So this week I'm breaking my coverage of the Orlando City vs. Vancouver match into two posts. Yesterday I posted my reaction to the match, expressing my heartbreak and disappointment at the loss. I had to give myself a chance to grieve it while the wound was still fresh and raw.
Today, however, I'm reviewing the match as I watch the replay recorded on TV at home with the local broadcast crew of Jeff Radcliffe, Kevin Hartman, and Holly Bristow. This review is informed a bit by the additional commentary of the broadcasters and by my ability to stop and rewind video. I'll add time markers to the commentary in case anyone decides to watch along with this review and see if you see things the same way I do.
One thing I need to look into is the system for determining kickoffs in MLS. I know there is a coin flip, but unlike tackle football, nobody announces it, so it's hard to tell what they're actually deciding. In both the home matches we have had so far, the opposing team has started their match with their goalkeeper down at the north end of the stadium where I sit, meaning that the opposition keeper has to be down in front of the loud, rowdy, and vociferously heckling supporter section for the second half of the match. I am curious when a team wins the coin toss what do they decide: is it like tackle football where one team decide who gets the ball first and the other team decides what end of the pitch they begin the match defending? If that's the case, then in the Citrus Bowl as Orlando City I would opt to choose the end every time and always make sure the opposing goalkeeper has to deal with the Supporter Section in the second half.
With the opening kickoff, Vancouver did that thing I hate about pretty much every soccer team on the planet. They kicked the ball back toward their own goal and then just passed it back and forth as though they were standing around figuring out where they all wanted to go to dinner after the match. To me this was a missed opportunity for Orlando City. When a team does that at the very start of the game, our lads should try to make them pay for it.
Last week when Tyler Deric got a little tentative on handling a ball passed back to him in goal, Pedro Ribeiro made him pay by rushing in on him and forcing the botched own goal to give Orlando City the victory in Houston. To me it seems that on fresh legs, this is something we can and should do at the start of a match when this type of passing in the back happens with the opposition. We should rush a fast attacker forward without notice to try to get a quick interception of these lazy passes and strike hard at the goal from the sound of the first whistle. In fact, I might try a tactic of rushing the entire squad forward to the opponent's side of the pitch, thus putting some of the opposing players offside should the strike be rebounded and sent forward on what the enemy believes will be a counter-attack.
At this point it became clear the man in the middle was not Alan Kelly again. When Kevin Molino got punted into the east side advertising boards by Vancouver's Sam Adekugbe, referee Jorge Gonzalez awarded Orlando a free kick just inside the touch line but did not draw a card from his pocket. It was clearly a hard challenge by Adekugbe that had no intent to actually play the ball, only attempted to knock Molino off of the ball. In referee Kelly's book, that would have been a yellow-worthy foul: either to the player doing the knocking or the player being knocked.
Also in the sequence following the free kick came the first of many times I was screaming from my seat in the stands (and urging from my spot in front of the TV today) for an Orlando City player to just shoot the stinking ball. Where we sit in Section 146 we had three blokes from England behind us, and while their language is not safe for a family friendly blog like this one, their sentiment certainly captured mine. When Kaka took the free kick and it swung in to fall at Kevin Molino's feet at the top of the area, he had a split second where he could and should have fired a rifle shot between defenders at the Vancouver net. If you subscribe to my theory that the home team should have been more aggressive in the opening minute, then it was the second time in the match that Orlando City missed an opportunity to stomp their cleats on the throat of the enemy and snuff out their will to continue fighting in the match.
But instead of shooting, Molino opted to dribble around and then pass the ball off to a teammate, thus giving Vancouver a chance to get back into more solid defensive shape and better assist their keeper in keeping the ball away from the net.
The sequence from the previous free kick ended with another foul just outside the Vancouver area that resulted in another Orlando City free kick. This one, it must be said, was not the best effort we've seen from Kaka, and it lazily fell in perfectly placed for a Vancouver defender to head it back out toward the middle of the pitch.
After the ball bounced around a bit between both teams, being kicked back toward the area and back out again, the scouting report on Vancouver proved true as they launched the first of many counter-attacks, starting with a single player out toward mid-field. The man streaking down the pitch for Vancouver was Octavio Rivero, the "Uruguayan Assassin," who was being marked by Orlando City's Seb Hines. As the two ran into the 18-yard box on Orlando City's end, they appeared to bump shoulders and windmill arms, and then Rivero fell to the turf in what Alan Kelly surely would have deemed a fall worthy of a penalty kick or a yellow card for simulation depending on how he was feeling at the time. Referee Gonzalez on the other hand decided it was merely incidental contact and awarded a goal kick to Donovan Ricketts since Rivero was the last one to touch the ball before it rolled over the end line.
