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Lion Links: 1/7/23

Benji Michel heads to Portugal, Favian Loyola called up, Daryl Dike in form, Sophia Smith adds another award, and more.

Sacramento Republic FC v Orlando City SC - 2022 U.S. Open Cup Final Photo by Roy K. Miller/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekend, Mane Landers! Here’s one that has almost certainly never been put into the links. Tonight, I’m taking my wife to her first ever tractor pull. It might sound like an odd way to spend a Saturday night in January, but I was raised in rural Tennessee and this feels like homecoming in a way. If you have never been to a tractor pull or have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s like a mix of a farmer’s drag race and motorized CrossFit. And if that still doesn’t make sense, check out this video clip of fails and wild rides. Don’t worry though, I’ll be sure to catch some soccer action this morning with the English FA Cup. Now, enough about tractors. Let’s get to what you all came here for — today’s links!

Bye Bye, Benji

Despite Orlando City extending a Bona Fide offer to Benji Michel, the forward has decided to part ways and take his talents to Europe. The Orlando native has signed with FC Arouca in Portugal’s top flight, the Primeira Liga. Michel started in 50 of his 103 league matches with Orlando City, while accumulating 5,154 minutes. He scored 15 goals, added six assists, and appeared in all four of the club’s playoff games to date.

Loyola Called Up to U-19 Team Camp

The United States Under-19 Men’s Youth National Team will kick off 2023 with a training camp at the University of Miami. Head Coach Marko Mitrović has called 23 players in and all are eligible for this summer’s 2023 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Indonesia. Orlando City midfielder Favian Loyola is among those receiving the call. The 17-year-old midfielder became the club’s 13th Homegrown in December after inking a three-year deal, with two additional years of club options.

Daryl Dike Bounces Back

Former Orlando City striker Daryl Dike had a difficult 2022. After finding himself as a January transfer from Orlando City to West Bromwich Albion — worth around $9.5 million up front and potentially more in future sell-on fees — Dike crashed hard into a string of injuries that limited him to just four appearances during his first 10 months with the English Championship club. The lengthy time off the pitch turned him from a rising USMNT No. 9 contender to an afterthought in a World Cup year. However, the striker has produced since finally getting healthy, and people are taking notice.

“What he’s doing right now is so commendable. It’s so fun to watch,” three-time USMNT World Cup striker and SiriusXM pundit Eric Wynalda told MLSsoccer.com this week. “That diving header the other day, to me, that’s just a striker’s goal. It’s a guy with a knack of where to be at the right time – can’t teach that. You can only screw it up, to be honest.”

Dike’s physical presence has clearly lifted both teammates and fans alike. West Bromwich Albion enters the new year as one of England’s hottest teams, skyrocketing from last place in the 24-team Championship to ninth.

“What I love about his game is, it still has the ability to evolve, especially with his back to goal,” said striker turned television personality Taylor Twellman. “His feet are softer than people think, than he’s given credit for. The instincts in and around the goal, I think playing in the Championship, all of those things are things that, even for the Josh Sargents of the world, that league is about survival, hunger and just wanting it more than others when it comes to in and around the box. And I think that enhances any natural goalscoring instincts that may be there in a player.”

One thing is for certain — if Dike can continue to garner minutes and stay healthy, he has an opportunity to become the future of the USMNT striker pool before the 2026 FIFA World Cup. There is definitely more to come from Daryl Dike.

Sophia Smith Named U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year

Portland Thorns FC forward Sophia Smith has had quite the year. She was the leading scorer for both the U.S. Women’s National Team and Portland Thorns FC, won the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player Award, and was named MVP of the NWSL Championship Game. Smith has now claimed her first U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year Award for the 2022 year.

Smith becomes the 19th different player to win the award in its 38-year history and also just the fourth player to win both U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year and U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year, proving her continued great form. At the age of 22, Smith was the youngest player to lead the USWNT in scoring since 1993 and the youngest ever NWSL MVP.

“Obviously this is surreal, and I’m super humbled,” said Smith. “It’s been a very exciting year, and certainly there’s been some challenges, but just being able to grow and develop in the environments with the National Team and the Thorns, and being surround by such amazing players, players that I have looked up to for so long, has pushed me to become a better player and person. I’ve said many times, if you embrace these environments, you have no choice but to get better and grow, and that’s a testament to the players, coaches and all of the staff. I appreciate everyone holding me to such high standards day in and day out. This award wouldn’t be possible without all those people, and the best thing about it, is that it’s fun too. The journey is so much better when you are doing something so fun and something you love.”

San Diego Wave FC midfielder Jaedyn Shaw was voted the U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year after a standout rookie season in the NWSL and a solid performance at the 2022 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup.

Aurélien Collin Joins Houston Dynamo Coaching

Former Orlando City defender Aurélien Collin has joined Ben Olsen’s coaching staff with the Houston Dynamo. He will serve as an assistant coach alongside two other new additions —Tim Hanley and Adin Osmanbasic.

“We are happy to announce the first additions to Ben Olsen’s coaching staff for the 2023 season,” said Dynamo general manager, Pat Onstad. “Aurélien is a hungry, up-and-coming coach with clear ideas about the game and a history of leading successful MLS teams as a player... As with many of our new hires and new players this offseason, we are adding hungry, values-driven people with a history of winning. And we’re not finished, yet.”

Collin transitioned to coaching following his retirement from professional soccer in March 2022. The defender won the 2013 MLS Cup and was named finals MVP with Sporting Kansas City before joining the Lions in 2015 as an MLS expansion side, starting 27 of his 28 regular-season games. After only playing two games for the Lions in 2016, Collin left the club, having found the back of the net twice in his tenure. As a stalwart on any team’s back line, he competed in the MLS Cup playoffs in eight of his 11 seasons as a player in Major League Soccer across his various clubs.

Free Kicks
  • Former Orlando City academy director Darren Powell has been promoted to Inter Miami’s first-team technical staff. With that move, Inter Miami CF II has appointed Federico Higuaín as head coach ahead of the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season.

There was a whole slew of transfer news coming through this week. With the preseason set to begin soon, there will surely be more. I personally love the drama and rumors. With no official announcement from the club of Martín Ojeda joining as the third DP, who would you like to see the club go after should the deal fall through? Let me know in the comments below!

I hope you all enjoy your weekend. Vamos Orlando.