This weekend saw two of the three Orlando City teams in action, with OCB starting their regular season, and the Orlando Pride playing a preseason match against the directionally challenged University of South Florida--technically it's more like West Central Florida Community College. I will acknowledge them as a real university when their football team wins some conference championships and a BCS bowl game--but I digress.
OCB vs. Rowdies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Yesterday marked the start of the USL season for OCB, with a first-round match at in-state rivals Tampa Bay Rowdies. It's the first time the two teams have been in the same league together, with the Rowdies having come over to USL from the NASL in the off-season. As I stated yesterday in my match preview, the Rowdies have made some off-season roster moves to build one of the most solid main rosters in USL, and OCB head coach Anthony Pulis indicated the same in pre-match comments. "They may be the strongest side in USL," he said, adding that he and the coaching staff knew that it would be a tough match.
On paper, it looked like OCB might have more firepower available to them, with eight of the nine season-long loanees from the MLS side in the starting lineup, including goalkeeper Earl Edwards, Jr. The question I have had since the start of last season is whether the club views the OCB side as a serious separate team with its own goals of making the playoffs and winning USL titles, or whether they see it more as a place to send players from the MLS side to get valuable game minutes and stay in match fitness. I'm not certain it's impossible to do both simultaneously, but it would take a very different mindset to prep the team week-to-week depending on what the primary role of the team is in the overall club organization.
We have seen the quality of Earl Edwards, Jr. when he had a chance to play with the MLS side a couple of times in 2015 regular season matches and in friendlies over the past two seasons. And Edwards' skill was on display throughout the match as he kept the Rowdies from finding the back of the net during the course of play. He recorded four saves on the night--with his only missed chance being on the PK by Georgi Hristov, who blasted a ball straight into the middle of the net, guessing correctly that Edwards would dive to one side or the other to try to block the kick.
However, in all other aspects of the match the Rowdies thoroughly outplayed OCB. They held a significant edge in possession, duels won, aerials won, interceptions, and corner kicks. One of the most dramatic stats of the match was the difference in shots: the Rowdies owned the stat sheet in that category with an edge of 21 - 3, and led the shots on target count by 5 - 1. You can see the full match statistics on the vastly improved USL Match Center Stats page.
Suffice it to say that the Rowdies were by far the more organized side on the night. OCB was unable to generate any consistent attacks, and invariably made poor passes or got the ball tackled away almost every time they got it across the midfield stripe. The Rowdies, on the other hand, were crisp and precise with their passing, building up attack after attack that probed the OCB defense, found the cracks in the back line, and made Earl Edwards Jr. look like a clone of Joe Bendik in terms of his ability to make dramatic saves that kept OCB in the match. The way the two clubs played, it would have been a miscarriage of justice if the Rowdies had not taken a result from the night, and the win was well deserved. I tip my purple bowler (my OCB matchday hat) to them.
Pride vs. USF (WCFCC): The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Pride traveled to Tampa to take on the USF women's side, continuing a tradition from last season of playing college teams during the pre-season. This is a trend I hope they continue, mostly because it helps fans that come to women's soccer through the USWNT and NWSL become more aware of all the great college teams that are in our state and could use our support and encouragement.
The first half of the match featured a lineup that is likely to feature most of the players we will likely see in the Starting XI for the first regular season NWSL match of the season: Ashlyn Harris in goal; Laura Alleway, Ali Krieger, and Toni Pressley defending; Jamia Fields, Kristen Edmonds, Dani Weatherholt, and Camila (Pereira) at midfield; and Chimoa Ubogagu, Sarah Hagen, and Jasmyne Spencer at striker. And in the 11th minute Ubogagu scored her second goal of the preseason to put the Pride ahead of USF by the count of 1 - 0.
The score held until halftime, and in the second half Pride coach Tom Sermanni changed the entire lineup. After the break the lineup included mostly reserves and some trialists: Aubrey Bledsoe in goal; Cami Levin, Alanna Kennedy, and Ali Krieger (subbed out in the 61st minute for draft pick Nickolette Driesse) in defense; Maddy Evans, Monica, and Kristen Edmonds (subbed out in the 61st minute for Christina Burkenroad), Camila (subbed out in the 61st minute for Jordan O’Brien) at midfield; Chioma Ubogagu (subbed out in the 61st minute for draft pick Danica Evans), Jasmye Spencer (subbed out in the 61st minute for Carol Rodrigues), and Rachel Hill.
Bledsoe started the second half strong with two early stops, and then USF launched a counter-attack that saw freshman Evelyne Viens score a goal for the home side to draw the teams level. And as time wound down it looked like the match might end in a draw. However, in the 90th minute Pride trialist Carol Rodrigues, a former star at UCF, added a goal for the visitors. Of course the goal was doubly sweet for me because it not only meant the Pride got the victory but it was another dagger in the heart of USF fans delivered by a UCF player.
So the west coast swing for the Orlando City organization resulted in a mixed bag of results. I would argue that the Pride match was the more important from the standpoint that it gave exposure to another solid women's college soccer program and gave a lot of reserve players and trialists for the Pride valuable minutes on the pitch and in front of the coaching staff in game situations.
In terms of the OCB match, I am of the opinion that at this time the club seems to view the USL team as a something of a developmental club for the MLS team, and they may place the same importance on winning in that league that we fans may want to see. From the standpoint of making sure that the First Team has additional roster players at full match fitness when the inevitable injuries strike; it also means that when fans go to an OCB match they have a good chance to see a fair number of First Team players on the pitch. Unless they all strive to play with the same cohesion that Jason Kreis is demanding in MLS matches, however, it could be a long and not very enjoyable season trying to follow the progress of OCB.
Did you attend either of the matches this weekend? What were your thoughts on them? Are you more excited for the Orlando Pride season or the OCB season this year? Let me know in the comments below!