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

This morning I wrote a preview of the match in Yankee Stadium, and instead of listening to my head, I used my heart to predict a 2 - 2 draw, which turned out to be prescient. I was concerned with all the missing pieces from our team and was not sure that they could bring back a result on the road.

I think some of the young players on the squad played a bit above expectations, but some of the veterans were a bit disappointing in their play.

The Good

  • Early Offensive Pressure - Orlando City had the better chances early, earning two corner kicks and getting several close chances on the NYCFC goal in the first twelve minutes of the match.
  • Overall Team Effort - There are a few stats that I have started to look at to indicate how the teams are playing relative to each other in terms of effort. Orlando City won more of the duels or 50-50 balls, with a 47 - 45 edge in that statistic. Our lads also won more tackles, with a 14 - 12 edge in the match. Another important stat is the number of clearances each team has, which is an indication of how many times they have to scramble back to help defend their own 18-yard box. NYCFC led in this stat 21 - 14, meaning that they were having to race back to defend more often than we were.
  • Substitutions - I really hope that Coach is not listening to fans like me to decide substitution patterns; instead, I hope that I'm seeing the same things that the Coaching staff is seeing and they are reacting in turn. But in the last few matches, Inchy and his assistants have made earlier substitutions than they were making in the early part of the season, and the fresh legs seem to be providing an injection of energy. Today Baptista came in for Winter in the 60th minute, and Carlos Rivas came in at the 70th, right after the missed PK by David Villa. From the moment both subs were on, the intensity level and effort of Orlando City were ratcheted up.
  • Julio Baptista - "The Beast" scored his first goal in MLS in the 72nd minute, kicking off the late rally to help the visitors salvage a result. He also took it on himself to take some leadership on the pitch, having a long conversation with Servando Carrasco during an injury delay to help the younger player understand how he needed Carrasco to be ready when he saw certain events unfold with the forwards. I may not know the game as well as many other fans, but I do know that the more the players communicate with each other and are attentive to what is unfolding on the pitch, the better the results will be for the club.
  • Kevin Molino - Molino is playing with more confidence as the season unfolds. I now think that he is looking more like the Kevin Molino we all knew and loved from the USL era, and the belief that he could have an impact at the next level is coming to fruition. The strong header at the death to claim a share of the points was a bold move worthy of a world-class veteran.
  • Traveling Fans - ESPN commented several times on the traveling fans for Orlando City and showed them in the stands on a number of occasions throughout the match. It was clear they were vocal, enthusiastic, and energetic throughout the match, bringing a little piece of "The Wall" to The Bronx. Well done!

The Bad

  • Silly Fouls - While the early play provided a lot of hope for a goal from Orlando City, the lads were also pretty reckless, with both Servando Carrasco and Harrison Heath picking up silly and foolish yellow cards in the first 10 minutes of the match for needless fouls. In the second half, Kevin Alston picked up a similar needless yellow card by dragging David Villa to the turf in the 62nd minute.
  • Sloppy Defending - I know there are a lot of knowledgeable fans who get annoyed when I harp on the team for sloppy play, but I get tired of seeing the same missed assignments and inattentive play allow opponents to drive deep into our 18-yard box countless times match after match. By the time the first 15 minutes of the match had elapsed, momentum had shifted to the home side and when the hosts scored their first goal in the 42nd minute, it seemed inevitable from all the chances we had given them. I know that in some ways this seems counter-intuitive to the fact that NYCFC had to scramble for more clearances, but the numbers also back up this assertion, because NYCFC led the match in shots by the tally of 15 to 9. 
  • Poor Passing - One of the reasons that NYCFC was able to get so many buildups to drive deep into our territory and take shots was the poor passing. Orlando City completed only 69% of their passes, a horribly paltry percentage. Digging deeper into those numbers, they decline every segment as you go forward: only 55% completions in the attacking half, 53% in the final third, and completing only 18% of their crossing passes. I have pointed out in past columns that the team seems to be in love with making long passes, which are low-percentage plays in soccer just as they are in American Football. The farther you try to push the ball ahead in one pass, the more chances you have for wind and spin to affect the flight of the ball, as well as giving opponents a chance to adjust to where the ball is going and intercept the try. We seem to do better when we swing the ball right to left and keep a wide shape to open up the field, but the long ball inevitably draws everyone on the defense to cluster around the target of the pass, which results in turnovers and more chances for the other team.
  • Joe Bendik - OK, I'm not going to pick on Joe too much. He has made some spectacular saves this season and he will make many more I'm sure. But he looked a little tired today, and that may be the result of having to be so active in three matches in the space of 9 days. This is a reason that Orlando City needs to learn to play better defense, because the goalkeeper is going to get tired after having to bail out the sloppy play in front of him match after match after painful-to-watch match. Both goals today were on Bendik--the first was just one that beat him being too slow to react to the tap in from the near post, and the second was a case of him just being out of position for David Villa to do his best Alex Morgan impression and flip the ball over him from the top of the 18-yard box and put it into the back of the net as pretty as you please.

The Ugly

  • Pitch Conditions - One of the hardest things about playing on a baseball field during baseball season is the fact that the infield has to be sodded before every game, which usually means between home series by the baseball team. The sod was causing lots of people to trip and slip and fall on both teams. But it must be said the pitch gave us the biggest boon of the match as David Villa lost his footing when trying to take a PK and hit the ball wildly over and beyond the goal as he landed hard on the turf. Fortunately, the only thing that might have been hurt was his pride.
  • Inconsistent Play - For Orlando City the match began with high energy and ended with high energy, but the middle of the match (from about the 15th to the 70th minute) saw the team play with way too little effort relative to the opponent. I'm not sure why the team need a sense of desperation to draw the effort out of them, but I wish they could bottle up whatever it is that gives them the desire to claw back goals when they are behind late in a match and just draw on that from the opening whistle all the way through every match they play.