In the sixth minute something happened that I am not accustomed to seeing: Kaka got angry at an opposing player. It was just in the Vancouver end of the middle third when a Whitecaps player clipped the heels of the Brazilian captain from behind and he toppled to the turf. At once he sprang up waggled a finger under the nose of his opponent, even as the referee called advantage for Orlando City and allowed play to continue.
By this time in the match it was pretty clear except for the opening minute and the one counter-attack by Vancouver that Orlando City was dominating possession. From the time Donovan Ricketts booted the ball out of his goal you could count on the fingers of two hands the number of seconds the bouncing white orb had spent on the Orlando City end of the pitch.
The lads in purple would possess the ball and knock it back and forth trying to wait for an opening in the Vancouver defense to appear. Occasionally a player in white would intercept and try to win possession, but within one or two pass attempts, an Orlando City player would win the ball back and retake possession for the home side.
In the eighth minute, Kaka won possession from a Vancouver player and began an attack toward goal, passing the ball off to Kevin Molino as he did. Kaka was being marked to the sideline side, and unfortunately Molino's pass back to his captain also went to the sideline side, meaning that the opposing player doing the marking was in position to intercept the pass and thus snuff out the momentary threat. It was a small mistake, but it was the kind of error that plagued Orlando City all night. Combined with the failure to pounce on opportunities to strike at the net, slightly errant passes that were either off on timing or out of position relative to the attacking teammate meant that Orlando City was unable to capitalize on chance after chance that was offered them to hammer the ball toward the net seeking the glory of a well-struck goal.
The Vancouver interception turned into another swift counter-attack opportunity, but the crossing pass from high on the left side of the pitch in front of the Orlando City goal found no other Vancouver players in position, and Brek Shea won the ball back and began another good Orlando City possession headed the opposite direction.
On a second viewing of the match, you can really see how the pieces for Orlando City are just that close to coming together. The question, of course, is how much more touch the players can develop this season and how quickly will it materialize? In the early seconds of the ninth minute, Molino dribbled the ball high on the right side of the pitch outside the 18-yard box in front of the Vancouver goal and swept a long arcing pass that sailed a bit long over the head of and behind Pedro Ribeiro. You can see the intent and see the opportunities that will be there when these touches gain a bit more accuracy. It gives one hope, but it's also a bit frustrating, if I'm completely honest.
Vancouver recovered the ball but before they could start a counter-attack, Brek Shea inserted himself into the play again, this time with a hard challenge from behind against Nicolas Mezquida. It drew a foul and a free kick for Vancouver at the top of their own area, but it prevented a swift counter-attack opportunity, and as Kevin Hartman commented it was a good foul for Shea to take since he was out of position to defend if a counter materialized.
For the next several minutes the teams traded possessions between the areas without either one getting a good clear shot on goal. Both teams exhibited good speed in moving the ball and getting into defensive position. But late in the 13th minute, Orlando City finally got the ball to Kaka at the top of the Vancouver area and he took a shot at goal which was slightly deflected and bounced past the outside of the right upright pipe of the net.
The most telling thing I notice from the replay is how some of Orlando City's passes on possession have a bit of a heavy touch and how teammates fail to find each other cleanly as a result. Often a pass will sneak past the intended target or hit him with force and ricochet off right to the feet of a Vancouver player, and then the speedy Whitecaps were off to the races with a counter-attack.
Almost more of the same. Possessions went back and forth in the middle of the field, with both teams aggressively tackling the ball away from each other in the central portion of the field. On aggregate it seemed in the stands and from the broadcast that Orlando City was controlling possession of the ball in terms of time, but finally getting it into position where they could take a good shot on goal was the real issue.
But Orlando City did get another chance to shoot, though it was not a completely clean chance nor was it struck with a great deal of power. As the team were coming down the right side of the pitch, a pass was made to Molino who "dummied" the ball--acting as if to strike at a pass from a teammate, but allowing the ball to roll by without touching it--between his legs and let it roll on toward the feet of Pedro Ribeiro who was much closer to the center of the pitch. Ribeiro was being tightly marked by a Vancouver player, and while he was able to take a shot at the goal, it did not have much power on it, and Whitecaps keeper David Ousted was able to easily dive on the ball and secure it from doing any harm.
