The New England Revolution had never won a game at Orlando City before. At some point you knew that would change, but unfortunately it happened in the postseason as the Revs beat the Lions 3-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals at Exploria Stadium. Orlando fell behind 2-0 and battled back into it, only to see Designated Player Mauricio Pereyra sent off for an awful challenge from behind, and the Revs tacked on a late insurance goal against the shorthanded Lions.
Carles Gil’s penalty put New England up early on a fairly soft call on Uri Rosell against Tajon Buchanan in the box and Gustavo Bou added another at the end of a transition that started with what looked like Nani getting fouled in the offensive end, but no call was made. Junior Urso pulled a goal back for Orlando, but Pereyra’s red card changed the game, although the biggest talking point will be a Nani penalty that Matt Turner saved. Another talking point might be that Adam Buksa didn’t get a second yellow for taking out Brian Rowe when Daryl Dike was booked for a similar offense earlier in the match.
Whatever your favorite talking point is, it’s all academic now.
“Obviously at this moment there is a lot of pain, and there is a lot of frustration that we have been carrying in the last 10 days, probably, with things that happened and we could not apparently flush them off,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said. “I know how hard they worked for this objecitve and now we need to grow. Certainly this will help us, for sure.”
Without the suspended Pedro Gallese or Ruan, Pareja started Rowe in goal behind a back line of Kamal Miller, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Central midfielders Rosell and Urso played in the middle of the park, alongside attackers Pereyra and Chris Mueller, with Nani and Dike leading the attack.
The first half started out looking like extra time, with the teams playing cautiously and perhaps a bit nervously. Nani provided good service into the area three minutes in, but the cross was just a bit high for Dike to reach.
The Revolution earned a corner in the 11th minute with their first foray into the attacking third. New England played the set piece short and the Revs were called for a foul in their attacking box, turning it over.
Buchanan came down the right a few minutes later and changed the game. Rosell, backing up Miller, attempted a tackle and Buchanan anticipated contact, leaving his feet and going down easy. Referee Alex Chilowicz saw enough to award a penalty and Video Assistant Referee Chris Penso didn’t see a clear and obvious error. Gil stepped up and hit his penalty right down the middle, past Rowe, who guessed left, and New England led 1-0 in the 17th minute.
Orlando tried to pull it right back, winning a corner after the restart. Nani played the corner short to Pereyra, who crossed in. Jansson collected at the far side but hit his shot into the outside netting in the 19th minute. Mueller tried a long-range shot three minutes later but didn’t get much on it and hit it right at Turner for the easy save.
New England doubled its lead in the 26th minute. Nani got double teamed in the attacking third and went down under contact. Chilowicz allowed the play to continue and the Revs broke in transition. Adam Buksa hit a sliding shot off the right post, but Bou reacted to it first, scoring into the empty net to make it 2-0.
“We conceded a goal early, but I think we were OK in the game,” Nani said. “We were pressing up. We were creating our chances. But there was a decision when the ref didn’t give a foul on me and then they scored the second goal. I think there was the key of the game.”
“Obviously the two goals that New England scored early put us in a difficult situation,” Pareja said. “
The Lions found some life in the 33rd minute, pulling a goal back. Nani sent a gorgeous cross to Mueller at the back post. Mueller picked up the loose ball in traffic between Turner and defender Henry Kessler, sending it back to Urso, who fired home for his first MLS playoff goal, making it 2-1.
Dike nearly freed himself up in traffic in a similar way to Mueller two minutes later but couldn’t bring it in. Rosell picked it up at the top of the area and fired over the bar.
The last chance of the half came in the 38th, when Rowe got a hand on a Buksa shot to parry it over the bar. New England took its 2-1 lead into the locker room.
Orlando had more first-half shots (6-5), while the Revs got more on target (3-2) and won more corners (3-1). The Lions held more possession (57.9%-42.1%) and were the more accurate passing team (86%-78%).
The Lions generated a chance out of the break in the 46th minute when the ball found its way to Nani on the left side. He tried to curl a shot to the back post but didn’t hit it right and it sailed well off target. Moments later, Rosell stole the ball in midfield and started the break, but Mueller’s cross into the area was between teammates and easily cut out. Nani then won a corner but the cross was a bit behind the attacking line and Carlos couldn’t do much with it.
Orlando kept coming. Mueller won a corner in the 57th minute and Nani sent a low pass that Pereyra fired on target, but it was deflected wide by the defense.