What about you? What did you see in the match today that you liked? Did I miss something you thought was particularly bad? Am I being unfair to any aspect of the game or any players, either in terms of undeserved praise or misplaced blame? Let me know in the comments below!

NYCFC vs. OCSC - Previews and Predictions

This afternoon the two expansion sides from 2015 will face off for the second time in the season, and for the second time they will be on the pitch at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

However, the Orlando City side will look very different with the departure of Aurelien Collin to the New York Red Bulls since the last time they played, along with injuries that will keep Rafael Ramos, Darwin Ceren, and Seb Hines out of the match. In addition to injuries, Orlando City will be unable to use Cristian Higuita and David Matteos for the match, who are both suspended for the game. And finally, Kaka is out due to the mid-week call-up to join the Brazilian national team for the Copa America tournament.

NYCFC will also not be at full strength, with Mix Diskerud (USA) and Ronald Matarrita (Costa Rica) also called up for Copa America duty. And unluckily for Orlando City, NYCFC is likely going to come out mad as a nest of hornets after losing their last home match 7 - 0 to cross-town rivals New York Red Bulls. 

Possible Lineup Options

For OCSC, it's possible we will see a return of Antonio Nocerino to the starting lineup. This may not be popular with some segments of the fan base, but I was intrigued by how some time on the bench seemed to motivate Kevin Molino to get back on form in the last match when he came in as a sub to add a goal for Orlando City. It's possible that some time on the bench will provide similar motivation to Nocerino and spur him to a little more active and assertive play on the pitch if he has another chance to play today. It's also possible we could see another start by Julio Baptista and the return to the MLS side of Conor Donovan after rehab and some work getting back into match form with OCB.

Match Predictions

My head says it's likely Orlando City's depleted roster will be unable to salvage a result from today, but my heart can't bear to pick against them. I'm going to hope for something unexpected from players that haven't seen much action lately, and I'll predict a 2 - 2 draw for Orlando City on the road. If the lads can find a way to come up with a win, I won't complain. And, as seems likely, if they wind up coming away with no points, I sadly won't be surprised.

What about you? What are your thoughts ahead of the match? Who do you think will get a chance to start today? Do you think Orlando City will come back home with a win, a loss, or a split of the points? Let me know in the comments below!

FC Kansas City vs. Pride: The Good, The Bad, and The Historic

Last night was a tough loss for the Pride on the road at FC Kansas City. It was the first time they've lost a match by more than a goal. While it may look bad on paper, the match was actually one of those expected growing pains for an expansion side as they face the inevitable adversity and challenges that come along with any long season in sports.

We saw several players get their first minutes of the year, and there were two major cogs in the Pride machine that were missing for International call-ups, with Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan both out for the USWNT camp in preparation for friendlies against Japan next week. In addition, three other players were out with injury: Cami Levin (recovering from her appendectomy), Laura Alleway (groin injury), and last weeks goal scorer Kristen Edmonds (hip pointer), who traveled but was in street clothes on the sidelines for the match.

The Good

  • Facing Adversity - Some fans and teams dislike facing adversity, but in sports it's a part of any season. Being without the creative talent of Alex Morgan and the huge talent of Ashlyn Harris in goal gave other players a chance to rise to the occasion. We know all the players on the team have great talent, but they have to have time on the pitch in live games to develop the chemistry with their teammates, and the International call-ups provided such a crucible last night.
  • Jasmyne Spencer - The little dynamo that is Jasmyne Spencer continues to impress match after match. She was the target of two well-conceived crosses early in the first half (5th minute from Sam Witteman and 22nd minute from Josee Belanger) that were just off target. The team may not have won last night, but it's clear that even without some major stars there is the potential for this team to contend for a playoff spot this season.

The Bad

  • Out and Illness - Earlier I documented the players that missed the match for callups and injuries, and then in the 21st minute Sarah "Apple" Hagen had to leave the match due to illness. It was also notable that Kaylyn Kyle was not in the starting lineup for the first time all season, though she did see some action as a substitute (70th minute for Becky Edwards).
  • Shaky Defense - Aubrey Bledsoe got her first start in goal, and she did not have the usual crisp and strong defensive performance that has helped the Pride win three clean sheets in a row. FC Kansas City was able to mount a number of strong counter-attacks that found their way deep into the Pride box throughout the match. In the 77th minute, Erika Tymrak was left unmarked with a lot of space to work just above the Pride 18-yard box, and she found a perfect lane to strike the ball into the corner of the net again, just missing the outstretched arms of a diving Bledsoe.
  • Rare Error - One of the most impressive players for this blogger all season has been Lianne Sanderson, who almost always seems to be in the right place at the right time to help build up the Pride's potent attack. Last night she found herself in just the wrong place in the 52nd minute on a free kick by FC Kansas City's Yael Averbuch. The kick deflected off Sanderson and flew into the corner of the Orlando net away from Aubrey Bledsoe, who had been tracking the flight of the ball before it hit her teammate and was unable to recover to stop the goal.
  • Streak Ended - The goal by Averbuch ended a 348-minute shutout streak for the Pride. The fact that the streak ended is bad, but as an expansion side we should be very proud of the fact that the team has kept opponents off the scoreboard for such an extended time.
  • Limited Attacks - The numbers for the match show that the Pride were not quite firing on all cylinders as we have seen in most matches this season. Kansas City outshot the Pride by the tally of 13 to 5, with a 6 to 4 edge in shots on goal as well. 

The Historic

  • First Minutes - Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe got her first start for the Pride, and forward draft pick Christina Burkenroad saw her first minutes as a pro in the match last night, as she came in for Sarah Hagen. 
  • Road Kit Debut - Last night also marked the first time that the Pride have worn their alternate or away kits.
  • First Win of Title Defense - While it wasn't a historic event for the Pride, the win by FC Kansas City marked their first win of the season in defense of their 2015 NWSL championship.

