As I try to do most weeks, I'm trying to review the latest match from my living room and posting on any reactions that I have from the perspective of a little distance from the event and the benefit of better TV angles and TV commentary. If you still have the game on your DVR, you may find you agree or disagree with my opinions at different points in the match.
I have to give Unimas and Univision credit for this one. The SAP feed was up and running from the very moment the game began, unlike the Houston match in which the SAP feed was silent for much of the match and the only audio was in Spanish. I love the fact that most of our Latin American friends are getting "The Beautiful Game" on one of the largest and best established Spanish-language networks in the USA, but I'm also grateful that they are making efforts to be sure that fans born and raised in this country can also listen to the broadcast in our native tongue. Now if the people who invented SAP can only come up with multi-lingual options so that fans who speak Portuguese, French, and multitudes of other languages can enjoy the game as well.
There's another thing I must point out that was missing from my initial reaction to the match on Saturday's post. I sit in the North End Zone (the newly closed end zone) and in the Vancouver match it was a little hard to hear the Supporter groups over the general buzz of the crowd noise. But the Ruckus and the ILF and their drum line and their chant leaders should be proud. Not only did their sound come through well on the TV broadcast for the DC match, but they were very easy to hear and to follow from the opposite end of the stadium on Friday night. I'm not sure if this means that more of the supporters are getting with the program in terms of learning the chants and participating, or if it just means that more people in my end are paying attention to the pitch and not having conversations with their neighbors. Whatever the reason, I like it and I hope the supporters will continue to be vocal, loud, and fill that leading role to get the crowd involved in the match when our lads need it!
The first corner of the game came deep into the sixth minute. Up to this point DC United had seemed to turn the tables on Orlando City in terms of winning most of the possession, but we had the first set piece opportunity. There's something I really love about Kaka when he goes to take a corner. We sit just a few rows off the pitch in the north end, and as the Brazilian superstar ran across to take the corner, he was applauding and acknowledging the cheers coming up from our section, which of course just made everyone cheer more loudly. He plays and he speaks unselfishly, but he's aware of his celebrity status in a way that he can use it to help the team.
The corner seemed low and a bit far out from the face of the goal, so perhaps there was some plan in the works that was not apparent. But we were not able to convert it to a decent shot on goal, and DC United was able to clear it harmlessly back toward midfield.
In my post on Saturday I alluded to the problems Orlando City seems to have with first touches, and wondered if it might have something to do with experience or communications among the players who haven't had a lot of time to come together as a squad yet. This was evidenced by a play in the ninth minute, when one of our lads (Seb Hines I believe) passed a ball into Kaka near the top of the six-yard box. Kaka knew he had a teammate (Pedro Ribeiro) out closer to the edge of the pitch, and attempted a back-heel pass, but Ribeiro was checking up to avoid going offside and the ball rolled harmlessly to where DC United keeper Bill Hamid could scoop it up from the turf.
Orlando City had another chance as Kaka delivered a beautiful ball from midfield toward the top of the DC United area, where a pair of Orlando City players (Kevin Molino in the middle and Rafael Ramos out to the right) were in good onside position to possibly get a shot on the goal. But once again Bill Hamid displayed excellent anticipation and ran out to the top of the area to catch the ball before either of our lads could reach it.
Orlando City won another corner kick, again taken by Kaka. But this time the strategy was different than we had seen in previous matches. Instead of kicking the ball directly in, he tapped a short corner to Brek Shea just a few yards up the pitch. Then Shea crossed a beautiful ball in toward the far post, where Amobi Okugo headed the ball just past the outside post of Bill Hamid's goal. Had the ball been just inside the post it may have been an early goal, but as it is it showed fans the more aggressive and decisive attempts on goal we had been clamoring for in the first few matches.
