NYRBvOCSC: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

It was another match that started in promise and ended in frustration for Orlando City. My purple blood is still bleeding just fine, but I'm a bit weary of some segments of our fan base bleating like sheep when things don't go the team's way instead of taking a bit more critical look at the actual ebb and flow of the match. But we'll get to that in good time.

The Good

  • Cyle Larin - It's a match in New York, so why wouldn't he score? He seems to love the two stadiums in the New York metropolitan area more than most, because he's scored 8 goals in his last three matches there. Tonight he put Orlando City up 1 - 0 in the 3rd minute, marking the fifth goal that Orlando City has scored in the opening 15 minutes of matches.
  • Joe Bendik - I'm not going to blame the 3 goals scored against Orlando City on the keeper. If you want to see who deserves the blame, keep reading to the Ugly section. Bendik made heroic save after heroic save throughout the first half and into the second, and he finished the match with 6 saves credited, just as many as he had at the 1 - 0 victory against NYCFC last month.

The Bad

  • The Blown Call - In the 63rd minute Karl Ouimette blatantly took down Cyle Larin just outside the New York area and referee Hilario Grajeda made no call. The FS1 commentators declared it was clearly a Red Card foul for stopping a goal scoring opportunity and it should have resulted in Ouimette being ejected, putting the Red Bulls down a man. Adding insult to injury, New York drew level two minutes later, and went on to take a 3 - 1 lead before the same Karl Ouimette scored an own goal in the 84th minute to bring Orlando City back to within one. 
  • Complacency - After the fast start to the match, Orlando City seemed to grow complacent, or at least not to understand that after suffering six defeats in seven matches, the Red Bulls would be playing with some sense of desperation. As such, the Red Bulls were not exactly reckless on the pitch, but they threw every effort they could into dispossessing Orlando City of the ball and mounting attacks. For the next 42 minutes of the match until half time, the Red Bulls kept the ball in the attacking third of the field except for a handful of minutes when Orlando City launched some ineffective counter-attacks that didn't provide much threat to the Red Bulls goal.

The Ugly

  • Pitiful Effort - The match ended with all the stats that demonstrate a will to win in the Red Bulls favor. New York outshot Orlando City by the count of 25 to 11, passed the ball more and completed more passes (420 to 296 / 80% to 73%), had more corner kicks (8 to 6), won more duels (50 to 45), won more tackles (14 to 10), were called for more offsides fouls--which shows they were actually trying to attack the goal (5 to 0), committed fewer fouls (12 to 13), and had fewer yellow cards (1 to 3). The only meaningful stat that was in Orlando City's favor was Clearances (29 to 11), and that just emphasizes that the Red Bulls had way too many chances down in front of our goal that were caused by the players not being attentive and up to the task. 
  • Misplaced Blame - twitter can sometimes be a wonderful way to have conversations with people during a live event, but it can also be a way to see just how myopic and uneducated some fans can be. After the blown call in the 63rd, nearly every other tweet by Orlando City fans was about the blown call. A few people were putting the blame where it belonged--the inept performance of the team in not being able to keep the ball off the feet of Red Bulls players--but most fans seemed content to blame one poor non-call by Grajeda for the misfortunes of the team.
  • Lack of Focus - In the last three matches (the loss at Philly, the tie vs. New England, and tonight's loss at the Red Bulls, I'm seeing a lot of patterns that look like the team just is not focused and hungry. They seem to give the ball away way too easily through errant passes, they get out of position to allow too many counter-attacks, and they rely too much on last second acrobatic blocks inside the six-yard box to make up for a porous defense that allows way too many buildups by the opposition. I'd like to see Inchy go high school football coach on the lads and make the whole team do wind sprints across the pitch in practice every time someone fails to pass the ball to the feet of the teammate they are trying to reach. I think that somehow the players look at a match like the Portland game a few weeks ago that made everything look so easy and they just expect every game to go that way, and then they shrug it off when they don't connect. 

I call the games like I see them, and I admit that tonight I'm more than a little angry and disappointed at the very poor performance of the team overall. The absolute truth is that the New York Red Bulls wanted the match more, they did more to deserve the win, and they got the result that their efforts created. If we want to see our lads in purple coming out of matches with three points, they are going to have to learn how to give more effort, play more assertively, and prevent the other team from being able to build up so many attacks that drive so deeply into the attacking third of the pitch.

I know there are probably a few readers who disagree with me, and some of you probably have even played and coached more than I have. I welcome your counter-point and commentary, if you think you can diagnose what the team is doing wrong and what they need to do to be deserving of a result, because I don't think any fan who looks at the game with a sober set of eyes can say that Orlando City deserved three points, or even a draw out of the match tonight. 

So tell me your thoughts--I'd love to read them in the comments below!

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

Tonight was one of those nights when a draw felt like a win because of the timing of the goals. Still, if fans are honest with ourselves it felt like we watched our lads get outplayed for 90 minutes and we stole a point in the 90th minute. Mind you, I'm not complaining after we saw way too many matches go the other way in the first part of the 2015 season as Orlando City would give up draws in stoppage time to lose matches. But I am saying that I still think--at least I hope--that we have not seen this team put together a consistent 90 minutes outside of possibly the Portland Timbers match a few weeks ago.

