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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire: Final Score 3-1 as Lions Lose Second Straight Game

Lions were wasteful in front of goal and two defensive lapses and a late transition goal undo what could have been a solid road performance.



Orlando City scored first but conceded once in first-half stoppage time and twice in the second half to fall 3-1 at Soldier Field. The Lions (6-3-3, 21 points) will rue missing on the scoring chances they created, which should have been sufficient to build a good lead on the road, but instead they’ll come home with no points as Chicago (3-7-2, 11 points) won consecutive matches for the first time this season.

Andres Perea opened the scoring to put the Lions on the front foot, but poor marking let Boris Sekulic tie it at the death of the first half. A bad defensive lapse allowed Robert Beric to put Chicago ahead in the second half, and Chinonso Offor scored an insurance tally late in stoppage time.

“Sad at the result, but happy to see all the good things that the boys did in the game,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “I have to say that the boys fought for the game all the time and we couldn’t just put the ball in the back of the net today.”

Pareja rotated his lineup heavily in the midfield and forward lines but couldn’t do much at the back. Brandon Austin started again in place of Pedro Gallese behind a back line of the only four healthy defenders on the team: Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Michael Halliday. Uri Rosell got his first start in central midfield, alongside Junior Urso, with Perea and Silvester van der Water shuttling the ball forward into the attack, featuring Tesho Akindele and Benji Michel up top.

The first good look of the match went to Chicago out of nowhere. Przemyslaw Frankowski got his head onto a long ball in the box and headed just over the bar and onto the roof of the net in the fifth minute.

The Lions got their first shot on a Michel header off a free kick service from van der Water, but his effort was hit weakly into the turf in front of Bobby Shuttleworth for an easy save. In the 17th minute, Urso headed on goal off a corner kick but Shuttleworth fought it off. Michel followed and saw his shot cleared off the line. Perea sent van der Water into the area in the 21st minute but the Dutchman hit his right-footed effort at Shuttleworth.

The Lions did a good job deflecting Chicago shots, including a potentially dangerous one by Beric in the 28th minute.

Orlando got forward off a cleared corner kick in the 30th minute and Michel ended up with the ball, making a nice move around a defender, but another deflected his shot out for a corner. On the ensuing set piece, Schlegel nodded it weakly at Shuttleworth.

The breakthrough came in the 34th minute when Halliday got down the right flank and sent a cross into the area. A defender got a touch on it but couldn’t prevent it from reaching Perea, who smashed it up under the bar for his first MLS goal to make it 1-0.

“I’m really happy for my first goal with Orlando City,” Perea said, but added that the result kind of took the shine off of it. “Everybody’s sad because we had the chances to score in the first half, and maybe in the beginning of the second half.”

Most of the remainder of the half was played in the middle of the pitch until Chicago earned a couple of late corners. Orlando dealt with them but then switched off at the worst possible moment.

At the death of the first half, Smith strayed too far from Sekulic and Alvaro Medran made him pay for it. Urso was a step slow in closing down Chicago’s playmaker, who sent an inch-perfect cross over Smith that Sekulic nodded back across goal over Austin and in to tie the match in stoppage time. It was essentially the last action of the half and the teams went to the locker room even at 1-1.

“It was tough to struggle for sure, because you have the game in control at that point and the half was about to end,” Pareja said about the late first-half goal. “And the lack of concentration that we had in that moment cost us the equalizer. So we just come into the half with that frustration. Obviously it was difficult. We have to be better.”

Orlando out-shot Chicago 8-7 in the first half (6-1 on target). Chicago led in corners (5-2), possession (52.4%-47.6%), and passing accuracy (79.5%-73.8%).

Michel should have restored the Orlando lead in the 47th minute. A nice passing play led to van der Water finding him on the left. Benji was alone against the goalkeeper but fired his shot right at Shuttleworth.

Chicago nearly took the lead in the 55th minute when Halliday blocked a pass but it bounced right back to a Fire player who then fed it across the goal for Beric to finish, but the flag was rightfully up. The Chicago striker was a step offside.

Van der Water got his head to a backside cross in the 58th and headed it softly back across goal where it bounced twice in lots of space before Chicago recovered it. No Lions were crashing that side of the goal and the Dutchman was visibly upset when he saw that. Three minutes later, van der Water got to the end line first and kicked a high ball back into the area. Akindele got to it but headed it right at the goalkeeper on another wasted chance.

Michel freed himself for a shot in the 63rd minute and looked as if he’d finally score, but his shot hit the heel of a lunging Fire defender and deflected just over the bar. The Orlando Homegrown showed his frustration after the shot went harmlessly out of play.

At this point in the game, van der Water and Rosell especially looked winded and in need of a sub, but Pareja held his changes. That turned out to be costly.

Beric fired over the bar in the 71st after two Lion defenders prevented each other from clearing a corner kick delivery. The Fire forward got his goal a minute later, though. Medran fed a simple ball straight up the middle that hit him in stride. Smith kept Beric onside on the run and Jansson couldn’t get a foot on the ball to redirect the pass. Beric finished past Austin and gave Chicago a 2-1 lead in the 72nd minute.

Pareja brought on Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Sebas Mendez in the 76th minute, but at that point the Lions were chasing the game. Pareja waited three additional minutes to send Chris Mueller — the team’s hottest player entering the match — into the game.

Urso went for the spectacular in the 86th and damn near got it. The Bear went up and smashed a bicycle kick on target but Shuttleworth was there to make the save. Two minutes later, Mueller sent a dangerous cross through the six-yard box but none of the three Lions crashing could give it the touch it needed to get in.

Smith had a good look in the 94th minute but his shot sailed over the bar. Two minutes later, the Fire put it away. Smith’s cross into the box was too low and easily cut out and the Fire countered. Mendez was unable to commit the necessary professional foul to prevent the break, and the hosts headed down field with numbers in behind the Orlando defense, which was pushed up to chase the tying goal. Offor finished the play and made it 3-1.

“You know, I think we had a lot of opportunities and then just maybe lost focus a couple times in the back,” Smith said. “And at the end of the game we were pushing forward. They got another goal, a little disappointed. But yeah, we just have to move on to the next game and get a good week of training in and get back on the winning streak.”

Orlando City finished with more shots (19-13), more shots on goal (9-4), more possession (53.1%-46.9%), and greater passing accuracy (79.1%-79%). Chicago held a slight edge in corners won (9-8).

“We have to keep going because there’s more than 20 games left,” Pareja said. “Our objectives (don’t) change and our vision and desire is going to be the same.”

“It’s a game that, it’s just gonna make us better,” Perea said. “We’re gonna keep our feet on the ground, keep developing the team, (and) keep learning from this.”

The Lions now get a bit of time to rest and heal up with the next game set for July 17 against Toronto. At this point in time, that’s another “road match” at Exploria Stadium.

Lion Links

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.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

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 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.

Free Kicks

  • Check your pockets and secure your valuables when USMNT left back Antonee Robinson is on the field.

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!

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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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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.

Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)

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