There was another beautiful chance for Orlando City that ended in a grimace of pain and murmurs of concern. In the match at Montreal it was clear that Kaka and fellow Brazilan national Pedro Ribeiro are developing a great chemistry on the pitch, and the World Cup veteran played a ball forward to feed his younger teammate. But at the top of the box, Ribeiro grabbed his left hamstring mid-stride and collapsed on the pitch in agony. There was no contact with the DC United player that was marking him on his run into the box, it was a simple case of pulling or straining a muscle. It resulted in Cyle Larin coming into the match for Orlando City, and Ribeiro was taken straight to the locker room for evaluation.
Almost as soon as Ribeiro was in the tunnel and play had resumed, there was another chance for the home side, as Kevin Molino received the ball near the top of the area. But his shot deflected harmlessly off of a defender who placed himself just a few yards from last year's USL Pro scoring leader and the moment was lost.
Cyle Larin started to make his presence known early on, as he charged toward the top of the area to chase a great forward ball sent from midfield by Brek Shea. He beat DC United defender Kofi Opare to the ball, but just before he shot, the whistle blew for an offside call. Larin took a shot anyway, and it forced Bill Hamid to leap into the air and just get a fingertip on it to push it up and over his goal. With the whistle, a goal would have been disallowed, but it was great to see Cyle Larin immediately chasing down balls and making the visitors realize that he was not just another purple shirt but someone who could hurt them if they didn't pay attention.
Speaking of Larin, there's another lovely thing I saw on multiple occasions on Friday night. Cyle Larin and several others apparently were watching Ribeiro in Houston a couple of weeks ago when he forced Tyler Deric into a bad decision that resulted in an own goal for Orlando City's first road victory of the season. Many times I saw our players rush at Bill Hamid or at other DC United players when a ball was played back lazily toward them, making them uncomfortable and hurrying their movement to the ball. As a fan I like seeing this aggressive and harassing style of play by my squad, and I hope they are able to continue it and eventually turn it into positive results.
Orlando City won yet another corner courtesy of Larin striking the ball hard off of a DC United defender and out over the end line. Kaka curled the ball in toward the center of the area from the right corner this time, and it was Aurleian Collin who went up and shot a sharp, powerful header just wide of the left goalpost.
Here's another example of that communication breakdown I mentioned earlier (someone get Robert Plant and Jimmy Page cued up to provide a soundtrack, please). Kaka passed a great ball in from the right to Kevin Molino at the top right corner of the six-yard box. Molino sent a back-heel pass toward the center of the area expecting another teammate to be there to take the shot, but nobody was in position as both Avila and Cyle Larin had run to the middle and the left edge of the six-yard box respectively. So the ball slowly rolled out into empty space until a defender could come to clear it away.
Kevin Molino went into the referee's book for a handball on a rather ambitious play. When DC United was awarded a free kick from midfield, Molino backed off beyond the required distance until the DC United player started his run up to the ball. Then Molino charged forward and leaped into the air, only to find the ball screaming right toward his head. In an instinctive and defensive reaction. Kevin put his hand up to deflect the ball, but clearly it was a flagrant hand ball foul and wound up getting him in the book. It was a nice idea, but perhaps it could have been nicer had Kevin been able to keep his hand down and turn his face away so he could deflect the ball off the side or back of his skull instead.
DC United finally had their first good chance of the match, as they threw the ball in and sent a a crossing pass toward the top of the six yard box. Ricketts came out of his goal and leaped up to grab the ball, but collided with DC United's Kofi Opare and could not secure the ball in his hands. When it fell to the turf, Chris Pontius was there for the visitors to try spinning and shooting the ball, but Amari Okugo stepped up immediately behind him and the United shot ricocheted off of Okugo and back toward midfield.
The sequence led to a potential breakaway as Larin deftly controlled the ball and began moving upfield. But at about the mid-pitch stripe he attempted a pass to Avila on the left wing. Unfortunately the pass was too tentative to be effective, and the ball was tackled off of Avila's feet by DC United's Nick Deleon.
I hope Bill Hamid goes out and buys dinner or at least drinks for his tall white skinny friend--and by that, I mean the right goalpost. Brek Shea served a great passing shot from the left side of the pitch toward Kevin Molino, who found himself just at the top right corner of the six yard box with a defender out of position and Bill Hamid sprawled on the Citrus Bowl turf helpless to defend his goal. Molino struck hard and the ball thumped off the outside of the goalpost and harmlessly out of play for a DC United goal kick.
