Orlando City won 1-0 against the Chicago Fire, with Ercan Kara scoring his first goal for the Lions. Brian Gutierrez received two yellow cards in the first half and the Fire had to play the entire second half with just 10 men. Orlando had multiple opportunities to score, but ended up putting just one in the back of the net and it was enough for all three points against an Eastern Conference foe.
Here’s how I saw the individual performances of each Lion on the pitch.
GK, Pedro Gallese, 6 — It was a quiet day for Gallese as the Fire only put two shots on target and played with 10 men for the entire second half. He saved both shots, the tougher of the two being a low effort from Gutierrez that Gallese did well to parry out for a corner. He only had 15 passes in the match, completing 93% of them, and his only attempted long ball was inaccurate. It was his fourth clean sheet of the season and he now leads the league alongside Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina.
D, Joao Moutinho, 6.5 — Moutinho’s strong start to the season continued in this match as he led the team with six tackles to snuff out Chicago’s chances on his side of the field. The left back was accurate on just one of his five crosses but completed both of his long balls as he contended with a stingy Chicago defense that was comfortable pinning numbers back to defend. Moutinho was accurate on 90% of his 59 passes and recorded a key pass as well. His only shot of the game was a great attempt from distance that went just over the bar. He’s still hunting for his first assist of the season, but it was another good performance on both sides of the ball from the 24-year-old defender.
D, Rodrigo Schlegel, 6 — Starting in place of the injured Antonio Carlos, Schlegel did well with two tackles, two clearances, and two interceptions. The Argentine center back also had a terrific day in terms of passing, as he was successful on 93% of his 60 passes and was accurate on all three of his attempted long balls. Schlegel had one shot in the match, sending a header wide of goal after a nice pass from Pato. While it’s worth noting Chicago’s offense lacked Xherdan Shaqiri and played half the game with 10 men, Schlegel played his part to keep Kacper Przybylko and the Fire quiet. With stronger offenses on the horizon, this was a nice game for Schlegel to settle in as a starter and help the team get a clean sheet.
D, Robin Jansson, 6 — The Beefy Swede led the Lions with four clearances and also did well to block a shot early in the match. Jansson came up big when Orlando needed him to, but that wasn’t all too often, considering how the game played out. He didn’t have a shot or a key pass and didn’t make much of an impact on Orlando’s set pieces, but he was an anchor along Orlando’s back line. Jansson had 55 passes at a decent 85% success rate and was inaccurate on his one attempted long ball. He picked up a yellow card in the second half, but it was a solid outing overall for the center back.
D, Ruan, 6 — His speed was useful against Chicago’s defensive pressure, allowing teammates to safely send the ball into space for him to chase down. Ruan completed just one of his four crosses, but he was accurate on all but one of his 31 passes for a great 97% success rate as he worked well with Pato. The right back finished the game with a key pass and a shot that was on target but easily saved by Slonina. He added a tackle on the defensive side of things and was subbed off in the 74th minute.
MF, Cesar Araujo, 6 — The 21-year-old started his seventh game of the season and continued to give Orlando some stability in its midfield. He completed 25 of his 27 passes for a strong 93% success rate and helped out on defense with a tackle. Offensively, he had a key pass and his lone shot was on target, although it didn’t cause any trouble at all for Slonina. He won four fouls, including the one that earned Gutierrez his second yellow card, and was swapped for Junior Urso at halftime to give Orlando some more firepower.
MF, Sebas Mendez, 6.5 — In his second start of the season, Mendez gave the kind of performance we’ve grown to expect from him since joining Orlando. The Ecuadorian led the Lions with 114 touches and completed 100 of his 105 passes for a great 95% success rate. Defensively, he added a tackle, an interception, a clearance, and two blocked shots. He didn’t take a shot, but did make two key passes to help on offense and was accurate on three of his four long balls. With Carlos injured, we may see more games like this from Mendez to add some bite defensively while facilitating the team’s passing.
MF, Facundo Torres, 6.5 — Torres won a foul in the attacking half and then whipped in a cross from the resulting free kick that found Pato open near the back post for him to set up Kara for the game’s only goal. He also set up a shot for Pato that was saved and contributed two shots of his own — one off target and the other blocked. Torres was accurate on one of his two crosses and two of his three long balls and had 35 passes at an 83% success rate. He also chipped in defensively with three tackles. Chicago’s defense was smothering at times though, as he had three unstable touches and was successful on just one of his five attempted dribbles before being substituted out in the 74th minute.
