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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire: Final Score 2-1 as Alan Gordon’s Strike Sinks Lions

The Lions may have been the better side for most of the game but wasted opportunities cost Orlando again.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City dominated the play but was beaten on the scoreboard, losing 2-1 to the Chicago Fire on a rainy night in front of 25,288 at Orlando City Stadium. Alan Gordon’s blast from distance in the 82nd minute gave Joe Bendik no chance to stop it and the Fire will leave Florida after a smash-and-grab job to keep all the points.

Cristian Higuita scored for the second consecutive game — this time pulling the Lions level after an early free kick goal by Aleksander Katai. Orlando City (6-5-1, 19 points) is now just 0-1-3 at home against the Fire (4-6-2, 14 points).

“I think the players know in their hearts that we were by far the better team,” said Orlando Head Coach Jason Kreis after the match. “And you won’t hear me say that very often but tonight I will tell you there was only one team that was pushing things and the other one was just trying to pick up the draw or catch something on the break.”

“At the end of the day, we left them hanging around and we got punished for it,” RJ Allen said. “We definitely need to learn from it and move forward.”

Due to players already missing with injuries or off on international duty, coupled with the unexpected absences of center back Lamine Sané (leg injury) and midfielder/right back Will Johnson (illness), Kreis was forced into a makeshift lineup. He started Allen at right back and slotted Tony Rocha next to Chris Schuler in central defense. Josué Colmán started up top in place of the injured Dom Dwyer, with Stefano Pinho returning to the bench. The squad was so thin that both backup goalkeepers made the 18.

Orlando City started the game more or less holding possession but taking shots from outside the penalty area. Unfortunately, the Lions couldn’t get any of them on target, shooting way wide or over the bar. That inability to threaten goalkeeper Patrick McLain allowed the Fire to get on the board first.

Chicago struck in the 13th minute off a set piece. Mohamed El-Munir was booked after contact with Diego Campos above the penalty area, setting the Fire up with a free kick in a dangerous spot. Katai stepped into the set piece and beat Bendik with a shot into the upper 90 on the left side. Bendik appeared to be caught mid-hop as he prepared, possibly thinking Bastian Schweinsteiger would take the kick after a Katai dummy. Bendik was so off-balance on the save attempt that he reached across his body with his trailing hand to try to stop the shot.

“Very disappointing. The first decision that awards them the free kick they score off of was ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous. Never a foul,” Kreis said. “And so we shouldn’t be behind in that game.”

Orlando City responded well to the Fire’s early goal.

The Lions’ first good opportunity came in the 18th minute on the counterattack after a Fire free kick. The Lions broke and Chris Mueller ended up with the ball but he was forced onto his weaker left foot by the defense and he fired over the bar. Two minutes later, Colmán fired over the bar from the left side.

Orlando continued to push forward. Sacha Kljestan’s header went over the bar in the 25th minute off a great back-post ball by Allen. A minute later, Justin Meram was nearly sent in but McLain came off his line to smother the shot right off his foot.

But the Lions scored soon after that. Mueller took a pass from Colmán and sent Higuita in on the right side. The Colombian fired his third goal of the season into the net to tie things up at 1-1.

“For me it’s been important to score the goals [the last two games] but I would have liked a lot better to have scored and to win,” a dejected Higuita said through a translator after the match. “For me, I prefer the group objectives instead of my personal objectives.”

The rest of the first half was a probing affair, with both teams playing a bit more cautiously as the rain increased. The Fire nearly regained the lead on another dangerous set piece opportunity, but this time Schweinsteiger did take the kick after a Katai dummy run, and his low drive was just wide of the left post.

As time wound down in the first half, Colmán earned a free kick just wide of the penalty area. The delivery from Kljestan found Uri Rosell, who nodded it on frame, but McLain made a big reaction save to keep the game level.

Orlando City held 59% of the possession in the first period, out-shooting the Fire, 10-5, but the teams were even at 2-2 getting them on frame. The Lions passed at a 90% rate in the opening 45 minutes, compared to Chicago’s 84%.

