OCB vs. Wilmington: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Last night the USL season kicked off for OCB at Titan Soccer complex on the campus of Eastern Florida State College (EFSC). The fans who attended were passionate, but we were a bit disappointed to see less than full grandstands. With the dodgy weather it was not a total shock that some fans were scared away, but in the end the game was played without many delays, and it was a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone who decided to stay until full time.

The Good

  • Season Underway: OCB had the longest pre-season of any team in the Orlando City umbrella, playing nine weeks worth of matches according to coach Anthony Pulis. But they really needed it as the roster for the club was still being put together as late as Friday, with the announcement that several first team players from the MLS side were being sent on full-season loan to OCB.
  • Harbor City Hooligans: The OCB supporters group is well organized and extremely passionate right out of the gate. They have their shirts, their flags, their drums, and their chants down, and they even have some characters emerging from within their ranks. For instance, there is LionsGirl (as I'm going to call her), a fan in the supporters group who seems inspired by Orlando City fan favorite "The Orlando City Unicorn." LionsGirl dresses with a lion-head hoodie, her Harbor City Hooligans shirt and scarf, and a minikilt complete with a lions tail. Last night she also had the full face paint going on with her face painted up like a lion. Very creative and we certainly approve of the team spirit LionsGirl is showing! Unfortunately I didn't get close enough to get a good photo of her outfit... perhaps later in the season we can get a picture of her in costume, or maybe she'll send us one we can use. The supporter group also has their flares and purple smoke bombs, and that's wonderful to see back in USL matches for Orlando City. Well done, Hooligans!
  • Aggressive Play Style: Two of the loaned players from the MLS side started the match for OCB, Richie Lareya and Hadji Barry. In the two matches for Orlando City SC that Barry has played off the bench, he's been aggressive around the ball, and he was again last night. In fact Barry and Lareya combined for one great scoring chance that sailed just high over the Wilmington net in the second half. But they were not the only two players that were pressing and pushing the ball forward. Lots of players got involved in pushing forward and took scoring chances, with Andrew Ribeiro scoring the only goal for OCB and then celebrating with a cartwheel and backflip, showing off some of his gymnastic talents.
  • BONUS -- Finding the QueensCast Podcast: There was a rain delay (see the bad) but we made the most of it by looking through some of the social media feeds and we ran across a posting that led us to the QueensCast Podcast. This is a brand new podcast for 2016 produced by a team from the Magruder Eye Clinic that focuses on Orlando Pride. Nicole and Justina are like the female Tom and Dan with all the passion for the sport and without quite all the silliness. In other words, it's a great informative, passionate, and fan-friendly podcast that should be encouraging and inspiring for any fans of the Pride as well as families with young girls. I've said before that I think the Orlando Pride is going to provide some incredibly positive and healthy role models from young girls in our town, and the QueensCast will only expand those role models to include knowledgeable fans that can help educate others about the sport. If you are a fan of the Orlando City Soccercast, I highly recommend adding the QueensCast to your podcast rotation.

The Bad

  • Weather Delay: It's spring, and OCB will play all its home matches on the coast at the EFSC Titans soccer complex in Melbourne on the coast. So fans should be ready with rain gear in just about every match throughout the USL season. The weather was more lightning and thunder than actual rain, but with all-aluminum bleachers and a bunch of tall metal posts ringing the field, the referee didn't hesitate long to blow the whistle after 15 minutes of the match had passed, and they halted the game for around 45 minutes. But of course it wasn't all bad--I already mentioned findig the QueensCast podcast and I also had a chance to speak briefly to Coach Heath during the break (yes, he was there scouting the USL club as any good MLS coach would be doing) and we talked about the great win at NYCFC and I let him know how impressed I had been to see Hadji Barry off the bench in MLS and was happy to see him get a chance to start a match with OCB.
  • Losing the Opener: In my post yesterday previewing the match, I said that people shouldn't think the match would be easy just because Wilmington finished 2015 at the bottom of the USL table. OCB is a brand new roster filled mostly with players that haven't played together before. Even with the late additions and loans from the MLS side, you can tell that the OCB players aren't quite all in sync yet. They all have the same songbook, and they all are reading off the same music, but it's like each player has his own metronome and they don't quite have all the timing down that they need, from missing quick counter-attacks from the opponent to not being quite precise enough with their passes. It's a work in progress, and fans are going to have to give Coach Pulis and the lads a little time to gel.
  • No Beer at Stadium: For those who are unfamiliar with college sports, most universities and community colleges have a code that prevents the sale of alcohol at sports facilities on campus. Those who have attended games at UCF, University of Florida and Florida State are all familiar with this, while college teams that play at municipal or professional stadiums like Miami and USF have the ability to sell alcohol. For those who failed to plan on the alcohol ban at the stadium, I am happy to report that EFSC was smart enough to set up a designated tailgate lot where they permit fans to bring their own alcohol and grills and food and snacks and enjoy all the typical pre-game activities. We also continued a tradition from USL days with Orlando City by going to a local microbrewery, Intracoastal Brewing Company, and enjoying a pre-match libation before driving over to the stadium.

