We’ve made it through the week and that means that another Orlando City match is right around the corner. This Saturday sees the Lions return to Exploria Stadium to take on the visiting Chicago Fire.
A visit from Chicago means I took the time to speak with Ruben Tisch, the big boss over at The Lantern. Like us, The Lantern has gone independent, and the folks over there are continuing to provide excellent coverage of all things related to the Chicago Fire.
Talk me through the Fire’s transfer business during the off-season. Who were the arrivals and how have they performed so far?
Ruben Tisch: The Fire didn’t really have a loud winter transfer window. It’s mostly the same squad with two exceptions. They brought in Maren Halie-Slassie from sister club FC Lugano and MLS legend Kei Kamara.
MHS has been arguably up there with Brian Gutierrez as the most impactful player on the team this year. He gives the Fire a vertical option on the wing, something that the team hasn’t really had since David Accam left the club. He has good technique on the ball and the smarts to get himself in good spots to be the most effective.
The other big name is Kei Kamara. You all know Kei Kamara. Third most goals scored (for now) in MLS history Kei Kamara. Has played for 10 different MLS teams Kei Kamara. I won’t say he’s been transformative. The Fire still have one of the worst goal-scoring rates in the league. But it’s nice that when the club plays they don’t feel like not scoring is inevitable. There’s always a chance to score a goal with him on the pitch.
Are there any areas that you would like to see the Fire strengthen during the summer transfer window, or are you happy with what the team has?
RT: This question has a much more complicated answer than you bargained for. The Fire are currently going through a lame-duck front office. By the January window, there will be a new front office and manager going into 2024. So ideally, I’d have liked to see a marquee signing to fill the remaining DP spot the club had, but that was never going to happen due to those circumstances.
Regardless, the Fire have already made their big move, signing Ousmane Doumbia (also from FC Lugano) to be their third Designated Player for the rest of the season. He’s a 6/8 hybrid that should help bring some more balance to the roster, especially if they’re about to lose a central midfielder.
Chicago has had success on the road lately, winning its last two matches against Portland and Sporting Kansas City, and doing so on short rest. What worked so well for the Fire in those matches?
RT: The simple answer is that they went back to a back-four system. For the last month or so, the team has been playing with a back three, sacrificing a defender to get Xherdan Shaqiri and Brian Gutierrez on the field at the same time. It hasn’t really worked. The Fire had continued to leak goals through that entire stretch for not much benefit on the other end. While the interplay between Shaq and Guti was aestetically pleasing, it didn’t really improve the team’s winning prospects.
They also have improved their defending on set pieces. That was where they blew most of their leads late was either directly off a set piece or off of a recycled ball from one. It’s not quite elite-level stuff, but it’s been good enough to win two in a row.
Are there any players who will be unavailable due to injury, suspension, etc? What is your projected Starting XI and score prediction?
RT: I honestly don’t know enough about Orlando to give a prediction. Because of the nature of the schedule, I’ve watched more Western Conference teams than in the East. But on paper, the Fire have a better, more exciting roster. So I’ll be slightly biased in saying that the Fire get at least a point.
As for the starting XI, I don’t expect much change from Kansas City. At most, Carlos Teran and MHS could be back in the lineup after recovering from injury.
Chris Brady; Alonso Aceves, Rafael Czichos, Mauricio Pineda, Arnaud Souquet; Gaston Giminez, Federico Navarro; Jairo Torres, Brian Gutierrez, Fabian Herbers; Kei Kamara.
Thank you to Ruben for helping us get up to speed on Chicago. Vamos Orlando!
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!
Lion Links: 11/30/23
Orlando City faces big questions, Matt Miazga suspended, Emma Hayes meets USWNT for first time, and more.
November is finally coming to a close. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of a month for me, with highs, lows, and many things in between. All in all, I’m pretty glad it’s nearly over, although I expect December to be similarly hectic. At least this weather is allowing me to break out some winter clothes and turn on the fireplace in this new apartment. I’m not sure why a fireplace was installed in a Floridian apartment, but I’m not complaining. Let’s dive into today’s links!
