OCSC vs. SEA: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The great NFL coaching legend Bill Parcells famously said, "You are what your record says you are." And right now Orlando City's MLS side is a poor defensive team. That poor defending was on display again last night as Seattle's one-man wrecking crew, USMNT captain Clint Dempsey, shredded defenders and made best use of the speed of his teammates to help him find the part of the goal that Joe Bendik couldn't cover. Dempsey had a hat trick, and while it was a great deal of fun to watch him work his craft, it was disheartening to see our team fall so woefully short of being able to stop him.

Due to MLS rules regarding uniform contrast, Joe Bendik was forced to wear the nifty red keeper's outfit, but I think the equipment manager should go burn that kit and bury it somewhere--or maybe go feed it to an alligator or something. I honestly can't remember the last time we've seen the red, but I doubt it was a win the last time Joe or Tally wore it. We need to find some other alternate color for the keeper to wear when the visiting team's kit has a primary light green color like Seattle. But enough of that. Let's get on with the recap.

The Good

  • Pre-match Dinner -  Long-time readers will remember that last year we took a great deal of time to plan and execute tailgates for every match. But this year we are all more busy so we're not doing that as much. Instead, we met up at Graffiti Junktion on Edgewater Drive last night. The beer was good, the food was good, and our server was cute.
  • Matias Perez Garcia -  The newest acquisition into the Orlando City system had his debut last night, and he immediately changed the energy of the game. Perez Garcia came into the match in the 55th minute to replace Hadji Barry, who had showed inconsistent sparks of promise in the first half. 
  • Clint Dempsey -  I cheer for him when he wears the national team kit, and I was cheering against him last night. But you can't deny the man's knack for knowing where to be and when. I'm not sure that it took a player with a great deal of technical skill to score the goals that Dempsey registered last night--he simply poked the ball into the part of the net the keeper could not defend. But the attribute best displayed was organization in the attack and the wisdom to know where to be at the right time to put the scores up on the board. And if I'm giving some credit to the opposition, I should also acknowledge a new Sounder: Nicolas Lodeiro, who had a hand in two of the goals for the visitors, as well as creating other chances that did not find the back of the net. 
  • Antonio Nocerino -  This is a relative "good" -- relative to his performance earlier in the season. Nocerino seems to be showing us some of the promise we thought we had when he was signed before the start of the season. Nocerino did not play a mistake-free match, but the few times I saw him make an errant pass, I also saw him go clean up his own mess and prevent a swift counter-attack from forming. He definitely seems much more comfortable in the position where Jason Kreis is playing him, and he is proving to be both a valuable safety valve for teammates and he is improving as a distributor of the ball. Make no mistake--I'm still frustrated it's taken five months to start to see him play like we thought he should from the beginning of the season, but I'm glad to see there's improvement.

The Bad

  • Defensive Lapses -  Nobody on defense had a particularly stellar match, but Seb Hines and Kevin Alston were particularly bad on the night. Both players were out of position on at least two of Dempsey's goals, allowing him to be wide open to receive crossing passes from teammates that made the finishing poke into the goal relatively easy (for a professional player). I think Alston has a tendency to watch the ball, and I also worry that he winds up pushing way too high on the pitch. In the first half last night there were several times I noticed he was pushing up higher in the attack than Hadji Barry. I'm not sure I 100% blame Alston for that, or if that's something Barry needs to learn to see better--when there are opportunities to take the ball deeper into the attack. But as a veteran defender, Alston needs to stay focused on defending along the back line, not chasing chances to get a bit of glory with an assist or a shot on goal.

    And Seb Hines started off by showing why he's earned the "headmaster" nickname by converting a Kaka corner kick into an early goal in the 7th minute. But that was the extent of his good contributions to the match. He got himself turned around and lost in space several times on defense, which allowed numerous Seattle attacks to result in shots, including the first two of Clint Dempsey's scores. In the 14th minute, Hines lost track of Dempsey, who slowed to trail on the play and was wide open for the pass from Jordan Morris. While Joe Bendik was focused on the threat from the near post that Morris represented, Dempsey was able to just redirect the crossing pass easily into the net with no defenders within five yards of him.

    Then in the 37th minute Hines again lost track of Dempsey, but this time he allowed the Seattle superstar to get ahead of him. When Morris again crossed the ball from the near side, Dempsey was once again wide open with miles of green space around him.

    Finally, to add insult to injury, Hines failed to finish on what was the easiest chance of the night. In the 71st minute Kaka was awarded a free kick from outside the top corner of the 18-yard box. His kick appeared to find super sub Julio Baptista's forehead, which plunked the ball off the crossbar of the goal and right toward Hines' proficient forehead. But when Hines nodded the ball down it went off the outstretched glove of Seattle keeper Stefan Frei and rolled along the goal line before hitting the far post and bouncing out into the field of play.
     
