On the way back to the car after last night's less-than-satisfying nil - nil draw with Philadelphia, a friend of mine commented that "man of the match" honors should go to the fans for sitting through the match and that it would have been appropriate for the PA announcer to quip, "Tonight's match brought to you by NoDoze!"
While both of those comments were slight exaggerations, I do agree that the break in midweek matches is coming at a perfect time for Orlando City. Since the start of July the team have looked collectively tired and a bit lethargic in most matches, and the results have shown on the pitch. A common theme lately in the posts on this blog has been a lack of urgency and hustle displayed the by players. Last night was no different. The cumulative effects of some players being asked to log so many minutes due to injury and roster changes seemed to enervate the squad, and they played with the listlessness of trauma survivors who have fallen into simple survival mode.
In his post-match comments, Coach Heath touched on the issue, saying that at this point in the season we have some players who have been logging way too many minutes, and others who have not played enough minutes. It shows in the hesitancy that the players display when they decide if they should pass or take a shot on net when on offense. And on defense it shows in the moment of panic when they see that the opponent has stolen the ball and started a counter-attack.
I, for one, am glad that the midweek matches have ended for this reason. The lads are gassed and they need some down time. They have also added many new faces to the roster in this latest transfer window, and they need more time training together to start showing more consistent cohesiveness on the pitch. From now until the end of the year, Orlando City have only one match per week, except for a friendly against Louisville City a bit later in August. With the ownership making the decision earlier in the season to launch a USL team here in Orlando, I'm not even sure that friendly makes much sense any more, and as a fan I certainly don't think there's any need to trot out many first-team starters on the pitch for that match--the first two friendlies this year have been costly victories, with both resulting in injuries to first team players.
As for Man of the Match, I think the only player deserving of the honor was keeper Tally Hall. Without him the score could easily have been 2 - nil or 3 - nil in favor of Philadelphia, who seemed to get better chances and shots on goal. It was good to see Tommy Redding have a chance to contribute last night, and it was wonderful to have a chance to see new acquisition Adrian Winter on the pitch. By and large, the new faces to the roster that have we have seen on the pitch: Corey Ashe, Servando Carrasco, and now Adrian Winter, have been among the more active and energetic players out there. Now they desperately need training minutes to get in sync with the rest of the squad.
For our tailgate, we enjoyed homemade Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches, Herr's brand chips, and Tastykake desserts, all Philly-area originals. Everyone enjoyed the food and the Hourglass Brewery lager that was served with the meal. We also had great weather, with the day's early clouds melting away into a late afternoon that was typical Florida humid but did not reach the scorching heat nor the stifling stillness that can sometimes just make summer weather feel oppressive.
The bottom line from last night's match is we got a point. While a point doesn't raise us above the red line into the playoffs, it is better than taking no points from a match. I remain confident that our squad has the talent to get to the playoffs this year, and I am hopeful that the end of midweek matches will help tired legs recover enough during the week to give maximum effort every match and take all the points that are available. There are no easy matches in MLS, and some nights there will be some teams that are just flat out better no matter how well our lads play. But in those matches where the other team seems in a bit of disarray or is just not that good, we need to take the full measure of points on offer and claw our way as far up the table as we can manage. Vamos Orlando! We still have a chance to defy expectations and reach the playoffs to make a statement in our inaugural MLS season.