RSL vs. ORL Recap--The First Law of Sports: Broken!

In any organized sporting contest between individuals or teams, there are many rules governing the game. But universally there is one fundamental, primary, and first law: the one officiating the rules should never interfere to alter the course of the game.

In the match vs. Salt Lake City at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 4, 2015, that law was broken. In the dying moments of the first half, head referee Sorin Stoica (a man who is so sadly inept he cannot possibly live up to his name), showed our beloved captain, Kaka, a straight red and sent him off the pitch and sent Orlando City a man down.

Last night I was seething, and from my perch and my twitter stream, I know I'm not the only one. Every blogger and every passionate Orlando City fan I know was just as incensed as I was about the unjustified sending off of Kaka. But today I am no longer seething. I am not sad. I am simply determined to see justice carried out. Sorin Stoica must be exposed as a fraudulent fop incapable of refereeing a peewee soccer match and should be thrown out of MLS in favor of someone more competent. For as many fans pointed out, the future chances for MLS to grow into an elite league in the world of soccer depend not only upon attracting world-class talent into the ranks of the player base, but also attracting world-class talent to the ranks of its officiating crews.

The match was tied at 1 - 1 when Stoica sent Kaka off. The play happened just in the corner of the RSL box when the crafty Javier Morales interposed himself between Kaka and the ball, leaning into the Orlando City captain to cause obvious and dramatic contact before crumpling to the turf from an apparent hard foul. The fall appeared to throw Kaka off balance as well (a telling detail, since an aggressive push from the Orlando City man would not have resulted thus). In the aftermath, as Kaka attempted to catch his balance, he appeared to step first on the ball, and then his foot appeared to slide off the ball either onto the ground between Morales' legs or onto the RSL player's leg itself.

Stoica reacted decisively at first, running toward the scene of contact and reaching toward his pocket. Meanwhile, Kaka, disgusted with the thespian dramatics of his opponent, merely walked away, preparing for the free kick that he knew was about to be awarded to the home side. Stoica blew his whistle a couple of times, probably intending to get Kaka's attention so he could show him yellow.  But when the superstar player ignored him, Stoica's emotions overcame him. He felt slighted and ignored by Kaka, and in a show of defiance-- clear sign of a personality flaw dominated by a Napoleon Complex driven by a need to control to compensate for a lack of self-confidence--Stoica instead pulled a red card from his pocket and sent Kaka off the pitch.

I think even the home side crowd were a bit stunned at that. If Kaka did indeed step on another player, then it probably did warrant a yellow card--even if it were accidental. That much I can't argue--it's a matter of player safety, and when someone makes an honest mistake or takes an action that can seriously injure another competitor, the yellow must be shown. But red cards are reserved for intentional, malicious fouls committed in certain situations. Intent to injure another opponent is one. Intent to stop a clear goal scoring opportunity is another. Intent to show up an official (as when Clint Dempsey recently tore up the referee's notebook in a US Open Cup match) is yet a third. But the foul committed by Kaka (if indeed there even was one) did not approach any of those qualifications.

As if this act of injustice were not enough to clearly demonstrate the incompetence of referee Sorin Stoica, a statistic was quoted by the TV broadcast crew just moments after the sending off occurred. They indicated that over the last 36 matches Sorin Stoica has officiated, he has issued 18 red cards. This clearly indicates an official who is vastly out of step with his cohort of other officials. It shows he does not have the same understanding or comprehension of the rules as other MLS officials. If every official called matches with the same fervor, then players would adjust so that they would not be in danger of flirting with a sendoff every other match.

As the match continued, other voices in the twitterverse began quoting RSL fans and supporters as saying that Referee Stoica had marred matches in which they had played with unjustified sendoffs of their players, and they felt like it was about time he decided to turn his vengeful wrath on someone else for a change. I can certainly see how they might feel that way, but it's clear to me that at least some of those sendoffs of RSL players were probably as unjustified as his sendoff of Kaka last night. So something has to be done. Sorin Stoica cannot be permitted to remain an MLS match day official. If MLS wants to keep him employed, they can give him a mop and a bucket and make him clean the bathrooms at their corporate headquarters. But that's about all he's fit to officiate.