A lot more of the same. The significance of the 22nd minute is that it saw the first caution card of the match, given by referee Jorge Gonzalez to Vancouver's Gershon Koffie for a sliding tackle from behind that took down Eric Avila. It didn't look to be the hardest foul that the match had seen, but the man in the middle deemed it a more dangerous play and thus decided it had crossed the bounds of a simple foul into warning territory.
Eric Avila is really starting to catch my eye. He's developing a great sense of being able to win corners and goal kicks for Orlando City by knocking the ball out of bounds off of opposing players. Twice in the opening 26 minutes he has accomplished the feat, once on both ends of the pitch. The deflection off Vancouver at the visiting team's end set up another corner kick situation for Kaka. The initial ball in was headed out of the area by Vancouver, but it fell right at the feet of guess who... yup, Eric Avila. Unlike so many of our players who seemed to want to look for a pass, Avila immediately struck the ball at the goal. It sailed a bit high and to the left of goal, but it was a shot struck with force at a time that caught Vancouver's keeper flat-footed, and had the aim been a bit better it likely would have beat the keeper into the net.
This was truly the first bad non-call I saw in the game. Kaka and Molino had a nice possession going, passing the ball deep into the area before the Vancouver net. Then as Molino ran to pounce on a pass from Kaka he was taken down from behind by Vancouver's Kendall Waston. The ball rolled across the end line, and everyone in the stands and on the broadcast team expected a penalty kick to be awarded since Molino was inside the box. But the referee awarded a goal kick to Vancouver.
Thinking back to the NYCFC match, Molino had been booked for simulation, and I wonder if that played into the referee's decision not to make a call either way. There was certainly contact that caused Molino to fall, and Waston did not touch the ball, but it's possible the referee was influenced by the fact that Alan Kelly had booked Kevin in a previous match for simulation that prevented Orlando City from getting what seemed like the it should have been the first PK awarded to our side this season.
34th and 35th Minutes
This was the first major opportunity for Vancouver, but it ended with the ball harmlessly rolling across the end line. Octavio Rivero--the Uruguayan Assassin as I dubbed him in my post last Sunday--received the ball and took a low shot just outside the 18 yard box in front of the Orlando City goal. Donovan Ricketts had moved all the way to the top of the area to challenge and touched the ball as he slid, but it still kept rolling past the keeper and seemed for a moment like it might trickle into the net. But a pair of Orlando City defenders caught up to it ahead of time and the ball rolled harmlessly across the end line to the outside of the left pipe for a Vancouver corner kick.
They tried a short corner and it looked like Orlando City was going to clear it cleanly out of the area. But the errant clearance was intercepted by Vancouver and they sent it over to the right side of the area to find the ever-dangerous Rivero again. He struck the ball with pace and on frame, but it was just a bit high and skipped off the top crossbar of the goal without scoring. This man clearly has great talent for finding the net, and if you have the room in your fantasy team he would be a great addition to your lineup.
This saw the second caution card of the match, again to a Vancouver player, Sam Adekugbe, for a sliding tackle from behind that took down Kevin Molino in the middle of the pitch. This one was a bit harsh, and I can see why it earned a caution. Fortunately, Kevin popped right back up and continued, seemingly no worse for wear. The subsequent free kick and corner kick by Orlando City did not threaten the goal before Vancouver won possession.
Another shot for Vancouver as Morales took a shot that went wide to the left side of the Orlando City net.
A third caution card was issued, and yet another to a Vancouver player. This time the guilty party was Octavio Rivero for a hard shove of Amobi Okugo at the center circle to knock him off the ball. There was nothing subtle or incidental about the action, and referee Gonzalez wasted no time in going to his pocket for the card.
At the half it was pretty clear Orlando City was ahead on possession, but they were having trouble maintaining it to the point where they could shoot on goal. It's also clear the quality of the Vancouver side, especially Rivero. The team is definitely fast and dangerous on counter attacks. They are also opportunistic in intercepting passes that are either off target or off speed, and they play a very physical brand of soccer. That aggressive style certainly helped to disrupt the more patient-seeming Orlando City side, which never seemed to show much of a sense of urgency in the first half except when rushing to help defend one of those speedy Vancouver counter-attacks.
