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Orlando City vs. Sporting Kansas City: Final Score 1-0 as Akindele’s Goal Lifts Lions

Lions notch a vital home win to inch closer in the playoff hunt.

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Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

Tesho Akindele scored the game’s only goal as the Lions evened their 2019 record to .500 (6-6-1) at Exploria Stadium with a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City. Orlando City (9-11-6, 33 points) got a much-needed win in the playoff race despite a general lack of sharpness, especially in the second half, but Sporting (7-11-7, 28 points) could not take advantage of constant turnovers by the Lions after halftime to find an equalizer.

With their ninth win of the season, the Lions moved one ahead of last season’s eight. Orlando’s seventh shutout of the year matches the club single-season record set in 2015 and matched in 2017.

“I gotta try to catch me breath after that,” said Head Coach James O’Connor after the match. “Look, it wasn’t pretty. We had some passages that you think, ‘OK, yeah, first half, not bad.’ Nice goal. Some good chances first half. Second half just became a complete game of transition and for us it became pure heart.”

O’Connor stuck with a 4-2-3-1, replacing Robinho with Akindele in the starting XI from Saturday’s lineup at Toronto. Santiago Patino returned to the bench and Robinho didn’t dress. Ruan (hamstring) was out, along with Joao Moutinho (hamstring), and Cristian Higuita (hamstring).

Orlando should have scored in just the second minute. Chris Mueller’s cross found Dom Dwyer wide open at the back post but he didn’t make good contact and his case of the yips continued on. The forward has to be seeing shadows out there at this point.

Sporting’s first shot came two minutes later when Jimmy Medranda fired at Brian Rowe from distance with an effort that didn’t trouble the Orlando goalkeeper.

The Lions’ lineup was dealt a blow — literally — in the eighth minute. Kyle Smith played a give-and-go and made a nice run into space. Instead of giving him the ball back, Mueller took a shot that was deflected into the air. Tim Melia came off his line to catch it and Smith ran full speed into his elbow, cutting him above the eye. Smith stayed down on the turf and was treated by the training staff before going to the locker room and getting six stitches. Shane O’Neill replaced him officially in the 12th minute.

“I thought the first half was all right,” O’Neill said. “We had the ball, going forward. Felt really good. I felt like I was growing into the game and kind of expressing myself. And then the second half it was tough. The second half was very tough. They pinned us back. Obviously Russell is a tough guy to go one against one with. But I think for the most part we did a good job.”

The teams exchanged possessions for a bit until Orlando opened the scoring in the 21st minute. Uri Rosell slipped a pass to Carlos Ascues, and the Peruvian cut back a pass for Akindele as Dwyer drew defenders toward the goal to open space. The Canadian smashed the ball into the net past Melia to make it 1-0.

“I saw Dom make a good hard run into the box and I saw some space around the six,” Akindele said. “I thought, if I move there and the ball comes to me I could score. I don’t even think Carlos looked, he just put the ball in a good area and I was there and was able to finish it. But Dom took two or three defenders away with him, which led to the goal.”

The Lions had only a few half chances after that. Mueller put a bit too much sauce on a ball that could have sprung Dwyer in behind in the 28th minute. After Johnny Russell’s header from a bad angle went over the bar in the 31st minute, Akindele took a pass from Nani but flicked it just wide of goal in the 33rd.

Nani and Felipe Gutierrez got into it, and both earned a yellow card in the 37th minute, before Graham Zusi fired wide in the 40th with the last half chance for either side in the opening half.

Shots were even at the break at 4-4 (1-1 on target). Sporting Kansas City held more of the ball (54%) and passed more efficiently (88%-82%) in the opening half.

The second half completely belonged to the visitors, as the Lions struggled to maintain possession, wasting numerous good opportunities to go on and score a second goal with misplaced passes, bad reads, or heavy touches. The game devolved into almost entirely transition after the break. O’Connor said the humid conditions adversely affected the quality of play of both teams.

“To be honest the humidity played a huge factor in the game tonight,” O’Connor said. “I think you could see both teams were really impacted by the humidity, and that’s when you need the character and the heart to be able to push though. That’s the one massive credit I can give the players, is the heart and the commitment that they showed to dig in and to push through because it was very tough conditions tonight.”

Robin Jansson made the first of several good defensive plays in the second half when he ran down a ball and made a sliding challenge to keep second-half sub Erik Hurtado from having a breakaway just three minutes after the restart.

In the 58th, halftime sub Benji Michel had a chance to play Dwyer in but he hesitated to make the pass and then delivered a poor one, wasting an early second-half chance for Orlando.

Russell fired a shot from distance in the 63rd that went way over the bar as the Orlando defense did well to limit space in the penalty area and leave Sporting with long-range opportunities.

Dwyer took a pass from Akindele in the 67th minute but with no real angle to shoot he tried to finesse through the defense and lost the ball to veteran Matt Besler.

SKC’s first dangerous opportunity came at the 68-minute mark when sub Benny Feilhaber fired a shot but it was hit right at Rowe.

A minute later, Sporting went on the counter after a wayward cross in the attacking end by O’Neill but Jansson was again there to make a vital stop on a sparkling night for the beefy Swede.

Dwyer saw a shot finally on target in the 72nd minute but it was blocked out in front. A minute later the striker showed some good hold-up play and sent the ball into space for Michel but the flag came up a beat after Benji took a heavy touch and then had his shot blocked by Melia.

Roger Espinoza nearly tied the game in spectacular fashion in the 77th minute with a back-heel try at the top of the six but he hit the shot toward Rowe, who gratefully covered it.

Sporting then started a parade of corner kicks — most of which were taken short as the visitors dominated possession. They nearly drew level in the 83rd when Feilhaber snuck in behind O’Neill and took a pass from Espinoza, but the midfielder sent his shot just wide, wasting Sporting’s best chance of the entire night.

“There were one or two lapses and we got away with it, but at the end of the day the most important thing was getting a win,” O’Neill said. “We just dug it out.”

Moments after another vital blocked cross by Jansson, the Lions could have put the game away in the 89th minute in transition. Nani got the ball wide on the right and played in substitute Sacha Kljestan. Melia came off his line and Kljestan tried to chip him but the goalkeeper got a piece and Gutierrez swooped in and cleared the ball off the line.

Seconds later, Jansson made yet another outstanding 1-v-1 challenge to deny Hurtado a breakaway. Orlando then saw out the five minutes of stoppage and laid claim to another victory to move to 2-0-1 at home and 2-2-1 overall in the all-time league series against SKC.

The visitors led in shots (14-8), shots on target (3-2), possession (56%), and passing accuracy (85%-81%) but the Lions led the only statistic that matters.

The Lions knew they didn’t play their best game but were satisfied with getting the three points.

“I think I’m happy we won,” Akindele said. “Do I think we play the best we could have? No. But that’s kind of like the mark of a good team, I think. Sometimes you play good, sometimes you don’t, but good teams find a way to win. That’s what we did today and that’s what’s most important.”


The Lions have a short turnaround with a trip to face Minnesota United on Saturday night.

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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