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Lion Links: 8/12/21

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Orlando City plays in Leagues Cup tonight, MLS midseason accolades, Richie Burke update, and more.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, friends! This is a big day for Orlando City and an exciting time of the year in soccer. Yesterday was an interesting one and there’s plenty to discuss, plus a huge match-up tonight at Exploria Stadium. I’m not one to dawdle, so let’s jump right in.

Orlando City Makes International Debut Tonight

We’ve been talking about it all week, but Orlando City will make their international debut tonight at home against Liga MX side Santos Laguna in the quarterfinal round of the Leagues Cup. The tournament has already had some controversy regarding how much teams are prioritizing the competition. On Tuesday, Sporting Kansas City fielded a heavily rotated side featuring several young players, and proceeded to get pumped 6-1 at home. SKC and Peter Vermes clearly didn’t place a serious emphasis on the tournament, instead prioritizing a potential shield or MLS Cup run.

As for Orlando City, it looks like the Lions will be fully committing to the relatively new competition.

“We have a full roster full of good players ready to compete,” Pareja said in a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon. “We’re trying to select a strong team that faces the rival in turn and that’s pretty much what you do. This semester has been a good testimony of that. It has been a very busy semester where we have probably one to two players who have not had minutes. We have them all available and just try to get a win in the game is important to us.”

This game is actually a good opportunity to field a full strength team, as Orlando are five days removed from the last match and still six days out from a clash with Nashville. There is an opportunity to commit without worrying about fixture congestion, and the Lions are set to capitalize.

Last night, New York City FC bowed out of the competition after a penalty shootout loss to Pumas following a 1-1 draw.

MLS Midseason “Awards”

The good folks over at MLSSoccer.com handed out their midseason awards for the 2021 MLS season (so far). Awards were picked by a poll among the editorial staff, and they made some interesting choices. It starts with MVP, which unsurprisingly went to Carles Gil. The New England playmaker has stolen headlines and driven the Revs to the top of the East, but it is worth noting that nobody else even got a vote (not even Nani, who is the league leader in goal contributions). Seattle’s Yeimar Gómez Andrade was chosen as defensive player of the year. The Colombian was chosen over SKC’s Andreu Fontàs as well as Orlando City’s anchor Antonio Carlos.

The one bizarre pick in my eyes is the Red Bulls’ Fabio as Newcomer of the Year. A ton of players received votes in this category, but it feels odd that the young Brazilian got the nod. He’s not completely undeserving with three goals and six assists, but given how unspectacular the Red Bulls have been much of this year, it’s an odd choice. By season’s end, I’d be shocked if a player signed in this secondary window didn’t steal the award.

Kyle Smith Recognized Among League’s Most Underrated Players

The midway point of the season can be a content goldmine in sports, with lists and awards a plenty over at MLSSoccer.com. While the midseason awards weren’t particularly kind to Orlando City, one of the Lions’ top performers did get some love from Greg Seltzer, who listed the 11 most underrated players in the league. Kyle Smith has been one of Orlando’s most consistent performers, turning in quality defensive performances almost every week. He’s still top five in the league for successful challenges and is statistically similar to some of the highest rated fullbacks in the league.

Among the other players recognized are Vancouver forward Christian Dájome, New England fullback DeJuan Jones, and Minnesota United goalkeeper Tyler Miller.

New Allegations Against Former Washington Spirit Head Coach

Yesterday, Washington Spirit head coach Richie Burke stepped down from his role for alleged health reasons. However, in the day since, new reports and allegations have come to light about his leaving the team and his conduct during his time as head coach. Reports from The Athletic suggest that Burke was actually fired from his role, rather than resigning, and that the was unaware of any health issues.

Further adding to the controversy of the situation, a Washington Post report revealed that players were reportedly verbally abused by Burke. The Spirit released a statement on the issue, but this complicated situation is far from resolved.

There is also footage from their recent match against the Portland Thorns that shows Burke making inappropriate contact with a player, adding further controversy to the situation.

Free Kicks
  • Daryl Dike is still dealing with his shoulder injury from the Gold Cup, as well as an unspecified tendinitis issue.

That’s all for a busy Thursday, have a great day, and let’s hope tonight is a historic one for the City Beautiful.