The Ugly

  • Poor Officiating: This is a common complaint by fans of every sport and every team, but the nice thing about attending matches at EFSC is that you are close enough to the pitch to really see the action and tell when the referees blow calls. I saw a number of blown calls from my seats behind the South End Line. For instance, there were at least two times that Wilmington players plowed through the back of OCB players in attempts to get the ball right in front of the referee's assistant and no foul was called. The idiots on the side are not there simply to call when the ball goes out, they need to be helping the head referee see when fouls occur near the side of the pitch.
  • Erratic Shooting: One of the players on full-season loan from Orlando City SC to OCB is Bryan Rochez, and you can really tell why. Rochez struggled at the beginning of the 2015 season, but he seemed to start coming on toward the end of last season. But last night he was back to the same Rochez we saw at the beginning of 2015. Yes, aggressive, but he was off target and out of sync with every shot he attempted. And I can't pick on Bryan alone--he was joined in the erratic shooting by many other players. I will say I prefer aggressive shooting to players trying to figure out what they want to do with the ball when it comes to them, but by the time players have been working on their craft long enough to become professional players, they should have a bit more control and demonstrate a bit more precision when they get an open shot on the net.
  • Bench-Clearing Brawl: As stoppage time wound down, there was a brawl on the sidelines in front of the benches that resulted in Lewis Neal picking up his first yellow card of the season. I haven't gone back to review the match again on YouTube to hear Tom Traxxler and Jeff Radcliffe comment on what started it, but if Neal picked up the card, then either he was the instigator or he allowed himself to be baited into responding to something stupid an opposing player did. In either case it wasn't good, and I expect a bit more professionalism from a long-time player like Lewis. It's always possible I will change my opinion after reviewing the tape of the incident, but for now I'm going to throw this in as an ugly moment from the match.

Did you go to the match last night? What did you think of the way the team played? Do you agree with my good, bad, and ugly points, or do you think I missed something or failed to give credit where I should or I was too harsh on some points? Let me know in the comments below!

I Was Not Prepared...

Gamers will remember a certain meme from a few years back when Illidan Stormrage proclaimed, "You are not prepared!"

I should have paid a little more attention to that because his words proved true for me yesterday in the twin exhibition games at Eastern Florida State College featuring OCB and the Orlando Pride. I have been basking in all the good weather we have been having for the past couple of months to the extent of not giving much credence to forecasts of rainshowers throughout the afternoon in Melbourne.

I drove out to Titan Soccer complex on the EFSC campus, and arrived a little  before noon to find nearly a dozen food trucks set up to serve lunch, and I met up with Tom Traxxler of United World Soccer and Len Santiago of Orlando City almost right away. We spoke briefly about Friday night's match that the MLS side had against NYCFC, and Tom reminded me that NYCFC plays a tough pressure style that keeps a lot of visiting clubs on their heels most of the night as we saw with Orlando City on Friday. I had to concede my frustration with Orlando City's lack of consistent pressure on NYCFC for 90 minutes was not giving due credit to the opposing side, and upon further reflection I find it even enhances my appreciation of the team's ability to disrupt NYCFC's frequent build-ups and prevent them from being able to score. I stand by my assessment of Joe Bendik's quality goaltending and the confidence it inspires in me going forward, and I hope that Coach Heath and the rest of the staff can use the lessons learned from the strength of NYCFC's attacks to help our lads be even better prepared to defend that style in coming matches.

I added a little to my Orlando City wardrobe by picking up some socks and a t-shirt for Orlando Pride, though I am still a bit frustrated at Nike and the NWSL for not having any official kits availble yet for fans. I also met a father and daughter that were at the preseason tailgate on Church Street a few weeks ago, and we were all quite eager to see both OCB and Orlando Pride in action for the first time.

I visited the Aji Peruvian food truck for lunch, and had a lovely dish of Arroz Chaufa de Pollo (Peruvian chicken and fried rice), to which I added a small side of some delicious spicy creamy sauce, a bit like a Peruvian horseradish or wasabi. It gave the dish a lovely little kick and just the right amount of heat to make it very tasty indeed!

