A historic moment happened in Orlando last night, as Sporting KC will go down as a footnote in the history books for being the team that broke the streak of wins at home for Orlando City in their new stadium. The two teams drew 2 - 2 in a very entertaining and hard-fought match at Orlando City that had enough action and controversy to make fans from both teams angry. And as usual it was the referee who is a common target for most fans' anger--either for doing too much or not doing enough, depending on the play and depending on which team a particular fan supports. Long-time readers will know where my bias is firmly entrenched, but I found enough to be annoyed with my own team about on the night, as well as some clear violations of sportsmanship on the part of the visitors.
Now let's get on with the review.
- Rivas/Larin Chemistry - Carlos Rivas and Cyle Larin have been working well together all season, and perhaps the best evidence on the year so far was the first goal of the night for Orlando City. Rivas crossed a beautiful ball to Larin in the six-yard box about waist high, and the Canadian leaped into the air and deflected the ball off of his outstretched right foot back into the left corner of the goal to draw Orlando City level after conceding the first goal early on.
But this goal was about more than just Rivas and Larin. It started with a great pass from Kaka to Donny Toia, who found Rivas on the left side and then sent it in to Larin for the finish. The goal required Cyle Larin to be active and moving around off the ball--something that seemed infuriatingly lacking in the previous two seasons--and that combined with great ball movement paid off in a gorgeously-constructed goal.
- Creative Clean-up - Let's be honest--Orlando City has not always been good at making something out of missed opportunities. Too often we see players throw their hands up to their face or hang their head in disbelief when a play doesn't go exactly as they plan. Orlando City's second goal on the night was an exception. Carlos Rivas tried a long crossing pass into Cyle Larin from the left side and overcooked it just a little bit, as the ball sailed over Larin's head. But Scott Sutter had a head of steam running down the right touch line and managed to reach the ball before it rolled out, and sent a lovely cross back in to the top of the six-yard box where Kaka was waiting to receive it. The Captain made his chest and ribs very soft as he received the ball and let it drop to his feet, then he calmly turned and shot it under defender Ike Opara's wild leap and beyond the reach of SKC keeper Tim Melia.
- Efficient Opportunism - The scoreboard shows a draw, but the "deep stats" on the night were almost all in favor of Sporting KC. They topped the stat sheet in shots (14 to 7), shots on target (8 to 4), crosses (11 to 10), passing and accuracy (534/89% to 327/83%), duels won (44 to 28) and tackles won (11 to 10). These stats are usually a lot more indicative of the stronger side than stats like offside calls and possession, and these stats show that Orlando City was outplayed on the night. But they fought through that and managed to earn a result, which is good when so many of the important numbers are against you on the night. And the fact that Orlando City was able to hold SKC to only two goals while conceding in all these areas is a reminder that the defense is a lot better this season than it has been in years past.
- Being Dictated at Home - I just said that Orlando City was efficient on the night given that Sporting KC owned such an advantage on the stat sheet. But the flip side of that coin is that it is unacceptable for the team to allow anyone to come into our stadium and dictate the terms of the game. Sporting KC is a good team, and there are a lot of sides in this league that have the capability to be just as intense and just as assertive on any given night, and Orlando City needs to develop the strength of character and toughness to avoid letting those sides outplay them on home turf. If I'm honest, the flurry of shots and pressure that SKC applied at the beginning of this three-game week cause me more than a bit of concern when thinking about hosting NYCFC next weekend with their very intensive and high-pressure attack. The lads are going to have to really be on their toes come next Sunday if they want to remain unbeaten at home.
- Blessing Breakout - Latif Blessing makes the list twice today. This first time is for the fact that Orlando City allowed them to be the team that the young Ghanaian showed his finishing prowess by scoring a brace on the night. The SKC International started the match in place of the suspended Dom Dwyer, a fan favorite in Orlando, and proved why the brain trust in the SKC front office were so keen to sign him. I have a feeling this kid is going to score a lot of goals in MLS. The lad has talent, but it goes down as a bad mark on the night that Orlando City's defense did not have an answer for him.
