The third weekend of the season has come, and for the second time in 2016, Orlando City was involved in the kickoff match. This time the match was in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium against fellow 2015 expansion side NYCFC. Orlando entered the weekend in search of its first full win, and both sides were looking to avoid suffering their first loss of the season. Orlando City was also looking to change their recent fortunes when playing in baseball stadiums, where they had stumbled in the three most recent outings stretching back to the 2015 season and including 2016 preseason matches.
- Joe Bendik Saves the Day: In the first two weeks of the season I've been a bit vocal in questioning whether Joe Bendik has been the correct decision for the club to make starting in goal. But I should recall that in the world of sports I am merely a overweight, undertall blogger with a web site and a laptop, while the coaches and leadership of the club have forgotten more about the laws of the game and the skills required to play it than I will probably ever know. Today I am happy to put all my questions about Joe Bendik aside and declare that he was lights out the best defensive player on the pitch for either club last night. Orlando City has played relatively stout defense the first two weeks of the season, but they were well off their best performance in the Bronx yesterday. All the same, Bendik preserved a clean sheet and made save after impressive save as NYCFC's front line kept pressure on the Orlando City goal all night.
- Cyle Larin continues to Impress: At this rate, Larin is on pace to double his offensive production from 2015 when he scored 17 goals en route to winning the MLS Rookie of the Year. Through three matches, Larin now has 3 goals, and he appears to be on a quest to score a goal on every pitch in MLS. In the seventh minute of the match last night, Larin got in position for a great ball in from Rafael Ramos that was weakly deflected by netminder Josh Saunders, and then headed the ball home for a gorgeous goal. It proved the only score on the night for either team, and won Orlando City a badly needed 3 points to move them temporarily up to 2nd in the Eastern Conference table.
- Tommy Redding Proving Ready for Prime Time: With some of the injuries to the club coming into the season, Tommy Redding has had a chance to get some valuable playing minutes, and he has taken the best possible advantage. Redding played the full 90 minutes last night and managed to get himself in the way of several attacking runs by NYCFC that disrupted attempted buildup by the home side toward our goal. It was a solid performance and it's exciting to see the young man coming into his own this year as he gets more chances to play on the U20 MNT in some upcoming international matches.
- Anemic Attacking: OK I admit I'm a fan and not a player, so my perspective may be a bit skewed, but I was frankly disappointed with the lack of pressure Orlando City was able to generate after the first seven minutes of the match. Larin's seventh-minute goal was the product of some early build-up and pressure. But as soon as we scored, it seemed like Orlando City decided to spend the next 83 minutes of the match just being lazy and defending instead of keeping the pressure on the opponents. It makes me wonder if Inchy is going out for whiskey drinks with George O'Leary, who famously ran the most boring and vanilla offense in college football for most of his tenure across town at UCF. If Coach Heath is going to be inspired by any American Football coaches, I'd rather he take a page out of "Riverboat Ron" Rivera's playbook at Carolina, whose attitude seems to be that if there are seconds left on the clock there is still time to score another touchdown. I'd like to see a 90-minute match where Joe Bendik never has the ball come into his end of the pitch because we are spending the whole time attacking the opponent's goal and kicking holes through the back of the opponent's net.
- Lack of Possession: I've said before that high possession can be one of the most overrated statistics in MLS, but lack of possession doesn't give you a lot of opportunities to do anything. Orlando City is known for having one of the highest possession percentages in MLS, but last night they only held the ball for 34% of the time. This is largely what led to the impression they were just sitting around the whole night being content to watch NYCFC attack Joe Bendik's goal again and again and again and again.
- Sloppy Passing: Orlando City was also very poor with their passing on the night. They only completed 71% of their passes, compared to NYCFC's 83% passing completion. Normally Orlando City is far more efficient with their passing than opponents, and it's something of a shock to see them with a passing percentage under 85%. With the poor possession and the sloppy passing, the only saving grace that kept Orlando City from giving away the match on multiple occasions were that OCSC won the battle of duels (50/50 balls) 58 to 56, won tackles 31 to 19, registered more saves 6 to 3, and had far more clearances 37 to 8.
- Seb Hines Horrible Defense: There were two times last night when I thought Seb Hines was auditioning to join NYCFC. In one instance during each half when Hines should have been working to clear the ball away from the goal, he deflected a ball kicked in by an NYCFC attacker closer to our own goal as though he was completely unaware of where he was on the field. It's the kind of thing that is unfortunately a bit too frequent to see from him in defense, and I think it's time Inchy benches him for a couple of games to make him realize that his only job is to kick balls AWAY from our goal.
- Lack of Situational Awareness: Orlando City picked up two yellow cards on the night, and both of them came late in the match (in stoppage time of the second half) just outside our 18-yard box. The first was a hot-headed and overly risky tackle from behind by Cristian Higuita. Our players need to learn that when the clock gets down toward the end, the referees are going to be more careful to watch for risky tackles and will be more likely to award free kicks and hand out cards when the defense gets particularly aggressive. The second yellow card came later in stoppage time when Seb Hines was also carded for an aggressive attack just outside the 18-yard box.
- Lack of Ball Movement: Orlando City generally is very good about moving the ball around the pitch and creating opportunities for the team. But last night Orlando City came up on the short end of the stick with crosses (10 to 29) and corner kicks (3 to 12). This also left them chasing NYCFC's ball movement all night instead of dictating the pace of the match and forcing NYCFC to chase us. I certainly hope that the team takes the time they have between now and the next match against Portland on April 3 to correct some of these issues. Make no mistake--we probably did not play well enough last night to deserve a win and we were fortunate that NYCFC was a bit off their game as well. But we cannot rely on that being the case every week, and we will need to improve our play from the attack to the back line in order to be more likely to keep adding to our point tally with each passing match.
What about you? What were your thoughts from the game? Do you think there were some good or bad points that I missed from this week's match? Let me know in the comments below!