The Good

  • Joe Bendik - The greatest line I saw on twitter tonight was from a fan who said that he earns more respect for Bendik every second that Joe has to play behind our defense. It's a wonder we don't surrender the most goals in the league with the sloppy turnovers we make in the defending third of the pitch. Bendik right now has my vote for team MVP on the season, and it's going to take a lot of better and more consistent play from the other 10 positions on the field for that to change.
  • Rafael Ramos - In 2015 there were times I was critical of Ramos for being too emotional and making very silly fouls because he lost his composure way too easily. He's only a year older, but he seems to have gained a decade of self-control in the last 12 months. Tonight there was a point where Ramos was taken down rather hard by Fagundez on the far side of the pitch. Last year, he would have leaped up and gone after the Fagundez, screaming and shoving him to be in danger of picking up a misconduct card. Tonight he accepted Fagundez's hand up from the turf and then trotted back to his position, and the ref showed the Revolution player a yellow for the foul.
  • Kevin Molino - I don't know and I'm a little afraid to speculate about Molino being taken straight off the pitch tonight, but he didn't seem to be gimpy, so I'm going to remain positive until official sources say otherwise. But you can tell his confidence is way up after that PK he struck against Portland. Now in two matches against the Revolution he has scored twice from the field, and both times the goals have not seen him dance around with the ball trying to decide what to do (as I faulted him for before his injury last season). He has simply let the ball fall to him and taken one-touch strikes both times to find the back of the net.
  • Julio Baptista - "The Beast" may be the best ROI for an Orlando City midseason acquisition since Adrian Winter--OK, if you count Alex Morgan in the deal it's impossible to say that any pickup has been better than Servando Carrasco: let's not kid anyone. In the first game against New England he earned the fastest awarded PK in MLS history, and in tonight's match he ignited a flaccid and lukewarm Orlando City attack into a raging inferno for the final 10 minutes of regulation and stoppage time.
  • Carlos Rivas - If I'm going to credit Ramos for looking more mature, I have to credit Rivas for not getting overly excited. There have been times when he has been that close to scoring in previous matches and somehow managed to drive the ball into the 30th row of the seats behind the net. But tonight he struck the ball just where it had to go in order to get past a diving keeper and a defender draped over him to put it into the net instead of over it.

The Bad

  • Molino to the Locker Room - I was saying to friends at the 60th minute that it felt like it was time for Inchy to make a substitution because the team was giving up way too many turnovers. I wasn't sure who should go out, but a minute or two later Molino was down on the pitch and Coach wasted no time subbing in Carrasco and the trainers took Molino straight to the locker room. As I said above he wasn't visibly limping, so I don't know if there's just post-ACL protocol that they do to start recovery as soon as a player comes out, or if there was something more serious. But it was not good to see.
  • Love Affair with the Long Ball - Now I think United World Soccer and Real Radio's Tom Traxxler might say I'm finally beginning to learn a little more about how to watch a match. Last season I complained that possession was the most overrated statistic in MLS because it seems like the team that held the ball more lost or drew more times than they won. But this year I'm much more attuned to the incredibly sloppy giveaways that Orlando City commits, and many of them are because they try to pass the ball way too far instead of building up patiently. It's clear every other coach and team in MLS already knows this, because since the Philadelphia match I've watched every opponent exploit this against us. Those long passes result in 50-50 balls instead of clean deliveries to a teammate. 
  • Lazy Pass Receptions - Since every pass has to include both the passer and the receiver, there's blame to go around on both ends. Way too many times I see our lads jog a bit lazily toward where they expect the ball to be, only to see an opponent put on a burst of speed and intercept the passes to start building an attack going the other way. This happens way too much in our defending third and the middle third of the pitch, and it often seems like our players are completely oblivious to the fact that a hungry defender is going to try to intercept the ball if the receiver doesn't try to close down on it aggressively. In short, we are getting out-hustled by the defensive players on the other team, and we're going to continue to look like the most inept passing team in the league until our players realize that they have to be a little more attentive to where the ball is and a little more eager to go get it. And tonight's numbers back me up: New England led in duels won (55 - 47) and they also led in tackles one (18 - 10). This proves they were the hungrier team and they outplayed and outhustled Orlando City, displaying a stronger desire to win the match.

The Ugly

  • More Turnovers than a Publix Bakery - If you have any talent in the kitchen, I guarantee you can become a millionaire by marketing fruit pastry turnovers named after every player on the Orlando City roster. God knows they all commit way too many of them as individuals and as a team. I've identified a couple of reasons in this section, but it bears repeating because this is a fundamental flaw in the performance of the team that needs to be addressed and corrected if the team want to make the playoffs this season.
  • Adrift Without Kaka - This team just seems to have two completely different types of chemistry depending on whether Kaka is on the pitch or not. Yes, there is a reason that players like Kaka, Messi, and Ronaldo win the Ballon D'or--they really are world class. And Kaka also seems to make everyone around him better as well. Brek Shea looks like he could start for any national team on the planet when Kaka plays, and Winter seems a lot better at passing the ball when Kaka is on the pitch as well. But some day this team is going to have to learn to play without Kaka out there to hold their hand and give them lollipops when they feel sad. As a team, the lads need to wake up and learn how to be the same players without Kaka on the pitch that they are when he is with them.
  • Defense Like a Sieve - If someone knows a place to find better stats for matches than the MLS official site, I'd be happy for the information. According to match statistics, Orlando City actually possessed the ball more than New England tonight (51.6% - 48.4%). But if you could break it down by where each team possessed the ball, I'd have to think that 75% of the time New England had it, they were in their attacking third (our defending third) of the pitch. Geez Louise, I swear that three or four times Lee Nguyen was camped out in front of Joe Bendik's goal I saw him pull out his iPhone and call for a pizza delivery. I think he was even asking our keeper what he wanted on his once or twice. That's just unacceptable, and I blame both the players for being out of position and the coaches for not teaching proper techniques for dispossessing the attackers from the ball to allow opponents to get that deep and stay that deep in our end of the pitch for such prolonged periods. And it's not that I think our players are not capable of playing great defense. I'm amazed at some of the acrobatic blocks and saves and deflections that field players as well as Bendik are able to make when opponents get get five or six attackers down that deep in the area in front of our goal. The problem is they need to realize that they should be making those blocks and tackles and deflections to win the ball at midfield, and not waiting until the opponent gets all the way down in front of goal.

What about you? What did you think was particularly good, bad, or ugly about the match? Do you agree with my praise and critiques of the team or do you think I was off target with some of my points? Let me know in the comments below!

