Nice turnout at Shine in Wall St. Plaza
I was not able to make the road trip to Charleston for the Carolina Cup Challenge matchup with NYCFC, but I was excited to learn that one of the club's City Pubs, Shine at Wall Street Plaza, would be streaming the game. I arrived about an hour before match time and met a couple of young fans, Matt and his girlfriend (whose name I am blanking on at the moment, although I remember she is from Colombia originally). They've both grown up being fans of "the world's football" and Matt recently purchased season tickets to be part of the fun at the Citrus Bowl this season.
We were all eagerly anticipating the evening's match against the other expansion side, and as time went by several other fans began arriving. More of Matt's family arrived, and eventually the crowd just outside the bar grew to about a dozen before they officially opened the doors and allowed us to move inside. By kickoff there were approximately 30 - 50 fans in the bar. I know that sounds like a small number compared to the turnout we have witnessed for regular season matches and World Cup games, but we must remember this was a match being streamed on YouTube and lacked the high production value and clever analysis we would expect from a match carried by one of the major networks. So having a passionate group of fans turnout for such a game was a very good sign. I like to think that those of us who showed up for this match are the "one-percent" of the club's fan base. Those that want to experience the thrill of the match together instead of just watching it from a more convenient and perhaps more comfortable recliner at home.
I must apologize for the tardiness of my post about this match. In the first place, I don't fancy myself a skilled analyst of the game, so I can only give you the perspective of a relatively new fan. For another thing, while the YouTube stream did include audio commentary (by the NYCFC radio broadcast team, it turns out) it was difficult to hear in the bar and I decided to go home to review the match online in replay before commenting.
I was keen to see how well the team would play together, since this was the first opportunity I had to see them in action on the pitch. Some of the marvelous insider fan sites have done a great job of tweeting pre-season matches that were held here in the Orlando area over the last few weeks, but the starting lineups have changed each match as Coach Heath tries to determine the best chemistry of the team, and I believe that Brek Shea, who was involved in the USMNT international games recently, has not had a chance to play at all with the side yet.
In the earliest minutes of the match, both sides seemed to have trouble with possession as one would likely expect. I feel much the same way when I have been out at UCF to watch college football scrimmages in the spring or the summer camp when new quarterbacks, receivers, linemen, and defensive players are all on the field at once and plays tend to look like organized chaos without so much organization.
The earliest moment of near brilliance in the match actually went to NYCFC. David Villa had the ball served to him by a teammate at the top of the area and blasted a powerful shot at the roof of the goal. Fortunately for Ricketts and Orlando City fans, the ball was too high and smacked off the crossbar back into the field of play.
But about ten minutes into the match, you could begin to see Orlando City putting together more and more cohesive possessions, and by the twenty minute mark of the first half, they were driving the ball deep into the NYCFC end of the pitch and beginning to make threatening approaches on the goal. For the next ten minutes or more, OCSC would mount drive after drive getting the ball into the area and toward the mouth of the goal. Brek Shea's speed was apparent in these runs deep into the opponent's end, as he often came streaking from his left back position to be in position if a teammate were to serve a ball his direction.
Finally in the thirty-first minute glory arrived for our lads. Kevin Molino made a great pass to Kaka as he fought off a pair of NYCFC defenders and sent a blistering ground ball under the outstretched arms of the diving keeper and slotted it into the right edge of the goal. I must say how happy I was to see that the scoring involved both of these players. I became a huge Kevin Molino fan during the 2014 season as he notched the USL Pro record for goals in a single season, and I was so hopeful he would transfer to MLS with the squad. Now that he has and we have been able to secure such a legendary player as Kaka for the squad, you can't help but thinking that this season we might see Molino blossom as the young Padawan under the guidance and tutelage of his Jedi Master Kaka.
The first half ended with Orlando City up 1 - nil over NYCFC, and we could dare to hope that the lads might get us a victory in this matchup. But when the whistle blew for the second half, it seemed that NYCFC were the ones to have a bit better organization. Whereas Orlando City had controlled possession in the second part of the first half, NYCFC now seemed the better organized squad. The halftime pep talk from their coach seemed to be effective as they moved a bit better off the ball and seemed to anticipate each other's positions a bit better to maintain possession.
Eventually their hard work paid off, and Sean St. Ledger was able to feed the ball to Khiri Shelton deep in the OCSC area, and Shelton squirted the ball past Ricketts into the net to draw NYCFC level with the Lions. Toward the end of the second half, OCSC once again seemed to gain the advantage in possession, and that was after some wholesale personnel changes by both squads (apparently they are able to substitute more than three players a side in pre-season matches). The match ended in a one - one draw, and given the impending meeting between the two squads on March 8 to open the regular season of MLS play, it seems appropriate that both sides should be hungry for a result and not have the motivation skewed by one squad having motivation for revenge.
There's room for improvement
After watching the match, I can't help but feel like both sides have room for improvement. As I said earlier I can chalk that up to the lack of established chemistry on both squads as the players get to know each other's tendencies, styles, speed, and abilities first hand. Fans of college football will be familiar with watching a team as they progress through the season and watching freshmen players mature before their eyes: running backs seeming to get a better sense of finding the gaps, quarterbacks dialing in on how much arm to give the ball to be sure it reaches the same spot on the field as the receiver at the same time, defensive backs learning to read the eyes of the opposing quarterback to break on the ball and come up with thrilling interceptions.
The same process will have to take place with our Lions squad. As Coach Heath determines whom he will place in the starting 11 each match and they get more comfortable with their roles in the squad and building chemistry with the other players, we should begin to see more and more of their raw talent develop into beautiful passes, daring shot, and glorious goals.
But I want to know what you thought of the match: who impressed you on the squad and who (if anyone) gave you cause for concern? Is there anyone that you'd like to see get more minutes on the pitch, or anyone you're anxious to see that hasn't played any minutes in anger yet?
One thing missing
If there was one thing missing from Saturday evening's match, it was you! I posted on the blog during the afternoon that I would buy a drink for the first three readers who said they saw the post on the web, but there were no takers among the crowd. I won't be able to be at a viewing party for the match on Wednesday night due to another commitment, but I do plan to go out and watch next Saturday's match to wrap up the Carolina Cup Challenge. Keep watching the blog and I'll tell you where I will be and what you could receive for finding me and letting me know you've been reading the blog!