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Orlando City vs. New York City FC: Final Score 3-1 as Mueller’s Early Brace Lifts Lions

The Lions took it to NYCFC in the first half hour and did just enough to stay in front to improve to 2-0 in the MLS is Back Tournament.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Chris Mueller scored two early goals, Pedro Gallese made several big saves, and Tesho Akindele added some late insurance to lead Orlando City to a 3-1 win over New York City FC at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World. The Lions (2-1-1 on the season, 2-0-0 in the tournament) took a big step toward the knockout stages of the MLS is Back Tournament with a decisive win, improving to 6-5-5 in all competitions against the Pigeons.

It was the first time Orlando City has won consecutive league games since April/May of 2018.

“We had the personality to have a good start. And at the end, hold the result against a team who is well structured and has a lot of very good players too,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “So it’s a night to grow. It’s a night to feel confident about what we’re doing here. This was very well deserved for the players who made a great effort on the field.”

Pareja sent out a 4-2-3-1 lineup with no changes from the side that beat Inter Miami 2-1 last Wednesday, with Gallese in goal; a back line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan; Uri Rosell and Junior Urso in the defensive midfield; Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Mueller in the attacking midfield; and Dom Dwyer up top. As usual, the shape differed on the MLS site from what the club released on social media.

NYCFC’s Ronny Deila countered with his own 4-2-3-1, featuring Sean Johnson in goal; a back line of Ronald Mattarita, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, and Anton Tinnerholm; Alex Ring and James Sands in the defensive midfield; an attacking midfield of Valentin Castellanos, Gudmundur Thórarinsson, and Jesus Medina; and Heber at center forward.

It took Orlando nearly no time to break the scoreless deadlock. Pereyra drew a foul from distance three minutes in and Moutinho stood over the ball. His delivery fell perfectly for Mueller to take first touch, beating Johnson to put the Lions up 1-0 in the fourth minute. It was Mueller’s third goal in four matches in 2020.

Six minutes later, Cash struck again. Ruan flew down the right wing and sent in a cross for Dwyer. The striker, a bit far from goal, noticed Mueller making a run and headed back across the box. Mueller made a quick move to round Johnson and slipped the ball home for his brace in the 10th minute. It was the fastest brace in OCSC history.

“We had a game plan that we wanted to come out with a lot of energy and try and catch them in the first 15 minutes. And, you know, we did that,” Mueller said. 

Orlando kept up the pressure. Nani and Mueller tried to work a give-and-go at the top of the area in the 17th minute but the return pass for the captain was a bit heavy and New York City snuffed out the chance.

NYCFC nearly pulled one back off a corner kick in the 19th minute, with Chanot heading wide on a near-post flick across the six. Gallese then made a huge save in traffic in the 30th minute on a second ball in after the initial clearance of a NYCFC free kick.

Castellanos got in behind the back line a minute later but sent his shot wide. It was potentially offside but no one knew that when the shot went just inches wide. Castellanos perhaps should have already been off the pitch after picking up an early yellow card for piggy-back riding Jansson and then later simulating contact on the sideline in an effort to get the Swede booked in return.

The game then opened up both directions. Nani sent in a cross attempt in the 35th that landed on the roof of the net. The captain then missed the net from a good shooting position a minute later.

New York City pulled one back in the 38th minute. Medina was given too much space just outside the area and he ripped a half-volley shot that gave Gallese no chance.

In the 41st minute Urso nearly got onto a Ruan cross at point-blank range but couldn’t make good contact in traffic. Two minutes later, Mueller came within inches of a hat trick, rattling the crossbar with a header in front.

That was about it for the opening half except for a few NYCFC half chances down the stretch. New York City FC out-shot the Lions (9-7) with each team getting three on frame. Orlando had a slim edge in possession (51%) and passed a bit better (86%-81%). The Lions more or less controlled the opening half hour but NYCFC came into the game over the final 15 minutes of the half.

Not wanting a repeat of last Wednesday, Orlando was on the front foot to start the second period. Pereyra forced Johnson to make a diving save on a shot from the left, just outside the area in the 47th.

On the ensuing corner, Moutinho tried a bicycle kick but couldn’t hit it squarely. A minute later, Mueller hit a shot that skipped off a defender and fell easily for Johnson.

From about the 50th minute, NYCFC’s high press started to pay dividends and Orlando City had trouble hanging onto the ball. New York City generated tons of corner kicks (finishing with 13) and set piece opportunities but the defense did just about enough to fight most of those off and when it couldn’t, Gallese stepped up and did it. He finished with seven saves on the night, several of the game-saving type.

New York City FC nearly equalized in the 62nd minute. Moutinho drifted away from Medina in the area and Ring’s cross found him. He squibbed the first-time shot attempt and it sailed harmlessly out of play. The Pigeons kept coming, with Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Heber testing Gallese and then El Pulpo made an incredible double save in the 77th to preserve the Orlando lead.

Those saves loomed even larger four minutes later, when the Lions grabbed an insurance goal. A good bit of buildup began with second-half sub Akindele on the right, who fizzed a pass to Urso in the middle. The Bear sent it over to his right to Nani. The captain floated a back-side pass to Benji Michel, who blasted a shot on goal. Johnson fought it off but the ball hung in the air for Akindele to easily nod home from point-blank range. The Canadian’s first goal of the season bulged the Orlando lead to 3-1 in the 81st minute.

From there, Orlando had to see out nine minutes of normal time and 10 more minutes of stoppage time. New York City racked up several corner kicks and nearly pulled one back when Alexandru Mitrita found Gallese’s crossbar in the 92nd minute. NYCFC drew no closer than that and Orlando notched its second straight win.

NYCFC dominated shot chart, out-shooting Orlando 26-12 (8-7 on target), and flipped the possession around to keep 51.8% of the ball. Both teams finished at 82% passing.

Pareja said NYCFC added another midfielder to the press after Orlando’s early flurry in the second half and started getting on the ball more.

“We were spending a lot of energy, especially in the first half and I think we paid at the end,” he said. “Certainly the second half, they put a lot of pressure and we controlled it but I think they had a lot of volume too in our box.”

The Lions close out group play on Monday at 8 p.m. against the Philadelphia Union.

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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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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