What else did you see in the match last night that you liked or that had you concerned? With the first mini-break of the season coming up, how would you assess the way that the Pride have started their inaugural season? Let me know in the comments below!

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

One reason I dislike midweek matches is the fact that I have to get up and go to my day job the next day, and that means I don't get to write about the match until the evening. One quick reaction is that I believe Philadelphia is just going to be "that team" that has Orlando City's number for a while. Fans my age who have followed the NFL for years will remember that there were a few years when the Miami Dolphins were a pretty successful team but they never seemed to be able to beat the New York Jets, no matter how awful or good the Jets were. That's what I think Orlando City has found in the Union now.

Overall I thought the team played with better sustained desire in last night's match than we had seen before the win over Montreal last weekend, and I liked the fact that Rivas and Larin were not always collapsing down into the middle of the pitch. The team held their shape and made Philadelphia chase the ball from one touch line to the other across the field, which opened up opportunities for better passes and more chances on goal.

But there is still some slop out on the pitch and there are a few things that will be a concern for Sunday's road match at NYCFC. We'll get to those in a bit.

The Good

  • Spanning the Pitch - Orlando City always look like they are in better control and dictating the pace and possession of the match when they retain a wide shape. That was really on display last night as Orlando City kept moving the ball back and forth across the field. It requires the players to use a bit more patience building up their attacks, but it helps to maintain possession and it keeps the goalkeeper from being peppered with shots by the other team every time he tries to catch his breath. This change allowed Orlando City to create far more chances on the night, and in the first half they held an incredible 64% possession, which put them in position to build those attacking tries.
  • Emotional Leadership from Kaka - I'm generally not a fan of players being out of control with their emotions, but I am a fan of players using emotion to build up the intensity of their teammates. Over the past few matches I've started seeing more of this emotional intensity from Kaka, and in the last two matches I believe it has helped to inject some life into the rest of the team, which had been looking listless since mid-April, as though they all had a massive collective hangover after tax day. Kaka drew a yellow card in the first half, and barked some encouragement and instructions to several teammates throughout the match, all of which I think were ultimately helpful.
  • Tommy Redding - I know Redding was not expected to start for the MLS side early this season, but when he has been pressed into service, his youthful speed and agility and natural instincts for the game have helped him be successful, often against the top striker of the opposing team. The downside of his youth is that sometimes he is out of position, but the upside of him playing is that he often frustrates attackers trying to get in position to shoot.
  • David Matteos - We'll see this player in two sections tonight. He shows up in the good for his effort--he made a number of assertive challenges and clean tackles of the ball to win possession away from Union players. But as we'll see later, he also made a couple of pretty bad mistakes that cost the team.
  • Coaching Decisions - Earlier in the season I expressed some frustrations with the seeming lack of recognition by the coaching staff when matches seemed to be slipping away from Orlando City. But shortly after the first goal by Philadelphia, Coach Heath recognized that some of the lads were tiring a bit and we needed a bit more sizzle in the attack, so he subbed in both Kevin Molino and Julio Baptista in the 67th minute. The changes proved prescient as Molino's first touch on the ball moments later tied up the game with Orlando City's first goal.
  • Kevin Molino - In the last two matches I finally feel like I am seeing the same Kevin Molino we all knew and loved from USL days. I think sitting him on the bench for these matches has reminded him that he has no guarantee of starting matches and has caused him to play with more effort, intensity, effort, and attentiveness than he has all season. Given that Orlando City will be without both Matteos (straight red card) and Higuita (yellow card accumulation) for the match at NYCFC, it's possible that changes to the lineup may make it necessary to start Molino once again after all the pieces are moved around. I'm hopeful that if Molino does start, he will remember the intensity he has brought these last two matches and will show it on the road.

The Bad

  • Miscommunication - The lads are still not all on the same page. Time and time again I saw errant passes when we would try to hit an open man who was either not expecting it or who thought the ball was going elsewhere. A great example of this was early in the first half when Carlos Rivas had a great run down the left hand side as Kaka was bringing the ball forward. Kaka passed the ball forward to Rivas, but just at that moment the young striker stopped his run forward and the ball rolled harmlessly across the end line. We need a bit more attentiveness on the part of the players, both with the ball and when they are off the ball to be sure they see each others eyes and know where they all need to be and where the ball is going. 
  • Missed PK - Depending on where your loyalties are, this could be a Good or a Bad. Since I'm a fan of Orlando City, it goes down as a Bad, but I have to also admit it was a very good play by Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. In the 36th minute, Blake took down Kaka in the box, and the referee awarded a PK. Kaka kicked the ball low and to his left, and Blake was able to dive quickly enough to redirect the ball away from the goal and save the goal. The PK was not the best effort I've seen from Kaka, but it was not a horrible try, and it only makes the "bad" list because it did not go in the net and prove to be the margin we needed to secure the win.
  • Defensive Lapses - The two Philadelphia goals really were set up by Orlando City defenders failing to mark their men. In the 52nd minute the culprit was David Matteos leaving his man, Tranquillo Barnetta, unmarked at the top of the six-yard box. The second lapse came in the 75th minute when Tommy Redding lost track of Philadelphia substitute Ken Tribbett just outside the six yard box. Philadelphia was playing a bit of an unconvential corner kick, and in the confusion Tribbett slipped around Redding and poked the ball past Joe Bendik for the second Philadelphia goal of the night to draw the match level once again.