  • Kevin Molino's Absence -  If you looked at the tally of assists and goals for the club this season, you might believe that Kevin Molino could be in the running for MVP of the team, and I'm inclined to agree with that. Last year, the USL veteran who made the move to MLS with Orlando City looked tentative and uncertain in his early appearances with the first team before suffering a season-ending injury. But this year he has blossomed into a great playmaker. He has found the form that made him such a prolific scorer for Orlando City in USL, and he's also turned into a great creator, leading the team in assists on the season. Molino suffered a minor strain to his hamstring in practice last week and was ruled out for the match, with Coach Kreis not wanting to risk adding another long-term injury to the squad. In the long run that is probably a wise decision, but Molino's absence certainly made a world of difference. Brek Shea and Cyle Larin looked like shadows of themselves from last week without Molino on the pitch. I'm not sure if it's a confidence issue or if just that extra scoring threat spreads the defense that much thinner to allow the other skilled midfielders and strikers to have more chances.

The Ugly

  • Low Energy - The team looked flat and a bit tired for much of the match last night, which did not go unnoticed by head coach Jason Kreis. He addressed the low energy in his post-match comments, explaining in part that the training sessions were longer and more intense than the players were used to, and he had been expecting at some point to see the effects of this additional fatigue. He added that he intended to help the players improve their fitness and by implication be able to use the unusual heat and humidity of playing home matches in Orlando be an advantage against visiting clubs in the months and years to come:
"We saw a group that the energy looked a little bit low, but we’ve been asking a lot of them for two weeks. The adjustment is going to take some time from a physical standpoint. But it doesn’t mean we’re going to work less. Their bodies are going to adapt. From a tactical standpoint, we’re still working. It’s going to take some time.”
  • Another Match, Another Accumulation - Defender David Mateos picked up his fifth yellow card on accumulation last night, meaning he is ineligible to play in the next match against Chicago. Kreis was also asked about the yellow cards and he said that he had addressed with individual players that many of the cards suffered by our players are the result of poor reactions to adversity. He made it pretty clear that he expects players to learn how to handle adversity better and not react in ways that will draw the ire of the officials. I, for one, would welcome more consistent officiating in MLS, and I know there are many fans of the club who blame the inconsistent refs for most of the cards our players draw. And many nights I fully agree with those fans. The good news is that Cristian Higuita will be back for the Chicago match, and on a skill and energy level, I think I'd rather have Higuita available than Mateos if we absolutely have to be without one of them.
  • Breaking the Streak - Coming into last night, Orlando City had enjoyed a 17-match unbeaten streak at Camping World Stadium. That streak extended all the way back to July of 2015 and Orlando City was the last club in MLS without a loss at home this season. Yes, a lot of those unbeaten matches were draws, with goals scored or given up at the death to gain a result or lose full points. But getting a result is better than getting no points, and a single point would have put us back above the red line into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The good news is that we remain tied with New England on points at 26; the bad news is that the loss keeps us below the line.

What about you? What are your thoughts on the match? Did you think the result of the match was a fair one based on the way the two clubs played, or do you think that the club suffered some injustice on the night? What were your thoughts on the debut of new signee Matias Perez Garcia, and do you think he is a good addition to the roster? Let me know in the comments below!

OCSC vs. SEA: Previews and Predictions

Just when we thought things were about to settle down, look out for Hurricane Jason. Coach Kreis threw some curves at the Orlando City lineup this week with a trade, some call ups from OCB and some loans out to the USL side. Here's a snapshot of the changes and what the players mean to the club:

This Week's Player Transactions

Traded to /
From
PlayerNotes
to San Jose /
from OCSC
Darwin Ceren3rd player signed by OCSC
El Salvador national team Captain
Voted 2015 MLS Latin Player of the Year
42 MLS matches; 2 goals, 4 assists for OCSC
to OCSC /
from San Jose
Matias Perez Garcia3 seasons with San Jose
Led San Jose with 7 assists in 2015; 2 goals last season
Played 27 matches with 25 starts last season
to OCSC /
from OCB
(Dallas FC)
Mikey AmbroseAmbrose signed to OCB for 2016 season
Rights of first refusal were still held by Dallas FC
Developed in Dallas Academy prior to college career (Maryland)
Traded to OCSC for conditional 3rd round pick in 2018
to OCSC /
from OCB
(Sporting KC)
Antonio RochaRocha signed to OCB for 2016 season
College Priority Protection was still held by Sporting KC
Traded to OCSC for 4th round pick in 2018

Additionally, three players from the first team were sent to OCB on loan for this weekend's match:

  • Tommy Redding - Redding is recovering from a hamstring injury and is deemed fit for USL play but not yet ready to return to MLS.
  • Cristian Higuita - Higuita picked up his 5th yellow card in accumulation in the match against New England last week, so he is suspended from MLS play.
  • Mikey Ambrose - Yeah, it's weird--signed to the first team and immediately loaned back to OCB--but this is soccer, so get used to such roster shenanigans.

