There's no such thing as a good loss, but there are those matches where you have an opportunity to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your team. The match on Wednesday in Toronto was such a time for Orlando City. After riding high to begin the season with six wins in seven matches, going into a hostile BMO Field against a side in Toronto that is starting to look like they are defending Eastern Conference champions was a good test for Orlando City. And the lads in purple came up short.
- Kaka Scores - The Captain made it two goals in two games with his score just before the half to cut the deficit to one. The goal was well set up. Kaka got the play started with a short corner, and the ball was passed out to Carlos Rivas on the short side. Rivas passed the ball in deep and across the face of goal to Cyle Larin at the far corner, who headed it back out toward Kaka at the near corner. And the Brazilian took it off the bounce and slammed it into the top back shelf of the net as Toronto defenders and goalkeeper Alex Bono looked on helplessly. The fact that both Rivas and Larin were looking to be creators on the play and not just finishers is encouraging. Yes, we want and need those lads to score goals, but when they see another teammate with a more open chance and give the ball off, that shows some maturity in their game.
- Creating Chances - The first step to scoring goals is creating chances. Orlando City has done well in that department this season, and Wednesday night was no exception. The quality of finishing those chances is what has troubled me as a fan, and again we saw that on Wednesday. But Orlando City outshot Toronto 11 to 6. So this says they were using their possession edge to create opportunities, and not just kick the ball around in the defensive half.
- A Little Help from Our Friends - Wednesday saw an opportunity for the standings in the East to change, since the New York Red Bulls were also playing and were only two points behind us in the standings. Fortunately former Orlando City star Dom Dwyer and Sporting KC were hosting the Red Bulls and decided they didn't want to drop a home match. With KC beating the Red Bulls 2 - 0, it kept Orlando City at the top of the Eastern Conference table.
- Conversion Rate - I said before that it was good we led in shots, but the flip side is we had more shots that were off target (5 to 2) and more shots blocked (3 to 1) than did Toronto. The teams were level in shots on goal (3 to 3), and Toronto came up with the better conversion rate, turning two of those into goals, whereas Orlando City only found the back of the net one time.
- Out Hustled - I think there are some deeper stats that tell a more important story of the match than headline stats such as shots and possession. And those stats all pretty much went the way of Toronto in this one. Toronto led in Duels won (67 to 55), Tackles won (24 to 20), and Clearances (23 to 12).
- Missing Keys - Two familiar faces were not in the 18 on the night, with both Will Johnson and Antonio Nocerino left out of the available players. After struggling to find a role for the first half or more of the 2016 season, Nocerino has settled in to be an important cog in the transition game for Orlando City, providing some vision and tactical experience from his midfield position, where he tends to play a holding or defending role that helps win possession and then start pushes forward. And Will Johnson wore the captain's armband in Kaka's absence for a reason. He's a real anchor back there, and when you too many of the usual defending starters out at once, the back line begins to look a little shaky. It seems like putting Donny Toia or Tommy Redding in the lineup with the rest of the starters can give you a winning result, but having both of those less experienced players in at the same time is just a bit of a stretch. Don't get me wrong--Redding and Toia are both great athletic players, but the more veteran starters have a bit more of the wily veteran wisdom that helps them anticipate and be in slightly better positions to cut off attempts than the younger lads, who wind up having to use their youthful speed to try to recover and close down on an opponent more often.
- Cheap Shot Number One - I thought all the cards issued by the ref on Wednesday night were justified. Jonathan Spector committed a tactical foul to stop a break, and Cristian Higuita tried a tackle from behind that got too much of the player. Both were sound plays with intent to disrupt, and by the laws of the game were deserving of yellow. But I think referee Baldomero Toledo could have been a bit more fair by going straight for red on three cheap shots committed by Toronto. The first was early in the match when Michael Bradley absolutely mugged Cyle Larin from behind with a blackjack to the thigh and absolutely no intent to go for the ball. The play left Larin down on the pitch for a couple of minutes, and he seemed bothered by his left thigh for the rest of the match, not being quite as aggressive as he has been in recent matches to chase after balls or challenge opposing players.
- Cheap Shot Number Two - Similarly in the second half, Jozy Altidore kicked Jonathan Spector's ankles out from under him instead of going for a shot on the ball after he was frustrated at being schooled by Tommy Redding on the previous play.
- Cheap Shot Number Three - And Alex Bono could have easily been sent to the showers early for his reckless first-half takedown of Cyle Larin just outside the box. It was a dumb decision on the keeper's part to come so far out of his box, and then he compounded it by overtly taking down Larin without trying to make a play on the ball.
What about you? What were your thoughts on the match? Did you think Orlando City played well in the loss? Was there a player in purple whose performance frustrated and agonized you? Do you think Toronto's dirty play helped them steal the match, or was that just good hard hustle that helped them win the day? Let me know in the comments below!