Last night the USL season kicked off for OCB at Titan Soccer complex on the campus of Eastern Florida State College (EFSC). The fans who attended were passionate, but we were a bit disappointed to see less than full grandstands. With the dodgy weather it was not a total shock that some fans were scared away, but in the end the game was played without many delays, and it was a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone who decided to stay until full time.
- Season Underway: OCB had the longest pre-season of any team in the Orlando City umbrella, playing nine weeks worth of matches according to coach Anthony Pulis. But they really needed it as the roster for the club was still being put together as late as Friday, with the announcement that several first team players from the MLS side were being sent on full-season loan to OCB.
- Harbor City Hooligans: The OCB supporters group is well organized and extremely passionate right out of the gate. They have their shirts, their flags, their drums, and their chants down, and they even have some characters emerging from within their ranks. For instance, there is LionsGirl (as I'm going to call her), a fan in the supporters group who seems inspired by Orlando City fan favorite "The Orlando City Unicorn." LionsGirl dresses with a lion-head hoodie, her Harbor City Hooligans shirt and scarf, and a minikilt complete with a lions tail. Last night she also had the full face paint going on with her face painted up like a lion. Very creative and we certainly approve of the team spirit LionsGirl is showing! Unfortunately I didn't get close enough to get a good photo of her outfit... perhaps later in the season we can get a picture of her in costume, or maybe she'll send us one we can use. The supporter group also has their flares and purple smoke bombs, and that's wonderful to see back in USL matches for Orlando City. Well done, Hooligans!
- Aggressive Play Style: Two of the loaned players from the MLS side started the match for OCB, Richie Lareya and Hadji Barry. In the two matches for Orlando City SC that Barry has played off the bench, he's been aggressive around the ball, and he was again last night. In fact Barry and Lareya combined for one great scoring chance that sailed just high over the Wilmington net in the second half. But they were not the only two players that were pressing and pushing the ball forward. Lots of players got involved in pushing forward and took scoring chances, with Andrew Ribeiro scoring the only goal for OCB and then celebrating with a cartwheel and backflip, showing off some of his gymnastic talents.
- BONUS -- Finding the QueensCast Podcast: There was a rain delay (see the bad) but we made the most of it by looking through some of the social media feeds and we ran across a posting that led us to the QueensCast Podcast. This is a brand new podcast for 2016 produced by a team from the Magruder Eye Clinic that focuses on Orlando Pride. Nicole and Justina are like the female Tom and Dan with all the passion for the sport and without quite all the silliness. In other words, it's a great informative, passionate, and fan-friendly podcast that should be encouraging and inspiring for any fans of the Pride as well as families with young girls. I've said before that I think the Orlando Pride is going to provide some incredibly positive and healthy role models from young girls in our town, and the QueensCast will only expand those role models to include knowledgeable fans that can help educate others about the sport. If you are a fan of the Orlando City Soccercast, I highly recommend adding the QueensCast to your podcast rotation.
- Weather Delay: It's spring, and OCB will play all its home matches on the coast at the EFSC Titans soccer complex in Melbourne on the coast. So fans should be ready with rain gear in just about every match throughout the USL season. The weather was more lightning and thunder than actual rain, but with all-aluminum bleachers and a bunch of tall metal posts ringing the field, the referee didn't hesitate long to blow the whistle after 15 minutes of the match had passed, and they halted the game for around 45 minutes. But of course it wasn't all bad--I already mentioned findig the QueensCast podcast and I also had a chance to speak briefly to Coach Heath during the break (yes, he was there scouting the USL club as any good MLS coach would be doing) and we talked about the great win at NYCFC and I let him know how impressed I had been to see Hadji Barry off the bench in MLS and was happy to see him get a chance to start a match with OCB.
- Losing the Opener: In my post yesterday previewing the match, I said that people shouldn't think the match would be easy just because Wilmington finished 2015 at the bottom of the USL table. OCB is a brand new roster filled mostly with players that haven't played together before. Even with the late additions and loans from the MLS side, you can tell that the OCB players aren't quite all in sync yet. They all have the same songbook, and they all are reading off the same music, but it's like each player has his own metronome and they don't quite have all the timing down that they need, from missing quick counter-attacks from the opponent to not being quite precise enough with their passes. It's a work in progress, and fans are going to have to give Coach Pulis and the lads a little time to gel.
- No Beer at Stadium: For those who are unfamiliar with college sports, most universities and community colleges have a code that prevents the sale of alcohol at sports facilities on campus. Those who have attended games at UCF, University of Florida and Florida State are all familiar with this, while college teams that play at municipal or professional stadiums like Miami and USF have the ability to sell alcohol. For those who failed to plan on the alcohol ban at the stadium, I am happy to report that EFSC was smart enough to set up a designated tailgate lot where they permit fans to bring their own alcohol and grills and food and snacks and enjoy all the typical pre-game activities. We also continued a tradition from USL days with Orlando City by going to a local microbrewery, Intracoastal Brewing Company, and enjoying a pre-match libation before driving over to the stadium.
- Poor Officiating: This is a common complaint by fans of every sport and every team, but the nice thing about attending matches at EFSC is that you are close enough to the pitch to really see the action and tell when the referees blow calls. I saw a number of blown calls from my seats behind the South End Line. For instance, there were at least two times that Wilmington players plowed through the back of OCB players in attempts to get the ball right in front of the referee's assistant and no foul was called. The idiots on the side are not there simply to call when the ball goes out, they need to be helping the head referee see when fouls occur near the side of the pitch.
- Erratic Shooting: One of the players on full-season loan from Orlando City SC to OCB is Bryan Rochez, and you can really tell why. Rochez struggled at the beginning of the 2015 season, but he seemed to start coming on toward the end of last season. But last night he was back to the same Rochez we saw at the beginning of 2015. Yes, aggressive, but he was off target and out of sync with every shot he attempted. And I can't pick on Bryan alone--he was joined in the erratic shooting by many other players. I will say I prefer aggressive shooting to players trying to figure out what they want to do with the ball when it comes to them, but by the time players have been working on their craft long enough to become professional players, they should have a bit more control and demonstrate a bit more precision when they get an open shot on the net.
- Bench-Clearing Brawl: As stoppage time wound down, there was a brawl on the sidelines in front of the benches that resulted in Lewis Neal picking up his first yellow card of the season. I haven't gone back to review the match again on YouTube to hear Tom Traxxler and Jeff Radcliffe comment on what started it, but if Neal picked up the card, then either he was the instigator or he allowed himself to be baited into responding to something stupid an opposing player did. In either case it wasn't good, and I expect a bit more professionalism from a long-time player like Lewis. It's always possible I will change my opinion after reviewing the tape of the incident, but for now I'm going to throw this in as an ugly moment from the match.
Did you go to the match last night? What did you think of the way the team played? Do you agree with my good, bad, and ugly points, or do you think I missed something or failed to give credit where I should or I was too harsh on some points? Let me know in the comments below!