Orlando City managed to remain perfect at home against the visiting LA Galaxy this weekend, and set an MLS record in the process. With the win, they also briefly vaulted into the top spot on the Eastern Conference table, although Columbus reclaimed the East lead. But the good news for Orlando City fans is that the Lions still have two games in hand over the leaders.
I predicted a 4 - 1 victory for Orlando City, and the windy conditions conspired to thwart my prognostication, as Orlando had several first half chances that bounced around the goalposts of the Portland net and would have added to Orlando's tally if not for the pesky breeze that blew the shots just off target.
To be fair to the visitors, the Galaxy had a number of quality shots on goal, and you won't find a more perfectly placed shot than the one that Romain Alessandrini slotted home at the edge of the goal in the 83rd minute, assisted by Jermaine Jones.
- Striking Set Pieces: Early in the match Carlos Rivas struck a free kick from 30 yards out that glanced off the far post and was nearly pushed into the goal by both Giles Barnes and Jonathan Spector. This year Orlando City's quality on set pieces has been much improved, and they seem to get ever closer to creating blowout results against opponents by putting away all these chances. And the winning goal of the day was also scored on a set piece, which brings us to...
- Cyle Freaking Larin: Will Johnson served up a stoppage time corner kick that fell right in front of the middle of the goal mouth, and Cyle Larin delivered a devastating scissor kick while in mid-air to strike the ball home. It was Larin's first goal in three matches after a fast start that saw him score three goals in the opening two games of the season. But the goal was only possible because the delivery was put in perfect position by Will Johnson, which brings us to...
- "Wild Will's" Spectacular Strike: The first goal of the match was a goal by the same Will Johnson, this one from the run of play that came from long range outside the left edge of the box and rainbowed over the head of LA goalkeeper Clement Diop to get buried in the far side netting. Johnson's goal was set up by a beautiful long-range pass from Scott Sutter, who showed his worth in his first start for Orlando City.
- Record Defense of Our New House: With the fourth consecutive home win at Orlando City Stadium, the Lions have set a new MLS record. In the history of the league this is the first time that any team has opened a new stadium with four consecutive wins. Those wins are good enough to keep Orlando City at second on the Eastern Conference table, a single point behind Columbus who regained the top spot after the finish of league play for the weekend.
- Defensive Excitement: We all acknowledge the critical role that The Wall plays in making Orlando City Stadium a house of horrors for opposing teams, but my tailgate group contends that we have the best seats in the house in Section 105, Row B. We sit just above and offset from the goal in the south end of the stadium, and we get to watch the improved back line and the incredible Joe Bendik work their magic for 45 minutes every match. Bendik's double-save in the late minutes of the match and the defensive heroics of players like Jonathan Spector have been played out in front of us week after week.
- Diop's Goalposts: As much excitement as their was at our end of the pitch yesterday, there could have been a lot more if it hadn't been for those meddling goalposts on either side of Clement Diop. On multiple occasions balls that could have resulted in goals went clanging off the posts and back into the field of play instead of deflecting into the net for the score. Unfortunately, the only deflection on the day that did go in was Alessandrini's beautiful late equalizer that threatened to allow the Galaxy to salvage a draw from the match.
- Rivas's Pinpoint Consistency: Normally I'd say that being consistent is a good thing, but there were two times (once from a free kick and once from the run of play) that birthday boy Carlos Rivas struck a ball from about 35 yards out on the right side of the pitch that hit the far goalpost and deflected back out across the face of goal. The shots were so precise that I think Rivas had to be aiming for the same patch of far side netting, but the swirling wind in the stadium pushed the ball back to the post and deflected it out both times.
- The Furious Wall of Noise: This is one of those times that "ugly" means beautiful. I mentioned The Wall before, and I've said in the first two seasons how impressive it has been to see the Ruckus and the ILF fill the supporter's end of the Citrus Bowl and lift the energy of the crowd. But this season they have raised their game to a whole new level, and it shows. Visiting teams are starting to get a sense that this new stadium is going to be a well-defended fortress and that results are going to be hard to achieve. And in post-match comments, Cyle Larin gave credit to the fans after the late equalizer by LA for helping them focus and get a second wind to finish off the match and claim all three points.
All in all this match is starting to solidify the coast-to-coast rivalry between Orlando City and Los Angeles. The teams are undefeated against each other on home turf, and you get the feeling that Orlando is hyped to play the five-time MLS Cup winners each time they face off, and that LA is mad they have not been able to assert their historic league dominance over the league newcomers when they visit Orlando. I think we were fortunate to face LA early in the season after the off-season change in coaches and acquisition of new personnel. LA fans seem a bit uncertain about the direction new coach Curt Onalfo has the team going, but I am confident that their team will gel and it won't be long before they are serving notice to the rest of the Western table that they are intent on getting to the post season again.
What about you--what are your thoughts on the latest Orlando City win? Which player do you think deserves man of the match honors from yesterday? Is there anyone on the team that is impressing you with unexpected brilliance? How long do you think Orlando City can sustain its string of home wins to begin the season? Let me know in the comments below!