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Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire: Final Score 1-0 as Benji Michel’s Goal Lifts Lions to Victory

The Lions are unbeaten in five league matches after a much-needed win over the Chicago Fire.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

The Orlando City offense continues to struggle, but one goal was enough on a wet night at Exploria Stadium. Benji Michel’s second-half strike off a turnover forced by Tesho Akindele was the difference as Orlando City (9-4-7, 34 points) beat the Chicago Fire (5-11-5, 20 points) 1-0. Mason Stajduhar got his first career MLS shutout.

With the win, the Lions’ unbeaten streak grew to five straight matches (2-0-3) and it snapped a string of three consecutive 1-1 draws. Orlando improved to 4-5-5 in the all-time series against the Fire, and 2-2-3 at home. The Lions leapfrogged idle Nashville to climb back into second place in the Eastern Conference, while the Fire fell to 0-7-1 on the road in 2021.

“Another fantastic performance for the boys, especially for what they are getting through,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “Competing and winning those three points means a lot for the players, for the club, for all.”

Pareja’s lineup included Stajduhar in goal and despite Pedro Gallese making the bench, although it was Adam Grinwis who came out for warmups. Joao Mouthino, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Ruan made up the back line behind a central midfield of Junior Urso and Joey DeZart, as Andres Perea was again missing from the match day roster despite not being listed on the availability report. Michel and Silvester van der Water played the facilitator roles, with Nani returning to the starting lineup with Akindele up top. Mauricio Pereyra got the night off.

After an inclement weather delay of about 45 minutes, the teams took to the pitch. The wet ball and constant rain made play a bit sloppy and sluggish at times but both teams had chances.

The first good opportunity came Orlando’s way. Van der Water cut from right to left and hit a shot that crashed off the left post and trickled back across the face of goal but stayed out in the 11th minute.

Chicago’s first good look came on a cross from the right in the 15th minute that Stanislav Ivanov headed wide.

The Lions suffered yet another injury blow at the half-hour mark. Nani signaled to the bench that he couldn’t continue and Chris Mueller subbed on in his place.

Stajduhar made a good save in the 33rd minute on Ivanov, who was Chicago’s most dangerous player in the opening half.

A minute later, Ruan sent in a good cross and Mueller went up and got it but he headed it right at Fire goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.

Akindele got forward after a Chicago corner attempt in the 38th minute and appeared to be pulled down just outside the area. Referee Tim Ford played on and eventually went to the monitor to review it. He determined there was no denial of a goal-scoring opportunity by Mauricio Pineda.

Van der Water was clipped from behind cutting between players in the 45th minute and then took a nasty accidental stomp but there was no foul given. Orlando did get a free kick a few minutes later as van der Water was fouled yet again from behind. The Fire cleared the entry ball, which fell to Jansson, but the defender fired his shot just over the bar in stoppage time. Michel then headed over moments later on the last chance of the half.

Chicago had more shot attempts in the half (8-7) and each team got one on target. Chicago had a 2-0 edge in corners taken and was the more accurate passing team (87.3%-84.8%), while Orlando held a slim margin in possession (50.2%-49.8%).

The Lions had a good opportunity just after the restart, with Urso getting his head on a cross from Mueller in the 49th minute, but Shuttleworth was there to make the save. But just two minutes later, the Lions broke through.

Akindele pressured and dispossessed Pineda, feeding the ball to Michel. The Homegrown forward stepped up to the top of the area and fired a shot past Shuttleworth just inside the left post to make it 1-0 in the 51st minute. It was Akindele’s career-high fifth assist on the season and Michel’s fourth goal of the 2021 campaign.

“I give all my credit to Tesho,” Michel said. “His work ethic, his relentless running, pressing the center back and (to) be able to nick the ball away from him, pick his pocket, and that just left me through on goal. And I knew this was probably my only chance to score, so I knew I had to be clinical and put the ball in the back of the net.”

“Sometimes it’s normal in the game, you see just the ones who score goals or the ones who make the pretty plays here and there,” Pareja said of the play Akindele made to set up the goal. “The value of the tactical movement and the tactical generosity of the players is what refreshes my soul. I can’t leave more content than seeing these guys giving all that they have for the tactical part of the game. This is a game that needs effort, collectively, and that is one of the most beautiful — in my opinion — attitude that the boys can have.”

The Lions looked to add to their lead in the 55th minute when van der Water made a great turn and pass to open up the defense. The ball ended up with Moutinho on the left but he fired his shot wide.

Akindele and van der Water played a good 1-2 pass that ended with the Dutchman firing wide off his weaker right foot as he tried to toe poke it home in the 64th.

Down the stretch it was a series of set pieces and long throws for Chicago but Orlando did just about enough to deal with the crosses, and when the Lions couldn’t win the ball in the air, Stajduhar was there to make the play. He made a big stop in the 81st minute on a curler by Robert Beric that looked to be headed inside the far post.

He made another important save in stoppage time off a corner kick that was redirected on goal through traffic, punching it away at the last second.

To help see the game out, Homegrown midfielder Raul Aguilera Jr. made his MLS debut, coming on for DeZart in the 85th minute.

Chicago fired more shots (18-11), got more on target (5-3), earned more corners (11-5), passed more accurately (86.1%-84.3%), and held more possession (54.5%-45.5%) on the night, but the Lions held the advantage in the only statistic that mattered — goals.

“It was a tough game. It was a lot of back and forth there,” DeZart said. “We try to impose ourselves but they were trying to do the same and that’s how it played out, but towards the end of the first half and the second half we started to figure it out. And I’m just glad we got the win.”

“Overall I thought our behavior was very good and what we want,” Pareja said. “We created our sequences. We created our chances. We would like to be more precise, as we have been saying, on scoring goals and obviously not suffering that much, but I’m proud of this group.

“A special night for the youngsters in Orlando, where Mason and Raul stood up today and showed their presence and the development of our academy here.”

Orlando City will host Inter Miami next Friday night in its next match, which is just two days after Nani and Pedro Gallese are scheduled to take part in the MLS All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

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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