That was fun! In a rain-soaked and lightning-delayed return to full capacity at Exploria Stadium, Orlando City trounced the San Jose Earthquakes 5-0. It was a true show of force on national television from the Lions, but what can we learn from the win?
Another Electric Start, Without Collapse
After an opening blitz against Toronto on Saturday, the Lions roared to a dynamic start once again. Relentless pressing and aggressive play pinned San Jose back before Benji Michel earned a penalty that Nani converted in the seventh minute. Orlando continued to dominate, forcing the Quakes into mistakes and ripping through wide open space.
Despite the short rest, Orlando City was explosive and purposeful to start the game, effectively putting the game away before the weather delay. Perhaps more important than the fast start was Orlando’s ability to keep its foot on the gas. Against Toronto, the Lions faltered and nearly dropped points, but this time they never let up and drove a stake into the Earthquakes until the final whistle. This game could’ve been 8-0 considering the amount of chances Orlando had. Granted, when the Quakes implode, they really implode, but a complete performance by Orlando is still worth noting.
Dike is On a Different Level
The hype around Dike is beyond justified. In his first start of the season, Dike was a man amongst boys against the Earthquakes. His physical dominance is comical at times, but his technical and tactical abilities have become truly elite. He bagged a nice brace, but could’ve had four or five goals against a horrendous San Jose defense. Every time Orlando had the ball in dangerous spots, I expected Dike to score.
Tesho Akindele is great, but Dike is on a completely different level. Dike actually does a fair bit of pressing and hold-up play like Akindele, but he is also an MVP-level scoring threat. He scores or nearly scores from spots few players in this league have a chance to. I selfishly hope Dike can stay in Orlando for at least the rest of this season, but if he keeps playing like this, that Godfather offer is coming.
Benji Michel Made Plays
Squad rotation is so important in multi-game weeks like this one, and it’s an enormous advantage when key reserves can be impressive starters. Michel made just his third start of the campaign, but looked like an all-star, particularly in the first 30 minutes. He destroyed San Jose’s Judson en route to drawing the penalty, and kept making dangerous runs with and without the ball, including grabbing his first goal of the campaign due to a nice run and some poor defending.
Unlike Orlando’s other wingers, Michel adds a more direct, vertical presence. He has the physical tools and willingness to beat players off the dribble, or be a direct outlet over the top, and he had a fantastic showing early in this game. He wasn’t as sharp down the stretch, but he was active and terrorized San Jose’s defense, even grabbing a second goal at the death knell.
Nani Remains Excellent
The captain cannot be stopped right now. He converted the early penalty to reach five goals in seven appearances this season. More than that, Nani served as more of a playmaker than usual, finishing with two assists and three total key passes. This opening run of games is maybe the best form Nani’s been in since joining MLS apart from the MLS is Back Tournament. If he keeps this up, or even close to this up, he’ll push for a spot in the MLS Best XI. He also got a needed breather late in this game courtesy of Alexander Alvarado coming on. With that added rotation, there’s a much better chance Nani can maintain this form throughout the year.
No Possession, No Problem
San Jose had 57% of the possession and completed 450 passes compared to Orlando’s 331, but the Lions still won 5-0. Under Head Coach Oscar Pareja, the Lions typically like to break teams down with the ball, but they’ve shown they can be a lethal transition team as well. The Earthquakes had plenty of the ball, but did next to nothing with it. Orlando, on the other hand, was direct and explosive, quickly exploiting the holes in San Jose’s defense. Pareja’s tactical flexibility has been exceptional. He knew the Quakes were going to be a mess in transition and had the team play into that.
That’s what I took away from Orlando’s big win at home, but what are your thoughts? Leave your takeaways in the comments below. Let’s do this again Friday.
Lion Links: 12/4/23
Crew to host MLS Cup final, LAFC returns to MLS Cup, Tim Howard to be inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame, and more.
Good Monday morning, Mane Landers. The weekend brought us some drama-filled conference final action, and we now know who will play for the MLS Cup. But before I dive into that, I just want to take a quick minute to say with mixed emotions that this will be my final Lion Links here, but don’t be sad, because the rest of the boys will still be bringing your daily content needs and coverage. I’ll be stepping away as my wife and I are soon to be first-time parents, and I’m looking forward to all that entails. I appreciate each and every one of you readers for taking the time to scroll through my articles each week. If you’re interested in writing for TML, we could definitely use the help so please reach out. Now, let’s get into the links!
Columbus Crew Claim Hell Is Real Comeback
After a rocky start, the Columbus Crew became the first team to overcome a two-goal deficit on the road and advance in a single-leg round in the history of the MLS Cup playoffs. FC Cincinnati got off to a great start behind USMNT striker Brandon Vasquez, who opened the scoring, but it was captain Luciano Acosta’s sublime free kick finish that stole the show in the first half.