- Garbage Giveaways - I always say that in soccer possession is like a drum kit--it doesn't matter how much you have, but what you can do with it. Still, there's no excuse for sloppy turnovers, and Orlando City had way too many of those on the night. Whether it was passes out toward nobody in a purple shirt or weak little dribblers just ripe for being plucked by the opposing team, there were too many of those on the night. Orlando City needs to get crisper, sharper, and more precise on their passing if they want to become an elite team in MLS and it's this kind of nonsense that they need to avoid.
- Aja Uh-Oh - In the eleventh minute of the match Jose Aja was shown yellow, and the guys in the booth were a bit inaccurate in their call. They said they thought the yellow was deserved for the inadvertent collision of knees between Aja and Latif Blessing. They were correct about the card being deserved, but wrong for the reason that it was given. My seats are in the south end of the stadium, and when Referee Ricardo Salazar went to Aja initially to explain the reason for calling the foul, it looked like he was giving the defender the, "I'm watching you, so just keep it calm and don't push it," talk. That usually means a simple warning is coming and it won't result in a booking. But Aja reached out and forcefully grabbed Salazar's wrist and pushed it down, and I groaned because I thought a straight red was coming. I don't care how much you dislike a referee's call you NEVER put a hand on them in dissent. As far as I am concerned, Aja is very fortunate that Salazar only opted to issue a yellow, and it wouldn't surprise me if the MLS disciplinary committee decides to make that a red and possibly fine the player for his utterly stupid behavior.
- And the Tony Award for the Best Supporting Actor Goes to... - Sporting KC forward Latif Blessing showed anything but sportsmanship with his theatrical flopping on the night. Eventually his efforts did earn him a yellow card in the 79th minute, showing that Ricardo Salazar had had enough of his nonsense as well. The irony is that he earned his card after a collision that really did seem to cause injury, as he was subbed out of the game at that point. If the lad wants a long career in MLS, he's going to need to learn it's not the NBA or La Liga where flopping is such an enshrined part of the game that both leagues are considering a season-ending award handed out to the most skillfully-executed example of the art.
- Fix Your Eyes, Kyle! - Most soccer fans that complain about officials complain about the man in the middle, but I think Ricardo Salazar overall had a pretty good match and let the players play for the most part, only interjecting himself and going to his pocket when things got really extreme. Fans of both teams will complain that their player was taken down in the penalty area and they should have been awarded PKs, but the fact that Salazar was even-handed in not awarding a penalty to either team at least kept his decision from being a factor in the outcome.
But the worst call on the night goes to the bench side Assistant Referee (Kyle Atkins or Kyle Longville, according to the official MLS lineup for the match). When Orlando City earned a corner in 75th minute and Jose Aja buried Will Johnson's curler in the back of the net for the apparent go-ahead goal. But the goal was waved off, and it was the AR on the bench side who threw up his flag, claiming that the ball had drifted out beyond the end goal line before curling back in. I contend this was a bad call. Some will ask for evidence, and that's fair. I admit the only evidence I can give is circumstantial, but it's damning: that play is not part of the official MLS highlights. After every match the, league's highlight reel includes all the goals, the near goals (shots off target or saves), and apparent goals that are waved off for clear violations of the rules (offside, fouls by the attacking team, etc.). But there is no highlight of this play, which means that the MLS knows that the AR blew the call and video evidence would prove it. If there is video evidence to prove that the call was correct, then the MLS owes it to their officials to include that play as part of the highlights to show all fans that the league does have great officials and fans should complain less about their calls and non-calls.
At the end of the day the official is only human and everyone who is human will make mistakes from time to time. I've said before in this post that Sporting KC outplayed Orlando City statistically, so it would have been a shame in some ways for them to leave the match without any points. So it's not the end of the world. But it is annoying to have Aja's goal denied due to a bad call.
What did you think of the match? Did you think it was exciting and well-played? Do you think the AR got the right call on the Will Johnson corner kick late in the game? Do you think Orlando City will ever be able to score more than two goals in one match this season? Let me know in the comments below!