Tonight was one of those nights when a draw felt like a win because of the timing of the goals. Still, if fans are honest with ourselves it felt like we watched our lads get outplayed for 90 minutes and we stole a point in the 90th minute. Mind you, I'm not complaining after we saw way too many matches go the other way in the first part of the 2015 season as Orlando City would give up draws in stoppage time to lose matches. But I am saying that I still think--at least I hope--that we have not seen this team put together a consistent 90 minutes outside of possibly the Portland Timbers match a few weeks ago.
- Joe Bendik - The greatest line I saw on twitter tonight was from a fan who said that he earns more respect for Bendik every second that Joe has to play behind our defense. It's a wonder we don't surrender the most goals in the league with the sloppy turnovers we make in the defending third of the pitch. Bendik right now has my vote for team MVP on the season, and it's going to take a lot of better and more consistent play from the other 10 positions on the field for that to change.
- Rafael Ramos - In 2015 there were times I was critical of Ramos for being too emotional and making very silly fouls because he lost his composure way too easily. He's only a year older, but he seems to have gained a decade of self-control in the last 12 months. Tonight there was a point where Ramos was taken down rather hard by Fagundez on the far side of the pitch. Last year, he would have leaped up and gone after the Fagundez, screaming and shoving him to be in danger of picking up a misconduct card. Tonight he accepted Fagundez's hand up from the turf and then trotted back to his position, and the ref showed the Revolution player a yellow for the foul.
- Kevin Molino - I don't know and I'm a little afraid to speculate about Molino being taken straight off the pitch tonight, but he didn't seem to be gimpy, so I'm going to remain positive until official sources say otherwise. But you can tell his confidence is way up after that PK he struck against Portland. Now in two matches against the Revolution he has scored twice from the field, and both times the goals have not seen him dance around with the ball trying to decide what to do (as I faulted him for before his injury last season). He has simply let the ball fall to him and taken one-touch strikes both times to find the back of the net.
- Julio Baptista - "The Beast" may be the best ROI for an Orlando City midseason acquisition since Adrian Winter--OK, if you count Alex Morgan in the deal it's impossible to say that any pickup has been better than Servando Carrasco: let's not kid anyone. In the first game against New England he earned the fastest awarded PK in MLS history, and in tonight's match he ignited a flaccid and lukewarm Orlando City attack into a raging inferno for the final 10 minutes of regulation and stoppage time.
- Carlos Rivas - If I'm going to credit Ramos for looking more mature, I have to credit Rivas for not getting overly excited. There have been times when he has been that close to scoring in previous matches and somehow managed to drive the ball into the 30th row of the seats behind the net. But tonight he struck the ball just where it had to go in order to get past a diving keeper and a defender draped over him to put it into the net instead of over it.
- Molino to the Locker Room - I was saying to friends at the 60th minute that it felt like it was time for Inchy to make a substitution because the team was giving up way too many turnovers. I wasn't sure who should go out, but a minute or two later Molino was down on the pitch and Coach wasted no time subbing in Carrasco and the trainers took Molino straight to the locker room. As I said above he wasn't visibly limping, so I don't know if there's just post-ACL protocol that they do to start recovery as soon as a player comes out, or if there was something more serious. But it was not good to see.
- Love Affair with the Long Ball - Now I think United World Soccer and Real Radio's Tom Traxxler might say I'm finally beginning to learn a little more about how to watch a match. Last season I complained that possession was the most overrated statistic in MLS because it seems like the team that held the ball more lost or drew more times than they won. But this year I'm much more attuned to the incredibly sloppy giveaways that Orlando City commits, and many of them are because they try to pass the ball way too far instead of building up patiently. It's clear every other coach and team in MLS already knows this, because since the Philadelphia match I've watched every opponent exploit this against us. Those long passes result in 50-50 balls instead of clean deliveries to a teammate.
- Lazy Pass Receptions - Since every pass has to include both the passer and the receiver, there's blame to go around on both ends. Way too many times I see our lads jog a bit lazily toward where they expect the ball to be, only to see an opponent put on a burst of speed and intercept the passes to start building an attack going the other way. This happens way too much in our defending third and the middle third of the pitch, and it often seems like our players are completely oblivious to the fact that a hungry defender is going to try to intercept the ball if the receiver doesn't try to close down on it aggressively. In short, we are getting out-hustled by the defensive players on the other team, and we're going to continue to look like the most inept passing team in the league until our players realize that they have to be a little more attentive to where the ball is and a little more eager to go get it. And tonight's numbers back me up: New England led in duels won (55 - 47) and they also led in tackles one (18 - 10). This proves they were the hungrier team and they outplayed and outhustled Orlando City, displaying a stronger desire to win the match.
- More Turnovers than a Publix Bakery - If you have any talent in the kitchen, I guarantee you can become a millionaire by marketing fruit pastry turnovers named after every player on the Orlando City roster. God knows they all commit way too many of them as individuals and as a team. I've identified a couple of reasons in this section, but it bears repeating because this is a fundamental flaw in the performance of the team that needs to be addressed and corrected if the team want to make the playoffs this season.
- Adrift Without Kaka - This team just seems to have two completely different types of chemistry depending on whether Kaka is on the pitch or not. Yes, there is a reason that players like Kaka, Messi, and Ronaldo win the Ballon D'or--they really are world class. And Kaka also seems to make everyone around him better as well. Brek Shea looks like he could start for any national team on the planet when Kaka plays, and Winter seems a lot better at passing the ball when Kaka is on the pitch as well. But some day this team is going to have to learn to play without Kaka out there to hold their hand and give them lollipops when they feel sad. As a team, the lads need to wake up and learn how to be the same players without Kaka on the pitch that they are when he is with them.
- Defense Like a Sieve - If someone knows a place to find better stats for matches than the MLS official site, I'd be happy for the information. According to match statistics, Orlando City actually possessed the ball more than New England tonight (51.6% - 48.4%). But if you could break it down by where each team possessed the ball, I'd have to think that 75% of the time New England had it, they were in their attacking third (our defending third) of the pitch. Geez Louise, I swear that three or four times Lee Nguyen was camped out in front of Joe Bendik's goal I saw him pull out his iPhone and call for a pizza delivery. I think he was even asking our keeper what he wanted on his once or twice. That's just unacceptable, and I blame both the players for being out of position and the coaches for not teaching proper techniques for dispossessing the attackers from the ball to allow opponents to get that deep and stay that deep in our end of the pitch for such prolonged periods. And it's not that I think our players are not capable of playing great defense. I'm amazed at some of the acrobatic blocks and saves and deflections that field players as well as Bendik are able to make when opponents get get five or six attackers down that deep in the area in front of our goal. The problem is they need to realize that they should be making those blocks and tackles and deflections to win the ball at midfield, and not waiting until the opponent gets all the way down in front of goal.
What about you? What did you think was particularly good, bad, or ugly about the match? Do you agree with my praise and critiques of the team or do you think I was off target with some of my points? Let me know in the comments below!