Union vs. OCSC: Previews and Predictions

According to Jason Kreis, today is the last chance to see many players in Orlando City uniforms. I have speculated which ones in yesterday's post.

Neither team has anything to play for; however, if Orlando City wins they can tie for seventh place in points on the Eastern Conference table, depending on the outcome of other matches today.

Players to Watch

Neither Kaka nor Cyle Larin traveled with the team. In Kaka's case, the captain's farewell after the loss to Columbus last week was an emotional moment for the player and fans alike, and it would be anticlimactic to play in this game. 

In Larin's case, the Orlando Sentinel's Alicia DelGallo reports the team's official line that Larin has a hip flexor, which also left him out of last week's match, but I am skeptical of that. I think there's a deal in place for a winter transfer to a European side as long as Larin isn't injured, and the team just doesn't want to take a chance of a silly injury in a meaningless match. Larin had a great rookie season but has been way too inconsistent since then for my liking and I frankly won't be sad to see him go.

With Kaka and Larin out, here are the leading scorers and playmakers who are likely to be available in the 18 today.

Orlando City
PlayerGoalsAssists
Carlos Rivas55
Dom Dwyer34
Giles Barnes32
Scott Sutter14
Yoshi Yotun13
 
Philadelphia
PlayerGoalsAssists
CJ Sapong145
Roland Alberg71
Fafa Picault52
Haris Medunjanin211
Chris Pontius26

Prediction

This game could turn out to be a fun one or it could be another dumpster fire. Frankly, my focus today is going to be more on the UCF Women's Soccer team, who has a chance to go to 12-1-1 on the season and improve their Top 25 ranking from the 7th position they currently hold. It seems to be a truth: not only are the women athletes in this town a lot prettier than their male counterparts, they're also are much better players.

If I can get somewhere in time to see the 4:00 pm kickoff of this game I will; otherwise I'll watch a replay. I'm still a little giddy over UCF's 6 - 0 start in the college football season and just hoping they don't lose focus in the second half of the season.

As for Orlando City's match today, I don't expect them to win. I'll say they have a 2 - 1 loss on the road. Maybe if I pick them to lose it will make them mad and they'll play well to prove me wrong. One can only hope.

Tell me your thoughts on today's match and the announcement of wholesale changes to the roster in the comments below!

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

Nothing can change that Orlando City will miss the playoffs this season, but the lads went out on the road and beat a team they've never beaten in MLS play before, and won in a venue they've never scored points before as an MLS side. In the four previous meetings, Orlando City had been 0 - 2 - 2, tying the Union at the Citrus Bowl (Camping World Stadium) and losing both times at Talen Energy Stadium on the banks of the Delaware River.

But today Orlando City played one of the best defensive matches they have shown all season, and they attacked relentlessly. Their finishing form was not what we fans would liked to have seen, but the 2 - 0 victory and three big points were a great change from the run of play we have seen in the past few matches.

The Good

  • Carlos Rivas - Rivas definitely deserved Man of the Match honors today. He was active in the attack, in defending, and in creating chances for his teammates. He showed real leadership and maturity that belies his youth and gives a hint of the type of player he can become if he is able to cultivate those aspects of his game to their full potential.
  • Rafael Ramos - It was so good to see Rafael back on the pitch again. I was glad for him that he has been able to come back from the midseason injury before the end of the year, but I was also happy as a fan to see his speed and skill on display along the defensive back line.
  • Defensive Shape - The entire team played great defense today. It was interesting in post-game sideline comments that Jason Kreis said he has told the players that when they fully commit to defending they get good results.
  • Clean Sheet - Joe Bendik has been the most consistent player on the roster all season, and he has not been rewarded with as many clean sheets as he should have due to a porous defense. Today he had to make a few saves, but he was not nearly as active as he has had to be in many matches this season since the team only allowed Philadelphia four shots on goal for the day.

The Bad

  • Finishing Chances - If there's a criticism to be made of the team it was in the finishing. The last touch on the day was often off target (in shots or attempted passes) or did not have sufficient power to get past Andre Blake. Of course Carlos Rivas and Julio Baptista provided enough finish to see two goals go in the net to get the 2 - 0 road victory. But if there are nits to pick with the win, then let's have at them.

The Ugly

  • Goalpost meet Kidneys - I really can't complain about anything in this match and feel right about doing so. But I will say I thought Andre Blake made a tremendous save late on a crossing pass / shot by Rafael Ramos. I'm not sure if Ramos was planning to go at goal or was trying to send the ball to a teammate, but the ball curled toward the net just beyond the near goalpost, and Blake leaped out to make a great save. Unfortunately for him, his momentum took him right into the goalpost with the small of his back. I was a little surprised he got up as quickly as he did and was able to continue playing. 

What about you? What were your thoughts on the match? Did anyone impress you with their level of play today, or did it frustrate you that the team has seemed to wait so long in the season to play such a complete defensive match? Let me know in the comments below!

PHI vs. OCSC: Previews and Predictions

Well the season is winding down and I'm pretty sure we have seen the last of some players for Orlando City this season and the lineup that Jason Kreis will put into pre-season matches next February will be very different from the lineup on the web site today.

In fact during the offseason we will be bringing you several different ideas on which players we think should be on the "protected" roster ahead of the December expansion draft. Today's previews and predictions post is going to be a little different.

