When I did the match preview for Orlando City's match at Colorado on Friday, I was forced to predict a scoreless draw because of the stout defense the Rapids present and the home side's lack of goal production. That prediction turned out to be accurate, and the credit largely goes to the improved performance of the defense, who only forced goalkeeper Joe Bendik to have to make a single save all night against Colorado.
In addition to having the legendary Tim Howard in goal, the home side has two other advantages to help them foil visitors' attempts to steal points: the altitude at Dick's Sporting Goods Park and a stout defense that has only permitted 91 shots on goal all season, whereas Joe Bendik has had to face 133 shots on goal from the sub-par defense that Orlando City has suffered for most of the year.
Given the difficulties Orlando City has had on defense and the challenge of playing the second-place team in the West, the result was one of those where a draw felt like a win, especially with the fact that the point put Orlando City above the line in the playoff race (pending the results of the DC United match on Sunday).
- Road Point - In soccer the ideal is to average 4 points from every two matches, meaning you win your home matches and draw your road matches. And while this season has seen way too many draws to satisfy Orlando City fans, there are times when you're glad to get that point away from home. Given the fact that the result put Orlando City above the red line on the table, last night was one of those times when the road point was a welcome result.
- Defensive Discipline - There were periods of the match when Colorado had the ball in the attacking half for long stretches, especially in the second half as the altitude began to take its toll on the visitors. But Orlando City's defense did not give Colorado's strikers many good looks, and Joe Bendik only had to make one save to preserve the clean sheet. Two other stats that were pretty impressive for Orlando City include winning the clearance battle (20 for OCSC to 8 for COL), and blocking 6 Colorado shots (the Rapids had no blocks against Orlando City). Mikey Ambrose and Jose Aja earned their first starts for the first team, and they were both active, along with David Mateos. Mateos recorded a key block in the 16th minute against Kevin Doyle, while Aja made a key stop on a dangerous chance by Marlon Hairston in the 18-yard box.
- Passing Accuracy - Orlando City led in both possession (51% to 49%) and passing accuracy (81% to 79%) on the night. If you didn't watch the entire match, the possession went in streaks, with Orlando City winning most of the first half, and Colorado fairly dominating the second half. Possession is one of those stats that I sometimes question in terms of importance, but the undeniable fact is that when your team has the ball the other team can't be shooting at your goal.
- The Wall Road Show - One of the most impressive sights on the night was the packed corner of the stadium featuring Orlando City supporters representing the Ruckus and the ILF. They brought their noise, their flags, and their energy to the stadium, and they earned themselves a lot of air time (for all the right reasons) during the match. In a year when the team has been struggling, I know that has to make the players and the coaches feel inspired to see so many purple-clad fans traveling to support the team.
- Kevin Molino Out - According to Orlando Sentinel reports, Kevin Molino traveled to Colorado but was held out of the 18-man roster due to an abundance of caution, presumably for some minor health issues. It's incredible the difference that Molino has made to the club in only his first full year at the MLS level. There was hardly any kind of sustained attack, and Orlando City only managed 7 shots all night as the team were missing their primary chance creator. I know the the stat sheets say that Kaka has more assists, but for my money, Kevin Molino is the one that really helps create the best chances for the team.
- Brek Shea - I know Brek Shea has a lot of fans in Orlando City, and for most of the past two years I have been one of them. But I'm starting to lose patience with his inconsistency and his lack of focus. There are players who have developed the ability to channel their emotions to help them raise their skill up another notch in pressure situations, and then there are players who allow their emotions to get in the way of their skill. Unfortunately, Shea has proven to be one of the latter. He picked up a needless yellow card in the 79th minute for childishly slapping the ball out of the hands of a Rapids player who was on the sidelines ready to throw the ball in to restart play, and then Shea yelled and gestured at the referee just for good measure. With those kind of outbursts there is no way to chalk his actions up to strategic time wasting to help the defense get set. They are just emotional reactions that take him out of the game and make him lose focus on the job at hand.
- Home Supporters - Colorado's legislative experiment in legalizing marijuana seems to have taken a toll on the energy of the team's supporters. With their team in second place and rebounding from a bad year in 2015, you would think the Rapids would have a large and vocal crowd on hand, especially in the supporters section. But a lot of the Rapids most vocal fans attended last night's match attended as empty bleachers, and they seemed clearly to lack the energy and enthusiasm of the traveling Orlando City fans.
What about you? What were your thoughts on the match? Was there anyone who had a real standout match to you for the Lions? Was there someone else you thought had a particularly poor performance? Let me know in the comments below!