The Ugly

  • Philadelphia Phlopsies - There are more flops per match from Philadelphia Union players than over-enthusiastic investors backed in the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. The worst offender on the night was Joshua Yaro, who went down twice on barely any contact in the dying minutes of the first half. Both times he looked like he had been poleaxed, but when he got up and walked off the pitch after his second dive, he gave a cheeky grin that proved he was not really hurt at all, but allowed himself to be subbed out so he would not draw a card for simulation.
  • David Matteos - I told you we would see him twice. The firs reason he lands on the "ugly" list on the match is for his failure to mark his man, Tranquillo Barnetta, in the 52nd minute. He got busy watching the ball as Ken Tribbett played a ball in to Chris Pontius from a free kick. This left Barnetta wide open out on the right edge of the six-yard box, and Pontius found him with a pass that Barnetta buried in the back of the net past the outstretched arm of keeper Joe Bendik. The second reason Matteos is on the "ugly" list is a studs-up tackle late in the match that earned him a straight red. I know a lot of fans will complain, but it's been a long-standing rule and it's one of the few calls that MLS referees make with a degree of consistency, so everyone should know that it's going to draw a red every time. 

What about you? What were your thoughts from last night's match? Were there things you saw on the night that I didn't mention? Let me know in the comments below!

OCSC vs. PHI: Previews and Predictions

This will be a shorter preview post because we've done this preview just last month when Orlando City played Philadelphia on the road and lost the match, 2 - 1. Since then a few changes have occurred, including the departure of Aurelien Collin from the club and the fact that Philly has climbed to the top of the table in the Eastern Conference.

One thing that remains the same is that Orlando City has still not beat the Philadelphia Union in MLS play, having played to a draw at Camping World Stadium during 2015 and having lost at Philadelphia in both road matches at the end of last season and earlier this year.

Players to Watch

CJ Sapong leads the Union with 5 goals on the season, and there's no reason to believe he will be any less dangerous tomorrow night. Midfielder Chris Pontius has scored 4 goals for Philadelphia, and goalkeeper Andre Blake has three clean sheets on the season coming into the match. Orlando City has played inconsistent defense and its offense has struggled at times to mount pressure on opposing teams, so if the team wants to maintain its unbeaten streak at home, the players will need to display the same kind of effort we saw in the second half last Saturday night against Montreal, and they will probably need to pass more cleanly and take advantage of every opportunity to shoot on goal.

Prediction

One game does not make a trend, so I'm a little hesitant to declare that Orlando City has figured out what they need to do with the win over Montreal. I'm going to predict a 1 - 1 draw, which will help us maintain the gap to Philadelphia and will slow the Union's ability to stretch their point lead over the rest of the Eastern Conference.

What about you? What is your prediction for tomorrow night's match? Do you think Orlando City will be able to extend the home undefeated streak or will they manage to get their first win against Philly? Let me know in the comments below!

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

Three points! Three HUGE points! That's the absolute best thing to come out of last night's home match at Camping World Stadium for Orlando City's MLS side. Also of great importance is the fact that the win pushes Orlando City up the table above the line to 6th place and back in the playoff picture for now.

But it didn't start out well for the home team, as Montreal's Ignacio Piatti gave the visitors a lead in only the 4th minute of play. For most of the rest of the first half, Orlando City didn't look much better than they had at Sporting KC on May 15th, but then the momentum shifted. We'll look more in depth at how the momentum changed as we dive deeper into the match results.

The Good

  • Inspired Play - The final 51 minutes of the match featured some inspired play by Orlando City. For weeks now when it comes to offense the team have looked a bit lost and unfocused, listless and uninspired, and it has almost seemed like they didn't have the will to win. But last night something changed in the 39th minute to finally make Orlando City snap out of whatever smoky psychedelic haze they've been breathing since the match against Portland in early April. I would like to live in a fantasy world where Coach Heath gathered the lads 'round at halftime and read them everything I've been telling them they are doing wrong and told them to fix it, but I doubt that's the case. I think the real credit for snapping Orlando City out of it goes to two people who are not even on the team: Mark Geiger (match Referee) and Johan Venegas (MTL Midfielder).
  • Johan Venegas - Some may wonder why I'm listing a Montreal player in the "good" section, but as fans we all owe him a debt of thanks for waking up our team. In the 39th minute of play down along the touch line near the Orlando City goal, Venegas delivered a cheap shot foul that drove Orlando City's Brek Shea to the turf on the sideline. Shea has never been one to put up with unsporting play from opponents, and after popping up from the turf, he charged Venegas and bumped the opposing player with his sternum, whereupon Venegas flopped to the turf like he had been poleaxed. Venegas lay on the ground unmoving, and within seconds every player from both teams (including both goalkeepers) were in a knot around Shea and Venegas, with pushing and shoving going on. The near side assistant ref and head referee Mark Geiger were also in the middle of the scrum trying to separate players and restore some semblance of order. I'll give Mark Geiger some credit for showing restraint (perhaps a bit too much restraint in some cases on the night) but the upshot was not multiple ejections as I was expecting--it was just a simple yellow to Shea for retaliating against Venegas (as fans we can whine and complain all we want, but we all know that in every sport it's always the retaliation that draws the foul, the yellow flag, the technical, or the card). The cheap play by Venegas seemed to galvanize Orlando City, and from that moment on the home team amped up the intensity and seemed to play like a team determined to win--an attitude on the pitch that I haven't seen from them in quite a while.
  • Joe Bendik - Even though Orlando City conceded the early goal, that seemed to be more of a function of a deflection after Bendik had committed to blocking where the ball should have gone than a real error. Bendik made six saves on the night, and still has my vote for MVP of the season so far. I think one of his best saves was late in the 54th minute when Montreal's Dominic Oduro raced up the right side of the pitch on a breakaway, passing by Rafael Ramos as he streaked toward the goal. He let fly a dangerous shot that was right on target, but Bendik punched the ball away with double fists, launching it up near midfield and right into the path of Cristian Higuita, who started another attack for Orlando City.
  • Adrian Heath - Perhaps the one-game suspension that put Heath in the skybox last week for the match at Sporting KC gave the coach a new view and perspective on the pitch that was not apparent to the coaches from field level or the video replay. But Coach made some surprising and refreshing lineup changes to the club to try to spark some life into the lads, and he also was much more liberal with the substitutions, putting in two subs during the first half (admittedly Rafael Ramos had to come off due to a nasty-looking injury in the 34th minute). The move to sit a struggling Antonio Nocerino came as no surprise to most fans, but it may have seemed a bit odd to see Kevin Molino on the bench while Cyle Larin played, since Molino seems to have been more active lately and Cyle Larin sometimes gets his face put on milk cartons along with other missing persons for long stretches during recent matches. But the move was obviously the right one, as Larin scored both goals for Orlando City and secured the win for us. That's why I'm the blogger, you're the reader, and he's the coach.
  • Carlos Rivas - Rivas got a surprise start, but again it proved to be a good decision for Coach Heath. Carlos was very active on the ball all night. He took six shots, and more importantly he contributed 9 crossing passes, six of which came after the 65th minute. While he did not score, he was active enough on the offensive end of the pitch to draw attention away from the more prominent names to help open opportunities for us to score. If there's one area I'd like to see more improvement from Rivas on, it's remembering to stay wide on the attacks. He has a tendency to want to drift to the middle of the pitch, where it is much easier for the opponent to close multiple players down on him. Staying wide gives him more chances to use his speed and stretch the opposing team to leave gaps for other players that Rivas can then find to build attacking and scoring chances.

