I have a few friends who are conspiracy theorists, and this post is for them. A trend is emerging in this Orlando City squad that fits in perfectly with the image, the excitement, and the enthusiasm that ownership group Flavio da Silva, Phil Rawlins, and company are selling with this team. That trend--deciding matches at the death to keep fans in their seats the full 90 minutes. The first three matches at the Citrus Bowl all ended with goals scored mere seconds before the final whistle during injury time. And more late goals have come at home since to decide the outcome.
And now this Orlando City squad has started to take the late-game drama on the road. Last night's match at Chicago Fire's Toyota Park was a prime example. Aurelien Collin and Pedro Ribeiro returned to the Starting XI, which was a little bit of a surprise to me. At the last Coach's show I asked Inchy about Collin's return and he said it was not a simple matter of his fitness but the cohesion of the defensive unit. I took that as a vote to keep playing the younger lads in the back. And as for Ribeiro, I thought Coach might let him take another game as a sub to work back into the starting role once Cyle Larin went off for International duty. Then again, that's why I write a blog and Inchy coaches the team.
Collin's return clearly had an effect. I noticed--probably as a contrast to the last few matches when he was out--how vocal and active he is directing traffic for the defense. He tosses out so many signs out during the match he could have a future as a manager for the Rays or the Royals. I sincerely hope that he and Tally Hall, another active signal caller and communicator, are coordinating their efforts to help the younger lads be in better defensive position.
One more thing I have to say about Collin is that his reputation hurt him a little last night. He picked up a yellow card when a player he was marking went down in the first half, but TV replay showed there was never any contact with the Chicago player. Throughout his career, Collin has been known as a man who gives no quarter, and at least last night the ref seemed all too eager to flash yellow on reputation and not on actual events of the match. Bad ref!
And Ribeiero's return to the lineup proved a stroke of genius. While Orlando City's first goal was credited as an own goal for Adailton, it was clear Pedro Ribeiro's presence and imposing physical play were huge contributors. One member of the Orlando City twitterverse put it this way: "Pedro Ribeiro is so sexy he makes opponents score on themselves!"
And while we're on the subject of own goals, will someone in Chicago please organize an intervention for Adailton. He got himself in the record books last night for a reason no player wants to be there: he became the first player in the history of MLS to be credited with two own goals in the same match. And to be completely fair to the lad, while the ball may have come off his foot, he did interpose himself between the attacker and the goal in both cases. In the first goal Ribeiro pretty much shoved the ball into the net by using Adailton's foot for the job. On the final goal of the match, the speedy Brazilian defender got between Cyle Larin and the ball, and a panicked attempt at a clearance found the back of the net instead.
And speaking of Larin--it was great to see him come off the bench and contribute on the eve of his departure for International Duty. The young Canadian came in the match with about 25 minutes left, as it seemed Inchy wanted to give him some quality minutes and also let Ribeiro get his match legs back after several months off with injury. In the 82nd minute with Orlando City trailing by a goal, Larin fired a laser blast that would make Han Solo proud, beating a diving Jon Busch to find glory. And then in the 89th minute, Larin again threatened on a loose ball that was intercepted by the aforementioned Adailton, who attempted to clear but put it in his own net for the second time on the night.
But all was not sunshine and roses for Orlando City (I won't say unicorns because that's Danny's trademark). The match started with an unusually long stretch of disarray by the visiting squad. Seeing Chicago score the first goal was not all that surprising--I haven't checked the stats in the last couple of weeks, but we've spend more minutes this season trailing than leading, which can seem significant but only counts when the final whistle blows, if we're honest. But most of our wins and draws seem to come from behind instead of holding off late pushes by the other team.
Somehow when the dust settled and the final stats were tallied, Orlando City managed 63% of the possession, but if you had watched only the first twenty minutes of the match you would swear that the team in purple barely touched the ball all night. It took a long while for our lads to seem to become cohesive, and even then they were prone to some giveaways that led to dangerous Chicago counter-attacks. In reading match previews, three of the names that came up as dangerous players to watch proved why they should be top of mind for every opposing coach and player. Kennedy Igboananike (that is just an incredibly cool name) beat Tally Hall for the opening goal of the match in the 9th minute, assisted by David Accam. And Accam was involved with both of Chicago's goals, scoring the second one with an assist from the Wes Welker of the Chicago Fire, Harry Shipp. Accam was pretty much a terror all night, being involved in a lot of the interceptions and steals from the feet of our lads, as well as many of the counter-attacks.
In the end, the match came down to the team that committed fewer mistakes. It was not the best performance of the season for Orlando City (regardless of an opponent's quality, I will not say another match equals the quality of the 4 - nil win over LA Galaxy until I see another performance as dominating or better from our lads). But the difference is that after a shaky start, the purple-clad squad controlled possession, shored up defensively, and then fought tenaciously to the death to get the road victory. The win marked another important milestone for the club. It was their first win over another Eastern Conference team on the season. It shows the team continues to grow and progress and fight through the adversity of losing players to injury and International Duty, which is hard enough for an established team, let alone an expansion side with so many players in their first season together.
I see a great future ahead for Orlando City as a club and a squad. The philosophy that the club ownership and coaching staff had of combining veteran experience and youthful talent is starting to pay dividends. There will be more struggles ahead, but there will also be more triumphs. And as time rolls along, I am confident we will see more of those triumphs lift the squad to victory! Vamos Orlando!