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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Los Angeles FC: Final Score 4-1 as Lions Drop Ninth Straight

Lions had a tying goal overturned for…reasons?…and LA grabbed two late goals to pad the score line.



Carlos Romero, The Mane Land

The James O’Connor era has begun and — like Adrian Heath and Jason Kreis before him — he’s already had to deal with a rash of injuries and an unbelievable officiating decision that went against his team. Despite playing a better-looking brand of football for the majority of the 90 minutes at Banc of California Stadium, the Lions still dropped a lopsided 4-1 decision to LAFC (10-4-4, 34 points).

Orlando City (6-11-1, 19 points) has now lost nine consecutive MLS matches and although it appears that there’s no end in sight, the team did play better for the most part, only faltering after captain Jonathan Spector left with a first-half injury and again late after a pair of decisions — one overturned by the video assistant referee in the booth rather than the referee reviewing the video, and the other seemingly not even looked at whatsoever. But some of the same issues were still prevalent, such as finishing opportunities in front of goal.

Hey, at least it wasn’t a shutout, thanks to Sacha Kljestan.

O’Connor didn’t have Scott Sutter (adductor), Cristian Higuita (adductor), Lamine Sané (quad), or Will Johnson (yellow card suspension) so he lined up his squad in a 4-2-3-1.

The Lions did well early to weather LAFC’s notorious early attack. In fact, neither team got a good look at goal for a while, with each firing shots from distance or having deflected chances roll in on the keeper. The hosts got the first good opportunity in the 20th minute with Latif Blessing firing over the bar on a scramble in Orlando’s penalty area. Donny Toia tried to clear a cross but it hit Adama Diomande and stayed in the box for Blessing to track down.

Spector went down with an apparent injury in the 23rd minute and had to be subbed out for Chris Schuler and things quickly unraveled for the Lions’ defense as it took a few minutes to adjust to the captain’s absence. Diomande put the ball in the net in the 26th minute, but the play was offside. Amro Tarek looked to lose the big scoring machine so it was fortunate he was a half a step behind the line. But, just two minutes later, Diomande got his goal.

It started with a Steven Beitashour cross from the right that found the head of Blessing. Bendik appeared to have time to smother the shot but he parried it away instead, allowing LAFC to regroup. Blessing tracked it down and crossed it in, where Tarek whiffed on his clearance attempt, which fell right onto the foot of Mark-Anthony Kaye, who fed Diomande right in front for the easy finish in the 28th minute.

Orlando’s costliest missed opportunity of the match could have tied it and altered the trajectory of the rest of the game. In the 31st minute, Kljestan fed a perfect through ball for Dom Dwyer’s well-timed run. Dwyer was in behind with only Tyler Miller to beat but he couldn’t get his shot past the big goalkeeper.

A minute later, LAFC doubled the lead.

Poor defensive rotation allowed Aaron Kovar to get down the right behind the back line and cross in for Blessing to finish into an empty net. Blessing was a handful for RJ Allen all night on that flank and LAFC punished the Lions severely for not scoring on Dom’s chance just moments earlier to make it 2-0.

The Lions tried to respond before the interval. Josué Colmán sent a curling effort from the top of the area in the 34th minute that forced a diving save from Miller.

In the 43rd minute, Chris Mueller found himself with the ball from a tight angle after Miller muffed a punch attempt. The rookie fizzed his shot through the area, but it was off target and went out for a goal kick. The Lions headed into the locker room down a pair of goals but really only played poorly for a spell of about five minutes after Spector’s injury — notwithstanding the poor finishing.

Orlando started the second half on the front foot, looking to get back into the game. Dwyer was played in early but was offside, then the striker headed wide off a cross from Allen. Finally, Dwyer drew a foul above the penalty area that nearly had the Lions on the board. Kljestan fired on target but Miller made a great save to keep the two-goal lead. All of this happened in the first six minutes of the second half.

Yoshimar Yotún, seeing his first action since returning from World Cup duty with Peru, fired just wide from the top of the area in the 53rd minute.