Somewhere along the way, Schuler broke his arm in the first half. However, he came out of the locker room with a sleeve on and played through it.

The Lions looked better after the break, playing much of the second period in the attacking half. The hosts produced many scoring opportunities but couldn’t seem to break through and penalty shouts from both Higuita and Mueller going down in the box went unheeded by referee Nima Saghafi, although the latter went to video review.

Orlando forced two outstanding saves from McLain in the early minutes of the second half. El-Munir cut in on his right foot and smashed one that forced a diving save in the 49th minute.

Two minutes later, Meram curled one that was headed just inside the far post but McLain got over just in time to keep it out.

In the 55th, a terrific give-and-go play between Kljestan and Colmán sent Sacha in on McLain, but he tried to chip the keeper on the half volley and hit it too hard, sending it over the net. A minute later, Colmán fired over the bar after another good exchange above the box.

Mueller went down after contact in the box in the 60th minute and after about a minute of review, Saghafi determined no foul had occurred. He initially not only didn’t see a foul, but also ran into the box to stare down Mueller in a bizarre moment. There was no yellow for simulation so it’s unclear why he made that run toward the Orlando rookie.

Chicago got a bit more of the game for the next 10 minutes, with Daniel Johnson forcing a Bendik save in the 68th minute and Katai firing over the bar in the 71st.

The Lions then got back on the front foot. Meram volleyed a low drive off a corner kick cross but it hit a defender and deflected out for a corner. Kljestan then nearly got in all alone on a gorgeous ball over the top from Allen, but he couldn’t quite control the wet ball and it skipped away in the 73rd minute. In the 79th, a buildup ended up in front of Higuita, but the Colombian, who seemed to tire late in the game, couldn’t dig it out of his feet to take a shot.

Three minutes later, disaster struck.

Second-half sub Gordon, who came on at the break for Nemanja Nikolic, got the ball in space about 30 yards out and sent a rocket into the upper 90 to Bendik’s left. It was an unstoppable shot and very much against the run of play but that didn’t matter, as it allowed Chicago to win the game. It was the perfect storm, with a wounded and nearly immobile Schuler and the inexperienced Rocha defending, neither stepped up to close down Gordon and he made the Lions pay.

Needing a goal, and with some players tiring, Kreis sent on PC and Richie Laryea for Colmán and Higuita.

Meram nearly got through on goal in the 87th minute but there was too much traffic and he couldn’t get a clean shot away.

Two minutes later came one of the bigger talking points of the match as Kljestan tangled with Mo Adams at the top of the penalty area. It appeared that Sacha dragged Adams down but then the Fire midfielder brought his boot down on Kljestan’s face. Saghafi immediately showed a red card to Adams and after a few moments he booked Kljestan.

Kreis was incensed that no penalty was given, after the initial action resulted in a dead ball and the foul on Adams that earned the red took place in the area. He cited a conversation with the technical committee about a year ago on red card calls.

“Maybe I misremembered but I think it was specifically told to me that any red card that happens during a dead ball situation — where that red card violation is, that’s where the foul is awarded. So in my point of view, if there’s an ejectionable offense that happens in the penalty box, it’s a penalty.

“The explanation was that because Sacha fouled him first and received a yellow card, that was it. The player at that point can do whatever he wants to Sacha, pick up a red card, and then they get the ball back. Seems odd to me.”

Orlando got only one good look at goal in the five minutes of stoppage time, with Schuler playing up and getting a shot but it was blocked by the defense.

The whistle finally blew on Orlando’s third consecutive 2-1 defeat.

The Lions held 60% of the possession, passed at a 90% rate, and out-shot Chicago, 20-10 (5-4 on target) but had nothing to show for the match.

“I certainly can’t remember a night where I felt like we were more dominant with this club and maybe with any club,” said Kreis. “So you walk out of this night thinking how cruel this game can be, how cruel this job can be, and trying to grasp at the positives, for sure.”

“Soccer is about goals,” Higuita said. “We have to be more efficient.”

The Lions will find it difficult to stop the bleeding, as the next match is on the road at New York City FC next Saturday night in the baseball stadium.

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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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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