Big Decisions Await Orlando City
With Orlando City’s season over, attention now turns to a critical off-season for the club. Head Coach Oscar Pareja is out of contract after leading the Lions to the playoffs for the past four years. The club will also need to decide if it will exercise the 2024 options on the contracts of both Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Luiz Muzzi and Technical Director and Assistant General Manager Ricardo Moreira. All three have orchestrated Orlando’s transformation that’s included winning its first trophy, having its best season this year, and qualifying for both the Concacaf Champions League and Champions Cup. Potentially transferring Facundo Torres to Europe, filling the empty Designated Player slot, and deciding which players to bring back for 2024 are also on the agenda. However, figuring out who will lead the Lions into this exciting next chapter is paramount. Personally, I think the club should do everything in its power to keep the people who brought Orlando to this point.
Matt Miazga Suspended for Three Games
FC Cincinnati will be without MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga for Saturday’s Eastern Conference final, as he was suspended by MLS for three games due to his misconduct after the match with the New York Red Bulls on Nov. 4. Miazga was also fined an undisclosed amount and will undergo a behavioral assessment as part of the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Following that aforementioned playoff match, reports surfaced that Miazga gained unauthorized access to an area reserved for the referees and acted aggressively. Any suspended games not served during Cincy’s playoff run will carry over into the 2024 season, although Miazga can petition for a reduction based on compliance with recommended treatment plans.
Emma Hayes Meets With USWNT Players and Staff
Emma Hayes, who was hired as the next United States Women’s National Team Head Coach earlier this month, made the trip to Florida to meet the team for the first time. Although she won’t be coaching the team for its upcoming pair of friendlies against China, she collaborated with interim head coach Twila Kilgore on the latest training camp roster and will continue to work with her until taking over in May. There won’t be much time between Hayes’ official start date and the 2024 Summer Olympics, making these moments of face time between player and future coach all the more important. USWNT captain Lindsey Horan spoke on the team’s goals after meeting Hayes for the first time.
“There’s so much talent in this team, and I don’t think the world has seen enough of it yet just because we need to go out and show it,” Horan said. “We need to be able to mesh together and show everything that we have, and what we’re all about, and how we can really collaborate and play together — be more of a team and be a powerhouse again.
“It’s going to be exciting for us to have her and see what she can do with this team and how she can help us moving forward.”
Ricardo Pepi Sends PSV Into Champions League Knockout Stage
PSV Eindhoven clinched its spot in the next round of the UEFA Champions League in dramatic fashion, with American forward Ricardo Pepi scoring the winner in a 3-2 comeback win over Sevilla in Spain. Trailing 2-0 in the second half, American left back Sergino Dest provided the assist on PSV’s first goal and Pepi found the winner in stoppage time, with fellow American Malik Tillman also coming off the bench. From his little flick to send a teammate forward to his run and clinical header, it was a great goal by the 20-year-old.
Elsewhere in the Champions League, Arsenal beat Lens 6-0 to advance, Real Madrid won 4-2 against Napoli to win its group, and Real Sociedad played to a scoreless draw with RB Salzburg. Manchester United remains in last place of its group after a 3-3 draw with Galatasaray, with goalkeeper Andre Onana unable to stop Hakim Ziyech from scoring off of two free kicks. All’s not lost for United though, as it can still qualify for the round of 16 by beating Bayern Munich at home so long as the other match ends in the group ends in a draw. It all makes for what should be an exciting final matchday in the group stage.
- The Kansas City Current announced that American midfielder Sam Mewis will not be returning to the club for the 2024 season. The 31-year-old has not played since 2021 as she continues to recover from a knee injury.
- The Utah Royals have signed free agent forward Imani Dorsey on a contract through the 2025 season. Dorsey has most recently played for NJ/NY Gotham FC, although she didn’t participate in this past season due to mental health reasons.
- Manchester United is reportedly ready to move on from Mason Mount just six months after he joined the team from Chelsea.
- Tomasz Kwiatkowski, the video assistant referee involved in a controversial handball that eventually led to Paris Saint-Germain’s equalizer in stoppage time against Newcastle, was removed from his next scheduled duty by UEFA.
- Amidst a four-game winless streak, French club Nantes has fired Pierre Aristouy as its manager, immediately replacing him with Jocelyn Gourvennec.
- We’ll end our links with this interesting article that dives into how Romelu Lukaku unexpectedly arrived at AS Roma and how he’s thriving at the Italian club.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and rest of your week!
2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Abdi Salim
Orlando Pride Sign Finnish Goalkeeper Sofia Manner
Lion Links: 12/1/23
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