It's a Long Season by Derek Sheiman (@Rays1299)

It's our second guest column of the season on The Lion's Teeth blog. This time our guest columnist is Derek Sheiman, better known as @Rays1299 on twitter. Derek is a long-time fan of soccer and has watched the MLS for many years, and thought that some historic perspective would be good after the start we have had. Derek wrote this during the week last week, but due to a hectic schedule and illness, I was unable to get it posted before the Portland match. In any case, it's a good read and sound advice for those of used to the success Orlando City had in the USLPro days.

R-E-L-A-X, watch Aaron Rodgers’ press conference and you’ll understand that it’s not how you start the season, it’s how you finish. After a 1-2-2 start and two home losses at the death, Orlando City fans are up in arms. There is minimal need to worry about our beloved Lions so early on in the MLS era. Sure it may be troubling to see a team that lost all of 12 games in the USL era lose 2 games at home in their first season in the new league, but MLS is a league where even the best teams lose around 8 games every year. Last year’s Supporters Shield winner, the Seattle Sounders, lost 10 games. Only one has lost fewer than 5 games (the 2005 SJ Earthquakes). Losing will happen in the MLS; it’ll take some adjusting of fan expectations, unfortunately. 

Orlando City has brought excitement to Central Florida that would make you think the city’s other pro franchise does’t exist. This excitement has quickly turned into anxiety for most new Orlando City fans. After these last two losses, I’ve seen and heard comments that would have Claude from Arsenal TV blush. It’s way too early to start panicking about the 2015 season, way too early. While there are some concerning trends (I’ll get to that), we should better off, but we could be worse off. Consider the start of some other clubs:

We could be 

  1. Philadelphia Union: Gave up two goals in stoppage time to SKC on the weekend. Should have won with a measly 31% and seemingly dominated SKC’s midfielder with a depleted roster.
  2. Colorado Rapids: Have not scored a goal in 360 minutes this year and have played in 3 scoreless draws. 
  3. The 2013 DC United squad: Decimated by injuries to key players ended up with a 3-24-7 record. They won 3 games the WHOLE YEAR…..and the US Open Cup. Ended up well for them as DC won the Eastern Conference in 2014 and are flying high to start 2015.

As of this writing, we are 1-2-2 (W-L-T) and that’s the facts. The way I see it, we could be 3-2-1 or 2-1-2 or even 2-0-3, but this is the unfortunate reality of the game we all love.

Reasons to take a chill pill

1) Adjustments- Do you know how many players on this team have played in MLS before this year? Or how many have played in Inchy’s system before? The answers to that are 10 and 9. The only player that qualifies for both is Lewis Neal. Inchy loves his 4-2-3-1 that stresses possession of the ball. You know the whole comparisons to the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona, in style not in skill of course. The possession numbers say a lot, 52%, 51%, 62%, 49% and 51%.We have won possession 4 out of 5 times, the one time we didn’t was the international break game v Montreal. Winning possession is a great start to the MLS, but every once in a while the ball does have to go into the net. Minor lineup adjustments could be made such as moving Molino to the CAM position, where he dominated last year. Simple adjustments in personnel are needed, not wholesale changes.

Adjustments off the pitch aren't simply a matter of moving to a new city, like other American sports. Soccer is the international game, and moving to a different culture can be extraordinarily difficult. Players like Cristian Higuita, Carlos Rivas, Bryan Rochez, and last year's acquisition, Darwin Ceren, are being asked to move up to the US where they have to learn a new language, new culture and to leave family behind for a few months or longer. There is a so-called “Adjustment Phase” here. Inchy personally went to Central and South America to scout all four of these players, if he didn’t see anything in them than they would not be here. Takes time to adjust and all four should be great squad players, rotational at least, for the rest of the season.

2) The mistakes are correctable. [Editor's note: Derek, are you sure you aren't George O'Leary?] These mistakes that are costing us games are absolutely mind-numbing, but what I’ve noticed is that they are correctable. Heath will have these rectified to provide the on-field product we’re expecting. Our biggest mistakes are coming from set pieces, and committing fouls that provide set pieces in dangerous areas. How many people said before Luis Silva’s FK goal “This looks similar?” Three home games into the season, and two of them decided by goals in stoppage time for the opposition. Simply put this team has to stop committing fouls in dangerous areas while we have players back. If it’s a breakaway situation, that’s understandable. But as far as I’m concerned, we've dropped two points dropped for poor fouls.
The other glaring mistake is the lack of finishing. So far in 5 games, OCSC has 60 shots but only 16 on target for a paltry 27%, YIKES! Out of those 16, how many were right at the keeper? That will have to be fixed with practice to get better throughout the season. It doesn’t help us that we’ve faced quality opposition in Tyler Deric, David Ousted and Bill Hamid. More on this topic in a bit

3) We haven’t had a set Starting XI. What is your best starting XI? Have they played together? Ideally, Tally Hall would be healthy, so would the rest of the team and we could have a lineup like this:

Hall, Ramos, Collin, Hines, Shea, Okugo, Higuita, Kaka, Molino, Rivas, [Insert Striker here].

