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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. New York Red Bulls: Final Score 1-0 as Kljestan’s Goal Buries His Old Team

Lions win first road match since April 29, 2018 with a solid defensive game.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Sacha Kljestan came back to haunt his old team, scoring the only goal in Orlando City’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. Orlando (1-1-2, 5 points) won its first match of the 2019 season and its first road match since April 29, 2018 at Colorado, thanks to Kljestan’s strike in the 73rd minute. It snapped a four-game losing streak at Red Bull Arena, as the Lions improved to 4-5-1 in the all-time series against New York (1-1-1, 4 points).

The Lions didn’t just sit back and bunker. They (mostly) took good care of the ball to avoid giving New York counter opportunities and covered for each other well at the back all night. City also looked to get forward when the opportunities came. Chances were few, but most of the ones the Lions fashioned were good ones. In the end, it only took one goal to grab the win and Kljestan bagged it against his former team.

James O’Connor made some changes to his lineup, going back to a 3-5-2 and giving Robin Jansson and Joao Moutinho their Orlando City debuts and Santiago Patino his first MLS start. Carlos Ascues moved up into the midfield for the injured Will Johnson and Uri Rosell got his first start of the year in place of Sebas Mendez (international duty). The biggest surprise was Dom Dwyer moving to the bench.

The Red Bulls came out as you’d expect, pressing high, taking the ball away in midfield and looking for chances to strike on the counter. This led to a series of early corners and the hosts nearly scored in the sixth minute off such a set piece. Alex Muyl get on the end of a cross and headed a laser on target but Brian Rowe fought it off to keep the game scoreless.

Orlando’s first chance came three minutes later, when Patino made a nice turn in the box and found Rosell, who saw his shot blocked by Tim Parker.

Muyl was forced to move to left back from right wing after Connor Lade was injured after a collision with Ruan. Lade was unable to continue, and since the Red Bulls had no available fullbacks — both Michael Murillo and Kemar Lawrence are away on international duty — Muyl was conscripted for the position and Omir Fernandez came on to take his place in the attacking midfield.

While Lade was still off and the change had yet to be made, Ruan had a golden scoring chance, cutting into the box but firing weakly at Luis Robles. Then Ruan got down the right in the 25th minute and his cross found Patino, but the shot off the rookie’s boot was deflected by former Lion Amro Tarek and flew up in the air. It found Moutinho eventually but the volley attempt was well over the bar.

Rowe made another pair of nice plays on a New York corner in the 29th, punching out the initial cross, and then scrambling back to catch a headed shot on target. Seconds later, Ruan made an error with a bad cross-field pass, which Fernandez cut out. The young midfielder attacked the back line and unleashed a shot but Rowe handled it comfortably.

One of Orlando’s best chances came in the 31st minute. Off a set piece, Shane O’Neill gained possession and sent a long ball for Patino. The rookie was fouled by Kyle Duncan but fought off the New York right back and headed in alone toward Robles’ goal. However, an untidy touch as he tried to set himself up for a shot caused the chance to go away.

The Lions had another good opportunity in the 43rd minute. Nani broke in on goal, but instead of firing, he waited for Kljestan to overlap. Kljestan had little angle to beat Robles but spotted a teammate at the back post. Unfortunately, Tarek knocked his cross attempt out of the air and behind for a corner, and the teams went to the locker rooms locked in a scoreless tie.

New York led in first-half shots, 5-3 (3-0 on target, despite Ruan’s shot seemingly being sent right to Robles in front of goal), possession (51%-49%), and passing accuracy (59%-58%), although neither team passed particularly well in the opening 45 minutes.

The first good opportunity in the second half fell for Ruan, who blazed past the New York defense to get in down the right side. The right back took a loose touch in the box and it allowed Robles to close him down. The keeper blocked the shot with his legs in a desperation sprawl in the 52nd minute.

Three minutes later, the Red Bulls nearly broke the deadlock. Ascues gave the ball away cheaply in the middle of the pitch, and Bradley Wright-Phillips fired a shot toward the back side of goal. Rowe got just a fingertip on it and kept it out.

Dwyer came on in the 60th minute for Patino, and three minutes later the Lions lost Alex De John, who made a nice play to track back, block a cross, and knock it out for a throw. He immediately signaled to the bench for a sub and Lamine Sané made his season debut in his place.

The game turned in the 73rd minute. O’Neill sent a long ball up the middle and Dwyer did well to hold up play, bringing it down with his chest and spraying it wide left to Moutinho. The Portuguese fullback fizzed a cross through the area out of the reach of Parker. Kljestan beat a sliding defender to the ball and slotted home his first goal of the season.

New York nearly answered three minutes later. Off a set piece, the ball pinged toward goal off a Daniel Royer shot and surely would have gone in if Ascues hadn’t bicycle-kicked it off the line to preserve the lead.

Orlando brought Kyle Smith on for Nani to try to see the game out, making a defense-for-offense substitution in the 77th minute. New York’s next scoring chance came in the 81st, when Royer headed wide off a set piece.

The Lions nearly got a second to put the game away in the 88th minute. Dwyer sent in a wicked cross that nearly found Ruan, only to see Muyl make a desperation sliding block to keep the Brazilian from doubling the lead.

Unlike the Chicago game two weeks ago, the Lions held firm, defended resolutely, pushed the ball to the corners and out for throw-ins whenever possible, and held their focus to the end — an end that for some reason included seven (!) minutes of stoppage time.

New York edged out Orlando in shots, 9-6 (4-2 on target) and increased its possession advantage (55%-45%). The Red Bulls hit 61% of their passes while Orlando completed just 58%, with both teams playing safely out whenever possible.