NER vs. OCSC: Previews and Predictions

Tonight Orlando City faces off against New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium for a rematch of the 2 - 2 draw on April 17 at the Citrus Bowl. In that match the clubs had played to a 1 - 1 draw until stoppage time at the end of the match, and then during injury time both teams scored on controversial calls involving hand balls on Orlando City players, one which should have been called and was not, and another which should not have been called but was called anyway.

The match also comes just a day after Orlando City traded away Aurelien Collin, a player who was a crowd favorite for his tenacious style and energetic play in defense. However, a number of media outlets reported that sometime between the tail end of last season and the start of this season, he had fallen out of favor with Coach Adrian Heath. Those reports would appear to have been substantiated by the fact that Orlando City traded Collin to the New York Red Bulls for a 4th round draft pick in 2017, meaning they will not receive any players back in return right away. To me that says the club cared more about moving the player out than bringing any specific talent in. I won't speculate beyond that, because I like both Collin and Coach Heath, and I'm sad we won't see the 78 jersey again on the pitch this season in purple.

Injury Report

According to the MLS.com official injury report, New England is coming into the match more banged up than Orlando City. Chris Tierny, Steve Neumann, and Charley Davies are all completely out. Teal Bunbury is listed as Questionable, and Juan Agudelo is listed as having a hamstring strain but there is no indication of his status for the match.

For Orlando City, Conor Donovan is still listed as out with his torn ACL and Kaka's groin strain is listed, but as with New England's Agudelo there is no match status listed for the captain.

Orlando City fans will hope that Kaka is healthy for the match, as the team have still seemed to be a bit lost and listless without him on the pitch, and unable to sustain any kind of pressure and attack for the full 90 minutes. If the team does struggle without Kaka, I content it is a mental block, as the lads seem way too prone to try to pass the ball 60 yards down the pitch (which get intercepted way too many times) instead of building up steady pressure with shorter and more certain passes that help to build toward more patient scoring opportunities. Perhaps that is something we should expect from a young team, since Orlando City still has one of the youngest rosters in MLS.

Players to Watch

New England is still struggling to get their season going (and we all know how that turned out for Orlando City when they faced the Red Bulls last week, another struggling club). Even so, they have plenty of dangerous and talented players on the roster that any team has to watch carefully. Among these are midfielders Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez, both of whom were very active in the last match against Orlando City. And of course netminder Bobby Shuttleworth is playing very well this season, and has the distinction of having blocked two PKs in a single match earlier this season (against Philadelphia on March 20). The problem for New England seems to be in their defense in the field, and that's something Orlando City fans can also feel as frustration by counting all the minutes we have to watch purple jerseys down in front of Joe Bendik's net frantically trying to fend off shots that a good defense would never have allowed to get that deep into the scoring area.

For Orlando City, it's the same cast of characters we know and love. Cyle Larin and Kaka are always dangerous, and Joe Bendik has looked superhuman at times with the number of saves he has been called upon to make with a sieve-like defense allowing attack after attack after relentless attack every match all season long so far. Brek Shea is always exciting to watch and Adrian Winter almost always has a positive impact on buildups. Kevin Molino, healthy this season after missing most of last year with a devastating injury, is actually leading all players for Orlando City in MLS Fantasy Points. He's been productive, and recent acquisition Julio Baptista has proven a great get for the team, figuring in an assist on Cyle Larin's goal last week, and setting up an early PK goal for Kaka in the first minute of the last match against New England. 

Prediction

I desperately want Orlando City to win, and I believe Kaka will be able to play tonight, but I'm not sure that Coach Heath will start him. It's possible we will see Kaka come off the bench in the second half if the club needs some inspiration to maintain a lead or get back into the match. In nine matches so far this season, New England has only one win and six draws, while Orlando City has managed two wins and three draws in seven matches. On paper Orlando City seems like marginally the better team, but our lads proved just the antidote that the Red Bulls needed to get out of the funk that had dragged down the beginning of their season. I hope Orlando City's players learned a lesson about mistakes not to repeat from that match, but I won't be confident they have actually learned it until they show me by their performance on the pitch they know how to win consistently. I'm going to predict a draw for this match, 2 - 2. But I sincerely hope Orlando City has learned how to not turn over the ball so much and give Joe Bendik a better shot at a clean sheet so the team can bring back 3 points from the road.

What about you? What are you expecting from tonight's match? Do you think it will be a draw, or do you see Orlando City bringing home a win? Or do you think the problems that we saw at the Red Bulls last week will continue for the team at New England? Let me know in the comments below!

HBGvOCB: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Last night OCB played on the road at FNB Stadium against the Harrisburg City Islanders and came up short, 2 - 1. All the goals came in the first half, where Harrisburg City was the better club. In the second half it seemed like OCB was stronger, but neither team was able to find the back of the net.

The Good

  • Bryan Rochez' PK - The former MLS DP delievered a great PK, striking the ball with power and pace while getting the goaltender to guess the wrong way. The PK was awarded when Harrisburg's Liam Doyle took down OCB's Michael Ambrose as the latter was trying to chase down a ball at the end line just outside the Harrisburg six-yard box. 
  • Mark Ridgers - Ridgers had a six-save night, and should have had a seventh if not for the interference of his teammate on the own goal. 

The Bad

  • Kyle McFadden's Own Goal - There's a good kind of help and there's a bad kind of help. And unfortunately in the 16th minute of the match, Kyle McFadden was guilty of giving Mark Ridgers the bad kind. Players need to have a little better field awareness of where their keeper is. If McFadden had refrained from trying to reach a toe out to intercept the shot from Harrisburg's Jose Barril, Ridgers was in perfect position to have saved the shot cleanly. Perhaps this is an issue of team communications on the field, but knowing when you need to help your keeper and when you need to stay out of his or her way is vital for any player.
  • Slow Start - The first half was somewhat back-and-forth, but it seemed like there were a lot more minutes that the OCB jerseys were in the defensive end trying to stop attacks from Harrisburg. It was clear that Harrisburg was playing a much more possession-oriented game with short, crisp passes to build up patient attacks, while OCB tried for much longer-range, lower-percentage passes that kept getting intercepted and brought back the other way. The sloppiness and impatience showed by the MLS side on Sunday against the New York Red Bulls seemed to be on display again in Pennsylvania from the USL side. Another indication of the poor start for OCB was that Ridgers registered five of his saves in the first half, showing clearly that Harrisburg was creating more opportunities in the first 45 minutes. Coach Pulis was much more pleased with the team's performance in the second half of the match, but conceding two goals early proved a mountain that was a little too high to climb to get a result in the match. 