A Friday tweet by Orlando Sentinel reporter Alicia DelGallo cited the yellow card suspension as the reason Kreis sent Higuita to OCB. But if the coach agrees with many fans that the yellow card he received was unjustified, then this could also be a great way to thumb his nose at the inept officials of PROReferee and give them another chance to get a call wrong against the young Colombian payer while still letting him stay match fit with meaningful playing minutes.

In any case, I think it's a brilliant move no matter what the ultimate reasons. It gives a talented player the opportunity to earn more minutes on the pitch. And since Higuita has the unfortunate habit of getting so many cards (8 yellows and 1 red in 16 appearances for the first team so far this season), the loan down to the USL side may also send a message to the player about where he could be playing on a regular basis if he doesn't fix his attitude problem.

Players to Watch

Seattle is a team in the midst of a bit of turmoil right now. Back on July 26, Seattle and long-time coach Sigi Schmid agreed to part ways after the club struggled near the bottom of the Western Conference table most of the season. In the wake of his departure, assistant coach Brian Schmetzer stepped in as interim head coach. And in a move similar to OCSC, the club continued making player transactions without a full-time head coach. The day after Schmid's departure, the club signed midfielder Nicolas Lodiero, who had a great debut match against the LA Galaxy last week. They have also re-signed Alvaro Fernandez, a former Sounders player who had been away from the team since 2012. Both Fernandez and Lodiero were available for the LA Galaxy match, and presumably will be available for selection in the match against OCSC. And then earlier this week, the Sounders waived second-year player Andy Craven

Seattle is still searching for a new head coach, and it's likely that OCSC's quick move to grab Jason Kreis has stung the Seattle front office a bit, as Sounders GM Garth Lagerway was with Kreis in the glory years growing RSL into a championship franchise. No doubt if they had any inkling that Schmid's days were numbered Kreis may well have been high on their list of candidates for the job opening.

This week's match will be the first opportunity local fans have had to see Clint Dempsey play for his club at Camping World Stadium. The World Cup veteran and perennial national team star has not had a great club season this year between all of the Olympic and World Cup qualifiers he has had to play earlier in the year.

For the home side, there were some interesting comments by and about Antonio Nocerino out of training this week. For his part, Nocerino said he very much regretted not being able to make a good impression of himself on the fans earlier in the season, and he vowed he would work hard for the rest of the year to earn the support and favor of the fans. As one of those fans whose favor he needs to earn I will say that I'm willing to give him a chance, and if he continues to play better like he has in the friendly vs. Stoke and the match vs. New England, that will go a long way to making me glad he's on our team.

Nocerino indicated that the new formation and position where Jason Kreis has him playing gives him the ability to help bail out any of his teammates who get into trouble defensively. And some of his teammates said that his experience and abilities have really been helpful in the last few matches and are a positive influence even away from the pitch. Before Coach Adrian Heath was fired, I was calling for Nocerino to be cut or traded. But maybe, just maybe, Jason Kreis can bring him around to where we can see him contributing to the team's success. And of course we have not yet even seen Jose Aja, who was on the bench last week but did not play. Perhaps we'll see him get some minutes this weekend.

Prediction

Under Jason Kreis, Orlando City looked rejuvenated and full of confidence last weekend. I'm hoping that we will see that again this week. But this season has not been kind to Orlando City when facing teams that are struggling. Earlier in the year we faced the New York Red Bulls as they were on a multi-game losing streak and they won the match handily, launching them on a run of form that has seen them climb up the table. Likewise, we faced Sporting KC after they had lost several matches in a row, and we lost one of the more disappointing 2 - 1 decisions of the year to them.

But I think the third time will be the charm. I think Seattle's disarray will be more of a distraction for them, and the home players will be motivated to impress Coach Kreis. I am going to predict a 2 - 0 win for Orlando City, with the newly energized defense helping Joe Bendik record his third clean sheet for the season. Perhaps that's a bold prediction, but I feel a lot of confidence after the way the team played last week.

What about you? What do you think the outcome of the match will be? What are your thoughts on the trades and other personnel changes that the team announced this week? Are you willing to give Antonio Nocerino a second chance to make a good impression, or do you just want to see him traded away at this point? Let me know in the comments below.