It took trusting the process and the tactics of their first-year manager Wilfried Nancy, but the Columbus Crew fought back with late match heroics to seal the victory. Forward Christian Ramirez bagged the game-winning goal in extra time in the 115th minute.
“You can only fight for someone like that,” said Ramirez. “So many times you can feel that you’re getting the bad end of the stick at certain moments, but I haven’t felt that. I think numerous guys understand how he sees the game now, and we respect that. We talk about writing our story in the Columbus Crew history; this chapter wasn’t done. We got one more week, one more game.”
LAFC Returns to MLS Cup
The league’s defending champion, LAFC, will once again be playing in the final match of the postseason. After frustrating the Houston Dynamo throughout the Western Conference final, LAFC won 2-0. Houston might have dominated the stat sheet in possession, passes, and passing accuracy, but really it was just playing into the gameplan of LAFC.
“We knew that’s what they wanted. They wanted the ball,” said LAFC right back Ryan Hollingshead. “They like to play this little tiki-taka in the middle of the field, these little movements, little one-twos, three of their guys just kind of pass the ball, but they’re going nowhere. And so we just said, do whatever you got, have the ball as long as you want. They created zero dangerous chances. They had a half-chance in the first half on a cross to Baird and that was it. And so a lot of these teams, it’s like, yeah, they’ve got possession, they may be moving the ball. But if they’re not creating dangerous chances, who cares?”
MLS Cup Final Preview
The Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew will host Western Conference champion LAFC at Lower.com Field on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m for the MLS Cup. The match will be No. 53 across all competitions this campaign for LAFC, and a victory would make the club the first repeat winners since the 2011-2012 LA Galaxy. The storylines leading to the match will likely center around the possibility of it being Carlos Vela’s final game for LAFC, but for the Crew, the bench players will be the ones to watch. In the 65th minute of the Eastern Conference final, Head Coach Wilfried Nancy brought in Julian Gressel and Christian Ramirez, who both played a pivotal role in two of the three Columbus goals in the comeback victory. The Crew last lifted the MLS Cup in 2020, defeating Seattle Sounders 3-0 at Historic Crew Stadium.
2024 National Soccer Hall of Fame
On May 4, the National Soccer Hall of Fame will induct its 2024 class. Most notable will be long-time USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played 121 matches for the United States and had a successful career in the English Premier League. Other inductees will be USWNT World Cup winner Tisha Venturini-Hoch, 1996 Paralympic captain Josh McKinney, and USL founder Francisco Marcos.
Orlando Reportedly Set to Host USMNT-Brazil Friendly
The United States Men’s National Team is reportedly far along in negotiations to face Brazil in Orlando for a friendly leading to next year’s Copa America. The Yanks and Brazil last met in September 2018 in a friendly match in East Rutherford, NJ. The United States will host the Copa America from June 19 to July 14 as one of six invited teams to the South American competition. Brazil enter as the defending champion and should prove a worthy test for the Stars & Stripes to tune up for the Southern American title.
- Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.
- Liverpool scored in the 87th and 88th minutes to win 4-3 and climb to second in the EPL standings on 31 points.
- Manchester City and Tottenham played to a thrilling 3-3 draw that might find Erling Haaland charged by the English Football Association for criticizing the performance of the referees.
- Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen saw an eight-game winning run in the league come to an end with a 1-1 draw.
- Inter Milan secured a 3-0 victory at Napoli to reach the top of the Serie A table.
- Arsenal will face Liverpool in a massive FA Cup third-round clash in January.
- Wrexham reached the third round of FA Cup after defeating Yeovil Town 3-0.
That’s a wrap for my personal writing here for a while. It has been a pleasure to bring some coverage to you all for the past couple seasons. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 12/2/23
The Pride sign a new keeper, the MLS playoffs continue, the USWNT is in action, and more.
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.
- If you want to see the USMNT play either Mexico or Argentina in the Copa America, you’d better hope that the USMNT makes it to the final, otherwise you will be disappointed.
- Canadian legend Christine Sinclair received a special message from Wrexham AFC co-owner Ryan Reynolds during an interview. Who knew Sinclair likes gin?
- 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!
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 Pride Season in Review: Anna Moorhouse
Lion Links: 12/4/23
Lion Links: 12/2/23
Lion Links: 11/30/23
Lion Links: 12/1/23
2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Alex Freeman
Orlando City1 week ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Five Takeaways
Orlando City1 week ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Final Score 2-0 as 10-Man Lions Fall at Home in Extra Time
Orlando City1 week ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More
Orlando City1 week ago
Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew
Orlando City1 week ago
Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew: Player Grades and Man of the Match
Orlando Pride2 weeks ago
Orlando Pride Announce Roster Decisions Following 2023 NWSL Season
Lion Links5 days ago
Lion Links: 11/29/23
Lion Links2 weeks ago
Lion Links: 11/22/23