Words cannot convey how I feel after Saturday night's match. My heart is wrenched; my soul is irreparably scarred. In the hours since the "Uruguayan assassin" Octavio Rivero fired a deadly rifle shot into the very core of my being, I have been thinking of nothing except where to lay the blame for this heart-stopping humiliation, soul-crushing sorrow, and devastating despair.
I have considered and then rejected the easy early targets as mere scapegoats: it would be as if an ill person blamed the symptoms for their disease instead of understanding the disease as the cause of the symptoms. Those early targets, since rejected, include the comical Clouseau-like bumbling of the match referee and his failure to observe the game with the same razor-honed focus, objective clarity, and superior skill as I have been blessed with through my dozens of months as a loyal fan of Orlando City SC. Another since-rejected target of blame are the time-wasting tactics and Oscar-worthy dramatic pantomimes of Vancouver FC players in the dying moments of the game that earned them yet another yellow card.
Let me explain each of these false causes for the loss and then peel the hardened scales from your eyes and mine both to see the true cause of this horrible defeat that our lads in purple suffered on the pitch. First let us deal with the referee. In the first two home matches of the season, I believe we have seen both the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of MLS referees. On March 8, we saw Alan Kelly at the center of the pitch, an over-zealous activist referee in love with the stylish cut of his uniform and the sound of his own whistle. At every foul or hint of a foul he was quick to blow the whistle, and he flashed cards from his pocket so many times you would have thought he had pictures of his grandkids to show everyone. Then on March 21, we witnessed the stony silence of Jorge Gonzalez in his role as "man in the middle." From his reluctance to go to the whistle you would think he were refereeing a UFC bout or a rugby match instead of a soccer game.
While I can easily find fault with Referee Gonzalez for failing to see the dastardly muggings that the Vancouver visitors perpetrated against my purple-clad heroes, I do have to commend him for keeping his whistle in his pocket when collisions between players resulted in Orlando City winning possession away and the clumsy and unfortunate Vancouver man wound up eating a face full of Citrus Bowl turf. Several times, of course, Mr. Gonzalez erred in judgement and determined a foul had been committed against the Vancouver team, but his far more serious breech of professionalism and objectivity were his failures to recognize Orlando City players were wrongfully battered and brutally violated by their opponents in Vancouver colors.
But then again I can't expect Mr. Gonzalez to be perfect. He is human after all, and he lacks two things that give me superior judgment: one is my vantage point in section 146 of the north end zone of the bowl--a perfect spot for a clairvoyant angle on the pitch and every millimeter of movement and action thereon. The second quality Mr. Gonzalez lacks is the omniscience of the laws of association football conferred upon me by donning the authentic Adidas jersey and the Society XXI scarf I was wearing on Saturday night. Without those I am merely a mortal observer of the game, capable of overlooking errors and missing mistakes just like anyone else. But with them donned, I am incapable of seeing anything but the absolute and impartial truth of every nuance and minute detail of a match.
So clearly we cannot blame Mr. Gonzalez for the fall of the squad on Saturday night. We must look for another culprit. The one that most easily springs to mind is the Oscar-worthy thespian theatrics and time-wasting tactics displayed by the Vancouver FC players on the pitch after the fourth official had displayed the board showing the amount of injury time to be added to the second half. Whether or not you believe my claims of superior knowledge of the laws of the game, it is an indisputable truth that the referee, the aforementioned Mr. Gonzalez, was as put out and annoyed with the antics of the Whitecaps players as I was, since he flashed a yellow warning card to a player that unreasonably delayed his throw-in near the top of the Orlando City area just moments before Rivero's deadly shot sundered my psyche and shattered my soul.
