The 2016 season has kicked off! On Sunday, March 6, 2016, Orlando City opened the 2016 season in front of over 60,000 passionate fans at the Citrus Bowl against RSL. In some ways the opening of this season was very similar to the opening of the 2015 campaign, and in some ways it was quite different. We'll take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the opening match.
- Kevin Molino's Return: It was great seeing Molino back on the pitch and being reminded of how his presence can help to change a match. He was active throughout the whole match and he endured several hard fouls that sent him sprawling to the turf. He bounced right back up after these hits, and that had to give him more confidence going forward.
- Cyle Larin's Scoring Continues: Coming off of his rookie campaign, Cyle Larin continued his scoring ways, putting two balls in the back of the net, though one was disallowed by an inept and incompetent official calling Offside on the goal. It was clear from the way RSL played that everyone in MLS will be focused on trying to stop Larin this season, and it's reassuring to know that only the collusion of unqualified officiating appears to be able to stop him.
- Improved Defensive Play: Orlando City appears to be playing much better defense to start the season than it did last year. Throughout the majority of the 2015 season, Orlando City netminders were being called upon to make way too many saves, and all those chances let in far too many goals. There was only one goal scored by RSL on Sunday in the course of play (the other was a well-struck Penalty Kick) and in this match when the opponents got the ball near our goal it was more often a defender clearing the ball than the keeper having to make a save to prevent a score.
- More Active Scoring Attempts: In the archives of this blog you will see many complaints from 2015 about the anemic output of shots on goal by Orlando City. On Sunday, the Lions outshot RSL by 14 to 8, and had a 12 to 2 advantage in Corner Kicks. You can't score if you never shoot, and this increased offensive effort bodes well for the team in 2016 if they can keep up the advantage.
- Kaka Starts the Season Injured: It was announced on Sunday morning that Kaka would be out for Sunday's match with a thigh bruise, and later reports suggested he may be out for 2 to 4 weeks with this injury. As the season unfolded last year, it was clear that Kaka's role on the team is like that of a quarterback in American football, and his strength comes from diagnosing defensive alignments and starting plays by getting the ball to the right player that can push the play forward toward the goal.
- Darwin Ceren Sent Off: More about this in the "Ugly" section below, but PROReferees strike again, sending off Darwin Ceren on a straight red for a very dubious call. The red card means that Ceren is ineligible to play in the match on Friday night against Chicago Fire.
- Sloppy Possession: While Orlando City did well to outstrike RSL, the home team was much more sloppy in gaining and maintaining possession throughout the match. RSL led Orlando City in Duels Won (49 to 38), Tackles Won (15 to 9), and Clearances (34 to 12). Some readers will point out that Orlando City had an edge in terms of time of possession, but I submit to you that possession is the most overrated and irrelevant statistic in MLS. You can kick the ball back and forth to teammates as long as you want to, but if you never take a shot on goal or push the ball up the field, possession doesn't matter in the slightest.
- Mediocre Scoring Attempts: While I said it was "good" that Orlando City outshot RSL, another pair of statistics shows that these attempts were less effective than they could have been. In addition to leading in quality possession categories, RSL also led Orlando City in Saves (5 to 2) and Offsides (1 to 4). Offside calls were a big problem in 2015 that killed many scoring chances throughout the season, and it's clear that Orlando City still needs to work on this part of their game to avoid having officials interrupt the flow of the game as they near the opposing goal.
- Kyle Beckerman's Hair: seriously, dude--1987 called and John McTiernan wants you to return the prop hair you stole from the set of the film Predator.
- Javier Morales's Flopping: Morales was writhing around on the pitch so often that I thought talent scouts from "The Deadliest Catch" must have been in the stands looking for auditions for the role of the fish in coming seasons.
- PROReferee Lack of Qualifications: By far this was the most egregious of the "ugly" categories from yesterday. Calls were inconsistent, inaccurate, and often inappropriate. In the second half, I counted two yellow cards issues to Chris Wingert (RSL) and Seb Hines (OCSC) in the 74th and 76th minutes respectively. But the worst call of the match was the blatantly atrocious and illegitimate offside call against Cyle Larin in the 7th minute of the match. Kevin Molino fed the ball in toward the top of the 6-yard box, and at the time he struck the ball, Larin was clearly behind two RSL defenders. One of those defenders raced toward the ball, being marked by Brek Shea, and the defender got a toe on the ball that slightly deflected it, but not enough to put it out of Cyle Larin's path, and he struck the ball for a beautiful opening goal of the season. But after hesitating for what seemed like a half-minute, the assistant referee raised the offside flag and the goal was disallowed. It's clear he thought (or was convinced by the pathetic whining and pleading of the crybaby RSL players) that Shea had touched the ball, but TV replays clearly showed this was a bad call.