One reason I dislike midweek matches is the fact that I have to get up and go to my day job the next day, and that means I don't get to write about the match until the evening. One quick reaction is that I believe Philadelphia is just going to be "that team" that has Orlando City's number for a while. Fans my age who have followed the NFL for years will remember that there were a few years when the Miami Dolphins were a pretty successful team but they never seemed to be able to beat the New York Jets, no matter how awful or good the Jets were. That's what I think Orlando City has found in the Union now.
Overall I thought the team played with better sustained desire in last night's match than we had seen before the win over Montreal last weekend, and I liked the fact that Rivas and Larin were not always collapsing down into the middle of the pitch. The team held their shape and made Philadelphia chase the ball from one touch line to the other across the field, which opened up opportunities for better passes and more chances on goal.
But there is still some slop out on the pitch and there are a few things that will be a concern for Sunday's road match at NYCFC. We'll get to those in a bit.
- Spanning the Pitch - Orlando City always look like they are in better control and dictating the pace and possession of the match when they retain a wide shape. That was really on display last night as Orlando City kept moving the ball back and forth across the field. It requires the players to use a bit more patience building up their attacks, but it helps to maintain possession and it keeps the goalkeeper from being peppered with shots by the other team every time he tries to catch his breath. This change allowed Orlando City to create far more chances on the night, and in the first half they held an incredible 64% possession, which put them in position to build those attacking tries.
- Emotional Leadership from Kaka - I'm generally not a fan of players being out of control with their emotions, but I am a fan of players using emotion to build up the intensity of their teammates. Over the past few matches I've started seeing more of this emotional intensity from Kaka, and in the last two matches I believe it has helped to inject some life into the rest of the team, which had been looking listless since mid-April, as though they all had a massive collective hangover after tax day. Kaka drew a yellow card in the first half, and barked some encouragement and instructions to several teammates throughout the match, all of which I think were ultimately helpful.
- Tommy Redding - I know Redding was not expected to start for the MLS side early this season, but when he has been pressed into service, his youthful speed and agility and natural instincts for the game have helped him be successful, often against the top striker of the opposing team. The downside of his youth is that sometimes he is out of position, but the upside of him playing is that he often frustrates attackers trying to get in position to shoot.
- David Matteos - We'll see this player in two sections tonight. He shows up in the good for his effort--he made a number of assertive challenges and clean tackles of the ball to win possession away from Union players. But as we'll see later, he also made a couple of pretty bad mistakes that cost the team.
- Coaching Decisions - Earlier in the season I expressed some frustrations with the seeming lack of recognition by the coaching staff when matches seemed to be slipping away from Orlando City. But shortly after the first goal by Philadelphia, Coach Heath recognized that some of the lads were tiring a bit and we needed a bit more sizzle in the attack, so he subbed in both Kevin Molino and Julio Baptista in the 67th minute. The changes proved prescient as Molino's first touch on the ball moments later tied up the game with Orlando City's first goal.
- Kevin Molino - In the last two matches I finally feel like I am seeing the same Kevin Molino we all knew and loved from USL days. I think sitting him on the bench for these matches has reminded him that he has no guarantee of starting matches and has caused him to play with more effort, intensity, effort, and attentiveness than he has all season. Given that Orlando City will be without both Matteos (straight red card) and Higuita (yellow card accumulation) for the match at NYCFC, it's possible that changes to the lineup may make it necessary to start Molino once again after all the pieces are moved around. I'm hopeful that if Molino does start, he will remember the intensity he has brought these last two matches and will show it on the road.
- Miscommunication - The lads are still not all on the same page. Time and time again I saw errant passes when we would try to hit an open man who was either not expecting it or who thought the ball was going elsewhere. A great example of this was early in the first half when Carlos Rivas had a great run down the left hand side as Kaka was bringing the ball forward. Kaka passed the ball forward to Rivas, but just at that moment the young striker stopped his run forward and the ball rolled harmlessly across the end line. We need a bit more attentiveness on the part of the players, both with the ball and when they are off the ball to be sure they see each others eyes and know where they all need to be and where the ball is going.
- Missed PK - Depending on where your loyalties are, this could be a Good or a Bad. Since I'm a fan of Orlando City, it goes down as a Bad, but I have to also admit it was a very good play by Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. In the 36th minute, Blake took down Kaka in the box, and the referee awarded a PK. Kaka kicked the ball low and to his left, and Blake was able to dive quickly enough to redirect the ball away from the goal and save the goal. The PK was not the best effort I've seen from Kaka, but it was not a horrible try, and it only makes the "bad" list because it did not go in the net and prove to be the margin we needed to secure the win.
- Defensive Lapses - The two Philadelphia goals really were set up by Orlando City defenders failing to mark their men. In the 52nd minute the culprit was David Matteos leaving his man, Tranquillo Barnetta, unmarked at the top of the six-yard box. The second lapse came in the 75th minute when Tommy Redding lost track of Philadelphia substitute Ken Tribbett just outside the six yard box. Philadelphia was playing a bit of an unconvential corner kick, and in the confusion Tribbett slipped around Redding and poked the ball past Joe Bendik for the second Philadelphia goal of the night to draw the match level once again.
- Philadelphia Phlopsies - There are more flops per match from Philadelphia Union players than over-enthusiastic investors backed in the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. The worst offender on the night was Joshua Yaro, who went down twice on barely any contact in the dying minutes of the first half. Both times he looked like he had been poleaxed, but when he got up and walked off the pitch after his second dive, he gave a cheeky grin that proved he was not really hurt at all, but allowed himself to be subbed out so he would not draw a card for simulation.
- David Matteos - I told you we would see him twice. The firs reason he lands on the "ugly" list on the match is for his failure to mark his man, Tranquillo Barnetta, in the 52nd minute. He got busy watching the ball as Ken Tribbett played a ball in to Chris Pontius from a free kick. This left Barnetta wide open out on the right edge of the six-yard box, and Pontius found him with a pass that Barnetta buried in the back of the net past the outstretched arm of keeper Joe Bendik. The second reason Matteos is on the "ugly" list is a studs-up tackle late in the match that earned him a straight red. I know a lot of fans will complain, but it's been a long-standing rule and it's one of the few calls that MLS referees make with a degree of consistency, so everyone should know that it's going to draw a red every time.
What about you? What were your thoughts from last night's match? Were there things you saw on the night that I didn't mention? Let me know in the comments below!