Hoops Madness and US Redemption
This has been a great week to be a sports fan in Orlando. On Monday and again on Wednesday, UCF won its tournament games to advance to the Final Four of the NIT, and will play next Tuesday in Madison Square Garden. Then last night in a dramatic overtime game, the Florida Gators hit a three-point basket at the final buzzer to defeat Wisconsin 84 - 83. The Gators will play their Elite 8 game on Sunday, also in Madison Square Garden, as part of the NCAA "March Madness" tournament.
Meanwhile, last night, while the Gators were winning their Sweet Sixteen game, the US Men's National Team started the second Bruce Arena era with an emphatic statement--a 6 - 0 dismantling of Honduras in a World Cup Qualifyer at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. The game featured a hat trick from the wily veteran Clint Dempsey, as well as a score and two assists from wunderkind Christian Pulisic. While this is only a single match, the performance supports an opinion that I have held for a long time that former US Men's skipper Jurgen Klinsmann was a poor fit for the national team, attempting to mold the strength and speed of American players into a game plan that better suits the finesse of the European game. By contrast, Arena seems to have drawn up a strategy that allowed his players use their power and speed to the best advantage.
USL Season Kickoff
And tonight, OCB takes the pitch for the first match of the season. The team opens on the road at a familiar opponent, who are also new USL rivals: the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The match will be at Al Lang Stadium in Tampa, and it will be the first time that Orlando City players have had to face off against former Orlando City favorite Luke Boden.
Players to Watch
Aside from the familiar Boden, the Rowdies have a number of players with top-league experience. Midfielder Joe Cole has won three EPL Championship in seven seasons with Chelsea. The Rowdies roster also includes Marcel Schafer, who holds the record for the most appearances by an outfield player with Bundesliga side VfL Wolfsburg. In addition, the Rowdies boast players who have played with the Colorado Rapids and the Seattle Sounders in MLS.
While this is the second season for OCB, the squad will look very different from the one that took the pitch last season for the USL side. Captain Lewis Neal is back with OCB, but the team made a number of off-season transactions, and yesterday the organization announced the season long loan of nine MLS players to OCB with Right of Recall, meaning that the players can move freely between the USL and MLS rosters in compliance with MLS rules. The players loaned out to OCB include Goalkeeper Earl Edwards, Jr.; Defenders Tommy Redding, Conor Donovan, Kevin Alston, and PC; Midfielders Richie Laryea, Danny Deakin, and Pierre Da Silva; and Forward Hadji Barry.
My world view has taken on a noticeably purple tint, so that means until I see any evidence to the contrary I have to predict a victory for my team. With the addition of the proven MLS players to the OCB roster, I think Orlando City will take the victory 2 - 0.
The match can be watched live online through the USL web site's Match Center.
How about you--will OCB pull out the victory, or have all the off-season changes been more disruptive than helpful to the squad? Will you be watching the match online or do you plan to travel over to Tampa for the game? Let me know in the comments below!