LAFC appeared to have a 3-0 lead a minute later. Kaye sent in a deflected shot that Bendik completely botched, allowing Diomande to run onto it and crack it into the net from point-blank range. Bendik was saved by the fact that Diomande was offside when the shot was taken by Kaye.

The Lions pulled one back in the 59th minute. Toia broke up an LAFC attack and found Kljestan up the field. LAFC center back Walker Zimmerman raced out to try to defend the play and fell down, allowing Sacha to waltz in and fire home from the top of the area into the far corner to make it 2-1.

LAFC nearly got that goal right back through Blessing’s lightning attack on the restart. The ball cycled around the area before finding Kovar, who fired on frame, but Bendik made the save.

After Bob Bradley introduced substitutes Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela, LAFC had a prolonged period of possession but didn’t offer much menace in the attack. Orlando City eventually got a hold of the ball and looked to tie the game.

Kljestan played a ball to the right for second-half sub Justin Meram, who cut his cross back behind him to Dwyer for the easy finish and the game was tied at 2-2, apparently. Until it wasn’t. After a lengthy delay before the restart, referee Chris Penso signaled that VAR Alex Chilowicz overturned the goal due to an offside call. Replays and photos indicated that Meram appeared even with the back line, if possibly off by just his lower arm. Dwyer was offside when the pass was played to Meram but the winger’s play put the striker back on. Penso never went to look at the replay and took the VAR’s word. Does this look like a clear and obvious error? Because, though I may be biased, it doesn’t look like a clear and obvious error to me.

The Lions kept coming. Dwyer got inside the defense again in the 80th minute but again Miller was able to make the save. That was the last opportunity for the Lions to change their fortunes, as just two minutes later LAFC scored again to put the game to bed.

This one came off a corner header that Bendik got a piece of and Meram cleared off the line. The ball popped back out in front to Diomande, who went to ground for a bicycle-type kick that hit the crossbar, fell to the ground, and appeared to be cleared off the line again. Penso signaled the goal — and it very may well have been completely over the line — but the restart came quickly without any lengthy delay this time. Go figure.

I’m not saying the ball didn’t cross the line, but can we not hurry one team back to play while we dissect the film for the other team? The word I’m looking for here — and so is the Professional Referee Organization — is consistency.

Anyway, the game was effectively over with Diomande’s second goal at the 82-minute mark, but that didn’t stop LAFC from adding another moments later through Rossi. The play started on a routine back pass to Tarek, but he took a horrible first touch and then got muscled off the ball by Diomande. Blessing ran onto it, leaving Schuler to defend two players, and that’s a tall ask when those players are Blessing and Rossi, who scored into an empty net to make it 4-1.

Miller rubbed salt in the wound with a pair of big saves in the 90th minute on Uri Rosell and Mohamed El-Munir. First Uri tried his luck from above the semicircle and Miller made a diving stop. Mo ran onto it and tried to go near post when the far post may have been the better option, but it was still a screamer and Miller made a good reaction save.

The four minutes of stoppage were eaten up quickly, much of it while Orlando City debated a free kick just outside the area. After all the debate, the training ground play was a disaster and no shot even came out of it. That about summed up the night — a night which could have gone much differently without Mr. Chilowicz’s involvement.

On the balance, LAFC was the better side, out-shooting Orlando City, 19-14 (13-9 on goal), keeping 63% of the possession, and passing at an 88% accuracy compared to the Lions’ 75%. But the 4-1 score line is a bit misleading, especially with Orlando’s second goal being curiously disallowed. Who knows where a 2-2 match ends up over the final 18 minutes? Still, Orlando wasn’t sharp enough in front of goal — and credit Miller for a lot of this — and didn’t need to concede those two late scores.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad first effort under O’Connor’s tutelage but it appears it’s going to take some time.

The Lions are home next Saturday night when Toronto FC comes to Orlando City 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.

Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)

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Orlando City

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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