OCSC vs. Chicago Fire: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Congratulations, Chicago fan! Your Chicago Fire may just be the most hapless and pathetic group of bumbling misfits in the history of professional sports. After "Unkel Ted" Capone gave two undeserved red cards to the home side within the first 60 minutes of play, the Fire were still incapable of putting a ball into the net and scoring against Joe Bendik and the short-handed Lions.

The Good

  • The Wall - The Ruckus and the ILF brought it hard and loud in Orlando last night, and the lads definitely needed the boost. After starting the match being down 11 - on - 15 (having both the visiting team and the hired good from the PROReferee mafiosi against them), Orlando City eventually had to finish the match with only nine players. Fortunately one of those players was Joe Bendik in goal, and two others were Jonathan Spector and Will Johnson in the field. The crowd even earned praise and recognition from an unlikely source.

 

  • The Church Street Trinity - It's a good thing the main entrance to the stadium is on Church Street, because it's becoming a site of holy pilgrimage where soccer fans from around the globe come to worship St. Joseph and the Clean Sheets (if you call your band that, I claim royalties on your tour and album sales for owning the copyright on the name). Bendik, Spector, and Johnson are the anchor points for a squad that is vastly improved defensively over last season for Orlando. They are capable of playing lights out as they did last night, spurred on by adversity to prevent any scores by the opponent.

The Bad

  • Officiating - Canadian Midfielder Will Johnson said in post-match comments that he really feels for referees having to make split-second calls in the heat of the moment. That's because he's a player and PROReferee will fine and suspend him for dissenting. But I have no such constraints. This was not the finest performance by referee Ted Unkel. You could see from the beginning how he was going to call a tight game, when Chicago was whistled for so many ticky-tacky fouls and bumps that earned Orlando City multiple free kicks in the first 20 minutes of the match. That is because Ted reads the "laws of the game" like a Constitutional scholar and calls the match by the letter of the law. If a boot is raised too high and studs make contact with another player, that's a straight red by the letter of the law, regardless of the circumstances at the time. I think 99% of soccer referees, soccer fans, and even soccer players would argue that context has to count for something. But in the eyes of a strict interpreter of the law, only the ink on the page matters.

    Some may question if I am being a partisan observer here, and I claim absolute adherence to only the pure and honest truth. Rafael Ramos did not deserve a straight red card in the first half. He was tracking the ball and making a play when he was clattered into by the bumbling and incompetent Brandon Vincent, who gave himself an ouchee by getting in the way of Ramos's boots. And the second half sending off of Antonio Nocerino was almost as bad. In that case, Nocerino did have his leg extended with the studs up when Chicago's Matt Polster backed into him. Again, by the letter of the law that is a straight red, but in the context of a visiting team that continually flops and throws themselves on the studs of the home side as though they have some bizarre and disturbing S&M fetish, you really have to learn to keep the card in your pocket, ref. And Matt Polster, please--there are groups that can help with disorders like yours. You may find spikes oddly stimulating, but you could really hurt yourself, so I urge you to seek the help you need.

The Ugly

  • Chicago's Scoring Incompetence - You already know about the advantage they had in terms of personnel on the pitch, but that's not the half of it. Chicago also enjoyed the advantage in most of the stats and still couldn't put any goals on the board. Chicago led in Shots (21 to 5), Shots on Goal (6 to 2), Passing and Accuracy (576 @ 89% to 302 @ 78%), Possession (66.2% to 33.8%), and Corner Kicks (9 to 1).  But Orlando City prevailed in the stats that really determine the game--the "heart and hustle" stats as I like to call them. The home side foiled the visitors advantage by winning the battle of Duels (40 to 33), Tackles (15 to 9), Saves (6 to 2), and Clearances (32 to 16). The superior team is always the one that outworks and outhustles the opponent. Unfortunately, Chicago also bribed the officiating crew to serve up the undeserved reds and force Orlando to concentrate on defending their goal for most of the match instead of being able to mount many attacks.

What were your thoughts on the match--did you see injustice in the two red cards that Referee Ted Unkel handed out to Ramos and Nocerino, or do you believe they were justified? And was this the best draw you have seen Orlando City salvage from a match, or do you still think it was not as good as the 2016 season opener with two goals in second half stoppage time to bring the team level and get a result? Let me know in the comments below!

OCSC vs. Chicago Fire: Previews and Predictions

After a horrible 2016 that saw them mired near the bottom of the table most of the season, Chicago is truly "en fuego" this season, and they are on an excellent run of form, coming into the weekend winning four matches in a row. They have a dynamic retooled roster and have imported some European talent that is helping to make this team very exciting.

Meanwhile, after struggling most of the month of May, the hosts scored a critical midweek victory on Wednesday to hemorrage the loss of points, as Orlando City took a 2 - 0 shutout victory over struggling DC United, a match which may have produced the MLS Save of the Year sequence by defender Jonathan Spector and goalkeeper Joe Bendik

Players to Watch

Chicago's excellent form this season has been fueled by great individual efforts as well as good teamwork. Among the most exciting players to watch will be Nemanja Nikolic, who has scored 11 goals on the season to lead all MLS scorers. And the familiar and formiddable David Accam is second on the team with 7 goals on the season. And a player who has recently joined the Fire from Europe, German national team member and World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, has already registered two goals on the season through ten games with the club. Missing from the visitors will be Dax McCarty, as the MLS veteran has been called up by Bruce Arena for national team duty in a pair of World Cup Qualifiers against Trinidad & Tobego and Mexico. 

For Orlando City, the cast of characters will include most of the usual suspects. It's unclear if Kaka's calf injury will allow him to play after missing the last two matches. It would be good to have the Captain back for tonight, especially considering the club will have two weeks off before their next league match on June 17 (the club will host NASL side Miami FC in the US Open Cup on Wednesday, June 14 at Orlando City Stadium). And while they have not seen minutes yet, both Seb Hines and Rafael Ramos have appeared back in the lineup after long spells on the injured list. Aside from them, there are sure to be plenty of offensive chances created by Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas--of course, the perpetual question is how many of those chances can they finish? It's been an unfortunate trend that they have failed to make the best use of most chances that present themselves.

Prediction

We can talk about which players need to be stopped and which players need to be hot, but the more I watch MLS the more I am convinced it simply comes down to which team plays with more heart and hustle. Every match that Orlando City has won this year is one in which they have outplayed their opponent. They have lost some of those matches, too, mainly due to poor execution on the part of the offense. But in every match that the Lions have allowed themselves to be outplayed, they have lost, and usually lost badly. Two matches that spring to mind are the horrible 4 - 0 beatdown suffered in Houston a few weeks ago, and the more recent 3 - 0 loss at home against NYCFC. In both those matches the opponent controlled just about every meaningful statistic that shows evidence of the team playing with greater will and more hustle. 

I think that the home crowd and the great form of Chicago will have Orlando City on their toes for this one. And while it's coming off a midweek match, a key difference in the recent multi-match weeks is that both Wednesday's match and this one have been at home, which means the team has not had to deal with the added stress of road travel between matches. Based on that (and on my tendency to favor my team regardless of what the evidence may tell me), I'm going to predict a 2 - 1 victory for Orlando City, which could vault them back into 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, depending on how the other matches of the weekend play out.

What are your thoughts on this weekend's match--do you think Orlando City will be able to quench the red-hot Fire, or do you think the visitors will continue to burn their way through this stretch of the season and keep their streak of victories rolling? Let me know in the comments below!