I have 10/11, but striker is a crapshoot right now. Orlando had to fill in for multiple players because of red cards and international duty. Five different starting XI’s + New system for players=?????. So far it’s been “next one steps up”, which has been working well, but this team will need continuity with maybe 9 or so every week starters to be successful. As of this writing, we’ve played a total of five, count them 1…2...3…4…5 games in MLS; 29 remain in this season. This team can only grow and get better

Reasons you should legitimately be concerned

A) Set piece defending and late goals: Currently OCSC has given up five goals, and three of those have been off of set pieces (you’re wrong Fox Sports 1). Don’t get me wrong, the defense has been admirable with Ramos’ endless energy, Brek Shea breaking ankles and Collin/St.Ledger/Hines providing solid central defense I’d be hard-pressed to think that was our #1 worry into the MLS era. Let’s go play by play on the 3 set piece goals

  1. Octavio Rivero-This guy is pretty good. We all know what happened here, but a poor foul by Ceren in an area where he really didn’t need to foul led to a free kick by Pedro Morales in the 96’. Rivero darted in front of his runner and a well-placed header sneaked past Ricketts for the winner. Last gasp effort and Rivero got in front of Okugo. It also looked like there was a man on the edge of the box not marking anyone as well, but watch at your own peril.
  2. Ignacio Piatti-This was an extremely poor handball by defender Sean St.Ledger, deflects off another OC player and right into the hand of St.Ledger. Piatti places a well-struck PK outside the hand of our Jamaican international keeper for a 1-0 lead.
  3. Luis Silva- This was the least excusable of the three in my opinion. Ricketts calls for a 4 man wall in the 90’ of Friday’s game [April 3]. Kaka, Shea, Larin and a 4th player. The wall broke apart so easily it was no wonder Silva scored. Kaka and Larin stood there, the 4th player moved to the side and Shea did what he was supposed to, which is jump up. No rigidness in that wall there and Silva’s placement made sure Ricketts couldn’t get it.

As for the other two, Mix’s goal was unstoppable for 99.9% of GK’s and McInerney’s was a botched header and a class finish that caught Ricketts in a pickle.

Three of the five goals conceded were beyond the 75’ and two were in stoppage time. And OCSC has not led at home at all in 270 minutes of play. No one wants the “Late goal conceder” tag, just ask Jürgen Klinsmann how that’s going. Being able to hold on to late leads and draws, preventing 3-point matches from becoming one point and 1-point matches from becoming zero will go a long way to seeing OCSC stays above the red line in the standings.

B) Injuries/Match fitness: Oh dear my, we’re five games into the MLS and we’re dealing with a litany of injuries. The list includes but isn’t limited to: Rivas, Hall, Higuita, Rochez, Neal, Kaka and Ribeiro. Five out of seven have played meaningful minutes and six of the seven have played time this year. Injuries are a part of soccer, but limiting them is a key to a good season, remember the 2013 DC United team I was talking about? They got their players back in 2014 and won the regular season Eastern conference. Next man up, but hope this trend doesn’t continue

C) FINISHING: Well, I mentioned this earlier. 27%. No matter how you put that number it’s just terrible. Our strikers don’t have much confidence but then again our (pseudo) strikers are:

  • Bryan Rochez: A 19 year old adjusting to a new culture, life and league
  • Pedro Ribeiro: A midfielder turned striker whose admirable efforts led to 4 points, but is now out for 2-3 months.
  • Cycle Larin: A rookie who was playing against college competition last year. I think MLS is just a bit better
  • Carlos Rivas: Another midfielder who has a left-foot cannon, but needs to stay onside
  • Danny Mwanga: Who the hell is Danny Mwanga? 
  • Martin Paterson: Northern Ireland international currently out with injury.

Test the goalkeeper! Bill Hamid is not unbeatable, even though he played one great game Friday, the efforts of Larin, Molino, Rivas and Ramos’ close ranger weren’t enough to test the MLS keeper of the year. As of this writing, the next game is April 12th at Portland, and it looks like Cyle Larin will be given the shot. [Editor's Note: sure enough, Larin got the start and scored his first MLS goal on a nice crossing pass from Kevin Molino.]

Just before you start with the anxiety remember what I have said here today. We have a talented squad, an excellent manager, players that’ll stick together and fight to the end no matter the score. Most importantly, this is a squad that “Plays for the Badge!" So show up on match day, get loud, cheer for OCSC and R-E-L-A-X.