But just when it appeared Orlando was on the front foot, disaster struck in the 60th minute. Matt Polster brought the ball forward and Pereyra trailed, looking for a chance to nick it back as he often does. However, when the chance came and Polster showed him too much of the ball, the Uruguayan launched himself late and his studs caught Polster’s ankle instead of the ball. It was an obvious straight red and the Lions were suddenly down to 10 men with a half an hour to play.
“I know Mauro, and I know how much he will be hurt at this moment,” Pareja said after the match, not having yet spoken with his DP midfielder. “I know how he feels, but I back him up 100% all the time, knowing that [he] made a mistake.”
“Mauricio today got a red card. He has our support. I love this guy,” Urso said.
“We’re professionals and I think we have to learn and find a way and find our character and deal with all these things that are part of the game,” Pareja said of the red cards the last two games. “And certainly today was another moment where we we lost our head. I want to be responsible for all that. It’s something that cannot happen.”
The Lions continued to try to find the equalizer. Mueller tried to split two defenders in the box in the 64th minute. He was walled off and Chilowicz ignored his plea for a penalty.
The Revs didn’t attack much but looked for opportunities to kille the game, and Bou fired a long-range shot that Rowe could only fight off for a corner. New England took the corner short, passed it back to Bou and the whole sequence repeated, as the Orlando keeper couldn’t do much but parry the shots away.
After the second corner, Buksa tried to dispossess Rowe on a passing sequence at the back and clobbered the keeper. Despite showing Dike a yellow card earlier for a play with less contact, Chilowicz kept his card in his pocket. Buksa was already on a yellow and the referee opted not to even up the two teams’ manpower on the pitch with a curious decision.
Orlando finally got its chance to level it in the 73rd when Dike was run over from behind inside the area. Chilowicz didn’t hesitate to point to the spot and Nani stepped up to take it. After going right twice last week against Sean Johnson — scoring once and seeing the other stopped on a great save — the captain opted to go left, but with the same, slow, stutter-step run-up. Turner guessed correctly and Nani didn’t get his shot far enough into the corner. Turner made the save and that seemed like the final nail in the coffin, although that was yet to come.
“Sometimes you should do better and then you must accept it was not your best. And today I couldn’t take the penalty,” Nani said. “We didn’t know what’s gonna happen at the end but I feel sorry for my teammates because the dream finishes right there.”
“Nani made a mistake. He don’t score the penalty, [but] he’s our leader. We believe in him,” said Urso.
Nani is five for 10 in penalties, including making an important one last week and against LAFC in the MLS is Back Tournament.
“Nani has had the personality. He has had the responsibility,” Pareja said. “There are always two, three people who are in charge of taking the PK. In that moment, he did it and we gave [him] the responsibility. It’s something that now obviously we may think that it should have been different…but Nani had the confidence from everybody.”
The Lions went to a three-man back line, sending Benji Michel and Tesho Akindele on to try to chase the game and, like any high-risk strategy might, it ended up costing them. After Akindele got under a free header on a free kick that might have tied the match, the Revs put it away.
With more space at the back, Gil took the ball down the left side, waited for a run, and sprung Bou through the defense. The New England DP slotted a shot right through Rowe’s legs to make it 3-1 in the 86th minute.
Orlando fashioned a couple of set pieces but couldn’t do much with them and the clock ran out on the Lions’ 2020 season.
The Lions out-shot New England (11-9) but the Revs got more on goal (6-3). Orlando had more corners (6-5), held more possession (61.2%-38.8%) and, passed more accurately (86%-77%).
“I’m very proud of this group. I’m very proud of the players,” Pareja said of his 2020 team. “Today people have seen us, the people recognize this group, the people know that they are good competitors and we’re proud of that.”
“I’m very proud of the team, of my teammates,” Nani said. “We talked a couple minutes ago. We had a team who’ve been working so hard, who’ve been improving so much, and everyone could see it on the field. In one season you can see so much difference on each player. And I’m so, so happy for what this team gave me. They made me believe we could win this league. They made me believe I could win a league again. Even at my age.”
Orlando City’s season is over. It doesn’t feel good right now, but it was a great season and any of us would have taken this if offered at the start of the year.
2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Kyle Smith
Let’s look back at The Accountant’s fifth MLS season.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)
- Alex Freeman: (11/29/23)
Lion Links: 12/1/23
Rodrigo Schlegel fined, MLS roster updates, USWNT faces China tomorrow, and more.
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.
- 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!
2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Kyle Smith
2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Abdi Salim
Orlando Pride Sign Finnish Goalkeeper Sofia Manner
Lion Links: 11/29/23
Lion Links: 11/28/23
Lion Links: 11/27/23
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