Molino ran up the pitch begging to the referee, and on the replay I can see why. As out of position as Bill Hamid seemed to be, from multiple replays it did appear as though he managed to get just fingertips on the ball that deflected it to the side post. Technically it should have been awarded as a corner kick to Orlando City, but in real time it was such a light touch and such a close call that I can't fault the referee for not noticing it. It was just one of many chances we had had to convert on shots in the first half hour of play, and just another example of the killer instinct that Orlando City still needs to develop around the box.
Orlando City had yet another chance started by a long looping pass from Brek Shea. Shea found several Orlando City players on the right side of the DC United area: Kaka, Cyle Larin, and Kevin Molino. Larin played the ball to his feet and then passed it to Kaka, slightly behind the Brazilian, causing him to have to turn and chase it a bit before he could control it. For a tense several seconds, the Orlando City trio played keep-away from six DC United defenders in the area, as Hamid watched intently to see whether a shot would come.
On the Univision English call of the match, Ramses Sandoval was crying out and begging Kaka to take a shot as he fought to control possession. He then kicked the ball out to Molino who looped it back over to find a charging Rafael Ramos coming in from the right, and Ramos blasted a shot that Bill Hamid saved off of his calf and then was cleared by another DC United defender. This Hamid guy was frustrating the snot out of me in the stands, but I tell you the truth he's going on my fantasy MLS squad as soon as I can get him!
34th and 35th Minutes
You see, MLS, there's a legitimate grievance that Orlando City fans have against your myopic, moronic, idiotic, shortsighted, corrupt, and unqualified referees. Yes, I did just say that and if the MLS league office doesn't like it they can kiss my behind. Kevin Molino was taken down in the 34th minute in the DC United area by a clearly malicious and savage foul from Perry Kitchen, who dumped Molino to the turf with everything he had, including the sink! But corrupted by the DC lobbying firm that referee Chris Penso operates, he failed to call a foul and declared play on. Then seconds later in the 35th minute just outside the Orlando City area, DC United's inept Chris Pontius fell to the turf while spinning to try to follow the ball, dragging Orlando City's Aurelian Collin to the ground with him. And yet the official Idiot in Chief in the middle called a foul on Collin, awarding DC United a free kick less than ten yards from the top of the 18-yard box. I just have this word of wisdom to educate all MLS officials. Remember that lions will eat you and politicians always fabricate and falsify everything they do. The next time you have to make a decision between the two teams, remember to make the correct one.
Fortunately, DC United thought they were playing tackle football and kicked an excellent field goal that sailed up and over the net between the pipes and twenty rows into the supporter section. It would have earned the Redskins (if we are still allowed to say that name) three points, but United netted nothing from the effort (see what I did there).
The 39th minute saw DC United have another opportunity as they won a ball outside their own area and raced down the sideline to deliver a crossing shot from the corner outside of Orlando City's six yard box. But it was well defended before getting close to the goal and cleared away harmlessly.
Orlando City had yet another chance thwarted by the truly impressive Bill Hamid. Hey, Jurgen Klinsmann--why isn't this guy starting for the USMNT? Kaka passed a great ball forward to Kevin Molino who received it in stride inside the top of the area and sent a blistering shot toward goal. But Hamid anticipated perfectly and slid feet first to knock the ball away harmlessly as it came off of Molino's right foot.
OK there's a true confession here. I've been trying to eat lunch, watch the match, and comment on the match all at the same time. I've had to reheat my food a couple of times because there's so much action I can't just sit and watch. This was another chance for Orlando City and it was likely the worst shot of the game from substitute Cyle Larin. Kaka played a wonderful through ball to the Canadian just outside the top left corner of the six yard box, and Larin rushed the shot. He turned and struck before taking aim and sent the ball well wide of the goal on the left side, not coming anywhere near the net. With a fraction of a second more to line up his strike, he could have sent a shot that was on target. Now whether it would have scored is open for debate since Hamid was there defending the goal, but at least it would have made the DC United goalkeeper work a little more.
