Orlando City brought in defender Kyle Smith and goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh on Dec. 19 of 2018. The duo starred for James O’Connor at Louisville City FC in the USL and the Orlando gaffer added a couple of inexpensive familiar faces to add depth to his squad. With the additions of Joao Moutinho, Ruan, and Danilo Acosta, it seemed unlikely Smith would be in contention for a starting role, and the Lions needed some inexpensive depth at the position.
Smith became the preferred backup at both fullback positions, distancing himself from Acosta in the rotation and his versatility allowed him to fill in at center back and in the midfield on occasion. Let’s take a look at his first MLS season.
Smith appeared in 23 of Orlando City’s 34 games in 2019, starting 15 times and tallying 1,384 minutes. Of his starts, nine came at right back, four at left back, and one each at center back and midfielder. He provided no goals or assists in his first year in MLS, attempting six shots and getting two on target.
The Cincinnati native committed 20 fouls on the season — tied for sixth most on the Lions — and drew only four on the opposition. Only four Lions drew fewer fouls on their opponents and none of them played more than 11 games. He was ninth on the team in passing accuracy (81%), which was tops among Orlando City fullbacks in 2019. Yet those passes didn’t present much danger to the opposition, as Robin Jansson was the only outfield player on the team to average fewer than Smith’s 0.1 key passes per game.
Defensively, Smith was seventh on the team in average tackles per game (1.8) — ahead of all the team’s fullbacks except Moutinho (2.3) — and he was seventh in clearances per game (2.2), but he averaged only 0.6 interceptions and 0.8 blocks per match.
He also appeared in one U.S. Open Cup match, going the full 120 minutes against New England.
Smith started coming on strong in the middle part of the season, at least defensively. He was never really much of a factor offensively. But his best match came in a 1-1 road draw at Toronto FC on Aug. 10. Smith was named our Man of the Match for a solid defensive effort against the Reds on the road and our readers agreed, handing him 54 of the 92 total votes, giving him 59% of the vote — a good distance ahead of second-place vote getter Benji Michel (15%). Here’s how our Jenn Glasheen summed up his night:
He made a nice play in the 58th minute to head a cross from Richie Laryea away from Jozy Altidore. The defense that is normally a Sané and Jansson showcase didn’t stand a chance with Smith on the field tonight. Smith finished with three tackles, a team-high eight clearances, and a blocked shot.
2019 Final Grade
Smith finished with a composite grade of 5.5 from The Mane Land’s staff. Defensively, Smith was a pretty solid backup fullback and the fact that he played so many games was a warning sign for the season. Offensively he offered little to nothing. Smith started the season slowly, taking a while to adjust to MLS, which is completely understandable. As the season went on, he looked more and more at home in his own end but the offensive end was foreign territory. The caveat from this grade is that it applies to his fullback play. He didn’t do much of anything as a midfielder and his time at center back was mixed — pretty good at Portland in a relief stint and not so great in the season finale against Chicago.
With O’Connor gone, the assumption might be that Smith is not likely to be back next year. However, his guaranteed salary of $70,250 makes him a bargain backup. Without knowing if he signed more than a one-year deal, it’s difficult to say whether Smith is likely to return in 2020 or not. But if he is, at least he isn’t expensive and has shown he can defend at the fullback position at the MLS level. He might not be the guy you want starting for a dynamic team, but he can provide solid depth. My guess would be Orlando City would decline an option if that’s where his contract is, but, again, the prospect of a serviceable $70k backup who can fill in elsewhere is worth consideration.