The Ugly

  • The NHL on Grass - I know there are a certain segment of the fan base who like to see hard fouls and takedowns in soccer, but I'm one of the fans who say that taking out another player means you don't have enough skill to cleanly play the ball. The two teams combined for nine yellow cards on the night, including a red card ejection to Harrisburg's Bobby Warshaw in the 80th minute. Harrison Heath, Tyler Turner, Marius Obekop, and Devron Garcia all picked up yellow cards for OCB. And the card issued to Turner in the 32nd minute led to the free kick that allowed Harrisburg to score the winning goal in the 33rd.

What about you? What are your thoughts on last night's OCB match? Are you an OCB season ticket holder or a member of Harbor City Hooligans? Would you like to share your thoughts about every OCB match throughout the season? If so, be sure to contact me and let me know. Because of geography and other commitments I don't have season tickets to OCB and would love to have someone help me give the USL side some better coverage!

NYRBvOCSC: Previews and Predictions

The fun never seems to end for Orlando City fans. After an historic home opener for the Orlando Pride yesterday, tonight fans will be able to watch the MLS side play at New York Red Bulls tonight on the road. The match will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports 1, and the club is hosting an official watch party at Hagan O'Reilly's, as well as several of the supporter bars hosting Ruckus and ILF viewing parties around town.

Injury / Suspension Report

According to the official injury report from MLS, Orlando City will be without the services of Conor Donovan (ACL tear), Cristian Higuita (groin injury), and Rafael Ramos (undisclosed injury). It should be noted, however, that local Orlando Sentinel beat writer Alicia DelIGallo is reporting that Higuita is available for the match tonight. 

Antonio Nocerino is also serving a one-game suspension for stepping on the pitch from the bench during a goal celebration in the New England match. This is a technical suspension and represents a difference between rules in European leagues and MLS. In addition, I saw Pedro Ribeiro at the Orlando Pride match last night, meaning he did not make the trip to New York with the club, and the Orlando Sentinel and the ManeLand are also reporting that Kaka is out of the match with a groin strain and did not travel with the team.

On the other bench, New York Red Bulls will be without Damien Perrinelle, Gonzalo Veron, and Gideon Baah (according the MLS injury report).

Momentum Boost or Turning Point

This match is extremely important for both clubs. Orlando City is a team on the rise, having one of the top goal tallies in all of MLS at 15 to date, and they have looked sharper and more consistent in the early stages of their second season than they did this time last year. A win tonight could continue to boost the club's momentum, and it would put them into a tie on 12 points for the top of the table in the East with Philadelphia and Montreal. 

For the Red Bulls, this match could mark a turning point in the early season. After having the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, the Red Bulls have really struggled, accumulating just three points and managing one win in their first seven matches of the 2016 campaign. But the roster for the home side is filled with fantastic talents and dangerous players such as Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. It's a little bit perplexing that they have struggled so much in the early going, and you have the feeling that they are due for a breakout match. You just hope that that breakout doesn't come when your team is playing against them.

Predictions

Giving up the late equalizer against New England last week puts pressure on Orlando City to try to get a win on the road, and based on season-to-date performance you would think that could be a manageable task. But I think with the loss of Kaka for the match, the Red Bulls will be inspired to play attacking soccer all match long. I still think the Orlando City defense is a bit of a work in progress, so I think Bendik will have his hands full and will be scrambling to make more saves than he probably should have to today.

In the final analysis, my purple blood is going to show and I believe Orlando City will pull out a narrow win in a relatively high-scoring game. My prediction is a 3 - 2 victory for OCSC.

What about you? What do you predict for today's match? Do you think Orlando City will bring home 3 points from the road, or do you think this is the week that the Red Bulls wake up and start playing more like the 2015 version of their team? Let me know in the comments below!

Orlando Pride -- ORLvHOU: The Good, The Bad, and The Historic

Last night in the Citrus Bowl, records fell and a new era dawned as the Orlando Pride played their first ever home match, hosting the Houston Dash. Almost everyone in the stadium went home happy as the home team won a convincing victory, and we even spotted several of the MLS players that did not travel to New York for the Red Bulls match at the game last night. They were in attendance to cheer on the NWSL side and contribute to the celebration.

The Good

  • Ashlyn Harris - There is a reason she wears number one, and she proved it last night. While it felt like Orlando was in control of possession for much of the game, there were several mistakes by the players in the field and a few well-constructed attacks by Houston that forced Harris to make some pretty dramatic saves. Perhaps one of the best was in the 19th minute when a Pride defender muffed a ball that allowed Dash rookie Janine Beckie to start a breakaway just outside the Pride area, catching Harris well off her line. Beckie shot for the open goal and a diving Harris managed to deflect it just enough to send the ball wide for a Houston corner kick that came to nothing. All in all Harris notched seven saves and preserved the 2-goal margin of victory for the team.
  • Jasmyne Spencer - Spencer is 5'1" and was barely taller than the kid who had the honor to walk out of the tunnel with her at the beginning of the match. But she proves the adage that good things come in small packages when the ball lands at her feet. Spencer flew all over the pitch like a frenetic hummingbird, first tackling the ball off the feet of opponents and next building up a new attack for the Pride. And she proved very strong, too. On several occasions defenders would get their feet tangled with Spencer and somehow she would dance out of it and keep going down the field, most of the time without ever losing possession of the ball. This lady is going to be a lot of fun to watch all season.
  • Lianne Sanderson - Going into the match I had heard from numerous sources that Sanderson is one of the fastest players on the team, and that she would likely provide a spark coming off the bench. Sanderson did start the second half of the match in relief of Dani Weatherholt, and made her presence felt as soon as she hit the pitch, figuring in the buildup that led to Orlando City's first goal (scored as an own goal when Alex Morgan's shot deflected off Houston's Andressa and past Dash netminder Lydia Williams). Then just a few minutes later when Orlando was awarded a free kick, Sanderson showed her cheeky side by taking advantage of a confused gaggle of Dash defenders trying to sort out if they should like up in a wall or not, and when the referee blew the whistle, she sizzled her free kick over the defenders and around the keeper into the back of the net.
  • Alex Morgan - Is there anything about our Pride captain you cannot love? She's got a smile that will light up a city block, mad skills that will make you pull a hamstring just watching her footwork, and a passion for making the sport better for its future stars. And oh yeah--she can kick the snot out of the ball when she drives it to the net as well. Morgan registered her first regular season goal in a Pride uniform last night as well, sending the already ecstatic Citrus Bowl crowd into even greater celebrations.

