Adrian Heath is such a refreshing coach to hear in post-match press conferences. He's unflinching, honest, and doesn't make excuses. To paraphrase his post-match comments last night, coach said that Orlando City failed to take advantage of opportunities to secure three points and a victory at home against Columbus, settling instead for a 2 - 2 draw with the visitors.
Early on in the match, Columbus looked like the best organized team in the Eastern Conference--just the way coach has described them several times in the last few months: during the pre-season Charleston Cup Challenge tournament, prior to the match last month at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, and again last Tuesday night at Harry Buffalo during his radio show.
In the sixth minute, Columbus midfielder Tony Tchiani took advantage of the extra attention the home side was giving to MLS-leading striker Kei Kamara to slip a nifty goal past the outstretched arms of Tally Hall and into Orlando City's goal. Columbus seemed to have the early edge in possession, and their speed, size, and on-field chemistry with each other makes them particularly dangerous.
But within a few more minutes, Orlando City seemed to come alive, and by the seventeenth minute our lads were camped in front of the Columbus goal and were peppering Crew keeper Steve Clark with shots. Some of the field players were doing their best to lend their netminder a hand, and one of them took the request a little too literally. Defender Michael Parkhurst was called for an intentional hand ball in the 17th minute and shown a straight red card. The play also resulted in a penalty kick opportunity for Kaka, which the captain buried in the Columbus net before running up the stairs behind the net to celebrate with the Supporters in the south end zone. That put Columbus down a man for the remaining 73 minutes of the match and opened a golden opportunity for Orlando City to take revenge for the April 18 loss in Columbus and send the visitors back home without any points.
But after some initial fussing at the referee by Columbus players, the visitors settled down and played stellar defense. During the remainder of the match, Columbus managed 41 clearances, to only seven for Orlando City, demonstrating how a well-disciplined team gets back and holds firm to defend their net when they are a man down. It was an impressive performance, and I can see why Coach Heath has praised them so highly throughout the season.
At the half the score was even at 1 - 1, and the man advantage had helped Orlando City build a huge edge in possession, very much neutralizing dangerous players like Kamara and Justin Meram by leaving them back to defend so much. When the second half began, Orlando City picked right up with the possession advantage and kept the Columbus defense and netminder busy: Orlando led shots (24 - 9), shots on target (9 - 6), corners (14 - 2), and crossing passes (36 - 10). It was pretty apparent that if Columbus was going to have any chance to score it would be on every man-disadvantaged team's best friend--the counter attack.
And sure enough in the 61st minute the counter came. Last week astute readers will recall that I told Orlando City fans to pay special attention to Columbus forward Kei Kamara, who entered the weekend leading the MLS scoring tally with 9 goals on the season. Sixteen minutes into the second half, Columbus launched a quick counter down their right side of the pitch, getting the ball out to Waylon Francis. With a decisive pass across toward Kamara, who was streaking down the center of the pitch toward the top of the Orlando City area, Francis delivered the ball and the Sierra Leonean didn't hesitate to drive it hard with his boot toward the Orlando City net, once again streaking past the outstretched hands of Hall and putting the short-handed visitors up a goal.
The goal also did something negative to the play of the home side. Giving up that goal while they had a man advantage seemed to instill a bit of panic moreso than urgency in the Orlando City squad, and they seemed to lose their composure for a bit. In fact it wasn't until the 73rd minute, once Coach Heath had subbed out Rivas, Avila, and Cyle Larin to put in Martin Paterson, Lewis Neal (seeing his first minutes of the season), and Pedro Ribeiro (returning for the first time since going out with a hamstring injury in early April) that Orlando City seemed to regain a sense of presence. The wild panic seemed to be focused to organized urgency by that point and once again the activity was frenetic in front of the Columbus goal. Then the magic happened, and in a mad scramble during the 89th minute, Pedro Ribeiro reminded us of why we had been missing him so much by scoring the equalizer and rescuing a point from the jaws of the abyss.
I've written a couple of times how a late goal to equalize a match can sometimes make a draw feel like a victory, but I didn't feel that way walking out of the stadium last night. I felt frustrated and annoyed and disappointed that our lads hadn't been able to make the most of being a man up and get a satisfying and decisive victory over the visitors from Ohio. My sense of frustration and annoyance was even greater when I learned that someone had sideswiped my car while they were trying to park. More about that in another post.
And that's why Coach Heath's post-match conference was so refreshing. Often times you hear coaches make excuses after a loss, but Heath insisted that our play was not good enough to be satisfying to him. And I always get a sense that he doesn't dictate, but he reflects the feeling in the locker room--because I got the sense that our players didn't feel like they played well enough either. There's a few things that I've noticed in our play and since I've never played organized soccer I feel a bit unqualified to try to explain why they happen, but in another post this week I'll explain what I'm seeing in the hopes that it can help bring attention to the issue on the practice pitch and the players and coaches can work to address and correct it. OK--there I go showing all those years I've listened to George O'Leary press conferences after UCF games.
I'll just conclude by saying again that I'm glad we added to our point tally, although after yesterday's matches we are now below the red line in the playoff race and will need to do better than a point per game to drag ourselves back into the race so we can build some breathing room. It's true a draw is better than a loss, but a win is better still and we need to earn a few of those to get back to where we need to be.
Lastly, I hope everyone who enjoys seventeenth century metaphysical poetry like my title today. That one's for you. Have a great week, and Go City!