There is yet another chance for Orlando City and Cyle Larin, and this time he did everything about as perfect as could be. It started with an Aurelian Collin tackle to win the ball just outside the Orlando City area and a nice pass forward to Kaka who flicked it out to the right edge for Molino. Kevin played a crossing shot into the top of the DC United area where both Larin and Collin were racing toward goal, both onside. Hamid was rushing to his right (the attackers left) and Larin leaped up to get a beautiful header on the ball, down and toward the right half of the net that was open, empty, and unguarded. But Hamid somehow changed his direction and dove at the ball, smothering it with his hands before it could bounce into the net.
But before the commentators could even finish their praise for both the attack and the defense on that end, DC United had the ball back at Orlando City's end of the pitch. A crossing shot came in to Chris Rolfe just outside the top right corner of the six yard box. With an extended leg he attempted a shot toward the left side of the Orlando City net but the angle was wrong and the ball went out of bounds beyond the far goalpost.
The first half was exhausting to watch in the stands and on the replay. Chance after chance went by for both teams, and at the half the commentators mentioned the heat and humidity, which was evident for the first time all season on Friday night at the Citrus Bowl. I am thankful that there are not many afternoon matches this season for us at home, and most of them are 7:00 pm or later starts. As spring moves into summer there are going to be many starts where even as the sun is setting we will find the temperature at 80 degrees or warmer with the humidity up as well. It's going to be taxing on the fitness of both teams, and hopefully it will work to Orlando City's advantage in much the same way as the winter has historically been an ally along the Russian front against invading European ground armies.
The second half seemed to start a bit slower than the first, likely because both teams were tired from the effort they had expended in the opening 45 minutes of the match. Neither team had a really good shot on goal until Orlando City got the ball to Brek Shea out wide on the left wing beside the DC United area. Kaka played the ball out to him, and Shea dribbled it in before taking a good shot that was too low and too straight to give Bill Hamid much of a challenge. A lesser keeper may have had trouble with it, but Hamid easily fell on the shot and cradled the ball to end the threat.
I also noticed that both teams were looking a bit more tired in the way they handled the ball. The passes were off just a bit and they both were giving up possession a little more easily than in the first half. Again, I'm going to blame the heat and humidity, but I'm not sure that's the true culprit.
61st and 62nd Minutes
Orlando City won a free kick outside the area after a strange play. I've commented on the soccer concept of "advantage" in an earlier post, and when Kaka was dragged to the turf by Chris Rolfe near mid-field in the 61st, the referee called Advantage and said play on. A few seconds later, Cyle Larin was dragged to the ground by another DC United player and the referee blew a whistle and this time issued a yellow card to Rolfe for his takedown of Kaka moments earlier.
On the subsequent free kick, it was Kevin Molino taking the kick, which was eventually knocked out for an Orlando City corner by DC United. And in the 62nd minute it was again Kevin Molino taking the corner kick. I haven't heard Adrian Heath comment on the reasoning behind this switch at who took the corner kicks, but it could be that we were attempting to get Kaka on the end of these kicks instead of being the one serving them up. Of course neither one resulted in a goal, so the frustration continued to mount for the fans of the home side.
Darwin Ceren went into the referee's book for a hard foul on Chris Rolfe near mid-field. It looked like a good old fashioned hip-check from the 1980s version of the NHL, so I think it was a good call, even though it went against my team.
How great is Brek Shea? We've all seen how well he runs, how well he can score for the USMNT, and how well he serves up great crossing shots. But in the 68th minute we saw how well he can play goalkeeper. DC United's Taylor Kemp played a long through ball from the left side of the pitch at midfield toward the top right portion of the Orlando City area. Brek Shea was close by to defend, but another DC United attacker was streaking up the right side. As that player touched the ball back toward the top of the area, Ricketts came out to the top of the six yard box and Shea trotted down toward the mouth of the goal.