The Bad

  • Carli Lloyd - As a fan of sports, I truly hate seeing players get injured, and in the game of soccer it really stings to see a player get hurt because of the whole "for club and country" ethos. Last night in an orange kit Lloyd was the opposition--she's not your enemy: if she were wearing Pride purple you'd be screaming that you love her as loudly as you scream you love Alex Morgan. But in a few months' time wearing the national team kit, Lloyd is supposed to be one of our heroes trying to bring home Olympic gold. Lloyd was subbed out early, and before we left the parking lot from the post-game celebration with friends from The Crown supporters group, ESPN had a blurb that Lloyd will have an MRI today (Sunday) to evaluate the extent of the injury to her knee. Let's hope it's minor and she will be able to get back to playing for her club soon and be healthy for the Olympics as well.
  • No Confetti Cannons - I was a bit surprised and saddened that there were no confetti cannons at the match last night. I learned from some the Crown leadership that this was a cost issue. Apparently, every time the cannons are fired it adds about $3000 to the cost of the match for the club. There's apparently $1000 to load the glitter and the charge to fire the cannons, and an additional $2000 in clean-up cost to pick up all the confetti after the match. Last night saw a record-setting crowd for an NWSL match, and the cannons could well have added to the festive atmosphere. But I think fans who want to see them used in Pride matches can help by making sure they buy tickets and attend games. If the club sees they are bringing in good revenue numbers week in and week out for these matches, they will be more likely to see the value in spending the extra money to help the celebrations be that much more exciting.
  • Tailgate Time SNAFUs - There was a big conflict in communications between the City of Orlando and the Orlando City club over when the tailgate lots would open on Saturday. The official word that went out was that lots would not open until 4:30 pm, and that was still the official word as of Saturday morning. But some time between noon and 2:00 pm the decision was made and the announcement went out that lots would open at 2:30 pm. Now many who don't partake of tailgate culture may not care, but that extra two hours really provides a lot more time for people to prepare food and enjoy fellowship with other fans, as well as to take in all the sights and sounds and experience of Mane Street and the whole game day experience. Personally, I can't complain because I showed up at 5pm and found that the Crown had saved us a premium parking spot about a pitch length from the stadium where we could set up and tailgate with the rest of our friends, but we would have preferred to not have to navigate through a sea of pedestrians milling around the parking lot to get to that spot if I had known I could get there earlier. Others in my group already had schedules set that meant we couldn't leave earlier when the news came out about the updated lot opening times.

The Historic

  • Attendance Record Set - I've alluded to it before, but in the 70th minute of the match they announced an official attendance of 23,403, which shattered the previous record by about 2,000 fans. 
  • Crown Supporters Debut - The Crown, the official Supporters group for the Orlando Pride, made their matchday debut on Saturday. The supporters section of the stadium filled in very nicely, and the Crown were enthusiastic in their cheering. This is a great accomplishment, considering that the Ruckus and the ILF had several years of USL play to get their act together be ready for the MLS debut. Those supporter groups are as loud and energetic as any you will find in North America, so it's easy to forget that they have had to build up over time. From the volume and number of Crown fans that showed up at the match yesterday, I think the new Pride supporters group are well on their way to becoming just as passionate and important to the club as the Ruckus and ILF have become to the MLS side.
  • First Win - The match marked the first win for the club after the disappointing loss at Portland Thorns last week. Early in the season those three points are huge and give Orlando a great jump start on the season. In addition, winning the match by multiple goals puts the team at a +1 goal differential. As we saw from the end of the MLS season last year, that goal differential can be very important at the end of the season to determine playoff positions.
  • First Goals for Lianne Sanderson and Alex Morgan - The Captain and the Super Sub each got their first goals in a regular season match while wearing the Orlando Pride kit. Morgan came close several more times to finding the back of the net, and Sanderson was involved in many of the second-half attacks, so I certainly expect to see a lot more goals coming off the feet of these wonderful players.

What about you? Did you attend the match last night? What did you think were the best and worst moments of the match? What bits of history did you notice on the pitch or in the stands last night? Let me know in the comments below!

Pride vs. Dash - Previews and Predictions

Tonight the Orlando Pride will play their first home match against Carli Lloyd (am I the only one who thinks, "Great Scott, Marty!" whenever I hear her name?) and the Houston Dash. This will be the first chance for most fans to see the full team in action in person, and it also is a chance to make NWSL history in terms of setting a new attendance record. A few years ago the Citrus Bowl set an attendance record for a USL match (a record that has since been eclipsed, showing the strength and growth of that league), and hopefully today we can be the site of another attendance record for a second league in which Orlando City SC participates.