The Bad

  • Cristian Higuita - I know there are certain members of the fan base who really like Higuita, and part of that goes to his style of play, which is always aggressive and highly risky. Higuita has already been ejected on a straight red card during the match at the New York Red Bulls a few weeks ago, and last night he picked up his fourth yellow card of the season, meaning he will suffer another suspension after his next yellow. Last night's yellow was a stupid and needless foul that only came after he mouthed off to the referee instead of playing with poise and composure. He's got skill but he needs to learn self-control or else he will become the Johnny Manziel of MLS.
  • On-field Communication/Execution - While the team ramped up the intensity of their attack after the incident in the 39th minute involving Johan Venegas, the execution was still very sloppy. Our communications between players seems off because it looks like the lads are always reacting a half-beat too late to what would otherwise be good ideas in terms of pushing the ball forward, finding an open teammate, or finishing a scoring opportunity. A few examples come to mind:
    • Missed Passes. We're still missing a lot of passes, and in previous weeks I've been attributing this to making poor choices on where to pass the ball. But last night I thought I was seeing more deeply into the problem, and I attribute it to a lack of field awareness by both players involved. As one example, there were several times that Cristian Higuita tried to find Carlos Rivas on long passes in which Rivas was starting the wrong way, and then could not recover in time to reach the ball before it rolled across the touch line. 
    • Missed Chances. Orlando City could have scored five or six goals in the match if they had been attentive to chances and taken shots when they should. Perhaps the most gut-wrenching chance that got away came in the 52nd minute. Brek Shea found himself on the far side of the opponent's goal as a great crossing shot was played into him. Literally all he had to do is stick his knee out and let the ball deflect into the Montreal net. But inexplicably he chose to settle the ball and then tried to figure out what to do with it, which gave Montreal time to recover and clear the ball out of danger. Other times a window would open for a great shooting opportunity and Orlando City would let it close by not being attentive to the chance and ready to shoot, but wanting to dribble the ball closer or make an extra pass or wait for a more perfect window and an engraved invitation to shoot the ball. And yet other times, players took ill-advised shots when a much better option was open. An example was Cyle Larin's very ambitious wide-angle shot from almost the corner of the pitch in the second half. Rivas was streaking down the middle of the pitch wide open, and a backward pass by Larin would have put Rivas in a much better scoring position than Larin had at the time.
    • Too many turnovers. We still give the ball away way too easily, and those chances come from bad passes (see above) or from dribbling too long to allow the opponents to strip the ball off our feet. Kaka had the ball stolen numerous times from him for doing this, and Larin also coughed the ball up on the sidelines several times by letting himself get surrounded and overwhelmed by numbers of Montreal players.
  • First Half Funk - I stated earlier that in the 39th minute Orlando City seemed to finally wake up out of its collective multi-match funk and finally started showing some will to win. But it shouldn't take a dramatic flop by an opposing player to inspire the team to show some spirit and some intensity. I want the team to bottle up that intensity and to display it from the opening whistle to the end of injury time in the second half of every match from now until the end of the MLS Cup Championship when they raise the trophy. Of course that's easy for me to say sitting in my chair typing on my keyboard when I'm not out there in the heat and humidity every day of practice and every minute of every match. I get that--but I also get that the players are capable of sustaining such effort as they showed last night. I'm not asking them to hurt themselves or shorten their careers by over-exertion, but I am asking them to play to their capabilities every match so we don't have to endure more stretches of the season like we have between April 8 and last night. 

