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Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire: Final Score 1-1 as Lions Drop Two Points at the Death

Seconds from a rare road win, Orlando allowed 10-man Chicago a last-gasp equalizer.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City may win a road game or a match against the Fire at some point in the future, but it sure doesn’t seem possible, even under the most favorable circumstances.

Leading by a goal and with a manpower advantage against the 10-man Fire, Orlando threw two points away when CJ Sapong scored on a free header to level the game at 1-1 in the 95th minute at SeatGeek Stadium.

Dom Dwyer had given the Lions (0-0-2, 2 points) a 1-0 second-half lead, and Ruan’s speed forced a Jorge Corrales sending off. Still, Przemyslaw Frankowski was given time in the dying seconds to cross in for Sapong. Defender Shane O’Neill didn’t have tight enough marking and didn’t even jump to try to bother the Fire striker, who gave Chicago (0-1-1, 1 point) a late equalizer.

“That’s totally unacceptable,” James O’Connor said to My65 sideline reporter Jenny Chiu after the match. “You’re winning the game. You’re playing against 10 men. To get that [result]. It’s totally unacceptable.”

Orlando was seconds against snapping a six-game winless streak against Chicago and nabbing its first road win in league play since April 29, 2018. Instead, the Lions are now 0-3-4 in the last seven meetings against the Fire, dating back to Sept. 19, 2015.

The only change in O’Connor’s starting lineup from the opener was to replace Chris Mueller with Nani.

Chicago came out with a lot of energy and tried to jump on Orlando City early. A cross for Nemanja Nikolic should have seen the striker put the Fire on top in just the second minute, but Kamal Miller did just enough to bother the Chicago striker and he wasn’t able to get on the end of the cross, which trickled harmlessly out for a goal kick.

The Fire tried going over the top with diagonal passes behind the wingbacks most of the first half and looked dangerous — especially early — but Orlando eventually settled into the game a bit. Both teams were struggling to defend the wide side on Orlando’s right, with Kyle Smith getting around Corrales a few times and Sapong doing the same behind Smith.

Nikolic missed just wide in the 20th minute on a tap-in given to him on a plate by Aleksandar Katai, who burned Smith badly and fizzed a perfect cross in to the Fire’s forward. He simply missed the net from point-blank range.

Tesho Akindele pulled up with an apparent hamstring issue and Dwyer checked into the game in the 21st minute — much earlier than anticipated. Dwyer nearly sent Nani in behind the defense in the 36th minute, but the Portuguese international was just offside and fired over the bar anyway.

The Lions finally got a decent opportunity in the 40th minute, when Dwyer played a cross off his chest and hit it off the half volley. The shot was headed for the inside of the near post but David Ousted was able to make a sprawling save.

An uneventful five minutes later, the first half was over and the sides headed into the locker rooms scoreless. Chicago held 56% of the first-half possession and out-shot the Lions, 4-1 (1-1 on target). Fouls were 7-3, with the hosts committing more infractions. Each team had one player booked — Smith for Orlando and Djordje Mihailovic for Chicago.

City pounced early in the second half. Nani got on the end of a Danilo Acosta header and blooped a ball over top of the Fire defense. Dwyer ran hard to split the Chicago center backs and arrived just before Ousted, coming out off his line. Dom chipped it with his toe on the second hop over the Fire keeper and into the net for the 1-0 lead at the 47-minute mark.

It was Orlando’s first goal at Chicago since Aug. 14, 2016.

Dwyer got in behind again three minutes later but lost control trying to finesse his way past Ousted; however, the assistant referee’s flag came up anyway.

Ruan was introduced in the 58th minute, coming on for Smith, and his speed impacted the game. Six minutes after coming on for his MLS debut, the Brazilian blazed past Corrales to get onto a slick through ball from Nani. Corrales lunged and brought Ruan down. Robert Sibiga gave a red card and upheld it upon video review, putting Chicago down a man as well as a goal.

Orlando was either unable or unwilling to control the game by possessing the ball. Chicago actually improved its halftime possession numbers, finishing with 59% of the ball, compared to Orlando’s 41%. Chicago continued to try to attack down the wings and cross the ball into the middle. Alex De John did a nice job of clearing out a few crosses into dangerous spots.

The Lions continued to give the ball away too often down the stretch and it finally cost them in stoppage time. Frankowski was given too much time on the ball and picked out a beautiful cross for Sapong. O’Neill was the closest defender and perhaps expected De John to be able to jump up and head it away before it arrived. De John didn’t jump and O’Neill wasn’t tight enough to the Fire forward. He also didn’t jump, giving Sapong a free header to level things in the 95th minute with time essentially up. It was Sapong’s fifth career goal against Orlando City.

“It’s really poor play from us to allow that to happen,” O’Connor told reporters after the match. “I just think our understanding of when we’re playing against 10 men, we need to do a better job of keeping the ball and playing in their half. It’s just very, very annoying for all of us.”

Despite leading for about 48 minutes, Orlando City’s offense was dormant, attempting only two shots in the game, although getting them both on frame. Chicago out-shot the Lions, 7-2 (3-2 on target). The Fire were also the better passing team (80%-72%).

Where last week’s draw may have felt like a win, despite the penalty not given, this one’s surely feels more like a loss.


Orlando will be back in action at home next Saturday, hosting the Montreal Impact at 4 p.m. ET.

Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/2/23

The Pride sign a new keeper, the MLS playoffs continue, the USWNT is in action, and more.

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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.

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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.

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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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