The Matchups

There will be a ton of stars from the US Women's National Team on the pitch tonight, as well as some international stars. Orlando Pride features Sarah Hagen, Ashlyn Harris, and Alex Morgan from USWNT, as well as Dani Weatherholt from the U23 USWNT, Laura Alleway and Stephanie Catley from the Austrailian National Team, Josee Belanger and Kaylyn Kyle from the Canadian National Team, Monica (Hickmann Alves) from the Brazilian National Team, and Lianne Sanderson from the English National Team.

On the other side of the pitch, Houston Dash features Morgan Brian and Carli Lloyd from the USWNT, as well as Polonia (Barbosa Medeiros) and Andressa (Cavalari Machry) from the Brazilian National Team,  Janine Beckie and Allysha Chapman from the Canadian National Team, Rachel Daly from the English National Team, and Denise O'Sullivan from the Republic of Ireland National Team. 

Match Preview

Based on the NWSL Power Rankings, tonight's match features a matchup of the #2 (Houston) and #9 (Orlando) teams in the league. It's hard to judge from one week of competition, but in an appearance on the QueensCast podcast, Luis Hernandez of The ManeLand pointed out that Houston could very easily be considered the top team in the league because they are the only team that won their Week 1 match by more than a single goal. I'm not sure I agree that Orlando deserves to be next-to-last in the rankings, but I would agree that Houston deserves to be the favorite club coming into the match. As we saw with the MLS side last season, the first year for any team includes a lot of time for players to develop team chemistry. It will be a while before we see how good The Pride can be this year, but I expect them to steal a few victories along the way before they hit their stride.

Prediction

As I write this I'm in my full purple regalia, so I'm definitely feeling the homer fan vibe today. All the same, I think Houston presents a very tough challenge for the team, so I'm going to predict a 2 - 2 draw. I think Orlando will score late to draw level in the match, and the fans can all go home feeling like the day was a win.

A Note on Movie Night

Last night I went downtown for the movie night and the meet-and-greet event with the Pride players. There were two of our players there last night, but just as it took me a while to learn everone's name on the MLS side last season, it's going to take me a while to match names with faces this year. I also am pretty sure that neither of the women who were representing the team have been added to the online roster on the team's official web site yet. In any case, I got the two autographs, and had some great food from the Aji Peruvian Food Truck. But the rain started spitting before the movie started, and I didn't want to risk my autographs getting soaked so I decided to leave the event early to go home and catch the OCB match streaming online.

It was a great event, and I absolutely loved seeing all the kids who came out to get autographs. One of the things I think we have done horribly in our culture in the last 30 years or so is give young girls really poor role models in general, from the fashion runways to the Hollywood studios. And that's why I'm so glad to see the growth of women's sports, which gives girls role models for achievement and success based on their own perseverance, effort, and dedication to a craft and not based on the genetics of their cheekbones and leg length, or the wonders of cosmetic surgery. 

I had intended to strike some jealously into the hearts of my friends by getting some pictures with the players, but there were so many kids who were so eager for time to pose with the players that I couldn't bring myself to interrupt those magical moments for the young fans, and simply settled for some photos of the players and autographs on my Orlando Pride banner that came with my Season Tickets.

What about you? What do you think will happen in the match tonight? Do you think it's too conservative or too optimistic to predict a draw? Did you attend the event last night or any of the kickoff week events for the Orlando Pride? What was your favorite part of this week leading up to the home opener? Let me know in the comments below!

PGHvOCB: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I missed writing up last week's OCB match because there was just too much going on. I'm making an official plea to anyone in the Harbor City Hooligans or who is a season ticket holder for OCB that wants to try your hand at writing your own observations, reflections, and opinions about OCB on a match-by-match or weekly basis. I'd like to be able to have consistent fan-produced content about OCB on the blog every week, but as long as I have a day job I simply don't have time to cover all the teams myself.

Last night I went downtown for the Orlando Pride meet-and-greet and what was supposed to be movie night at the Walt Disney Ampitheater at Lake Eola. However, I took some items to get autographed, and when rain clouds began moving in close enough to start spitting drops, I decided to leave before the movie started in order to get home and watch the OCB match and also to protect the fresh autographs.

The Good

  • Tyler Turner - Tyler was one of the young pups that Orlando City brought into the MLS first team in 2015, and he saw very limited action. He has a ton of talent and showed some great promise last year, but like so many of the young players he was a bit erratic in terms of playing to his strengths and keeping his emotions in check. He was ejected from the match at Seattle in mid-August last season and didn't see any more minutes on the pitch with the MLS side. But last night we saw how another year of growth and practice and maturity has served him. He was all over the pitch last night and it seemed he was involved in every build-up OCB created. Early on he nearly scored a goal knocking the ball off the near side post as he ran in deep into the Pittsburgh area, and in the 39th minute he finally found the back of the net. In the second half he scored again in the 67th minute to give OCB a 2 - nil lead at the point that proved too much for Pittsburgh to equal.
  • Hadji Barry - After making some early contributions with the MLS side as a late-game substitute, rookie draftee Hadji Barry has been playing more minutes with OCB. He is a consistent creator and playmaker, and as such he seemed to be involved in most of the build-ups last night throughout the match.
  • Harrison and Rochez Healing Up - Harrison Heath and Bryan Rochez continue to work themselves back to full fitness, and they both played significant minutes last night. Rochez put in a great first half and played 74 minutes, while Harrison Heath seemed back close to his usual physical style of play as he put in 79 minutes of work.
  • Mark Ridgers - Mark Ridgers continues to impress, and he very well could have come out of the match with a clean sheet if it weren't for a reckless foul committed by a defender inside the OCB area during stoppage time at the end of the match. In the 92nd minute Pittsburgh's Romeo Parkes put in a beautifully-struck PK. Ridgers guessed correctly, but because the ball was hit with pace and on target at the corner, he wasn't quite able to leap far enough to block it. 