The Ugly

  • Taking the Bait - We have some veterans on the club, but we still also have a lot of U23 players on the team, and those guys are susceptible to being baited into committing stupid fouls and drawing needless cards when the opposing team gets mouthy or gets physical. Maybe Phil, Flavio, and Inchy should install heavy bags and speed bags in the locker rooms for the lads at halftime and after matches to take out frustrations on what the opposing players say and the rough fouls they commit. But it seems like we can't make it through a match without drawing at least one yellow card for dissent (e.g., mouthing off at the ref) after one of our players have received a hard foul. If I can see it from my perch on the blog page, then I know that every other coaching staff in MLS can see it as well, and they will be happy to let their players exploit that weakness to try to build up yellow accumulations or perhaps draw a red card during a game to get a player sent off.
  • Rafael Ramos' Injury - Ramos had to leave the game in the 35th minute after an apparent hamstring injury. When he got up he hobbled off the pitch very slowly and went straight to the locker room with the assistance of the trainers. I hope it's not as serious as it looks, but Ramos has played better this season and if he's out for any length of time we will miss his speed.
  • Litterbugs and Pitch Invaders - After the Venegas incident in the 39th minute, I saw a plastic water bottle fly onto the pitch from the direction of the Supporters Section. Obviously I can't tell if that was a normal supporter or just a visitor to the match venting some frustration, but there's never any excuse for fans to inject themselves or anything other than celebratory goal scoring streamers onto the field of play. Then at the end of the match a fan ran onto the field and had to be restrained and handcuffed by security. Fans risk injury to themselves and to players, as well as an arrest record and possible jail time for this kind of nonsense, and it is never acceptable behavior. As much as we'd like to show our frustration to referees or congratulate our favorite players in person, there are appropriate times and ways to do that, and neither involves throwing stuff onto the pitch or rushing out of the stands onto the field of play.

What did you think of the match? Did you like the changes you saw to the lineup and the style of play? Did you see things the team still needs to improve to be better? What other things were good, bad, and ugly about the match? Let me know in the comments below!

OCSC vs. MTL: Previews and Predictions

Tonight Orlando City's MLS side is home at Camping World Stadium to face the Montreal Impact. The match is critical for the home side, who have been hemorrhaging points at home by playing to uninspired draws and dropping points on the road like a leaky sieve as they have lost badly in most of their away matches.

And tonight they face one of the best teams in the East, as the Montreal Impact come in two points off the conference lead and five points ahead of Orlando City. The question on the minds of Orlando City fans is whether we will see more of the same or if we'll finally see some inspired play.

More of the Same?

If we see more of the same, then readers can expect a very critical blog post tomorrow in my match recap. So far on the season we have seen sloppy passing, careless defending in the midfield, and an almost nonexistent attack outside of the Portland match which seems a lifetime ago.

If Orlando City plays on the same form they have had recently, you will see them make one or two passes before they try a long ball that they give away pointlessly to the other team, and that will be followed by an organized build-up and attack that will see our defenders scrambling back to try to be in the final third of the pitch and shots fired by the Impact to test the mettle of goalkeeper Joe Bendik, whose efforts have been nothing less than superb all season behind a team that seems incapable of mustering the will to win.

In terms of the visiting club, they are coming off four straight draws (both home and away matches), so I know they will be hungry to try to take three points, especially from a club that has been struggling as much as Orlando City has in recent weeks. Didier Drogba is the top player from Montreal to feature in the Audi Player Index, coming in at 6th on the list. But the MLS injury report lists him as out for tonight's match with a hip flexor. This could be a legitimate injury, or he could simply want to avoid playing on the artificial surface and risking injury. Other players to watch for Montreal include forwards Ignacio Piatti and Dominic Oduro, as well as defenders Victor Cabrera and Laurent Ciman.

Regardless of the time of the goals and the score line on the board, the last six matches for Orlando City have felt like losses because the team have allowed their opponents to dictate the pace of the game and to keep constant pressure on our goal. If we see the same lackluster, uninspired, and poorly-organized play from the home side tonight, then I think it will be a bad home loss.

Rejuvinated Inspiration?

Last week's match at Sporting KC was simply embarrassing. The lads played so poorly that even they had to be disgusted with their performance at the end of the match. It's possible that one or more players within the team have taken it on themselves to rally the rest of their teammates in the wake of that loss and come out of the tunnel tonight loaded for bear and determined to win at any cost.

I say it's possible, but then it's also possible that when the Powerball numbers are pulled tonight I might be a winner. I'm not holding my breath, nor am I wagering my retirement on that possibility. Instead, I'm hopeful that someone in the locker room has figured out an answer for whatever funk seems to have fallen over the lads and that they will snap out of it tonight to look like a real team instead of a bunch of recreational league misfits that have never been on the same pitch together. 

Prediction

I've predicted wins for the last few home matches and I've been wrong. So today I'm going to bet that my inaccurate prediction streak holds up, and I'm going to predict a 2 - 1 loss. Right now I cannot predict an Orlando City win until they show me in game performance that they have found the will to win again. 

What about you? Do you believe it's a cardinal sin to predict against your team even if they're playing like doggy poo? Do you believe Orlando City will find enough inspiration and creativity to win tonight? Let me know in the comments below!

Dash vs. Pride: The Good, The Bad, and The Historic

Last night the Pride went on the road and for the first time they got a win. the only score of the game was a beautiful goal by Kristen Edmonds who ricocheted the ball off the underside of the top bar and into the net. The assist came from Lianne Sanderson, my favorite punk rock player. The win also put the Pride into second place on the table. I attended the official watch party with The Crown supporters group at The Rogue Pub on Curry Ford Road. If you're ever in the area, check them out, and also duck into the Ocean Sun Brewing Company next door, a great little microbrewery that carries a dozen or so varieties they brew on site, from porters to IPAs.

The Good

  • Consistent Pressure - The Pride managed to put the Dash defense under consistent pressure all match. It's a refreshing change from watching Orlando City's anemic MLS attack to see a team in purple that knows how to keep the ball in the opponent's end of the pitch and make them scramble to try to stop or clear scoring chances.
  • Ashlyn Harris - Our keeper earned her second straight clean sheet with a five save performance on the night. She would likely be the first to share the accolades with her defensive line, which is really starting to play well and anticipate where the opponents will go with the ball to try to block angles and cut off lanes. They're starting to leave the opponents with few places to shoot except straight at Harris, and she's doing a fantastic job of snuffing out those chances.
  • Lianne Sanderson - The English Midfielder is proving to have a great eye for finding the right teammate at the right time. She's been involved in several scoring plays this season, in addition to the two goals of her own she has scored at home.
  • Kristen Edmonds - Last week Edmonds registered the assist on Alex Morgan's amazing goal at Camping World Stadium. This time, she was on the end of Sanderson's pass and put the ball in the net in the 81st minute to register the only score of the game and give the Pride 3 points to bring back home.