MF, Mauricio Pereyra, 7 — Orlando City’s captain did well pulling the strings on offense, leading the team with six key passes, with five of those coming in the first half while the Fire still had all 11 men. He’s becoming more and more familiar with the new offensive weapons at his disposal, particularly Kara, as he found the striker in dangerous areas. Chicago’s pressure put him under stress at times, but he completed an impressive 88% of his 80 passes. He was accurate on two of his three crosses and all three of his long balls found their targets as well. Pereyra also showed plenty of hustle on defense, making three tackles. The Designated Player didn’t have an assist, but continues to prove why he’s crucial to Orlando’s offense.
F, Alexandre Pato, 7.5 (MotM) — Pato recorded his second assist of the season with a patient and pinpoint header near the end line that found Kara wide open in front of goal. The Brazilian led the Lions with eight shots and nearly doubled Orlando’s lead in the 88th minute but his shot right in front of goal hit the crossbar. Two of his shots were on target, including a powerful strike from outside the box that Slonina saved but the rebound fell to Kara, who missed the open header. Five of his other shots were sent off target and another was blocked. He made four key passes, was accurate on two of his five crosses, and connected on two of his three long balls as he created chances for Orlando from start to finish. He could’ve taken better care of the ball at times as he was successful on two of five dribbles, had three unstable touches, and completed just 73% of his 37 passes. Regardless, Pato fueled Orlando’s offense. He is our Man of the Match for setting up the game’s only goal and creating a majority of Orlando’s chances to widen its lead.
F, Ercan Kara , 7 — The Austrian striker made his first goal for Orlando look easy with an open header directly in front of goal. It was also the first goal Orlando’s scored from a set piece this season as Kara made himself an easy target for Pato to find in the box following a free kick. He’s certainly fulfilling his role as Orlando’s target man in the box and nearly had a second goal with another open header but missed the open net. Kara had five shots in the match, putting two of them on target. The 26-year-old was accurate on 75% of his 12 passes and did well making runs for Pato, Pereyra, and Torres to find him in dangerous positions. It was a strong showing from Kara as he continues to find his footing in MLS.
MF, Júnior Urso (45’), 6 — The Bear came on at halftime for Araujo as Orlando shifted gears to score once Chicago was a man down. Although he didn’t have a shot or a key pass, his presence was felt on offense as he helped Orlando quickly build possession and find Lions in open space. It wasn’t a statistically dominant game from Urso but he saw quite a bit of the ball with 36 touches and 31 passes at a 90% success rate. After starting the first five games of the season, Urso received some rest in the first half and didn’t have to pick himself up from hard fouls in the second.
F, Tesho Akindele (74’), 6 — The Canadian striker came on in the second half and his best moment of the match was a nice pass from the right wing that gave Pato a chance to score in the box. His only shot was close but his header went wide of goal. He completed five of his six passes for an 83% success rate and his lone long ball found its mark. Although he didn’t record his first goal or assist of this season, his performance was enough to help Orlando see the game out.
F, Benji Michel (74’), 5 — He did well crashing the box for a header that he couldn’t get on target for his only shot of the game. It was otherwise a quiet appearance from Michel, although he was successful on two of his three dribbles. Although his speed didn’t help grow Orlando’s lead, it helped him apply pressure to the Fire when they were on the ball. The Homegrown Player completed both of his passes in the match and had eight touches.
D, Kyle Smith (74’), 5 — Coming on for Ruan, Smith didn’t have any crosses but was accurate on both of his long balls. He made a tackle and took care of the ball, completing all eight of his passes. Smith had 11 touches in another short appearance for Orlando this season as he helped see the Lions to a clean sheet.
MF, Andres Perea (85’), N/A — There wasn’t enough from Perea for us to grade him as he came on late in the match and helped secure the victory. Perea completed five of his six passes for an 83% success rate and had six touches in his cameo.
That’s how I saw the performances in Orlando City’s win at home against the previously undefeated Chicago Fire. The score doesn’t reflect a game Orlando controlled from start to finish, but the Lions couldn’t put away many of their chances.
Be sure to vote in the poll below for your Man of the Match.
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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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