This morning I wrote a preview of the match in Yankee Stadium, and instead of listening to my head, I used my heart to predict a 2 - 2 draw, which turned out to be prescient. I was concerned with all the missing pieces from our team and was not sure that they could bring back a result on the road.
I think some of the young players on the squad played a bit above expectations, but some of the veterans were a bit disappointing in their play.
- Early Offensive Pressure - Orlando City had the better chances early, earning two corner kicks and getting several close chances on the NYCFC goal in the first twelve minutes of the match.
- Overall Team Effort - There are a few stats that I have started to look at to indicate how the teams are playing relative to each other in terms of effort. Orlando City won more of the duels or 50-50 balls, with a 47 - 45 edge in that statistic. Our lads also won more tackles, with a 14 - 12 edge in the match. Another important stat is the number of clearances each team has, which is an indication of how many times they have to scramble back to help defend their own 18-yard box. NYCFC led in this stat 21 - 14, meaning that they were having to race back to defend more often than we were.
- Substitutions - I really hope that Coach is not listening to fans like me to decide substitution patterns; instead, I hope that I'm seeing the same things that the Coaching staff is seeing and they are reacting in turn. But in the last few matches, Inchy and his assistants have made earlier substitutions than they were making in the early part of the season, and the fresh legs seem to be providing an injection of energy. Today Baptista came in for Winter in the 60th minute, and Carlos Rivas came in at the 70th, right after the missed PK by David Villa. From the moment both subs were on, the intensity level and effort of Orlando City were ratcheted up.
- Julio Baptista - "The Beast" scored his first goal in MLS in the 72nd minute, kicking off the late rally to help the visitors salvage a result. He also took it on himself to take some leadership on the pitch, having a long conversation with Servando Carrasco during an injury delay to help the younger player understand how he needed Carrasco to be ready when he saw certain events unfold with the forwards. I may not know the game as well as many other fans, but I do know that the more the players communicate with each other and are attentive to what is unfolding on the pitch, the better the results will be for the club.
- Kevin Molino - Molino is playing with more confidence as the season unfolds. I now think that he is looking more like the Kevin Molino we all knew and loved from the USL era, and the belief that he could have an impact at the next level is coming to fruition. The strong header at the death to claim a share of the points was a bold move worthy of a world-class veteran.
- Traveling Fans - ESPN commented several times on the traveling fans for Orlando City and showed them in the stands on a number of occasions throughout the match. It was clear they were vocal, enthusiastic, and energetic throughout the match, bringing a little piece of "The Wall" to The Bronx. Well done!
- Silly Fouls - While the early play provided a lot of hope for a goal from Orlando City, the lads were also pretty reckless, with both Servando Carrasco and Harrison Heath picking up silly and foolish yellow cards in the first 10 minutes of the match for needless fouls. In the second half, Kevin Alston picked up a similar needless yellow card by dragging David Villa to the turf in the 62nd minute.
- Sloppy Defending - I know there are a lot of knowledgeable fans who get annoyed when I harp on the team for sloppy play, but I get tired of seeing the same missed assignments and inattentive play allow opponents to drive deep into our 18-yard box countless times match after match. By the time the first 15 minutes of the match had elapsed, momentum had shifted to the home side and when the hosts scored their first goal in the 42nd minute, it seemed inevitable from all the chances we had given them. I know that in some ways this seems counter-intuitive to the fact that NYCFC had to scramble for more clearances, but the numbers also back up this assertion, because NYCFC led the match in shots by the tally of 15 to 9.
- Poor Passing - One of the reasons that NYCFC was able to get so many buildups to drive deep into our territory and take shots was the poor passing. Orlando City completed only 69% of their passes, a horribly paltry percentage. Digging deeper into those numbers, they decline every segment as you go forward: only 55% completions in the attacking half, 53% in the final third, and completing only 18% of their crossing passes. I have pointed out in past columns that the team seems to be in love with making long passes, which are low-percentage plays in soccer just as they are in American Football. The farther you try to push the ball ahead in one pass, the more chances you have for wind and spin to affect the flight of the ball, as well as giving opponents a chance to adjust to where the ball is going and intercept the try. We seem to do better when we swing the ball right to left and keep a wide shape to open up the field, but the long ball inevitably draws everyone on the defense to cluster around the target of the pass, which results in turnovers and more chances for the other team.
- Joe Bendik - OK, I'm not going to pick on Joe too much. He has made some spectacular saves this season and he will make many more I'm sure. But he looked a little tired today, and that may be the result of having to be so active in three matches in the space of 9 days. This is a reason that Orlando City needs to learn to play better defense, because the goalkeeper is going to get tired after having to bail out the sloppy play in front of him match after match after painful-to-watch match. Both goals today were on Bendik--the first was just one that beat him being too slow to react to the tap in from the near post, and the second was a case of him just being out of position for David Villa to do his best Alex Morgan impression and flip the ball over him from the top of the 18-yard box and put it into the back of the net as pretty as you please.
- Pitch Conditions - One of the hardest things about playing on a baseball field during baseball season is the fact that the infield has to be sodded before every game, which usually means between home series by the baseball team. The sod was causing lots of people to trip and slip and fall on both teams. But it must be said the pitch gave us the biggest boon of the match as David Villa lost his footing when trying to take a PK and hit the ball wildly over and beyond the goal as he landed hard on the turf. Fortunately, the only thing that might have been hurt was his pride.
- Inconsistent Play - For Orlando City the match began with high energy and ended with high energy, but the middle of the match (from about the 15th to the 70th minute) saw the team play with way too little effort relative to the opponent. I'm not sure why the team need a sense of desperation to draw the effort out of them, but I wish they could bottle up whatever it is that gives them the desire to claw back goals when they are behind late in a match and just draw on that from the opening whistle all the way through every match they play.
What about you? What did you see in the match today that you liked? Did I miss something you thought was particularly bad? Am I being unfair to any aspect of the game or any players, either in terms of undeserved praise or misplaced blame? Let me know in the comments below!