The man Oscar Pareja calls “El Soldado” is the only player to feature in every minute of the 2021 regular season for Orlando City. He has taken on some of the top attacking talent in MLS through the first 13 games, helping the Lions to third place in the East along the way.
But Saturday night presented a particularly stiff test. Toronto FC winger Yeferson Soteldo, signed to a Designated Player contract earlier this year, has tortured MLS fullbacks since his arrival, leading the league in dribbles per 90 minutes by a wide margin. The Venezuelan is a handful for any right back and is extremely difficult to stop one-on-one.
While Soteldo did perform some of his trademark magic in Saturday’s 1-1 draw, Smith largely held him in check for the second time this year, earning Heineken Man of the Match honors along the way.
Smith racked up four tackles and 12 ball recoveries on the night, both figures good enough to lead the team. Despite Soteldo’s frantic style, Smith only committed two fouls on the night, largely content to keep the pacy Venezuelan in front of him for most of the evening. Smith also tied Rodrigo Schlegel and Júnior Urso for the team lead with two clearances.
Most impressively, perhaps, was that Smith was able to contribute offensively despite his tough assignment on the back end. Smith led Orlando City with two key passes and whipped in five crosses on the night. He also took two shots, with Alex Bono forced into a solid save on Smith’s one shot on target.
It was yet another productive night for El Soldado, who is quickly becoming one of the great success stories of the 2021 MLS season.