Work, travel, and other commitments prevented me from getting a preview post up this week, but I can verify you didn't miss much insightful analysis from me. With Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino both unavailable due to International Duty, I really wasn't expecting a lot from Orlando City in the match at Montreal last night. You can count me as very pleasantly surprised. Whatever Jason Kreis is feeding the lads for breakfast in training, I'll have some as well. If anything, Orlando City looked even stronger against Montreal than they did in their last match at home against NYCFC, and that was even with the team's two top scorers unavailable for selection. Orlando City cruised to a 4 - 1 victory on a rainy night north of the border, forcing the home side to commit a myriad errors along the way, including achieving the rare feat of getting the opposing goalkeeper ejected on a straight red card. How did they do it? Let's take a look...
- Joe Bendik - "Super" Joe Bendik was as "cool as the other side of the pillow," as the late great Stuart Scott would say. Bendik recorded four assists on the night as he vaulted to the top of the leaderboard in that category across MLS. Bendik now has 101 saves on the season, two clear of his nearest rivals in the league, the LA Galaxy's Brian Rowe and Vancouver's David Ousted. Bendik had several incredible saves on the night, including two against Didier Drogba. In the 39th minute, Drogba received the ball just in front of the near post, a mere yard or two in front of the net. It seemed almost inconceivable that a keeper could stop a quality shot from that distance, but Bendik got hands on the ball and deflected it out of the goal to preserve what was at that time a 2 - 1 lead. Then in the 70th minute, Drogba took a PK (more on that later) that Bendik stopped with a diving leap to his right to preserve the 3 - 1 lead at the time.
- Carlos Rivas - What a match for the young Colombian! He was involved in 3 of the four goals for Orlando City. He had the assist on Brek Shea's 3rd minute goal and Kaka's 36th minute goal. Then late in the match he scored Orlando City's fourth goal, assisted by super sub Julio Baptista on the play. And Rivas also gained the achievement of getting the opposing keeper ejected from the match. In the 51st minute, Matias Perez Garcia played the ball ahead to Rivas as he raced down the center of the pitch. Too late to make a clean play, Evan Bush recognized the danger and came off his line to try to corral the ball, but he missed and instead grabbed Rivas by the ankle, spilling him to the pitch. The referee wasted no time in simultaneously pointing to the penalty spot and showing the Montreal keeper a straight red, putting the home side down to 10 men for the rest of the match. In his post-match comments, Jason Kreis said he had told Carlos several weeks earlier that he would get the start on the night due to Larin's International call-up, and he set the match as something of a challenge for him. All season I have been very impressed with Rivas's growth as a passer and playmaker compared to his erratic play and wildly inaccurate shooting from last season. Having this kind of performance on the year is certainly something he deserves, and I certainly hope we'll get to see him on the pitch more for the rest of the season.
- Captain Kaka - Earlier in the season, it really felt like Kaka was almost out there just cashing paychecks. But Jason Kreis has helped the Captain find joy in the game once again, and it has really shown in his performance over the last month. Kaka now has back-to-back two-goal matches. And last night he really helped to set up Brek Shea's early equalizer with a crossing pass that found Rivas's heel, which then guided the ball over to Shea who put it in the back of the net.
- Brek Shea - Shea has seemed to struggle a bit this season, but he showed good form last night, getting an equalizer early in the match to draw Orlando City level and open the scoring for the team. He continued to be active in the match, but unfortunately he drew a yellow card in the 45th minute. Personally I think it was a bad call as Shea had his studs trailing behind him as he tried to slide tackle the ball away from Montreal's Hernan Bernardello. It was a foul in the sense that Shea made contact with the player before the ball, but it was not worthy of a card, I think. It was the kind of energetic, hard play you want to see from your team, but it wasn't a dangerous or reckless play that deserved a booking.
- Didier Drogba - Drogba was "bad" in both senses of the word on the night. In the first minute he was awarded a free kick from just outside the Orlando City penalty area. He struck a knuckleball with pace and power that danced and bobbed on its way toward Bendik, who did not deflect it cleanly, and the ball still found its way into the net. But the rest of the night he couldn't buy a goal getting denied multiple times by our keeper and defender "Use the Force" Luke Boden.
- Defending - I've come to expect several defensive collapses in every match from the lads, but they've put together several nice games in a row. The addition of Jose Aja is starting to show, and the team is starting to see dividends from Coach Kreis's movement of players and tactical focus on the practice pitch. All that is to say why I can't count the defensive performance as bad--but it wasn't always pretty last night. David Mateos gave up a PK attempt in the 70th minute after tripping Matteos Mancosu in the box, but fortunately Bendik was en fuego and blocked Didier Drogba's PK attempt. Then there was a bizarre call in the 88th minute, when Jose Aja was ruled to have passed the ball back to Joe Bendik from the top of the six-yard box. The rules of the game say that when this happens the keeper cannot handle the ball, and this is usually grounds for a penalty kick or a booking, neither of which came to pass. Instead the referee decided to award a free kick from the spot of the back pass, meaning that the entire Orlando City team lined up as a wall on the goal line, just six yards away from where the ball would be struck. I have never seen something so ludicrous before, and the TV showed Jason Kreis laughing and shaking his head on the sidelines, so it's obvious this was a new spectacle for him, too. Finally, Kevin Alston ended the match with a bizarre and dangerous play that nearly resulted in an own goal. In the dying seconds of the match, Montreal sub Patrice Bernier sent a crossing shot in front of the Orlando City goal toward absolutely nobody in a blue shirt. OCSC's defenders were well-positioned to clear and defend any shot. But Kevin Alston was poorly positioned in that instance, playing facing goal instead of with his back to the goal. I think he tried to clear the ball out (needlessly, since there was no scoring threat beyond him) but instead his clearance struck the near side post at a sharp angle and deflected across the face of goal behind Joe Bendik. Fortunately as the ball hit the turf and rolled toward the sideline the referee blew the whistle and there was no damage done. But it was a needlessly reckless play and shows a clear lack of situational awareness.
What about you? What were your thoughts on the match? Did the result surprise you with Larin and Molino out of the lineup, or did you think the incremental improvements we have seen under Jason Kreis since the end of July would be indicative of such a dominant performance? Let me know in the comments below!