But just after lunch the skies darkened a bit and the rain began to move in. This is where my lack of preparation became apparent. Being a sports fan in Florida, a few years ago I bought a wonderful set of head-to-toe waterproof raingear that has served me well through many college football games and soccer matches alike, as well as a couple of outdoor concerts. It does a fantastic job of keeing myself and my electronics dry even in torrential downpours, but it can't help much when it is hanging up in the closet at home and I am halfway across the state out in the elements. Orlando City was selling ponchos for a reasonable $6.00 and I bought one, and for a while it did a passable good job in keeping me and my phone and other gear dry.

The start of the OCB match was delayed a few minutes, but by 1:15pm they were ready to get under way and the match started. I sat with my friends from the preseason tailgate until the first half of the OCB match ended in a scoreless draw. The rain was not too bad during the first half of this match, and by the end it had nearly ended completely. At the start of halftime they announced an abbreviated break to get the second half under way more quickly, but almost as soon as that announcement came, Mother Nature announced that she was on a different timetable with an ominous flash of lightning and a low rumble of thunder in the distance.

The PA announced that the match was being delayed for inclement weather, and it suggested to everyone that we return to our vehicles and wait to see when play would resume. I've lived in Florida long enough to realize that lightning is nothing to snub your nose at, so I followed the rest of the crowd back to the parking lot and jumped in my car to see what would happen. Then I made a mistake that proved detrimental to the rest of my day. I consulted my Weather Channel app on my phone. The app predicted a 100% of thunderstorms and rain for the next three hours, and about the time I got that news I saw that a lot of other people were starting to pull out of the parking lot. I gave it a few more minutes thought, and after seeing another flash of lightning not terribly far away, I made the decision to abort the rest of the day and make my way back to Orlando.

Of course, predictably, almost as soon as I got home and checked social media I saw that the Orlando Pride match was under way, and it wasn't long before Alex Morgan became the first Orlando Pride player in the history of the club to register a goal. Before it was all over she scored three more and the Pride also got scores from Kristen Edmonds, Monica Hickmann Alves, and Allie Wisner to earn a commanding 8 - 0 result. It's almost unfair to expect a college team to keep a roster like Orlando Pride in check. It would be about like asking your local high school team to stop Lionel Messi, Neymar, and the rest of Barcelona from scoring goals.

So unfortunately I was not prepared as I should have been and didn't stick around to see the action unfold. But I am glad for the sake of the college and the two Orlando City clubs that the matches were able to be played and the players got some much needed minutes on the pitch. I think Orlando City has made a great decision to partner with EFSC and use the Titan Soccer Complex for the OCB matches. The field looked like it was in great condition even with all the rain, and while I saw plenty of players slide and tumble during the first half of the OCB match, the turf appeared to hold well and maintain its integrity. The location is also quite convenient, just off of Wickham Road in Melbourne, and the pitch has nice sideline areas and covered benches for the teams, as well as sturdy but intimate grandstands for sideline fans and the supporter groups alike. I think fans who purchase OCB Season Tickets will find it a great place to tailgate and view the games, and I hope the association with the club will prove a nice boon for the college as well.

So let my mistake be a learning experience for you--never discount the possibility of rain with a match in Florida! Be sure to bring your all-weather gear so you don't have to fret about the condition of your mobile devices when you head out for a game. I'm looking forward to seeing the Pride in action in person soon, and I'll be out at the Citrus Bowl on April 23 if I can't manage to make it to any other preseason matches. 

NYCFC vs. OCSC: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The third weekend of the season has come, and for the second time in 2016, Orlando City was involved in the kickoff match. This time the match was in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium against fellow 2015 expansion side NYCFC. Orlando entered the weekend in search of its first full win, and both sides were looking to avoid suffering their first loss of the season. Orlando City was also looking to change their recent fortunes when playing in baseball stadiums, where they had stumbled in the three most recent outings stretching back to the 2015 season and including 2016 preseason matches.