As the second half opened, both teams had trouble maintaining possession and there was more of the aggressive style of close marking and haphazard passing by both teams. Most of it was in Vancouver's end of the pitch, and in the 49th minute, there finally seemed to be a chance for Orlando City to put together an attack. Kaka and Brek Shea ran toward goal, crossing as they did with Kaka peeling left to the edge while Shea turned more toward the middle. Kaka attempted to feed Shea the ball but it was slightly too far ahead of the streaking defender, and by the time he caught up to it near the end line, his ambitious shot on goal sailed high and over the edge of the box instead of being on target to the face of the goal.
Orlando definitely was in control of the possession, but was still having trouble setting up a good shot for any of their players. Late in the 52nd minute, Eric Avila took a shot from outside the Vancouver area. It was on frame but he struck too much under the ball and sent it sailing well over the net and into the purple-clad sea of fans in the Supporters section.
54th and 55th Minutes
There was another shot attempt by Shea that was more on target but high of the bar. Analyxt Kevin Hartman commented how Orlando City seemed to be taking too long to set up shots for their players, as they spent four passes getting the ball from the right side of the field to the left for Shea's attempt.
But very quickly after David Ousted's goal kick, Orlando City got the ball back and Kaka took a dangerous shot on goal that was right on target and just over the top of the net. At this point in the match as a viewer in the stands I was feeling very confident about our chances of getting a victory because it seemed like Orlando was relentlessly knocking at the door of the Vancouver goal. If they could only sustain the frenetic pace of the attack, I was sure that eventually one of the shots would have to go in.
Orlando City built another attack and this time it was Rafael Ramos taking a shot from just outside the top right corner of the area. Vancouver's Sam Adekugbe interposed himself between the shot, but managed to get a hand on the ball with the call of a hand ball and a free kick awarded to Orlando City. It was outside the area, but it was very close--had Adekugbe been a couple of yards closer to his keeper, it would have been a penalty kick awarded to Orlando City.
Kaka took the free kick, as he seems to take all of our set piece kicks (no complaint from this fan, but I do hope we eventually get to the point of some teams where we throw a couple of players up there just to keep the opponent guessing who will kick it). He fed a beautiful ball into the perfect position for Pedro Ribeiro, who headed it strongly toward the Vancouver goal, but the shot was a bit high and it sailed over the net once again.
The only bad thing about Orlando City's fast and furious flurry of shot attempts is that it expended a lot of energy, and over the next few minutes Vancouver was able to mount several dangerous counter-attacks that drove deep into Orlando City territory. The home side's defense did a good job of tackling the ball away from Vancouver's swift attackers, and Aurelian Collin showed some tremendous skills cleanly stealing the ball off the boots of opponents a couple of times during the sequence.
In the 65th minute, Collin was tackled by Vancouver's Kekuta Manneh, who arrived late and slid in with both feet up and studs out in a very reckless maneuver. Collin went down hard, and the result was yet another yellow card for a Vancouver player. However, Collin was incensed, feeling like the tackle he had taken was worse than the one he had delivered in the opening match that resulted in him being sent off with a straight red. On the TV broadcast it was very clear he was angry and seemed to be referee's judgment for making the call as he saw it. There was also some pushing and shoving that resulted between several players of both teams, and it's a little surprising the referee didn't end up issuing more yellow cards or possibly a straight red to someone in order to send a message to stop the bickering. But the tempest quickly passed and the match resumed.
If I told you there was more back and forth--more possession building by Orlando City and more quick counter-attacks by Vancouver--would you believe me? During this spell Vancouver had two quick corner kicks down at the Orlando City end of the pitch, and after the second, the ball fell to Kaka's feet, and he dribbled it niftily across the halfway line, faking several Vancouver players out of their cleats and socks as he did so, and sending the crowd into a frenzy. He passed the ball ahead to Molino who re-directed it on to Pedro Ribeiro just outside the top right corner of the Vancouver area. After a swift pivot, Ribeiro delivered a laser shot toward the upper left corner of the Vancouver goal that sailed just barely too high, coming down to bounce off the top of the net as it sailed over the top of the goal mouth. It was just that close and it was just that frustrating as a fan in the stands.
Immediately thereafter, Ribeiro was subbed out and Cyle Larin came into the match for his first appearance for Orlando City.