Heroes of the Night

Even with the unjustified sendoff of Kaka, Orlando City still managed to get a result. Down a man, they were unable to control possession in the match as we are accustomed to seeing them do. As I've said in recent weeks, I'm increasingly suspicious of possession as a valid statistic to tell you anything about match results. But to give RSL credit, they did outshoot Orlando City (23 to 9), they won more duels (53 to 44) and tackles (19 to 12), and had more clearances (24 to 20).

However, there were some heroics that kept RSL from scoring with the man advantage and taking all the points up for grabs. The first and most notable was the unanimous fans' choice for Man of the Match, Tally Hall. The Orlando City keeper. He had six saves on the night, preserving the draw and helping us secure the point. Another statistic was blocked shots: Orlando City blocked 9 of RSL's shots on the night (most of those in the second half) while RSL managed to block only 3 of Orlando City's shots.

Everyone on the pitch for Orlando City had a hand in preserving the precious point. The defensive line of Rafael Ramos, Seb Hines, Sean St. Ledger, and "Use the Force" Luke Boden all had hands in blocking RSL shots or swarming to the ball when it came into the danger area and tackling it away from opponents before they had a chance to shoot. Further up the field, players like attacker Pedro Ribeiro and speedy midfielder Carlos Rivas launched occasional counter-attacks that forced RSL to race back to their own end and desperately defend their own goal. Those efforts did pay off, with Orlando City winning another key statistic, leading the corner kick tally (9 to 5) over the man-advantage home side.

I must also mention the efforts of Lewis Neal, Eric Avila, and Cristian Higuita, who all contributed to the result with physical play, tactical positioning, and strategic fouls that disrupted the flow of RSL's attack and frustrated their efforts to capitalize on the man advantage in the second half.

And finally, of course, we have to recognize the glorious captain, Kaka, whose efforts in the fifth minute resulted in Orlando City's goal. We struck first, making RSL chase us for the tying goal over the next 23 minutes. Without his early efforts, the night would have been disappointing in addition to being very frustrating and unjustified.

Results and Standings

With the point, Orlando City has moved into a tie for 2nd place in the East, tied on 24 points with Columbus Crew and New England Revolution. All of the east teams have completed their matches for the weekend, so the result will hold until the teams resume play later this week. Also it means that Orlando City is only 4 points out of first place in the East behind leaders DC United.

Take heart, Orlando City fans--this squad is really starting to show its quality. At the beginning of the season it was hard to say what kind of club we had with so many new faces and untested young players. But now we have seen that even with the biggest star unjustly sidelined and several veteran stars out with injury, we have the depth to compete and preserve a result when we have less than a full 11-man side on the pitch. 

Tailgate and Match Rewind: Colorado Edition

Today we're starting a new feature on the blog to recap the tailgate from the previous home match. Yesterday's tailgate was the first one of the season where Mother Nature played a role, dropping a brief but intense rain shower an hour or so before the match. Luckily, it didn't interfere with the festivities, and more importantly it did not put a damper on anyone's spirits before or during the game.

Pictures

Over in the Gallery you can find pictures from the tailgate, including a picture of Buster, who was the unofficial mascot of yesterday's pre-game festivities. We cooked on the small grill yesterday, using the charcoal to give the food a little better flavor. Our menu was a big hit, and we had a good turnout for the meal. We even had a visit from some new friends in the Ruckus and a couple of Colorado Rapids fans dropped by to say hello. One of them was Jason Maxwell, who writes the View from the Couch blog about Colorado Rapids soccer. We talked a little bit about the Beautiful Game, the 2015 season (very little about that), and the different experiences we have had as bloggers interacting with team leadership.

Jason has been at his craft for a number of years, and he has seen several coaches and front office folks come and go, and it was insightful learning about how the relationship of the team to the fans changes with each new front office or head coach. At the moment I love the way we are treated as fans by Coach Heath, Phil Rawlins, and the rest of the Orlando City staff, so I hope there are no changes for a long time to come.

Rain Come and Rain Go

Clouds had been visible in the distance for a while, but around 6:15 they started to close in a little on our position in Lot A. So we quickly packed up our gear and put it in the car, then jumped into the vehicle ourselves around 6:30 as the rain began to fall. We were just in time to hear a nice interview that Jim Phillips had recorded with Kaka and Phil Rawlins. But as is typical with a Florida storm, the rain didn't last long, and before 7:00 pm we were back out of the car and simply debating whether we wanted to take rain gear into the stadium or not. Ultimately I decided on my rain jacket but left my rain pants in the car. As it turns out I needed neither, but I felt better having the jacket just in case, as once or twice during the match the clouds threatened to close in.