The Bad

  • Officiating - I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I guess I'd have to revoke my fan card if I were always happy with the officiating in any match involving my team. I'm suspicious of referees like Ted Unkel in MLS who hand out yellow cards like an acid dealer at a Grateful Dead concert (look it up on Google, you spoiled millennial ingrates), and I'm equally suspicious of referees who don't book anyone. I didn't think yeterday's match was any more or any less physical than other NWSL matches I have seen, but head referee Greg Dopka kept his cards in his pocket the whole match. 

The Historic

  • First Road Win - I'm not sure if fans understand just how important this win was last night. The Pride play four road matches in a row before returning to Camping World Stadium on June 23 to face the Houston Dash yet again. The team have struggled in their first few road games to come away with points, and breaking that streak to start an extended series of away games is key. This will give the team a boost of confidence to see that they can win away from home.
  • First Trip for Burkenroad - Newly signed Forward Cristina Burkenroad made her first trip with the team. The 22 year-old California native didn't see the pitch during the match, but she adds more depth and more options for coach Tom Sermanni. And one thing it seems certain about is that Sermanni is not going to be shy about giving everyone on his squad a chance to play. I would be very surprised if we don't see Burkenroad on the pitch before the end of this stretch of road games.
  • First Minutes for Jamia Fields - The forward saw her first minutes as a member of the Pride on Friday night, coming on in the 76th minute to relieve Jasmyne Spencer, who was getting battered by Houston all evening. For those playing at home, this makes 18 players the Pride have put on the pitch so far this season.
  • Fifth Player to Score - Edmonds' goal makes her the fifth player on the roster to score a goal this season. So far Lianne Sanderson and Alex Morgan are tied to lead the team with two goals each, while Edmonds, Steph Catley, and Sarah "Apple" Hagen each have one. In addition to these scorers, Sanderson becomes the fourth player to register an assist, joining Alex Morgan, Steph Catley, and Kristen Edmonds. 

Did you watch last night's match? What else did you see that was worthy of mention? Let me know in the comments below!

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

What a difference a week makes. Last week I posted my 2016 at the quarter mark, and I identified several things that were areas of concern, and I also pointed out some things that the club seemed to be doing better this year, such as being ahead of last year's pace on points and goals scored. But then this week happens, and it almost makes me want to tear that up and write a whole new prediction, but I'm holding off until the halfway point.

Sporting KC got a very deserved win. When we get into a discussion of the numbers (see below) it is clear that the home side came to play today and our lads were just not competitive in the match. The only injustice that could have come out of this match, according to the way the players on the pitch executed their assignments, is if the own goal that gave Orlando City the initial lead had held up as the only score of the contest.

For now, I just want to be done talking about this horrible match as quickly as possible and leave it to the people who have the opportunity and authority to change the direction of the team to get to work finding solutions instead of making excuses.

The Good

  • Joe Bendik - Our goaltender deserves MVP of the team honors so far this season. If anyone disagrees, I'd like for you to use something other than your ignorant, irrelevant, and uneducated opinion. Seriously, if you disagree with me on this you had better get to a hospital pronto, because even your autonomic nervous system is too stupid to realize it's supposed to keep your lungs breathing and heart beating without being told what to do by someone more intelligent than you are. OK... so maybe that's a little harsh, but I am not seeing anyone else on the pitch in an Orlando City uniform playing consistently. Today Bendik had 10 saves. To put that in perspective, many MLS keepers can play a month of matches without having to make 10 saves. To put that another way, if Bendik had only made half as many saves (five is still a high number), then the score would have been 7 - 1 in favor of Sporting Kansas City. If you're a fan of a certain age you might remember TV ads that appeared every year around the holidays featuring NFL quarterbacks from the 1980s. They would tell you how they were buying some brand of gloves to keep the hands of their offensive linemen warm because those were the hands that protected him from getting sacked every play. Well forget gloves--every player on the roster who is not Joe Bendik should be pitching in to buy that guy whatever he wants: sports car, new house, luxury ski boat, whatever. Because he's the only guy out there that deserves to be drawing a paycheck every week.
  • Nothing - Absolutely nobody or nothing else about this match deserves a "good" grade from Orlando City's perspective. The only good that can possibly come from this is if the team collectively wakes the hell up and starts playing much better soccer than they have in the past half dozen matches. More on that later.

