In soccer you have two kinds of draws. There are the draws that feel like a loss and a draw that feels like a win. At one point in the opening match of 2019 the home crowd was down on the team—they were being booed at halftime. And social media was alive with biting sarcasm from Orlando City fans, and harsh invectives directed at every player on the pitch, the coaching staff, and all the referees.
And of course—Florida happened. In one of those “it could only happen in Florida” moments… well, I’ll save that for the Ugly section. Getting back to the match, the second half unfolded better. In the 59th minute Chris Mueller buried a free kick in the far side netting from just outside the 18 yard box near the top left corner. His curling, looping ball fooled everyone and a helpless Sean Johnson dove at it just to make it look good, but there was nothing the former UCF star and reliable NYCFC keeper could do. Then in the 70th minute Dom Dwyer and Nani were subbed into the match for Kyle Smith and Sebastián Méndez, respectively. The two DPs made their presence felt almost immediately and the energy level kicked up a notch for Orlando City just like they had walked into a New Orleans kitchen owned by Chef Emeril Legassi. In the 75th minute, Tesho Akindele found the equalizer with a series of passes that started with Nani on the left wing, forward to Dwyer, and across the face of goal to Tesho. The goal scorer cramped up during the celebration, however, and he gave way in the 77th to Josue Colman.
I submit that when a draw happens by coming from behind, it feels like a win. You had given away all three points, and in the end you wound up clawing back one. Doubtless some will disagree and say that nothing short of a win feels like a win. But they are entitled to hold wrong opinions. We know better, dear reader, don’t we?
There was a lot to like from this game. Not everything, mind you, but there was quite a bit to take from this in a year that prior to Nani’s signing midway through pre-season promised to be the beginning of a “building for the future” project.
Cash Mueller is still money. Mueller was by far the brightest spot to my eyes from an otherwise abysmal 2018 season. As a rookie he showed consistently the most heart and hustle of any player on last year’s squad. I was a bit curious to see how he would respond this year—would he go the Cyle Larin route of providing diminishing returns, or would he build on what he did last year. It’s only one match, but between his preseason stats and his performance today I think he is determined to be better this year. I hope that trend continues.
Youth + Energy = Fun. This team was fun to watch. There wasn’t any time during the first 90 minutes of the match when I didn’t feel like all 11 guys in purple were trying out there. Were they perfect? No. But they were creative, they were attacking, they held possession, they played with energy that included at least three clean slide tackles to dispossess NYCFC in the defending half of the pitch.
Response from the DPs. It’s not often that you see a team start a match with arguably its two biggest stars on the bench. And often when a DP is subbed in, they can play like they feel disrespected and just shut it down. But Nani and Dom Dwyer are both to be commended for taking their role in today’s match as subs very seriously. And Dwyer showed no desire to try to win glory for himself on the equalizer. He saw a teammate running free across the goal and made a beautiful crossing pass to help bring the game level. If all 11 guys can play the right ball—the selfless pass or the selfish shot—at the right time, then we will be alright.
Some Stats Favored Us. Orlando City led the following stats in the match:
Crossing passes - 18 to 11
Total Passes - 446 to 326
Passing Accuracy - 80% to 73%
Possession - 57.9% to 42.1%
Tackles Won - 13 to 10
And Some Stats Went Against Us. NYCFC led the following stats in the match:
Shots on Target - 6 to 4
Corners - 5 to 2
Duels Won - 51 to 43
Clearances - 25 to 18
Some Old Bad Habits are Not Yet Broken. You remember for the last couple of years how I’ve been really annoyed that this team doesn’t shoot when it should. As a fan you see a play unfolding and you start yelling “shoot! shoot! shoot!” but the player doesn’t see it and the chance goes away and only THEN do they try to shoot, or they realize they don’t have a chance and they try to pass out of the situation with no shot taken at all. Well, that was on display again today. They would dribble the ball into the 18-yard box and just run around in the front of the goal. Maybe they thought NYCFC would foul them and give them a PK. Opportunity after opportunity was squandered. Both teams were even on shots at 13, but if Orlando City had shot every time I and the fans around me screamed at them to take an opening we would have had something like 18 or 20 shots on the day.
Of Course—Florida Happened. “It could only happen in Florida” the late night talk show host says in his “funny news of the day.” One of the ARs literally fell to the pitch with leg cramps in the 34th minute. I preach against outrage most of the time, but I think outrage against the performance of PROReferee is justified pretty much any time they are involved in officiating a game that involves a team from Orlando City. My online crush is a single mom south of Lake Okeechobee who refs multiple youth and rec league matches every weekend, often without an assistant. If she can swelter for hours in the boiling sun there is no excuse for some daft idiot who can’t remain upright for 90 minutes along a sideline of an MLS match. Inexcusable!
Coasting in Stoppage Time. This could have been very ugly, but to me in the final four minutes of the match—stoppage time in the second half—it felt like Orlando City coasted. They did not press as hard in the attack as they could, and it was clear that NYCFC was intent on trying to steal all three points on the road.
Well, that’s the match as I saw it. A 2 - 2 draw to start the season against NYCFC almost seems like Groundhog Day. It’s not as good as a win to start the season, but it’s better than a loss. What were your thoughts on today’s match? What could the team have done better? Were you pleased with the level of effort? Who looked suspect on the pitch to you? Let me know in the comments below!