Orlando City set a new club benchmark in the MLS era with its 6th straight win on Sunday afternoon with a thrilling come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Coach Jason Kreis's former side, Real Salt Lake. The match was scrappy, combative, and physical. Both sides played a hard-attacking style and showed moments of dazzling footwork on the ball. Both teams also had some moments of chaos and confusion, which led to converted opportunities by their opponent. With the Southeast Showdown approaching next week in the form of the first match against Atlanta United, it was important for Orlando City to get three points, but the team needs to eliminate a lot of mistakes if they want to beat the Five Stripes when they come to Orlando City Stadium.
- Three Huge Points: Defending home turf was key in this match. Orlando City gave up an early goal and in the first half, they seemed to get in their own way or be just a heartbeat off from making the final connection to get a score. Within the first 10 minutes, the Lions missed at least two chances to put a goal into Nick Rimando's net with crosses that just missed the sliding feet of Dom Dwyer and the flying form of Chris Mueller. But in the second half, the team seemed to find their focus and their stride and stormed back in the final 30 minutes to put three balls in the back of the net and win the match.
- Joe Bendik and His Goalposts: Bendik goes in the record book for the match with eight saves on the night. But if you count his goalposts, the total is an even 10. In the 34th minute, RSL's goal scorer Corey Baird missed a chance at a brace by knocking the ball off the far side goalpost on a shallow, wide-angle attempt from outside the top corner of the six-yard box. Then in the 48th minute, Albert Rusnak dribbled the ball through the center of the pitch from the midfield stripe all the way to the top of the 18-hard box and let fly a strong left-footed strike that curled away to his right and Joe Bendik's left. The keeper dove and could not put fingertips on the ball, but fortunately, the goalpost was there to deny the score once again. By my unofficial count, that's now about a dozen saves that Bendik's goalposts have made in the first nine matches of the season.
- Mohamed El-Munir: I mentioned great footwork and physical play, and El-Munir epitomized that throughout the match. He relentlessly harried RSL's attackers to the sidelines and off the ball, time after time either digging the ball away from their feet or putting it out of play--sometimes directly and sometimes off of the opponent, which gave possession back to the Lions. There are other high-profile players on the defense, but so far El-Munir is my defensive MVP of the season for this team at the quarter mark. For the match, El-Munir had four tackles, three interceptions, and nine clearances.
- Creating Chances: Orlando City had 19 shots and nine corners in the match, leading both categories. They also led in passes (452) and pass completion (84%), with a very impressive 75% pass completion rate in the final third.
- Yoshimar Yotun: Yotun completed 48 passes and accounted for 6.9% of Orlando City's possession on the night. He also had a goal and an assist to round out a very active match.
- Chris Schuler: Schuler was a late change in the Starting XI on the night. A mere 20 minutes before kickoff, Orlando Sentinel beat writer Jordan Culver announced that Amro Tarek was a late scratch in the 18-man lineup after suffering a nebulous "lower body injury." Other than knowing he has a lanky 6'4" frame, Orlando City fans had not seen Schuler at all on the pitch so he was a bit of an unknown commodity. He put that long frame to good use, however, parrying and deflecting a number of balls throughout the entire 90 minutes by stretching a leg or his neck out to get between the ball and danger for the Orlando City goal. He had to go the full 90 minutes and stoppage time. Jason Kreis usually doesn't leave a new player out for the full match if he can help it, but center-back is probably the position where Orlando City's roster is the thinnest, so Tarek's injury meant that Schuler had to go the full game.
- Chris Mueller: Mueller played well, but it was distressing to see him limp off the pitch in the 73rd minute. Hopefully, it's not anything serious that will affect his ability to play next weekend, because the Atlanta game is shaping up to be huge in terms of the standings as well as the regional rivalry that is developing between the two sides.
- Centerbacks: I said Chris Schuler made some good blocks, but he spent most of the first half not really knowing where to go with the ball. He seemed to have a "safety move" that he defaulted to by dumping the ball off to either Joe Bendik or Lamine Sane, who also didn't have the best start to the match. Sane scored, and that was a positive. But if I'm brutally honest, Sane may be the most disappointing of the new faces on the team. Coming in from Werder Bremen, I was expecting speed and precision from the tall center back. But Sane has proven to be prone to ball watching, losing track of his mark, and then being a little slow compared to MLS strikers. This was not the first time he has cost us a goal by not paying attention to the player he's supposed to be marking. If Amro Tarek is not able to play next week, then I'm not sure how we keep Atlanta from scoring four or five or more goals right down the middle of the pitch.
- Discipline: Head Referee Robert Sibiga didn't call many fouls in the first half, and as the game wore on he seemed to lose control of the players a bit. When he did finally start handing out cautions, he was unjust in punishing the home side. There were three second-half yellow cards, all shown to Orlando City players. There was plenty of bad behavior by both teams, and Sibiga could have sent a message earlier in the match with a pair of yellows--one to each side--in the wake of one of the dust-ups. That may have settled everyone and bled off some of the rising tension and frustration that was making RSL's players act out and draw reactions from the players in purple. Nonetheless, this is something that Orlando City is going to have to be extremely conscious to avoid next week. Emotions and tempers will be a little heated before they even take the pitch against Atlanta, and it won't help matters if they lose their cool.
- Attendance: You would think that Floridians would be used to wet weather and that the threat of a little rain wouldn't dampen their enthusiasm (pun intended). But over 2000 Orlando City fans apparently think they will melt if they get rained on and thus stayed away. As it turns out, there were a couple of faint and barely perceptible drops of mist during pregame, but the match featured dry weather and gradually clearing skies. Don't skip matches, folks! Next Sunday is going to be very important. The irony is that next Sunday is also Mother's Day, meaning that there will be a more legitimate excuse for people to skip the games if dear old Mom is not a sports fan. But with first place Atlanta coming to town, there's the potential that Orlando City could be playing not only to extend their streak but to take first place in the East and grab a share of the Supporter's Shield lead. Atlanta is on 22 points after this weekend, and Orlando City is in third place on 19 points after the win over RSL. If Atlanta loses at home in the Wednesday match against Sporting KC, then Orlando City could tie Atlanta on points with a win and could take the Conference lead by virtue of holding the head-to-head victory over the Five Stripes. It's definitely a game that no fan will want to miss.
What are your thoughts on the win over RSL? Who was your player of the match for this game? Which player or players frustrated you most on the night? Do you think the game was well-officiated? Let me know in the comments below!