OK I know this is late. I know by the time this posts not only will have all the pundits said everything that there is to say about the fourth-round PK win over Charleston on Wednesday night. But this was a busy week and there were many reasons I didn't get around to writing it earlier.
The first is that I felt a bit numbed and unable to talk about the joy of a win in the aftermath of the tragedy that happened the same night in Charleston. As I'm sure everyone else who follows Orlando City, the USL Pro, or the US Open Cup, I feel devastated for the families of the victims of this senseless tragedy. My prayers are with them, and I hope the confessed perpetrator never sees the outside of a prison again.
There were a few good things about the match. Earl Edwards, Jr., stood out to me as the man of the match no doubt. Yes, Charleston did score four times, but that was largely due to mental lapses and tactical errors by Orlando City's defense in permitting Charleston to gain advantages against us. The Battery are a familiar foe to long-time Orlando City fans and they've always been a tough team, just like that MLS squad that wears the black and yellow.
Aside from Edwards goaltending, I think the extra time and PK experience was invaluable for a lot of the lads who are not regular Orlando City starters. I saw a lot of friends of the blog reacting with bewilderment on twitter when the Starting XI was announced, but this match was already squeezed into a period where Orlando City had 3 MLS matches in 11 days. Giving most of the regular starters a night off was not just a whim of the coach, it was a tactical decision based on the importance of the matches coming up and the club's primary goal of making the MLS playoffs this year. Yes, all of us as fans would like to see Orlando City win every tournament and competition they enter, but when we are relying on the same roster of players, we have to be sure we don't run them into the ground before the end of the season.
The third good thing was the simple trial by fire. Lots of players who had not seen many minutes racked up a lot of them on Wednesday night. And some of the starters came off the bench to contribute later in the match. It was a good mix and resulted in a PK win that means we get to do this same thing all over again in a few weeks--this time, hosting Columbus Crew on a Tuesday night of all things.
Let's face it--Orlando City's Starting XI on the night was pretty sloppy. I've been wondering in the blog and in talking to some other fans and even interacting with Tom Traxler and Jeff Radcliffe at the Coach's show each week when we see something that looks a little amateurish or boneheaded on the pitch, and they keep telling me that soccer is a sport that takes a long time for a group of players to gel together and play well. Talent wise, there's no doubt that the Starting XI for Orlando City are better than the Starting XI for Charleston (those players would be on other MLS squads or in top leagues of other countries if it were otherwise). But the difference is that Charleston's players have been together as a team and played and practice much more regularly than did that particular group of eleven players from Orlando City's roster on Wednesday night.
So what Orlando City's Starting XI gained in talent over the USL Pro opponents on Wednesday night, they lost in coordination. Passing was off, possession was inconsistent, and timing was truly terrible. It just goes back to a refrain I've heard from Inchy in person and in interviews since February. The team is a work in progress and it takes time for all the pieces to come together. The coaching staff and club leadership seem to have a long view for this club and have not tried to go out and buy a championship squad for a single season which they will then have to blow up and rebuild all over again. They've created a good foundation, but every special match that requires a shuffled lineup is going to be an adventure for a while until all the players get enough experience to be comfortable with everyone else up and down the roster.
As far as US Open Cup matches go, it's fortunate for Orlando City that Seattle decided they wanted to monopolize ugly for the fourth round. The ref made some questionable calls and questionable non-calls, but I think those probably favored and hurt both teams equally. what is good is that regardless of how intense the feelings became and how passionate both rosters felt, nobody from Orlando City reacted in a way that would result in disciplinary actions, unlike Mr. Demsey in Seattle.
But going back to the opening, I can't talk about ugly without closing by once again expressing my deepest sympathy for the families of the tragedy in Charleston that happened on Wednesday night. To contrast that, you may have been as amazed and truly humbled as I was on Friday to learn that when families of the victims had the opportunity to attend the arraignment of the confessed murderer on Friday, they all offered words of forgiveness. It's easy to claim you forgive people in a theoretical sense. It's something else entirely to actually offer forgiveness to someone that murdered a family member or loved one.
Whenever we feel like someone has wronged us, may we all feel that much courage as those family members displayed. If we did that, there would be far fewer sad headlines in this nation and around the world.