Smith: "Our Confidence is Sky High"

Smith: "Our Confidence is Sky High"

Another test, another answer from the Lions.

This time around, City played host to a New York Red Bulls side that had rattled off back-to-back 4-1 victories in their two latest contests and was looking to continue that form at Exploria Stadium on Saturday.

Quite the opposite took place.

Instead, the Lions extended their Club-record unbeaten run to nine matches, a current league-best, with a 3-1 victory in front of a limited crowd, putting together another impressive performance to move within two points of Columbus Crew SC and Toronto FC in the Supporters’ Shield race.

“It’s another important victory against a team who has shown a lot of versatility and dynamics in the way they attack. Today we did a great job on controlling that part for most of the game,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match.

“Overall we had a very good game, especially for the youngsters. I’m very glad to see Daryl [Dike] growing, Chris Mueller growing, Benji [Michel], the debut of David Loera today is important for the Club, a kid who comes from the Academy. All of those things just magnify our victory. We beat a good team, it was a very hard game, but I liked the performance and we should be proud.”

While it was a collective effort by the group to lock up another three points at home, there were a number of individual moments to highlight, including the MLS debut of Loera who entered the match in the 91st minute for Júnior Urso. 

In addition, Dike was able to find the back of the net for the fourth time this year in his first start since Sept. 19 against Chicago, opening the scoring in the 24th minute of play. Urso would add another in the 50th for his third goal of the year and fellow Brazilian Antonio Carlos knocked in the insurance for the Lions for his first MLS goal in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time.

However, it wasn’t one of the goalscorers that had Orlando City fans chanting his name toward the tail end of the match. That instead was a member of its backline - defender Kyle Smith.

Dubbed “The Accountant” by the City faithful, Smith put together arguably the best performance of his young MLS career on Saturday afternoon, earning his first goal contribution in MLS with the assist on Dike’s 24th-minute finish. On the defensive end, he led the team in tackles and recoveries with seven and 10 respectively, while adding two interceptions to his stat line to help the Lions fend off the Red Bulls’ press in the match.

Smith’s performance on Saturday was just another example of the depth of this City squad and the confidence that each player exhibits on the pitch regardless of the number of minutes they have accumulated throughout the season.

“I think that we know that we could beat any team in this league and I think that personally, this is a new feeling for me. I go into every game knowing that we have a great chance of winning the game and that we should win the game,” Smith said following his performance. 

“It shows that our confidence is high and I think that everyone in the team feels that way too. We go into every game wanting the three points, whether it’s a home game, an away game. We want the ball, we want the three points and we are going to try our best to get those points.”

The Lions now face a stretch of four games in two weeks, with a visit to Atlanta on Wednesday before returning to Exploria Stadium to take on current Supporters’ Shield leaders Columbus this coming Sunday. With eight matches remaining on the schedule, Pareja’s side remains steadfast on accruing points on its way to clinching a spot in the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and making a run at the Shield itself. 

“We will keep the pace that we have had so far. It will be great, it’s going to be tough,” Pareja said. “Wednesday, weekend, Wednesday, weekend, but the responsibility is just to keep adding points, I don’t see it any other way."