It's Easter weekend, and I would be remiss if I didn't wish a Happy Easter to everyone that celebrates. But tonight marks the start of the OCB season as Orlando City launches a new team to return to USL after the first team moved to MLS last season. And last night marked an epic failure as the USMNT lost to Guatemala in a WC qualifier for the first time in nearly 30 years. Since this sets up as a good news, bad news post, let's go ahead and get the bad news out of the way first.
USMNT Loss at Guatemala
Last year Orlando City had many players called up for International duty throughout the year, and Brek Shea was pretty much a staple for Jurgen Klinsmann on the USMNT. But this year the only US callup from the squad was Tommy Redding for the U23 squad, and Klinsmann opted not to take any other Orlando City players for his squad. While that's good for our club and reduces the chance that a vital member of the squad will suffer an injury in a match played away from the chase for the league cup, it may have proven an error in judgment by Klinsmann, as the USMNT defensive backfield seemed to do its best to make netminder Tim Howard's night even more difficult.
Nobody can question the quality of Tim Howard or the value of his contributions to the USMNT over the course of his career, but I think it's fair to say his age was showing a little bit last night. It's as true in soccer as in any other sports that training and conditioning has become better from the time players are very young, so that young players of this generation are faster, stronger, and more agile than those who came into the sport a decade or more ago. It definitely seemed like Klinsmann's squad was not all on the same page last night, as set piece defending was quite sloppy and haphazard early on contributing to Guatemala's first goal in the seventh minute.
And it was not much later when an alert Guatemalan goalkeeper Paolo Motta caught the defensive line of the USMNT flat-footed with a long goal kick to midfielder Carlos Ruiz, who sped past defenders from an onside position and managed to blast a second goal past a diving Tim Howard to put Guatemala out to an unassailable 2 - 0 lead. From there the USMNT looked more stunned than determined, and they could not rally any kind of offensive effort to try to claw back anything during the rest of the match.
But now let's move on to better news...
OCB Season Opener
Anthony Pulis makes his debut as head coach for OCB tonight in Melbourne as OCB hosts the Wilmington Hammerheads to open the USL season. The Hammerheads come into 2016 after finishing last season at the bottom of the table. But that doesn't mean it will be easy for OCB to get a first win. OCB is a new club with a new coach, and just as it took several months for the MLS version of Orlando City to get comfortable with each other in 2015, it will take some time for all new players on OCB to get comfortable with each other and learn the style and shape that Coach Pulis wants to instill in the team.
Yesterday Orlando City announced several loans from the first team to OCB. The club said that Orlando City goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar, defender Tyler Turner, and forward Bryan Rochez would be loaned to OCB for the entire 2016 season. In addition, four players were named as one-game loanees for the OCB season opener: goalkeeper Earl Edwards, Jr., midfielders Harrison Heath and Richie Laryea, and forward Hadji Barry. So OCB will enjoy the services of some players with MLS experience to help them as they start the USL campaign. But with the previously mentioned importance of team chemistry, it's no guarantee that the one-match or season-long loans of these players will mean a clear advantage for OCB.
But I believe the loan of these players is a good thing for several reasons. One is it gives some of the players that haven't had many minutes with the first team an opportunity to stay in match shape against professional competition in USL matches. From the club's standpoint, this is probably the most valuable benefit of the loans. But it's also fun for fans who may have seen some of these players in MLS, and now they get to watch them play in a more intimate setting than the cavernous Citrus Bowl. In addition, it also gives the regular players from OCB a nice measuring stick for their own progress to see how they stack up and perform with players that have MLS-level talent and experience.
Finally, I'm very excited for the possibility of seeing some loans going in the other direction later in the season. It's an unfortunate fact of life in professional sports that there will be injuries, and Orlando City certainly had our share of injuries during 2015. If there are OCB players that begin to really shine on the pitch in Melbourne and Orlando City suffers any injuries that knock prominent players out for several weeks of competition, we could see some short-term loans of OCB club stars to the first team MLS side. It's great experience for the OCB players to have such opportunities, and it provides a much deeper pool of talent for Coach Heath and the rest of the MLS coaching staff to draw from when they need to plug holes in the roster on a short-term basis.
I will be heading out to the OCB match tonight with some friends, and after last week we have learned our lesson and I'm going to have full all-weather gear ready. Our current plan is to head over to the Intracoastal Brewing Company in Melbourne a couple of hours before the match to have some dinner and sample some of the beers. Then we will head out to the stadium and hope to enjoy watching OCB bring home a win on their new home pitch.
If you're headed out to the match look for the purple tophat that I'll be sporting for Orlando Pride and OCB matches in 2016. Come say hello!
What are your thoughts on the awful performance of the USMNT? Are going to the OCB match today? Let me know in the comments below!