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Orlando City vs. D.C. United: Final Score 5-3 as Lions Embarrassed at Home



D.C. United came in as one of the league’s most disappointing teams and was streaking the wrong way with no wins in six games, but that all changed in a 5-3 win over Orlando City at Exploria Stadium. United (5-9-2, 17 points) won for the first time since May 7, and got only its second road win of the season, while Orlando (7-7-4, 25 points) fell back below .500 at home (4-5-0) despite trying to stage a dramatic comeback from a 3-0 deficit.

Taxi Fountas scored a hat trick in the first 51 minutes of the game to put his team comfortably ahead and although the Lions rallied twice to get within a goal, continued mistakes in transition allowed D.C. to just keep scoring. Kimarni Smith and Nigel Robertha each scored their first goal of the season to offset the comeback attempt started by Facundo Torres, which also saw Ercan Kara and Alexandre Pato get on the scoresheet.

“Difficult result,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “Today in the first half we looked disconnected and I really gotta take that responsibility. Obviously we didn’t like that 25 minutes. I think this is the moment where I have to take responsibility. I think today they showed the spirit that they have as a group, just trying to bounce back and I have to review it well. I have to help them.”

Pareja’s lineup included Pedro Gallese in goal behind a back line of Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan. Sebas Mendez joined Junior Urso in central midfield behind an attacking line of Jake Mulraney, Mauricio Pereyra, and Pato, with Kara up top.

The Lions played the first half like they thought the game started at 7:30 rather than 7 p.m., falling down two goals inside of the game’s first eight minutes. Fountas scored both goals easily, taking crosses in from D.C.’s right flank as United players abused Smith, beating him repeatedly.

Ruan sent in an early cross that a defender got a piece of, which unfortunately sent it to goalkeeper Rafael Romo and kept it away from Kara, who was crashing the net in the second minute. Shortly after that, D.C. seized control.

Drew Skundrich discarded Smith and fed a pass to Chris Durkin on the right side of the box. Durkin picked out Fountas, who was unattended and he picked, and hit, his spot, to make it 1-0 in the fifth minute.

Three minutes later, a simple ball over the top found Michael Estrada, who received only token resistance from Smith on his way into the box. He picked out Fountas, who shrugged off Schlegel and tapped home to make it 2-0.

The Lions didn’t exactly respond but they did get a shot off in the 11th minute, as Urso fired an effort that was blocked. Three minutes later, Smith got forward into space and had a go from distance but he scuffed his shot badly and it dribbled in meekly on goal.

The best chance came in the 21st minute when Urso got an open look in the box but Romo made a good save. The Lions put the ball in the net in the 24th minute off a set piece but it was waved off on an obvious foul on Kara, who made contact with the keeper, preventing him from making the easy catch.

Orlando had a couple more chances before halftime. Pato found space just outside the area twice but both times he tried to really smash the ball and got under it, sending it into the stands. Mulraney had a great opportunity in first-half stoppage time but the ball was bouncing and he couldn’t get on top of it, sending another chance into the seats.

The Lions dominated possession (73%-27%), but the early two goals dictated that, as United felt comfortable staying organized on defense and forcing Orlando to earn its way through, which didn’t happen often. Orlando also had more shots (8-4), shots on target (3-2), corners (5-2), and passing accuracy (89.5%-62.7%). Despite the statistical advantages, the scoreboard showed much different story.

Orlando fashioned a scoring chance right after the restart. Pereyra fed Kara into the area on the left and the big Austrian evaded the goalkeeper, but he couldn’t get his shot on frame from the tight angle.

Five minutes later, Fountas put the game away on a set piece. Schlegel fouled Durkin near the left corner of the box and Julian Gressel lined up over it, tapping it to his right at the whistle. Fountas smashed a shot though Orlando’s disorganized wall and inside Gallese’s near post to make it 3-1 in the 51st minute.

It was only after going down three that the Lions started to make a game of it. Pato was sent down the right and had Kara breaking but he hit his cross too softly and Romo caught it. A minute later, Kara smacked a shot off the right post in the 55th minute.

Torres put the Lions on the board two minutes later. Taking a pass from Pereyra to his right, Torres moved to the middle and fired a shot that gave Romo no chance. Orlando had finally broken through in the 57th minute.

“I’m a player that likes to shoot from outside the box, especially when I’ve got a little space,” Torres said through a club translator. “When I got it outside the box, there was space, and I didn’t have any problem shooting.”

Gallese made a huge save on Estrada in the 60th minute to keep Orlando in the match.

Jansson then sent a perfect ball to Torres in the 64th minute down the right and the Uruguayan did well to take it down and send Ruan down the right, but the speedy Brazilian made a mess of his cross. However, the Lions pulled another goal back two minutes later.

Ruan was fouled near the corner flag by Brad Smith and Torres took the set piece. He fizzed a dangerous cross in that Kara met in midair and headed home to make it 3-2 in the 66th minute. It was Kara’s seventh goal of the season.

It seemed it was suddenly game on. Ruan won a corner when his cross attempt was cut out but the Lions could do nothing with it. Just after that, Pato and Benji Michel tried to work a passing sequence that didn’t come off and D.C. recovered, leading to the winning goal. Skundrich sent the ball to Smith, breaking behind the Orlando defense and he slotted it past Gallese to increase the advantage to 4-2.

Tesho Akindele came on for Ruan to add more attacking players to the mix and in the 78th minute, a ball in found Michel on the right. He headed the ball toward goal and it hit the outstretched arm of Brendan Hines-Ike. Referee Allen Chapman immediately pointed to the spot and then went over to look at the replay. After a short review, he came back and confirmed the penalty would be taken. Pato stepped up to the spot and hit it high to the left to pull Orlando to within 4-3 in the 80th minute.

The Lions had a golden opportunity to equalize in the 84th minute just after a corner kick. Jansson ended up picking up a loose ball near the top of the box and firing a shot that Romo blocked. The ball was just sitting in front of goal and Jansson ran toward the rebound but he couldn’t make contact with it and the chance evaporated. Seconds later, Akindele took a pass on the left side of the box. Romo came well off his line and blocked the shot to preserve D.C.’s lead.

Bad luck struck moments later when Pereyra pulled up after jumping up to catch a ball to take a throw-in quickly and he was subbed off for Jack Lynn. Pereyra will be evaluated Tuesday to determine the extent of the injury.

The Lions gave up a series of throw-ins in their own end as the seven minutes of stoppage time wound down and disaster struck on the last one. Cesar Araujo picked up a loose ball in the corner and tried to outlet to a teammate near the middle. Unfortunately, his pass went straight to Robertha, who sent the clinching goal past Gallese in the 96th minute.

Orlando ended up with a huge advantage in possession (72.9%-27.1%), corners (9-2), passing accuracy (88.1%-62.1%), and shots (19-9), and a slim advantage in shots on target (8-6). Nevertheless, a leaky transition defense proved costly. United entered the match with 18 goals scored in 16 games but exploded for five on this night in Orlando. That was plenty to offset the Lions’ biggest offensive output in a match this season — three goals.

“The second half was much better. We looked more like us,” Pareja said. “But the first two goals they took us in bad spots and that’s the price today.”

“It’s something that we need to fix,” Torres said of the team’s slow starts. “It’s frustrating, knowing that that’s been something that’s been hurting us right now. And we’re missing that consistency in our game. We’ve seen it. We need to continue tracking back defensively and make sure that we’re helping out.”

The Lions will try to bounce back this Saturday when Tropic Thunder rival Inter Miami visits Exploria Stadium.

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.

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Orlando City

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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