Wins and losses are one thing, but scary moments in games come when there's a potential for a serious injury, and one happened right in front of our seats in the 73rd minute. Vancouver had a quick counter-attack, with a ball played in for Sam Adekugbe, who hurtled headlong toward the left edge of the six-yard box in front of the Orlando City goal. Donovan Ricketts ran out to try to intercept the ball, and as the goaltender made a sliding play on the ball, the small Vancouver defender slid down after the ball as well and he took the big goalkeeper's knees right into his ribs.
Adekugbe lay curled in a fetal position on the end line for several minutes, long after Ricketts had signaled his teammates and the referee that there was an injured player who needed the trainers' attention. The Vancouver staff came out and began working on Adekugbe, who lay halfway on the pitch and half out of bounds right where he had fallen. Eventually they had to bring a stretcher for Adekugbe. I can report from seeing twitter posts several days later from Vancouver fans that Adekugbe did not have any broken bones, but appeared at practice with his ribs wrapped in bandages and has been ruled out of playing the next Vancouver match.
As play resumed, Orlando City took possession all the way down the pitch and Rafael Ramos had a chance to shoot from the top of the Vancouver area on a ball played across to him. The good news is that he sent it skipping sharply across the turf, avoiding the problem of earlier Orlando City shots sailing over the net. The bad news is that his shot was just off and it slid past the right side of the net to the wall at the edge of the playing surface.
The first caution of the game for Orlando City went to Amobi Okugo for a hard challenge on Octavio Rivero of the Whitecaps.
More chances for both teams. The pace of the game really increased in the dying minutes as both teams sought desperately to get a result. The physical play from both sides continued, and the referee was very reluctant to go to the pocket for any cards. Vancouver's Kendall Waston nearly had a goal during this sequence, and then on the subsequent drive down to the opposite end of the pitch, Kaka took a shot that went into the side netting of the Vancouver goal.
Cyle Larin nearly had a chance to be a hero as Kaka passed the ball into him and he spun around to strike at the net, but his shot went just wide of the right post of the goal. At this point it seemed that the match was destined to end in a scoreless draw, but that was not to be.
93rd to 96th Minute
Octavio Rivero for Vancouver went down near the touch line with a cramp in his calf, and it began to annoy referee Gonzalez as it seemed to be a delaying tactic. Over the next couple of minutes, he issued a yellow card for delaying to Vancouver's Jordan Harvey, who took forever to complete a throw in just above the Orlando City area. But immediately off the eventual throw-in, Pedro Morales was fouled by Darwin Ceren and was awarded a free kick. That free kick turned out to be doom for the home side.
Morales kicked a low arcing ball toward the near side of the six-yard box, and a diving Octavio Rivero managed to get his head on the ball. It flew up over a knot of Vancouver and Orlando City players in front of the center of the net and bounced right under the outstretched diving arms of Donovan Ricketts to find the far side of the net.
Watching the goal on TV it was actually a well-played, well-struck ball all around, but Coach Heath pointed out in his radio show on Tuesday that Orlando City had six players out of position on the wrong side of the ball when the free kick was taken. The simple truth is that everyone on the pitch was exhausted and was waiting for the referee to blow the final whistle, and it took just a couple of very alert Vancouver players to capitalize on the situation and steal a goal on the road in the dying moments of the match.
I wrote a long, rambling emotional post on Sunday that encapsulated and captured all the frustration I felt in the stands on Saturday night. After watching the match on TV and seeing it from another perspective, I actually feel less bad about the loss. Vancouver was a playoff team last season in the tough Western Conference and was quick to take advantage of sloppy play by Orlando City to make quick counter-attacks. Orlando City's defense played well for 95 minutes, but in the dying breaths of the game they failed to be attentive to details and they paid for it.
As for Orlando City's attack it's very clear we have talented players and there were a lot more shots taken by a lot more players than I remembered from watching the game live while it happened. I had been convinced we waited too long to shoot and in some cases we did, but quite a few players had chances and put the ball close to the goal. So it's a matter of incremental degrees of improvement required to get a result from a match like this and not a complete change in philosophy. Shooting a little lower, a little straighter, and a little sooner--by fractions of seconds and tiny angles--was the difference in Orlando scoring no goals and scoring three or four times during the match.
This weekend's match at Montreal is going to be very interesting because the team will be hungry to get points, but they will also be without seven players who are all off serving International Duty during this week's FIFA International Window. I hope the hunger will be strong enough to prevail, because I would like to be able to celebrate a victory with friends at the viewing party on Saturday afternoon!