The Match: Tale of Two Halves

When the match started, about 30 minutes late due to the weather delay, it began in a way I've never seen. They dispensed with the fireworks and the national anthem and simply kicked off the game to get started. The change in routine seemed to mess with the Orlando City mojo, for they spent the first 45 minutes of the match displaying the same listless and lifeless lack of energy that characterized the debacle in Montreal on Saturday night.

Aurelien Collin's absence in the defense seemed to make a huge difference, as Tally Hall was called on way too many times for my liking to make saves in the first half as our defenders got out of position and didn't have Collin's experienced signal calling to help them all be in prime position on the pitch to defend Colorado's attacks.

And it was clear from early in the match that something was bothering Brek Shea. He was limping a little bit every time he slowed to a walk, and when he hit the ground, he was slower than usual to get back up. While it was sad to see him have to go off before the half, I wasn't surprised when Coach Heath made the change. If truth be told, I have a feeling there was no snub by USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann in not naming Brek to the team this time around--I think it was simply for Brek's own health that he didn't ask him to try to go this round.

Aside from the missing Collin and the hobbled Shea, I was just not a very happy fan the whole first half with the sloppy passing and the cheap giveaways. The Rapids have not shown themselves to be a very good team in 2015, but our lads spent much of the first half giving them chance after chance to build up an attack or a counter-attack against our goal. The statistics will show that we held the ball a high percentage of the half, but as I said in my last match recap, I'm beginning to think possession is a bit of a red herring stat in MLS. If you never possess the ball in the attacking third of the pitch and you don't have any shots on goal, you could possess it 90% of the game and it would be meaningless.

Toward the end of the first half, Orlando City finally started to seem to get a little life, but the first 45 ended in a nil - nil draw. The second half, however, was a different story.

In the second half, Orlando City seemed like they were a little more alert and hungry to win. Maybe Coach blessed them out at the half or maybe he promised them all milk and cookies if they won. Whatever he did, it seemed to work. The possession began building toward more meaningful attacks toward the Colorado goal. In the 54th minute Kaka struck a magnificent ball toward the near post from the right side of the pitch, but the ball hit the post and spun and curled all the way across the face of the goal before trickling out of play for a goal kick on the far side. It was a nice feed into the captain from Ramos, and the ball was struck with pace, but someone from the Orlando City grounds crew had put just a coat or two too much paint on the goalpost for it to become a score.

Carlos Rivas finally seems to be getting his timing down on his blazing runs toward goal, for in the 61st minute he raced up the left side to beat two defenders and passed the ball across to Larin, who blasted it into the net for his sixth goal on the season.

And just a few minutes later in the 65th, the Captain got his just reward. Making another run up the right side, he received a beautiful pass from Cristian Higuita and scorched it underneath Colorado keeper Clint Irwin's outstretched arm and into the far side netting.

Orlando City had more chances, but Irwin came up with some good saves. Finally, in the dying moments of the match Colorado put together a few threats, and I was screaming at our lads to clear the ball from in front of our area instead of just toying with it. Fortunately, none of the chances the visitors had came to anything, and Tally Hall was able to escape the pitch with another clean sheet.

Standings and the View Ahead

The 2 - 0 victory and a loss by New England last night drew Orlando City to within one of tying for 2nd place in the East. However, it will be a while before Orlando City has any more matches that count for season points, as they don't play a regular season match again until July 4 at Real Salt Lake (Fake Salt Lake as one of our Rapids visitors to the tailgate informed us). Hopefully the down time will give both Collin and Shea a chance to get fully healthy again. Cyle Larin will be off for duty with the Canadian National Team for a spell, and that will mean more starts for Pedro Ribeiro.

I think that will be good for Ribeiro, and the break from club play may be good for Larin as well. Coming in as a rookie from college, I've been curious if Larin will hit a rookie "wall" when he realizes he has months left to play after reaching what would be the end of a normal college season. Breaking up his play with a stint on the National Team may let him come back with a look at club play like it's a fresh college season and allow him to push on to the end of the year without suffering physical or mental fatigue from the much longer professional season.

In any case, I'm enthusiastic about our chances to make the playoffs and at least start the post season at home. Vamos Orlando!