Cyle Larin's return from suspension was... uneventful. He played pretty much like we have come to expect from Cyle Larin, waiting around near the 6-yard box for an opportunity to poach a goal and showed occasional interest in defending or trying to take possession of the ball further up the pitch. The young Canadian is a strong and imposing player when he wants to assert his influence on a match, but he's still inconsistent enough that it can be as much frustration as fun to watch him play. On the whole, still, I'm glad to have him back and playing with the team, as he gives Jason Kreis another weapon to deploy and another scoring threat for opponents to consider when they face Orlando City.
But the real heroics on the night in Sandy, UT belonged to Orlando City's Real Salt Lake connection. Jason Kreis deployed the perfect defensive formation to frustrate RSL's struggling offense, and Will Johnson notched his second goal of the season to lift Orlando City to a 1 - 0 victory over the hosts. Now on to the customary wrap-up.
- Three Road Points - Let's be honest, the best thing about a road win is the win itself. In MLS road teams are winning only about 20% of the matches this season, so getting a result is good, and getting a win is fantastic.
- Will Johnson's Goal - The set piece that led to Johnson's goal was dangerous on its own, and the Canadian cleaned it up for a great opening goal that also proved to be the game winner. Kaka's free kick narrowly missed being a goal on its own as it bounced off the underside of the crossbar, beating a diving Nick Romando, who remained sprawled on the grass at Rio Tinto stadium while his defenders failed to clear the ball from the danger area. Jonathan Spector hurtled toward the ball ineffectively, but then Johnson came in and poked it home past the defense and registered his second goal of the season.
- Winning the Deep Stats - I'm going to keep preaching this same sermon until the pundits and novices get the message. Most people worry about the wrong stats when they look at a soccer match. The "sexy" or headline stats of possession and shots attempted are flashy, but they're not the true indicators of the team playing with better form. For that, you have to look a bit deeper in the stat sheet, and the story of the team that wins the game is almost always found there. Orlando City had an edge in the "deep stats" on the night, adopting a counter-punching strategy that helped them secure the win. The visitors won the battle of duels (51 to 47), tackles (15 to 14), and clearances (33 to 12). Duels tell you which team is fighting harder to win 50-50 balls, tackles tell you who is fighting harder to steal possession from the other team and create chances, and clearances tell you which team is defending better in the match. Possession is almost a meaningless stat in soccer, or as I like to say, "possession is like your band's drum kit--it doesn't matter how much you have, it matters what you can do with it."
- Jose Aja - Yes he picked up a yellow card late, but I've been consistently dogging the man for weeks complaining about his tendency to give the ball away to opposing strikers in the danger area. Aja had a good defensive match last night and didn't cough up the ball at an inopportune moment to allow the opponents an easy shot on goal. So for that he gets a mention in the "good" column.
- One-dimensional Larin - Yes he's a fantastic poacher and the leading scorer on the team, but I get a little tired of Cyle Larin standing around the mouth of the goal waiting for a gift-wrapped ball placed right on his feet or at his head that he can re-direct into the net. I'd like to see him more consistently win possession from the other team further up the pitch, create chances for himself and his teammates by bringing the ball into the danger area, and be just as prolific at getting assists as he is at getting goals. Perhaps he should start studying the film of his clubmate Marta and how she can turn a tackle won on the defensive side of the middle stripe into a goal seconds later on the offensive end of the pitch.
- Tentative RSL Strikers - I'm not going claim it was the best defended match Orlando City has played, because RSL really made the job quite a bit easier. Sitting in the stands behind the north goal, I counted no fewer than a half-dozen times when RSL's attackers had a shot with perhaps one defender and the keeper between them and the back of the net, and they failed to take a shot. I complained above about Cyle Larin always waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike, and the same could apply to the entire RSL team for the full 90 minutes last night. The hesitation and delay on the part of RSL gave Orlando City's defenders a chance to get back into position before a shot was attempted, and that often led to either clearances or counter-attack chances that put the home team back on their heels to defend.
- MLS turns WWE - Generally I like the new Cristian Higuita--the guy who has learned how to turn consistent yellow cards against him into a great head game he plays with opposing players to get the ref to show the card the other way. Late in the match there was a scuffle and kerfuffle that wound up with RSL's Kyle Beckerman throwing Higuita to the ground after the referee had blown his whistle to stop play, and somehow it ended up with both players getting a yellow. I am not sure what the ref saw from Higuita that was worthy of a yellow, and if he did something that mitigated Beckerman's reaction to only a warning and not a straight ejection. I can't wait until cloud DVR technology is deployed by all the MSOs because the MLS replay geniuses don't always pick out the plays I need to review again, and I won't get a chance to watch this full match replay until I get back home on Monday night. I need to see what it was that led to Beckerman's red-card worthy outburst and that made the ref believe Higuita earned a himself a yellow.
- Poor Officiating - The east side AR did not have a good match at all, and unfortunately for the hometown fans, his bad calls tended to favor Orlando City on the night. There were at least two blatantly wrong calls he made and the potential for several others that all wound up giving the ball back to Orlando City. In the first instance, an RSL player deftly knocked the ball out off the boot of an Orlando City player, but the AR said it was out on RSL. Then in another, when the edge of the ball first touched the sideline, the AR raised his flag to say it was out and awarded the ball to Orlando City, a call which had both players on the ball do a double-take in astonishment. The MLS continues to struggle with the quality of officiating, and this really needs to be addressed. Perhaps referees need to be fined for bad calls or suspended from officiating MLS matches when they make the wrong call.
What were your thoughts on the match? Were you simply relieved Orlando City managed to pull out a victory, or do you think they left opportunities on the pitch that they didn't clean up? Let me know in the comments below!