The Good

  • Joe Bendik Saves the Day: In the first two weeks of the season I've been a bit vocal in questioning whether Joe Bendik has been the correct decision for the club to make starting in goal.  But I should recall that in the world of sports I am merely a overweight, undertall blogger with a web site and a laptop, while the coaches and leadership of the club have forgotten more about the laws of the game and the skills required to play it than I will probably ever know. Today I am happy to put all my questions about Joe Bendik aside and declare that he was lights out the best defensive player on the pitch for either club last night. Orlando City has played relatively stout defense the first two weeks of the season, but they were well off their best performance in the Bronx yesterday. All the same, Bendik preserved a clean sheet and made save after impressive save as NYCFC's front line kept pressure on the Orlando City goal all night.
  • Cyle Larin continues to Impress: At this rate, Larin is on pace to double his offensive production from 2015 when he scored 17 goals en route to winning the MLS Rookie of the Year. Through three matches, Larin now has 3 goals, and he appears to be on a quest to score a goal on every pitch in MLS. In the seventh minute of the match last night, Larin got in position for a great ball in from Rafael Ramos that was weakly deflected by netminder Josh Saunders, and then headed the ball home for a gorgeous goal. It proved the only score on the night for either team, and won Orlando City a badly needed 3 points to move them temporarily up to 2nd in the Eastern Conference table.
  • Tommy Redding Proving Ready for Prime Time: With some of the injuries to the club coming into the season, Tommy Redding has had a chance to get some valuable playing minutes, and he has taken the best possible advantage. Redding played the full 90 minutes last night and managed to get himself in the way of several attacking runs by NYCFC that disrupted attempted buildup by the home side toward our goal. It was a solid performance and it's exciting to see the young man coming into his own this year as he gets more chances to play on the U20 MNT in some upcoming international matches.

The Bad

  • Anemic Attacking: OK I admit I'm a fan and not a player, so my perspective may be a bit skewed, but I was frankly disappointed with the lack of pressure Orlando City was able to generate after the first seven minutes of the match. Larin's seventh-minute goal was the product of some early build-up and pressure. But as soon as we scored, it seemed like Orlando City decided to spend the next 83 minutes of the match just being lazy and defending instead of keeping the pressure on the opponents. It makes me wonder if Inchy is going out for whiskey drinks with George O'Leary, who famously ran the most boring and vanilla offense in college football for most of his tenure across town at UCF. If Coach Heath is going to be inspired by any American Football coaches, I'd rather he take a page out of "Riverboat Ron" Rivera's playbook at Carolina, whose attitude seems to be that if there are seconds left on the clock there is still time to score another touchdown. I'd like to see a 90-minute match where Joe Bendik never has the ball come into his end of the pitch because we are spending the whole time attacking the opponent's goal and kicking holes through the back of the opponent's net.
  • Lack of Possession: I've said before that high possession can be one of the most overrated statistics in MLS, but lack of possession doesn't give you a lot of opportunities to do anything. Orlando City is known for having one of the highest possession percentages in MLS, but last night they only held the ball for 34% of the time. This is largely what led to the impression they were just sitting around the whole night being content to watch NYCFC attack Joe Bendik's goal again and again and again and again.
  • Sloppy Passing: Orlando City was also very poor with their passing on the night. They only completed 71% of their passes, compared to NYCFC's 83% passing completion. Normally Orlando City is far more efficient with their passing than opponents, and it's something of a shock to see them with a passing percentage under 85%. With the poor possession and the sloppy passing, the only saving grace that kept Orlando City from giving away the match on multiple occasions were that OCSC won the battle of duels (50/50 balls) 58 to 56, won tackles 31 to 19, registered more saves 6 to 3, and had far more clearances 37 to 8.

The Ugly

  • Seb Hines Horrible Defense: There were two times last night when I thought Seb Hines was auditioning to join NYCFC. In one instance during each half when Hines should have been working to clear the ball away from the goal, he deflected a ball kicked in by an NYCFC attacker closer to our own goal as though he was completely unaware of where he was on the field. It's the kind of thing that is unfortunately a bit too frequent to see from him in defense, and I think it's time Inchy benches him for a couple of games to make him realize that his only job is to kick balls AWAY from our goal.
  • Lack of Situational Awareness: Orlando City picked up two yellow cards on the night, and both of them came late in the match (in stoppage time of the second half) just outside our 18-yard box. The first was a hot-headed and overly risky tackle from behind by Cristian Higuita. Our players need to learn that when the clock gets down toward the end, the referees are going to be more careful to watch for risky tackles and will be more likely to award free kicks and hand out cards when the defense gets particularly aggressive. The second yellow card came later in stoppage time when Seb Hines was also carded for an aggressive attack just outside the 18-yard box.
  • Lack of Ball Movement: Orlando City generally is very good about moving the ball around the pitch and creating opportunities for the team. But last night Orlando City came up on the short end of the stick with crosses (10 to 29) and corner kicks (3 to 12). This also left them chasing NYCFC's ball movement all night instead of dictating the pace of the match and forcing NYCFC to chase us. I certainly hope that the team takes the time they have between now and the next match against Portland on April 3 to correct some of these issues. Make no mistake--we probably did not play well enough last night to deserve a win and we were fortunate that NYCFC was a bit off their game as well. But we cannot rely on that being the case every week, and we will need to improve our play from the attack to the back line in order to be more likely to keep adding to our point tally with each passing match.

What about you? What were your thoughts from the game? Do you think there were some good or bad points that I missed from this week's match? Let me know in the comments below!