The Bad

  • Late Defensive Lapse - OCB played stellar defense throughout the first seventy minutes of the match. In fact, it wasn't until after Turner's second goal that netminder Ridgers was called upon to make his first save. Of course, one would expect Pittsburgh to begin to throw more attacks at the net in the final minutes once they were down two goals late, but it also seemed that OCB started getting greedy to go for a third goal, and it seemed to leave them open for counter-attacks. By the time the match ended, Ridgers had to make 3 saves, and the poor defending led to the reckless foul in the area that resulted in the PK awarded to Parkes. All the same, I feel a bit cheeky about complaining because there was very little that OCB did that could be considered "bad" in getting their first win. But I almost feel like I have to complain about something, so this is it.

The Ugly

  • Balancing Development and Aspirations - Honestly I can't think of anything ugly about this particular match, but the ESPN3 play-by-play announcer brought up something that came out of a conversation with Head Coach Anthony Pulis he had earlier in the week. According to the commentator, Coach Pulis admitted that he had been struggling with trying to balance the twin mandates of developing players for the MLS side and pursuing a USL championship. In watching the first couple of OCB matches, I had been wondering what the club's mandate to Pulis was, and whether they wanted him to pursue a championship or get minutes for the lads that Inchy sent over from the first team every week. It seems that Coach has been trying to do both, and of course that makes his task that much harder. As fans we all want to see our teams win, and it's going to be interesting to see how realistic or easy the task will be for OCB to fulfill both mandates, or if both the club and the fans will settle in to accept that one of those mandates must take priority over the other. As a fan of the club overall, I'm not sure which one I think I'd rather see, and I don't think I could speak for any other fans and what they might wish.

What about you? What were your thoughts from the match last night? Let me know in the comments below!

And please contact me if you would like to write regular columns about OCB for the Lion's Teeth blog! I'd love to see more passionate fans sharing their voices and opinions about the USL side on this site!

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

Well when you try to cover 3 teams with one person, things are bound to slip a little. Sorry for being late with the recap of the Orlando Pride season opener, but I've been crazy busy the past couple of days and am just now getting around to putting my notes together for a post. 

The Pride played their first match in club history on Sunday night in Portland at Providence Park, the stadium shared by Portland Thorns and their MLS Counterparts the Portland Timbers. Even though the Pride are an expansion team, there are a lot of common threads between the two clubs, including several Pride players that used to play for the Thorns ( including Alex Morgan, Kaylen Kyle, and Steph Catley), and the fact that both clubs are affiliated with and share stadiums with MLS teams.

This is a model that is not uncommon across the NWSL, with 30% of the teams sharing stadiums and affiliations with MLS sides, and it could be one of the things that is helping the league enjoy more success than previous iterations of women's professional soccer leagues in the USA. The announcers were pointing out that even though 2016 marks only the fourth year of NWSL existence, that is longer than any of the previous women's leagues have lasted.

I am calling my third section of these recaps "historic," since I'm pretty sure almost every match this season is going to feature some kind of first for the club, and I'll try to keep track of that as the year rolls along.

The Good

  • Disciplined Play - From the start, the Pride showed a nice compact shape, and they spent the first few minutes of the match seeming to gauge and assess the quality of the Thorn attack. While the Pride seemed content to spend the first few minutes on their own side of midfield, there were not many times it felt like they were in danger of conceding a goal early, except when the always dangerous Tobin Heath was serving up set pieces or creeping in toward the six-yard box on passes back to netminder Ashlyn Harris.
  • Steph Catley - You can tell Steph Catley likes playing in Providence Park as she took the first free kick awarded to the Pride from ten yards outside the 18-yard box. In the ninth minute she sent a laser blast that hit the crossbar in the upper left corner of the Thorns net. Unfortunately the ball bounced off the top of the bar, but it came back down in play and Alex Morgan was there to try to head the ball in for a goal, but there was a whistle for a foul or offside, resulting in a goal kick for Portland. But it didn't take long for her to find the back of the net. In the 12th minute a second free kick by Catley just outside the right edge of the box resulted in a score. It was registered as an unassisted goal, but the ball bent past a diving Michelle Betos (GK) as well as Alex Morgan and several other Portland players.
  • Opportunistic Offense - The Catley free kick seemed to light a spark in the Pride offense, because they began playing a very smothering style that made it very hard for the Thorns to get the ball out of their own end. That assertive play led to the second free kick opportunity and Catley's goal, putting Orlando out to the early lead.
  • Powerful Play - Both Portland and Orlando exemplify one of the reasons I really enjoy watching women's soccer: I don't feel like I'm watching a different game from the men's game. From the speed of play to the skilled footwork, the power of the shots and the fact that the players are not afraid of making sliding tackles and physical challenges for possession of the ball, there is the same sizzle and excitement watching the beautiful game, no matter who is playing. 

The Bad

  • Dagny Brynjarsdottir - Well, truth be told, she's only bad if you're rooting for the other team. If you're a Portland fan, you've got to be pretty darn proud of having this Icelandic export on your squad. In the 25th minute she put Portland on the board by burying a laser shot in the roof of the Orlando net off of a nice pass in from Tobin Heath.
  • Shinguards Optional? - It's an unusual detail I noticed, but on replays it looked to me like several of the Portland players (including Tobin Heath) were not wearing full-length stockings and didn't have any shin guards. I'm not sure what the rules are in the NWSL regarding equipment, but it seems to me like this would be a potential health risk to the players if they are allowed to be on the pitch without this protection. Whether an opponent (or a teammate) means to do it or not, getting caught by the cleats in the legs is never something that feels pleasant.

