the goal, it took Orlando City about 10 minutes to settle down again, with a period of sloppy play keeping the Lions from getting anything going.

Dwyer went just wide with a free kick that took a deflection in the 31st as Orlando looked to get back into rhythm. Kljestan’s shot in the 41st was tough for Gleeson to handle but he did just enough to make the save and concede a corner.

The last good opportunity came in first-half stoppage time, when a corner kick delivery from Kljestan was headed on by Spector and fell for Meram at the back post, but his shot was saved by a diving Gleeson.

Portland took its 1-0 lead to the break.

The Lions held 57% of the first half possession, passed at an 83% rate compared to Portland’s 78%, and out-shot the Timbers (14-4) in the opening period (but only 3-2 on target). The Lions had nine first-half corners compared to just one for Portland. Aside from an inability to finish off a play, it was a mostly dominant half, but the visitors led on the Valeri penalty.

If the Timbers were fending off most of the attack in the first half, they came out of the locker room looking in the mood to score again. Portland twice hit the woodwork in the first five minutes through Blanco and Valeri, and had another shot blocked by the defense that surely would have doubled the lead.

Orlando started to settle down and earn some set pieces, and Kljestan nearly tied the game in the 56th when he went for goal on a free kick to the left of the penalty area. However, his shot fizzed just wide of the back post. But it was a set piece at the other end three minutes later that allowed Portland to double its lead.

Sané was whistled for bundling over Blanco in the 59th minute, and Valeri’s cross found defender Tuiloma, who went over two Lions to head home his first goal and double the visitors’ lead.

The Lions brought on offensive reinforcements in Mueller and Stefano Pinho and pressed numbers into the attack. That allowed the Timbers a few half chances on the counter, but good recovery runs from El-Munir, Spector, and Sané preserved the score as it stood.

Mueller looked dangerous from the time he stepped onto the pitch for Colmán in the 67th minute, and he freed himself up for a shot in the 78th that went inches wide and found the outside netting. Three minutes later, the rookie finally found his first MLS goal. Dwyer earned a corner kick and Yoshimar Yotun delivered a perfect near-post ball for Mueller to flick home with his head to throw the Lions a lifeline.

“You dream about your first goal but most importantly we got the three points,” Mueller said. “I’m happy to have gotten the goal that kind of catapulted us forward. Just a great day.”

Just one minute after Mueller’s goal, Orlando came on the attack again and Dwyer was fouled in the box by Alvas Powell, who threw a shoulder into Dwyer and knocked him down, prompting referee Baldomero Toledo to point to the spot.

Kljestan, not Yotun, stepped up and sent Gleeson the wrong way to level the score. It was Kljestan’s first goal as a Lion and it was a new game for the final eight minutes plus stoppage time.

In the 85th minute, there was a delay as both Powell and Gleeson needed treatment, possibly both for cramping issues. During the stoppage, Dwyer was screaming encouragement to his teammates. They responded, and so did he.

Second-half sub RJ Allen read Dwyer’s timed run and floated a perfect long ball over the back line. Dwyer looked to be in alone but the Portland center backs recovered and converged on the Orlando City striker. Dwyer slipped and went to ground, but maintained possession, got up, switched feet and blasted home the eventual game-winning goal with his right foot in the 87th minute.

“Tremendous character from the boys to come back from two down,” Dwyer said.

Portland nearly pulled the goal right back. Dairon Asprilla managed to get in behind the defense on the right side, but he fired his shot right at Bendik. After four tense minutes of stoppage time, the Lions had their second win of the season and second on the bounce.

City ended up with more possession (58.2%-41.8%), better passing (84.5%-78.1%), more corners (12-1), and more shots (24-13, 7-6 on target), but there were still moments of missed opportunities, as players like Kljestan, Meram, and Colmán continue to figure out where the others are about to go while in transition or in the final third.

“I think we need to bundle up all the positivity from the performance — again, just the effort and the commitment and the work rate — and we need to remember that and put that in our pocket, because that could be really useful as the season goes along,” Kreis said. “But then we also have to be humble and know that we need to make some improvements from front to back. A lot of work to be done.”

Orlando City’s next match will be Friday at Philadelphia against the Union at 8 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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