It's four wins in a row for Orlando City, and that's a feat they haven't accomplished since the April 29, 2017 win over Colorado. But the team's streak of wins early in 2018 looks very different from the form at the beginning of last season. In 2017 the Lions seemed to win games early in the season with smoke and mirrors. The defense went on an uncharacteristic streak of slowing down opposing offenses successfully, and Orlando City wound up winning low-scoring matchups where goals seemed to materialize from a confluence of luck and the opponent's misfortune. With a new roster and a new more energetic and assertive style of play on the pitch, the 2018 Orlando City team is creating opportunities and winning high-scoring games despite a defense that is still a bit leakier than fans would like. The win last night against San Jose saw Dom Dwyer's 100th MLS league goal, expanded the growing legend of Cash Mueller, and saw glory for the man with the Captain's armband as well in a thrilling 3 - 2 victory.
- Yoshimar Yotun - Long-time readers will recall that in 2017 when Yotun joined the Lions, what impressed me most about him was his passing ability. He started the play to open the scoring yesterday in the first minute by sending a booming pass all the way from the left side defensive third to the right side attacking third--fully fifty yards forward and a good sixty yards across the pitch--that Chris Mueller ran under and controlled with his chest before dribbling out of an attempted tackle by San Jose's Shea Salinas and scoring a goal seconds later.
- Chris "Cash" Mueller - Mueller scored the opening goal and got the assist on Sacha Kljestan's goal as well. Dom Dwyer and Mueller are an excellent pairing for Orlando City up top, as they both have seemingly limitless energy, overflowing enthusiasm, and a relentless attacking style. And they're also both unselfish players when someone else has an open look at the goal. At 63 seconds into the match, Mueller's goal was the fastest goal scored in Orlando City history, though not the fastest goal ever set up. That distinction still goes back to 2016 when "The Beast" Julio Batista raced into the New England penalty area from the opening kickoff and got tackled in the box mere seconds into the match to have Orlando City awarded a PK that Kaka calmly buried for a goal.
- Dom Dwyer - Dwyer's century mark came in the second half of the match with Justin Meram contributing his third assist on the season. Again, this is all part of the 2018 OCSC unselfish, creative, attack-minded style that is making this team a lot of fun to watch and follow through the early part of the season.
- Amro Tarek - Earlier in the season I have gushed about great defensive plays from Mohamed El-Munir and Lamine Sane, but Tarek deserves some praise yesterday. Late in the first half, he made a great block with his head at the corner of the six-yard box after the defense failed to successfully clear a ball and San Jose had a second chance at a shot toward the goal. After the ball went out for a San Jose corner, he turned and seemed as though he apologized to goalkeeper Joe Bendik, but the big man in goal seemed to appreciate his efforts. As a goalkeeper buddy of mine says, "As a keeper, you love it when a defender successfully blocks a shot like that, but you want to strangle them when they miss!"
- Deep Stat Domination - In the battle of the stats below the line, Orlando City had a clean sweep this week, and it shows in the results on the scoreboard. The Lions won the battle of Duels (58 to 49), Tackles (17 to 8) and Clearances (17 to 8). With that kind of performance, it's no surprise that San Jose did not score any goals in the run of play and had to rely on set pieces for their scoring.
- Corner Kick Defense - Orlando City gave up eight corner kicks on the night, and it was two of the last ones that they cashed in on to close the margin to within a goal. In the 78th minute, Joe Bendik got a paw on the corner while diving out of the goal, but the ball wasn't cleanly cleared, and when it bounced up, Florian Jungwirth was able to boot it into the empty net. Then in the 90th minute, Jungwirth struck again, this time perfectly timing his leap to redirect the corner with his head into the far side top shelf of the goal beyond Joe Bendik's reach.
- Defending Dangerously - There were definitely some questionable calls with regard to the possession, and the imbalance of corner kicks awarded (San Jose getting holding an 8 - 3 edge) provides some evidence to support that. Orlando City seemed to be a little panicky deep in their defensive end and exacerbated the issue by knocking the ball out over the end line too many times instead of clearing it back up the pitch and out across the touchline. The lads will need to work on redirecting these balls out over the side of the pitch and find a way to defend those corner kicks a bit better, or this will soon turn into a tendency that opponents will start exploiting against us.
- Meram's Slump Continues - Unfortunately, the scoring slump for Justin Meram has now gone to his head. When Dom Dwyer was taken down in the penalty area late in the match, there was no hesitation on the part of Orlando City in getting the ball to Meram so he could take the PK. He struck the ball at mid-height toward the right half of the goal and San Jose's Andrew Tarbell was able to save it. We have a perfect vantage on that because our seats are just behind the south goal on the second row of the upper deck. Unfortunately, Meram telegraphed exactly where he was going with the PK kick and made Tarbell's job a lot easier. This tells me that Meram is so concerned with his own scoring slump that he's just not focused on the little details like looking off the keeper by telegraphing a shot to one side when he will actually kick a different direction. I hope Meram will be able to simply let the game come to him. The good thing is that he is still contributing to the team, as he is second in assists with three on the season. I've enjoyed watching Meram play since he was a pain to Orlando City as a member of Columbus Crew, and I am very hopeful he will soon register his first goal as a member of the Lions.
What were your impressions of yesterday's match? Was there anyone else who stood out for you as having a particularly effective or ineffective game? If you had Jason Kreis's ear for five minutes, what insight would you offer on defending corner kicks (or limiting those chances in the first place) more effectively? Let me know in the comments below!