Orlando City achieved a road result in snowy Montreal with a flurry of goals in the first half. Meanwhile, in perfect weather back home in Orlando, the Orlando City Street Team and Liam Fitzpatrick's in Lake Mary teamed up to throw a great viewing party, with the help of the Ruckus Supporters group and a bunch of other crazy fans.
Last Monday the club released the schedule of the Orlando City Street Team's official watch parties for 2015, and the March 28 match at Montreal was the first on the list. The event was held at designated City Pub Liam Fitzpatrick's in Lake Mary. My buddy Trace and I met up with Sam from OCLionsFan.com and a few of his friends to enjoy the match. As the group arrived, Sam notified a couple of the servers that we had a gentleman in a wheelchair joining us, and they quickly rounded up Dominick, the GM, to help us get seated at a low table in an area where our friend could easily and comfortably enjoy the match without having an obstructed view from the large and vocally passionate crowd that was anticipated and turned out for the match.
Of course the Ruckus were on hand with their drums, chants, flags, and bandannas. The Orlando City Street Team were also on hand passing out magnets and had the famous Kickin' Cruiser parked curbside for fans to play the FIFA 2015 video game and generally making sure everyone had plenty of purple to display.
As the match kickoff approached, the buzz around our table and all the other tables nearby was about the starting lineup. With seven players on International Duty and another five unavailable due to injury, Coach Heath had a thin squad from which to select his Starting XI and designate available substitutes. When the news broke, we learned that Orlando City would field a 5-2-2-1 formation, with the venerable Donovan Ricketts in goal and a defensive line of Luke Boden, Seb Hines, Sean St. Ledger, Aurelian Collin, and Tyler Turner. The mid-field would feature Eric Avila and Amobi Okugo futher back, with the Brazilian Brotherhood of Kaka and Pedro Ribeiro going forward. The lone striker up top would be Danny Mwanga. On the bench, Heath had Earl Edwards Jr., Bryan Rochez, Tommy Redding, and Harrison Heath.
With the Starting XI, it represented the first minutes played by Luke Boden, Tyler Turner, and Danny Mwanga. While this lineup matched what some pundits had predicted would be the most likely array, the presence of so many players that had yet to see the pitch in 2015 definitely was cause for speculation how the team would play.
Once the ball was kicked, there was a marked difference in the character of the team. Orlando City has presented a clear edge in time of possession in each of the first three matches, with a tendency to give the ball away deep in the final third of the pitch near the opposing goal. But from the first in Montreal, Orlando City's matchday lineup seemed to have trouble maintaining possession. Indeed, the box score from the MLS web site shows Orlando City with under 49% of the possession, but it seemed early on that our lads were passing it more to the opposing team than to each other as the match got underway.
Tensions in the bar rose as we watched Montreal win possession from our team time and time again, and then in the 13th minute we witnessed something new this season--the first penalty kick. The PK was awarded to Montreal for a hand ball called against Sean St. Ledger. The resulting Penalty Kick was struck low and just inside the right post of the goal by Ignacio Piatti. The low trajectory was the only thing that allowed the kick to succeed, for Donovan Ricketts guessed correctly and dove to his left, with the replay showing he was just able to brush the top of the ball with his glove as it shot past him into the net. If Piatti had put any loft on the ball the big keeper would have likely caught and secured it or blocked it away from the goal.
In the 23rd minute Kaka nearly made magic as he struck a right-footed shot that was destined for glory except for a pretty remarkable save by Montreal's Eric Kronberg. It was just a momentary respite, however, from the free possession giveaways on fire sale by the Orlando City squad through the first 27 minutes of the match. That failure to keep possession bit the lads hard in the 27th minute with an ugly defensive breakdown that allowed Montreal's Jack McInerny to be unmarked in the midst of several Orlando City defenders and bounce a slow, crazy lob over the head of a scampering Donovan Ricketts caught in no-man's land that found its way into the unminded goal to give Montreal a 2 - 0 lead. It was truly a painful goal to watch as an Orlando City fan, and it strikes me that the breakdown of the squad was a solid team effort with no one player being able to account for the entire botched play.
With the depleted roster and the early 2 - 0 deficit, it seemed unlikely that Orlando City would be able to salvage a result from the match. But then something else happened that I haven't seen from this squad yet in 2015: the Orlando City team seemed to get fired up with anger. I think they were angry at giving up the silly PK and equally angry at being embarrassed defensively as they had been on McInerny's 27th minute goal. Whatever the motivation, they began aggressively plucking the ball away from Montreal players and passing it forward crisply, making several dangerous charges toward the home side's goal.
And fans gathered for the viewing party didn't have to wait long for the new attitude to pay dividends. Kaka received a pass from the left wing inside the area, and prevented giving away the ball with a nifty pass to the feet of Pedro Ribeiro who was trailing on the play. Without hesitation the younger Brazilian struck and the ball sailed past the outstretched hand of the diving Kronberg and into the upper left corner of the net. Orlando City was on the board with the first first-half goal that the team has scored in the young season.
And the two Brazilian teammates were not done just yet. In the very next minute Ribiero stole the ball off the feet of Montreal's Marco Donadel at midfield and dribbled it all the way into the area at a good clip. This time as a challenge came to him, he deftly passed it to his left to Kaka, who was rushing up from behind. With a light touch to just settle the ball, the Orlando City captain struck and the ball flew past defenders and the diving keeper to find the upper right corner of the net and draw the game level at 2 - 2.
I wish I could say that Orlando City continued peppering the Montreal goal with shots, but once the match was all square again the urgency seemed to fade a bit. In the second half both teams played more conservatively, but I still thought Montreal had a few more chances than Orlando City. But Ricketts was able to come up with some good saves and at the end of full time and five minutes of stoppage time the result was a tied game.
Orlando City made only one substitution at around the 66th minute, when Bryan Rochez came into the match for Danny Mwanga. I know I'm a greedy fan because I was hoping for a clean victory, but after going down by two goals early and having such a depleted squad for this match, I'm trying to convince myself that getting a point on the road is a good result.
All in all I think it has to be a good outing for the younger players that saw their first action of the season. It was a true test by fire going down early by two goals, but there never seemed to be any panic in the squad, and the surge of emotion in the second part of the first half helped bring the match back into balance.
What was your view of the match? How do you think the young players fared? Do you believe we learned anything promising from the lads that were pressed into service today, or is it still too early to tell? I'd be curious to read your thoughts!