While I can justifiably dislike and reasonably find fault with the time wasting tactics and dramatic dilly-dallying of the Vancouver players, I have to commend it as wily brinkmanship of a design that unfolded with precisely planned perfection. At the end of a long match both sides are exhausted and have half an eye on the referee to see when the final whistle will sound. Delaying the throw-in so long that the official comes to issue a warning card has the effect of relaxing the vigilance of the opposing squad and focusing their attention on the match official while your team mates tactically redeploy to set up a better angle of attack on the goal. Indeed, as soon as the guard of the Orlando City SC players had been dropped by this minute amount, the ball sailed into the pitch and found the waiting foot of Mr. Rivero, who then sent it on its destined appointment with the back of the net.
So if we can't blame the referee and we can't blame the Vancouver Thespians for the loss, where does the true fault lie (or is it lay--swine linguistic evolution and the tendency of English to borrow from every tongue and tradition on the planet)? For the answer to this we must look to the esprit de corps displayed by the Orlando City squad and the science of numerology. The two factors seem inexorably intertwined and commingled during these first few matches of the season, and they add up to an unhealthy obsession with the numeral one.
Now we all know that the number one is the best number of all in the world of sport. One is the number at the top of the table; it allows you to bask in the glow of glory and raise the trophy of triumph as an individual or as a team. And many players on the Orlando City squad have experienced the joy of this sweet number, from raising MLS Cup championship trophies, Goalkeeper of the Year awards, MLS Cup MVP honors, World Cup championship trophies, and even the most coveted individual award in the sport, the FIFA Ballon d'Or. So the number one can be and should be a number that teams and players strive to reach and battle to achieve.
Unfortunately, our beloved 2015 Orlando City SC squad seem fixated on the numeral one. This can be demonstrated through a triumvirate series of indisputable facts:
- One is the most goals scored in a single match by Orlando City SC in an MLS contest.
- One is the most goals allowed in a single match by Orlando City SC in an MLS contest.
- One is the numeral that appears in all three columns of the results table for Orlando City: one win, one loss, one draw.
This stunning revelation, friends, comes from my incisive study of the science of numerology. But wait, I hear you ask, how does that have anything to do with the team's unselfish nature? I'm glad you asked. What we perceive on the pitch match after match is a purple-clad passion for possession and passing, and an unselfish nature that extends all the way from our captain, Kaka, to the final substitute rushed onto the pitch in the dying moments of a match. Upon receiving the ball at any spot on the field, it seems the first instinct of our players is to seek out a teammate for the pass. It is as though they have been drilled in the etiquette of egalitarianism. "Sir, I see you have not yet touched the ball in this possession. Please, I shall strike it to you so that you may have a tap!" they seem to say to one another.
Now when they are moving the ball away from their own end of the pitch this is perfectly commendable and utterly reasonable. The problem comes when they persist in this pass-possession passion upon reaching the opposing team's area. It is almost as though they believe points accrue to the team from the number of minutes which they can continue possessing the ball in front of the opponent's goal instead of striking it into the net.
Were I granted the opportunity to address the team in the locker room before a match, I would simply offer them one strategic suggestion on how to tweak their tactics in an effort to find more victories. That simple change would be this: when you receive the ball in the area, point your toe toward the goal and kick the bloody sphere home! We all love friends who are unselfish and who wish to confer honors and share glory with others. This is a wonderful quality in nearly all aspects of life. But sometimes in the world of sport it becomes necessary for the triumph of the team and to bring festive fruition to the fans that individual players take a page from the egocentric playbook of stars such as Allan Iverson, LeBron James, and Keyshawn Johnson, who once so eloquently said, "Just give me the damn ball!"
I hope these insights are helpful to the team, for I know that them taking action to implement them will be a soothing balm to heal the violent wound that was dealt to my heart and soul on Saturday night in the Citrus Bowl during the 94th minute. I trust that my thoughts and wishes will be given due consideration and all the attention they may deserve from the locker room to the film room to the practice pitch. And I hope that through the implementation of these tactics and others that are deemed prudent by Coach Heath, the obsession by the squad with the numeral one can be re-focused and re-targeted to the number one--where all of the purple-clad Orlando City faithful yearn and strive and hope for it to be.