City’s tactics were sound against New York on the road and the game plan was mostly executed well. Jansson was a calm and solid defender all night, looking like he’d been playing for Orlando for years rather than only having been with the team a couple weeks and making his MLS debut. De John and O’Neill played a safe match, with Ruan opting to concede throw-ins out on the right rather than try anything fancy with the ball.

Aside from a couple of loose passes across the field, Orlando executed what it wanted to against last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners, and eventually hit on one of its attacking forays. In the end, one is all it took.

The Lions won’t have an easy time turning tonight’s win into two straight. They return home for a game next Sunday against D.C. United at 6:30 p.m.

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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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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Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/1/23

Rodrigo Schlegel fined, MLS roster updates, USWNT faces China tomorrow, and more.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Welcome to December, Mane Landers! It always feels like a good sign when a month starts on a Friday. I don’t have many plans this weekend beyond helping a friend move and trying to make pad Thai for the first time. It should be a nice next few days to reset after a hectic week. But for now, let’s dive into today’s links from around the soccer world.

MLS Issues Disciplinary Rulings After Playoff Games

Orlando City center back Rodrigo Schlegel was fined an undisclosed amount by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for not leaving the field in a timely manner after receiving a second yellow card in the team’s playoff match with the Columbus Crew. Schlegel did not crowd the referee or plead his case disruptively, but he did linger a bit before exiting the match. It was one of many fines handed out by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for violations during the playoffs, and Crew forward Cucho Hernandez was fined for embellishment for going to ground clutching his face after Schlegel shielded the ball from him.

The Vancouver Whitecaps players and staff received fines and suspensions for their actions during and after their playoff match with LAFC on Nov. 5. Head Coach Vanni Sartini was fined $20,000 and suspended for an additional five games for entering the field of play in a confrontational manner and his comments about the refereeing following his team’s elimination. Vancouver defender Mathias Laborda was also handed a one-match suspension for his actions during the match.

MLS Teams Update Rosters as Deadline Looms

The deadline for MLS teams to decline contract options is today and clubs around the league are getting their affairs in order. The Portland Timbers confirmed that Sebastian Blanco won’t be with the team next year, as he was out of contract after seven seasons with the club. Designated Player Jaroslaw Niezgoda and fellow forward Franck Boli had their options declined by Portland as well. FC Dallas triggered the options on the contracts of midfielder duo Asier Illarramendi and Liam Frasier, while declining the options for midfielder Facundo Quignon and defender Jose Martinez. The New York Red Bulls kept a key part of their defense by signing Dylan Nealis to a contract through the 2024 season. Nashville SC declined seven options, and veterans Dax McCarty and Fafa Picault are out of contract. Both players could be worth keeping an eye on as an Orlando supporter, depending on if Wilder Cartagena and Ivan Angulo will return. According to The Athletic‘s Tom Bogert, McCarty is not likely to return to Nashville.

Racing Louisville Names Beverly Yanez as Head Coach

Beverly Yanez was announced as Racing Louisville’s next head coach after serving as an assistant coach during the 2023 season. The 35-year-old retired as a player in 2020 and was an assistant coach with NJ/NY Gotham FC for two years before joining Louisville prior to this season. Louisville has yet to reach the playoffs since joining the NWSL in 2021 and Yanez is now the club’s third head coach. She’s earned plenty of praise from Louisville’s players and it will be interesting to see how her first season as a head coach goes in 2024.

Alejandro Bedoya Receives Impact Award

Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya won the MLS Impact Award, along with a $100,000 contribution by Audi to The Philadelphia Equity Alliance. Bedoya has worked with the nonprofit to promote inclusive economic growth and reduce poverty. He was also named 2022 MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year for his efforts to make a difference in the Philadelphia community. The Crew’s Darlington Nagbe and Nashville’s Taylor Washington were the other finalists for this year’s award.

Analyzing China Ahead of USWNT Friendlies

The United States Women’s National Team will close out its 2023 schedule with a pair of friendlies against China this month. The two nations will clash tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale before playing again in Frisco on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Although China lost all three of its group stage games in this past summer’s World Cup, it recently won the bronze medal in the Asian Games. China fell short in Olympic qualifying though, and 2022 AFC Women’s Coach of the Year Shui Qingxia’s contract was terminated, with Wang Jun taking over in an interim capacity for these friendlies. The USWNT should be able to find success on set pieces and crosses, although China has been working on strength training this year to compensate for that weakness. Tang Jiali, Zhang Linyan, and Shen Menglu are a few of the players in China’s versatile attack that could spell trouble for the Americans.

Free Kicks

  • Orlando Pride defender Rafaelle started as Brazil’s captain and Marta and Adriana came off the bench in a 4-3 win over Japan in a friendly. In her international debut, 19-year-old forward Priscila gave Brazil the late winner. The two teams will play again on Sunday.
  • The Kansas City Current dedicated their press box to journalist and Kansas City native Grant Wahl.
  • The New England Revolution have promoted Curt Onalfo to sporting director after four years as the club’s technical director. Onalfo served as the interim sporting director after Bruce Arena’s resignation in September and now gets the job fulltime.
  • The MLS Players Association released a statement regarding Matt Miazga’s three-game suspension.
  • Pierre Emerick-Aubamayeng scored a bicycle kick and a late winner as part of his hat trick in Marseille’s 4-3 win over Ajax in the Europa League.
  • The 2023 Women’s College Cup semifinals kick off tonight, with Florida State facing Clemson and BYU playing Stanford. There are many talented players in action who are worth watching tonight before the NWSL Draft next month.
  • Lyon, which is last in Ligue 1 with just seven points from 12 games, has sacked Fabio Grosso after less than three months as head coach.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!

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