The Bad

  • Pass Selection - I educate the team and the coaching staff about this after every match, and so far they have been too daft to pay attention and learn from my godlike wisdom. OK, so maybe I don't have all the answers, but I keep seeing the team doing the same stupid things and suffering the same awful results (anything less than a win is awful because I'm a fan, you understand). So I would at least like to see the team TRY something different when it comes to passing and see if that works. What I mean by bad pass selection is that this team seems to have fallen in love with the long ball and the quick-strike attempt. If an Orlando City player tackles the ball away from an opponent down in front of our goal and he has seven teammates out in front of him, ranging from 5 yards to 75 yards up the pitch, invariably our lad will try to get the ball up to the guy 75 yards away in one massive kick. It is as though our players are blind to the chances to make controlled passes and patiently build up an attack to get some numbers forward, and instead they opt for the lowest percentage pass they can possibly make, and it winds up either overshooting their man for a goal kick or getting intercepted by the opponent and foiling any chance we have to mount pressure on the opponent's goal.
  • Defending Midfielders - It would be way too easy to simply say our "defense" is bad, and I would agree with anyone that at this point in the season we are a very poor defensive team. But if you look closer at the defense, there are actually some places on the pitch where we play pretty good defense. For instance, when the opponent gets the ball inside our 18-yard box, we have a tendency to get numbers back and make it hard for opponents to have an uncontested shot on goal. To illustrate my point, Orlando City had 29 clearances today. That means 29 times someone other than the keeper cleared the ball out of the attacking third and (at least momentarily) stopped a scoring opportunity. The problem with the defense is that we are letting the ball get down in the attacking third 29 times that have to be cleared. Our defense needs to be stopping the other team about the center line of the pitch and keep the course of play in our attacking half of the pitch, not our defending half.
  • Lack of Motion - I see a lot of standing around from players that don't have the ball. These guys are professional soccer players, and that means they get paid to run. They're not NFL linemen who have to explode for 100% effort for three seconds and then stand around for two minutes with their hands on their knees. If you don't have the ball on your feet, then get your ass moving somewhere that you can do something useful, such as marking an opponent, getting open for a teammate to pass you the ball, putting yourself in the path of an opponent who is running to get the ball or doing something. It's probably not true, and I know this, but sometimes I feel like there are players on our team who run less than the assistant referees who are supposed to cover just one half of the pitch up and down the sidelines.
  • Tabular Freefall - After the victory over Portland on April 4, I posted a piece that showed us sitting atop the table in the Eastern Conference. It was the first time the club had ever reached that lofty position, and it seems like it will probably be the last time we see it this season. Now the club has slipped below the red line, and if they don't start playing better we may not see the top side of that line again before 2017 rolls around.

The Ugly

  • The Numbers Say it All - This whole match was just a dumpster fire in terms of Orlando City's performance outside of the goaltender. There are no numbers you can look at to see any kind of reasons to suggest or hope that the team is making any kind of improvements. In fact, over the last few matches the team seems to be playing much, much worse, and today was by far the most disappointing game of the year in terms of the team looking like they didn't even belong in the same league with Sporting KC. And let's not kid ourselves--Sporting KC is a good team, but they have struggled recently, coming into today having lost six matches in a row. That's just how bad we were today.
    • Shots: Sporting KC 34, Orlando City 7 -- for those playing at home, that's nearly a 5:1 ratio of shots that Sporting KC took over Orlando City.
    • Shots on Goal: Sporting KC 13, Orlando City 0 -- realize this: Sporting KC had more shots on goal than Orlando City had just plain shots for the whole match.
    • Duels Won: Sporting KC 44, Orlando City 38 -- remember those long, low-percentage passes I was complaining about earlier? This is what happens when you do that. Those long passes often result in 50-50 balls (duels) and Orlando City has been consistently getting outplayed on those all season.
    • Tackles Won: Sporting KC 15, Orlando City 8 -- for fans of American football, a tackle in soccer means to strip the ball away from an opponent. This is now the third or fourth match in a row where Orlando City is getting seriously outclassed in this category by our opponents. And of course when an opponent strips the ball off our players' feet, it creates a possession and potential attacking and scoring opportunity for them. This also goes back to those low-percentage passes and frivolously giving the ball away. Our players are not executing the fundamental principles of playing good, sound soccer right now, and it's painful to watch.
    • Passing Success: (Overall) Sporting KC 402 of 472 (85%), Orlando City 320 of 396 (80%); (Defensive Third) Sporting KC 52 of 53 (98%), Orlando City 83 of 85 (97%); (Middle Third) Sporting KC 183 fo 205 (89%), Orlando City 198 of 248 (80%); (Attacking Third) Sporting KC 157 of 214 (78%), Orlando City 39 of 63 (62%). These numbers do not lie and they bear out my assertion that the team are not building up patient attacks and turning the ball over way too much in our own end. If you focus on just the attacking third alone, you'll see that Sporting KC had 214 pass attempts vs. only 63 pass attempts for Orlando City, which is more than a 3.5:1 ratio.

Unfortunately, the one thing I don't have for the team is answers. If I thought I could offer the team some sage advice that would help them win, I would quit my day job, sell my house, and buy a pup tent and just go camp out on the grounds at the Lake Sylvan Soccer Complex where the team trains until Phil Rawlins had me arrested for being a nuisance or until Coach Heath and the lads started listening to me and winning because I knew what the hell I was talking about.

I do have a suspicion, however, that whatever flaws or weakness in the team and its tendencies I am seeing, the other coaching staffs and players around MLS have long since identified those in a much more technical and precise way than I can, and they are deploying game plans to exploit those weaknesses at every turn. I think maybe what the coaches need to do is to scout our team in the way that an opponent would. Alternately, Phil Rawlins and Flavio can pay a consulting fee to an EPL manager to look at tape of our team and identify the most glaring errors so that Inchy and the other coaches can address that with the lads in practice and start getting the problems corrected. The European season is over and the managers are all about to lose players from their team for the Olympics for a couple of months, so they should have some free time on their hands to earn a little coin from an upstart American MLS club that needs someone to look over their shoulder and tell them what needs fixing.

I'm sorry if anyone takes offense and if it sounds like I'm saying that our coaches and players aren't capable of fixing the problems themselves. But I look at the numbers and the performances match after match and I just see things getting worse. So clearly it seems like we are going in the wrong direction somehow. At any rate, smarter minds than mine will have to figure out what the club needs to do to fix whatever is wrong.

So what are your thoughts on today's match? Do you have any good, bad, or ugly points you'd like to contribute? Do you think I'm being unfairly critical or not critical enough of some individuals or issues with the team? Do you think I should give more credit or praise to a player or scheme than I am giving? Let me know in the comments below!

SKC vs. OCSC: Initial Reaction

Please excuse me while I rant.

RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT RANT 

OK. I'm done ranting. I will now write a rational, reasoned, and objective reaction post. Look for it in a while...