Progress... maybe. No--I think that's too harsh. Orlando City may have drawn with Chicago on Sunday afternoon, but the team looked more active and seemed to create more chances on the day. And there was some very good play from some key players, as well as the first minutes with the first team by two other players. But the result was the 12th draw of the season and at the end of the day it feels a little... meh. Let's look at the details.
- Passing Crispness Continues - One of the things we've seen change under Jason Kreis is better passing. There are still a few errant giveaways and lapses in on-field communication, but the players are doing a better job getting the ball to teammates and building up attacks. Orlando City had a sizable edge in possession (55.8% to 44.2%) They also led in passing accuracy overall (80% to 75%). But there was one glaring passing stat that let them down and we'll see that later.
- Kaka Reminds us he's still Kaka - The cynic in me would like to say that Jason Kreis found a bottle of that magic spray in the trainer's room to put on Kaka before every match, but I'm sure the Captain really has been fighting nagging injuries all season that have made him look sub-par. He was breaking ankles with ball control and nifty back-heel passes today, and he managed to be involved in both goals: he had the assist on Cyle Larin's 9th minute equalizer, and then he put home a shot in the 32nd after Larin headed it off the near post.
- Cyle Larin - Larin had the first goal and could easily have created two more. In the 32nd he bonked a header off the near post (cleaned up by Kaka) and then in the 62nd he was brought down in the box by Chicago keeper Sean Johnson but no PK was called when there could have easily been one. It wasn't a harsh takedown, but it was an obvious one as Johnson got caught playing the player and not the ball. in addition to these, there were several other points in the match (45th minute and 54th minute) when Larin could have registered more goals on the day.
- Matias Perez Garcia gets the start - After breaking into the first team as a sub last week, new acquisition Matias Perez Garcia started on the day. He was good in passing and helping build up attacks, but he took some dubious-looking and very speculative shots at goal that flew high, wide, and errant. Some of those shots looked like Tiger Woods off the tee after six shots of Tequila.
- Two Debuts from the Bench - In the 56th minute Tommy Redding was sent to the bench after picking up a yellow in the first half for Jose Aja, who made his first appearance with the team in an MLS match. Then in the 60th minute Higuita went out with an apparent injury. He made way for Tony Rocha, also earning his first minutes with the MLS side since his call-up from OCB.
- Better Defensive Effort - I know the team allowed two goals, but they had less to do with the back line being out of position this time. The always dangerous David Accam was turned away inside the box on more than one occasion by a swarming defense that blocked shots or stole the ball off his feet. Redding's speed helped the defensive effort in the first half, and Aja contributed as well after he came in.
- Joe Bendik - On the bright side, Joe Bendik recorded six saves on the night, but on the bad side he allowed two goals in. The second goal was a short-range header that may have been hard to stop for most keepers if they were not in inch-perfect position. But the first goal on the day was just a case of the keeper reacting too slowly to a long-range shot from outside the 18-yard box. John Goossens was about 30 yards out and sent a ball in with good pace, but it seemed like the keeper was slow to recognize the danger and react, and thus he could not reach it. Relax, fan boys--Joe usually is the only bright thing about the defense and so he's probably due for a bad day.
- Crossing Passes - The crossing shots were pretty poor for Orlando City, as they only completed 21% on the day. A number of these could have resulted in nice opportunities, such as a 54th-minute chance as Kaka sent a cross in to Cyle Larin right in front of Sean Johnson's goal. Then there was another second-half cross from Kaka that wound up going behind Shea, who was running in with intent had his path met the ball.
- Brek Shea - Shea was active, but he had a number of missed opportunities on the day, including a poorly-judged shot that curled twelve yards beyond the net. He also had an errant half-pass, half-shot very late in the match that started a dangerous counter-attack for Chicago that nearly won the match for the home side. I'm not sure what he was trying to do there, and it looked as if he wasn't quite sure himself, but the Fire defense knew what to do with the ball once it got on their feet and they nearly made us pay for it.
- Yellows for Redding and Aja - It's hard to tell what is deserved as a card or not any more in MLS. Whether Redding and Aja deserved the cautions is not as much of a concern to me as the fact that our team keeps getting yellows piled up. I think in both cases the cards helped disrupt momentum, which Chicago seemed to get in spurts on the day, and it gave the Orlando City defense a chance to reset. Neither player was in danger of suspension for accumulation, but it should be troubling for all fans if fast and agile players are forced to commit unsporting fouls to slow down opponents when they have dangerous opportunities.
- Higuita Injured - As I said earlier Cristian Higuita had to leave the match at the 60th minute. I hope the move was precautionary and does not signal another injury. Rafael Ramos and Pedro Ribeiro still don't seem to be ready to return, though Coach Kreis had said during the week that he hoped Ramos would be available for selection as early as today. Higuita has great skill--he sometimes frustrates those of us who appreciate intelligent decision making by letting his emotions get in the way of his talent, but he is a great asset on the pitch, as he showed today by making some very skillful tackles.
- That Stupid Red Line - We gain a point in the tally but not a spot on the table. We remain tied on points with the 6th place team, but the line remains right above us. We need to quit splitting points with our opponents and convert some of the would-be draws in the last 11 matches to wins so we can climb up out of the danger area.
What about you? What were your thoughts on today's match? Did someone else appear to have a particularly good or bad game today, and do you think time is running out for Orlando to make a playoff run, or are you still confident they can climb above the red line in the East? Let me know in the comments below!