The Historic

  • First Pride Starting XI - The first starting lineup for Tom Sermanni's side featured Ashlyn Harris in goal, with Josee Belanger, Laura Alleway, Monica, and Steph Catley as defenders; Becky Edwards, Kaylyn Kyle, and Maddy Evans as midfielders; and Kristen Edmonds, Alex Morgan, and Jasmyn Spencer at forwards.
  • First Caution - The first yellow card in club history was issued to Laura Alleway in the 79th minute for a reckless foul.
  • First Pride Goal - Steph Catley goes down on the score sheet with the first goal in the history of the club.
  • First Substitute - Lianne Sanderson was the first substitute in Pride history, coming in at the 61st minute to relieve Becky Edwards.
  • First Loss - unfortunately the match resulted in the first loss in club history, as the Pride fell to Portland by the score of 2 - 1. In my match preview I said I wasn't sure how much fans should make of the preseason victories over college teams across the state, and that was apparently a good note of caution on my part. Of course I also couldn't help myself from predicting a victory, so it also represented my first incorrect prediction in terms of result.
  • First Watch Party - I have joined The Crown supporters group and I attended the watch party at Graffiti Junktion on Church Street on Sunday night. I had the great pleasure of sitting with Justina and Nicole from the QueensCast podcast, along with several other friends. I'm happy to report there were a lot of my friends who have season tickets for Orlando City's MLS side that attended the party to support the launch of the new club. 

What about you? What were some of the things that you found intriguing or interesting about the match? Did you attend the watch party, or better yet--did you travel to Portland for the match? Let me know in the comments below!

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

Yesterday was a wild day on the pitch at the Citrus Bowl, and the match started with fireworks from "The Beast" and ended with a pretty ugly scene between home fans and visiting players. The 2 - 2 draw was really exciting, but the questionable officiating made fans of both teams feel like they had been robbed of a victory at the end of the match.

The Good

  • Julio Batista - "The Beast" got his first start for Orlando City, and he wasted no time making an impact. Fourteen seconds into the first half he drew a foul inside the 18-yard box in front of the Rev goal when two New England players took him down. That allowed Kaka to step up and convert on the earliest PK goal in the history of MLS. 
  • "Super Joe" Bendik - The Orlando City keeper had a great match. He was called on to make far more saves than he should have had to because Orlando City played such poor defense that it reminded me of the start of the 2015 season. Bendik is proving to have a very aggressive goaltending style, and when he chooses to come out of the goal to make a play on the ball, he almost always makes the right decision on the ball. It really makes it fun to watch him play.
  • Kevin Molino - There was some controversy around Molino's stoppage-time goal at the end of the match. All the same, Molino and Cyle Larin added a great spark to the match when they came in at about the 60-minute mark.
  • Duel Masters - Orlando City won the battle of duels (or 50/50 balls), winning 52 of them compared to New England's 37 duels won. All the same, the game appeared to be played very sloppily for long stretches, which brings us to the Bad from the match.
  • The Wall - I think the Supporters Section gets stronger every week. It seems like they've now grown to two ranks of drummers instead of one, and they are on point from the opening kickoff to the final whistle, prompting the rest of the crowd to provide more energy to the players on the pitch, and making the Citrus Bowl an intimidating place for opponents to visit. 

The Bad

  • Sloppy Play - Orlando City was very sloppy throughout the match. The passing accuracy was an anemic 75% (very poor by Orlando City standards) which allowed the Revs to lead both in passing accuracy and possession percentage.
  • Adrian Winter - I'm not sure what was ailing Winter yesterday. He is normally one of the best play creators and spark plugs that helps to drive the Orlando City offense. But yesterday he just seemed to be in a funk, so much so that Coach Heath replaced him at the 60-minute mark. 
  • Defesive Back Line - Calling the defense that Orlando City played yesterday Swiss Cheese would be giving the club too much credit. From the second to the 45th minute in the first half, it seemed that New England had the ball down in front of Joe Bendik's goal and was firing shots. It was very frustrating to watch, and it was thanks to Bendik's skillful and aggressive goal keeping that they only managed to find the back of the net once before halftime.

The Ugly

  • Horrid Officiating - Referee Baldolero Toledo didn't have his best match for sure. There were questionable calls and non-calls all match, but the mistakes were magnified in stoppage time at the end of the match. On the Orlando City goal in the 93rd minute, replays showed that Molino was fouled in the box by the Revs Gershon Koffie, and Molino also committed a quite obvious "hand of God" handball before scoring the goal that put Orlando City ahead. Neither the foul by Koffie nor the handball by Molino were called or seemingly even noticed by any of the officials. Then in the 94th minute, late substitute Servando Carrasco was struck in the chest just above the Orlando City crest on his uniform, blocking a kick by Lee Nguyen. Replays clearly show the ball struck off the front of Carrasco's chest, but the referee called it a handball, and after some debate among the crew whether Carrasco had been inside the 18-yard box or outside the area, Toledo awarded the Revs a PK, which Nguyen converted to draw the visitors level once again.
  • Poor Sportsmanship - There were several examples of this throughout the match. In the 56th minute, Antonio Nocerino was shown yellow after he said something to the referee. A Revs player had gone down in what looked like an overdramatic dive and Toledo awarded a foul and free kick. Nocerino ran over and said something either to referee Toledo or to the Revs player, and the yellow card flashed out with extreme prejudice. This could be a difference between how much argument MLS refs will accept from players compared to European refs, but it was not good to see Nocerino get a yellow for losing his cool. Then after the Nguyen PK in stoppage time, some in the Citrus Bowl crowd showed poor sportsmanship by throwing open water bottles and open beer cans down onto the pitch, clearly trying to pelt some of the Revs players with debris during their celebration. And the Revs players also demonstrated poor sportsmanship by then egging the crowd on and taunting them to throw more debris. I think there should be some repercussions both for the bottle throwers and the players--perhaps fines or bans for the fans that threw objects and red card suspensions for the players that taunted the crowd to throw more objects. Even the two coaches showed poor sportsmanship, getting into a shouting match over the tossed objects after the final whistle. 

While the game ended in a very exciting fashion, I think the result of a draw was probably deserved, although I believe it probably should have been a 1 - 1 draw instead of the 2 - 2, since the handball should have negated Orlando City's second goal, and the misjudged handball called against Carrasco would have disallowed the PK that gave New England it's second goal.

What about you? What are your thoughts from the match? Who do you think performed really well and who do you think screwed up in the match? What was the ugliest moment for you as a fan of the game? Let me know in the comments below.