DC United's Conor Doyle ran forward from outside the top of the area, and after receiving the pass back from his teammate took a strong shot low toward the center of the goal. Ricketts dove to block it outside the six-yard box, but wound up deflecting it right into the path of DC United's Chris Pontius above the top left corner of the smaller box. Pontius struck and Shea stretched out a long ankle to block the ball up and back toward the top of the area in a tall, long, slow looping arc. Ricketts scrambled back to his feet and leaped backward toward the goal just as Conor Doyle attempted to head the ball into the net. The Orlando City keeper's huge mitt went into the air and deflected the shot over the goal. It was the most dramatic moment of the match to that point, and it generated the loudest screams and shouts and cheers from the crowd of the whole evening. It was a tremendous volley between multiple players from both squads, and kept hope alive for the home fans that we might see a good result yet from the night.
There was another corner kick for Orlando City by Kaka. It fell at Aurelian Collin's feet four yards from goal, but he couldn't get a clean shot and his effort went wide of the goal. In the resulting play out of bounds, Orlando City substituted for the second time, bringing on Carlos Rivas for Eric Avila.
71st through 79th Minutes
During this stretch, Orlando City peppered the DC United goal with about a shot every 90 seconds. Some went wide and some were on target, but none found the net. Probably the best one one of the bunch came near the end of the 79th when Carlos Rivas sent a low blistering screamer of a shot from ten yards beyond the top of the area that Bill Hamid had to dive at and deflect to his left across the end line to keep from giving up a goal.
Rivas had another shot on goal from a beautiful feed by Kaka. Rivas was above the right side of the six-yard box and shot at the left side netting, but his angle was off a little and it sailed past the goal before going out of bounds.
Carlos Rivas took a corner for Orlando City this time, and he served it nearly pinpoint perfect to Kaka at the far post. The Captain headed it down, but with a little too much pace, as the ball bounced in front of the net and then went up and over the goal instead of going in.
As the announcers were wrapping up the commentary and praising Orlando City's fan base for bringing out 32,822 spectators for a Friday night match, an absolutely horrible foul was made in the 91st minute at the top of the Orlando City area. Seb Hines fouled Luis Silva from behind, dropping the DC United player to the pitch and drawing the whistle from referee Chris Penso, whom we have already established has his own lobbying firm on K Street in the District. I don't need documentation or a paper trail or any other evidence--taken from the sheer erroneous, corrupt, incompetent, biased, and fraudulent way he called the match with a clear bias for DC United, it's clear this jackwagon of a referee is unqualified to officiate even a peewee soccer match.
Luis Silva scored off of the free kick, putting the ball between a gap in the Orlando City wall and just squeezing it between the fingers of Ricketts and the left post of the goal. It was a ball that had to be as precise as hole-in-one shot on the golf course to find the back of the net, and Silva had the measure of it.
But when Orlando City put the ball in play again, Carlos Rivas was almost immediately fouled by DC United's Davy Arnaud for an Orlando City free kick just outside the DC United area. So it was almost exactly a mirror image of the spot on the other end of the field where the visitors had been able to make their scoring shot. Rivas fired the ball, but it went just wide to the left of the DC United goal, sending Bill Hamid sprawling to the turf in an effort to make a save that he missed but that did not ultimately result in a goal for the home side.
Less than a minute later the match ended with the home team losing all three points. This one was as frustrating to watch on TV as it was to watch in person. I did find a lot of good from the match, but as I said in a tweet over the weekend it felt like watching the first few years of UCF's rise to Division 1 football all over again. Just as then I am watching this team fight hard and play strong and suffer defeat right at the end of the game. Of course unlike college football it's not so much a back and forth affair in scoring, since both Orlando City's home losses have come in 1 - 0 defeats.
I hope that this is a symptom of players who are new to each other and new to the same club. I have to believe that with the culture of winning we have become used to as Orlando City fans from the USL Pro days, it's simply a matter of time before all those attempted shots are rewarded with balls in the back of the net.
I certainly hope that's the case. One thing is for sure--I'll be there in the stands cheering on the lads and rooting on the team all season. I hope you will be too!