First home win in MLS! First home win in MLS! There's a whole boatload of superlatives I could throw out at this point, after getting home from the match and listening to post-match coverage on the radio. But I just wanted to capture some observations from my seating group and our vantage point in Section 146 behind the North goal. This is all fan perspective stuff--I've said it before and I'll say it again: those of you who have played high school soccer probably have learned and forgotten more about the game and its tactics and what it takes to win than I will ever know. I just know what I see on the pitch and how my purple-laced brain interprets it. Who knows if I've tapped into the true meaning--I just hope it entertains a few of you!
Release that Tension!
One of the first things that we noticed in the early going was how loose our lads seemed tonight. From the opening kick of the NYCFC match on March 8 it seems like every single game the players were playing the self talk, "don't screw up! don't screw up! don't screw up!" all match long. The guys were working so hard to try to make the perfect cross or waiting to try to get the perfect angle for a shot or analyzing to try to make the perfect pass to a teammate. In short, it seemed like they were overthinking the game.
But not tonight. Tonight, they simply looked like they were having fun playing soccer. In a way it was sort of the perfect "no pressure" situation because they were playing the defending MLS champions on our third match in a nine-day stretch, they were having to play without a second major star (Aurelien Collin) going down to an injury in three weeks, and then to top it all off there was a new keeper in the net. After the early-season defeats in the dying moments of the matches and the late-game collapse against DC United on Wednesday night, I think the expectations on the part of most Orlando City fans were pretty low.
Don't get me wrong--we know we have a lot of great players with tremendous talent, but there's been little consistency in the lineup due to the revolving door of injuries, and this match saw us missing Collin for the injury and Ricketts for the decision to change keepers. Inconsistency piled on top of inconsistency. Meanwhile, all the pressure was on the LA Galaxy. They've also had to deal with injuries this season (most notably Robbie Keane) and the retirement of Landon Donovan, who was a mainstay of the lineup during the Galaxy's recent championship seasons. Going up against a struggling expansion side had to feel like an opportunity that begged for a mandatory three points to take back to the West Coast.
What I saw on our part was a great leap forward in the "touch" passes between our players. There seemed to be a lot more instinctive passes and a lot less stopping and looking around to find another purple shirt, and that more fluid movement just led to attack after attack after attack that forayed deep into LA Galaxy territory. By the same token, I saw a lot better anticipation by our lads when the Galaxy began putting together runs toward our goal. Suddenly you found a single white Galaxy shirt surrounded by multiple purple shirts as our defenders closed down and stripped the ball away more times than not before a dangerous strike could be taken.
One notable exception I will mention on the Galaxy is the crafty and elusive Gyasi Zardes. The number 11 shirt in white had a knack for drifting away from the defender marking him and always showing up at the ball in a space where it looked like there was little or nothing between him and Orlando City's net. But our defense was almost always faster to react than he was to take a shot, and their quick feet and energetic play preserved the clean sheet for Tally Hall's debut in net for the Lions.
Possession Stats Can't Be Right
In those early season matches at home against NYCFC, DC United, and the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, it felt like Orlando City controlled possession for a majority of the game, and the statistics bore that out. Tonight it felt like Orlando City was controlling possession again, and I was shocked at the half when the video board said LA Galaxy had led possession by 57% to 43% for Orlando City. That just didn't seem possible. And then in the car on the post-match radio coverage I heard that LA Galaxy had a 53% to 47% edge for the entire match. Maybe I will see it when I watch a TV replay, but live it just seemed like we were in control far more than that, as the attacks we had felt like they had a life and an energy and an organic growth you could watch unfold. Maybe we were just doing a lot of counter-attacks when LA would screw around and give the ball away, but I would have thought we'd have the edge in possession.
And the Ref says, "Play on!"
The Ref really didn't insert himself a lot in this match. Of course there were a lot of times he didn't call fouls by LA Galaxy players against us that I would have liked, but by the same token he didn't call many fouls by Orlando City players against the visitors, either. Every Ref in soccer and football is going to be different, just like every umpire in baseball is going to have a different strike zone. The only thing you can ask is for them to be consistent with their own calls. And this official was that--consistent. He let play continue and called advantage a lot both ways when he thought it was warranted, and didn't take kindly to whining by either squad. He pulled a yellow on Kaka for the Molino jersey celebration, and he showed the LA Galaxy keeper a yellow for jawing at him too much. It's a consistent message: you waste my time, I'm booking you!
Who would sign up for Samba classes from Kaka?
There are lots of players we could gush about after this match but my God, there are times that Kaka seems to just be listening to a Brazilian big band when the ball is on his feet. After one sequence where he dribbled the ball by a couple of defenders and then passed it off to a teammate, my buddy said, "I just blew three ACLs on that move--one in each knee and another in my eyeball!"
Two Exciting Debuts for the Purple
Of course it was last Thursday morning when I called for the Tally Hall debut in my blog--not out of criticism toward Donovan Ricketts who has made some sensational saves for us in the early part of the season, but out of concern for the youth and inexperienced mistakes that Orlando City's defenders have been making in the first part of the season. Apparently the club ownership and President Phil Rawlins don't just follow the blog, but they read every post and show Coach the insights they think are worth following. OK--no hate mail--I'm just kidding!
But I would argue that in a way it was the debut of a new keeper that inspired the defense to play even better. As I mentioned earlier, it seemed like purple jerseys were swarming to the ball when LA got it in our half of the pitch, and especially as it got closer to our area. I think maybe our young players have been counting on the experience of a Donovan Ricketts to bail them out of bad plays which has unfortunately had the effect of letting a lot of opponents get into dangerous positions that have led to us giving up scores. Tonight it seemed to start to sink in that they are responsible for helping the keeper prevent opponents from scoring, and they really didn't let Tally Hall have too many shots that he absolutely had to come out and try to defend.
And Orlando City beat writer Paul Tenorio (from the Orlando Sentinel) confirmed this week that Martin Paterson was fit for the LA Galaxy match. I was curious if he would start or if they would sub him in late, which is what happened, to help him get his playing legs under him a few minutes at a time. Paterson was only on the pitch for a few minutes, but he proved eager to get into position to help his teammates and try to add a late fifth goal, but the opportunity never arose.
This was by far the best match Orlando City has played all season, and it's especially satisfying as a fan to see the chemistry building between teammates and to see their comfort level with each other growing match by match. I hope we'll see more of these kind of wins as the season continues, both at home and on the road. I'm thrilled to be an Orlando City fan and a season ticket holder in this inaugural MLS season. Now it's time to sit down for a late dinner and watch the replay on TV to see what other insights come to light and what the analysis by the professionals can tell me that my fan's eye view didn't pick up.
Vamos Orlando! We did it: we Ruled The Galaxy!