It's been a long week away from Orlando for the Lion's Teeth crew and much has happened in our absence. Many trades, a player dismissed, and a couple of matches played. Last week it was a forgettable loss at NYCFC; this week a resounding victory over Columbus Crew at home. Due to some scheduling conflicts it's the first match of the season I haven't been able to watch live and the only home match I haven't been able to attend since I was in Utah for a convention and attending a panel during the match.
But I've watched the match now and I'm very proud of the way the lads put July's miserable results behind them and started the new month with a great victory over the team that has quickly become the primary rival in our first MLS campaign. Columbus are a quality side and normally are quite disciplined in defending against OCSC, but the assertive and aggressive play from Orlando City shredded the Crew defense in a 5 - 2 rout. The match marked a milestone for one Orlando City player, with Cyle Larin drawing equal with the MLS rookie record for scoring. His pair of goals gives him 11 on the season, tied now with Damani Ralph from the 2003 Chicago Fire squad. With a dozen matches left in the season, there is time for Larin to break that record. And the next match comes in Toronto, Larin's home town, this Wednesday. It would be an especially sweet sensation for the young Canadian to set a new scoring record for MLS rookies in front of hometown supporters.
Some questions for Orlando City remains, however. Chief among them for me is the question of whether this marks a resurgence of a streak of good results, or if this was just the consequence of catching an opponent on a bad night. Orlando City has fallen below the red line in the playoff race, and it will take a number of consecutive victories to pull themselves back up into a position to continue the season past October 25.
But Wednesday will be time enough to worry about the future. For today we can celebrate the positives from last night. Aside from the record-tying performance by Larin, we saw the impact of several new players, Corey Ashe and Servando Carrasco. Between them contributed in pushing the ball forward, assisting on goals, and dispossessing Columbus Crew players on multiple occasions. Late in the match, Ashe went toe-to-toe with the much taller Kai Kamara when the Columbus forward tried to shove him aside. The incident didn't quite come to blows, but the referee had to separate them and gave them both a good lecture about playing nice. The emotional character of the matches and the frequency with which we have encountered Columbus Crew this season are both factors in my declaring them our primary rival so far in MLS.
In addition, Cristian Higuita, Darwin Ceren, and Aurelien Collin all notched goals, giving a little bit of glory to players that are more often noted for their defending, tackling, and disrupting style of play that can slow down or stop opposing teams when they threaten our goal. Collin added an own goal in extra time on an attempt to deflect a ball away from the dangerous Federico Higuain, who had opened the match with a 5th minute goal for the visitors.
Finally, the best change I have seen from our players recently is much more willingness to put first-touch strikes on the ball. Both of Larin's goals came when he did not hesitate or try to decide what to do with the pass into him, but simply redirected the ball at the goal, beating a diving Steve Clark both times. Additionally, Larin, Kaka, and Ceren all had first-touch strikes that either resulted in saves or shots that barely sailed wide or high beyond the net, and could have resulted in an even bigger margin of victory.
Crunch time is coming--only a few matches remain, and the club is entering the final third of the season. Let's hope that the result from last night represents a resurgence in effort and results from the lad, and was not simply a flicker of hope for the fans that will be dashed as the season winds down. Vamos Orlando!