Players to Watch

I honestly have no idea who Jason Kreis will put in the 18-man roster for Sunday. I don't even know if the philosophy will be to put the lineup out there that will give the team the best chance of winning on the day, or whether he will play the guys that he wants to see in game action to determine if he wants to bring them back next year. He might even play the guys that he knows he is going to cut in order to give them some video time for the purposes of other teams that may want to consider them after they are released from an Orlando City contract at the end of the season.

Prediction

The Philadelphia Union are very tough to beat at home. Orlando City has lost both times we have played in Philly during 2015 and 2016. And the other two times the teams have met at the Citrus Bowl/Camping World Stadium, the matches have ended in draws. I'm not expecting Orlando City to win tomorrow--after all, if playing to reach the playoffs couldn't motivate these players to strive for wins, then certainly they don't care enough about their employment for that to make a difference. I'm predicting a 2 - 0 victory for the home side tomorrow in Philadelphia.

What about you? Do you think Orlando City will break with recent form and actually get a win? Do you think we will see most of Orlando City's stars in the final couple of matches, or do you think Jason Kreis will use this "garbage time" of the season to tinker with the lineup in an effort to determine which players he will keep during the off-season.

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

Yesterday I said that the road match at Philadelphia Union would be a big road test for Orlando City's MLS side, and this morning I'm sad to report that in my grade book the team received failing marks all around, from the sidelines to the goal box. There is no way to sugar coat it, so here we go with the breakdown of the match in the cold light of day.

The Good

  • Adrian Winter - In our match preview yesterday I mentioned how Winter would be someone to watch because he is always around the ball and always is involved with the attack. That was true again last night, and Winter had the best two quality shots on goal for Orlando City all night, scoring on his first attempt, and nearly scoring again in the dying moments of injury time at the end of the match. The weather was cold, and the cooler temperatures seemed to agree with Winter, even as they seemed to disagree with everyone else on the squad.
  • Kevin Molino - Molino had the assist on Winter's goal, and he was also active in the offense last night. He didn't have his best game, and other than the assist and his general level of attacking there's not a lot to specifically praise about his game. But if you remember last week when I was struggling to find bad things today, this week I'm struggling to find much good to talk about the match last night.
  • Top Place Target - It might seem odd to say, but I think one of the best things for the team as a whole is learning what it feels like to be in the lead at the top of the table. Last week we were the hunters at the Citrus Bowl when the defending MLS Cup champions came to visit. This week we went on the road and we were the hunted as the top-place team on the table. If the lads were not expecting it, they quickly learned that when you take the pitch as the top team in the conference, it means your opponent is always gunning to take you down. You could see that in the energy and intensity with which Philadelphia started the match, and after their quick early score, it seemed to energize the home side while Orlando City felt like they were chasing the game the rest of the match.
  • Philadelphia's Energy and Effort - I have to give praise where it is due, and Philadelphia really deserved it. From the opening whistle to the final kick of the match, the Union outplayed Orlando City last night. They clearly were the hungrier team and they played with far more energy, enthusiasm, and effort than our lads did. The result was deserved, and based on the way the two teams played, I can't feel like there was any injustice in coming away from the match with no points.

The Bad

  • Poor Defending - The problems for Orlando City came from the initial kickoff. When they kicked the ball back toward Joe Bendik's goal to take opening possession, it seemed to catch some of the Orlando City defenders unawares and the ball rolled much further back toward goal than it seemed anyone anticipated. Philly's players were attentive and reacted quickly, scurrying to the ball and taking possession quickly in the attacking end before the Orlando City defenders seemed to be able to figure out what was going on. Some standouts among the epic defensive screw-ups are worth noting.
  • Rafael Ramos - Last week I praised Rafael for showing some improvement and maturity in his composure during the match. He remained poised this week, but he seemed completely distracted during the match and very inattentive. I'm going to blame it on the cold, as the young Latin lad is used to warmer conditions. But he was continually behind the play and out of position last night, and he really deserves an assist on the first Philadelphia goal of the match. Instead of cleanly clearing the ball from in front of Joe Bendik's net, he lazily tapped it across to where C. J. Sapong could direct the ball past our keeper into the Orlando City goal. That was by far the worst of Ramos's errors last night, but it certainly wasn't the only one. Normally Ramos is among the fastest and most energetic players on the pitch for Orlando City, but as I said I think the cold was affecting him because he just didn't seem to be where he was needed to play good defense all night.
  • Aurelien Collin - Late in the match last night before Barnetta's winner went in the net, there was a point at which Aurelien Collin nearly scored an own goal as well. Normally he is very emphatic and energetic about clearing the ball away from the net, but late in the second half there was a time where he inexplicably sent the ball back toward keeper Joe Bendik with a whole cloud of Philadelphia attackers around that were ready to chase the ball back to the keeper and try to put it in the net.
  • Inaccurate Passing - Normally Orlando City is one of the top passing teams in the league, but last night they barely connected on 75% of their passes. It seemed like half the night our players were chasing down errant passes from teammates, and the other half of the time they were chasing down Philadelphia players who had intercepted bad passes from other Orlando City teammates. It was a very discouraging and lackluster display on the pitch, and we looked completely out of sorts for the whole match.

The Ugly

  • Horrible Game Management - I really like Adrian Heath--I really do. He is literally the type of guy you can sit down with over a beer and just absorb wisdom and knowledge of the game from him. When Coach Heath did his weekly Coach's show at Harry Buffalo last season, I used to love walking up to the table during commercial breaks and just getting little pearls of wisdom from him when I would have questions about tactics, formations, strategy, and philosophy related to the game. He always has time for fans, and he is always willing to explain his rationale for the reasons he chooses to do or not do something. I won't pretend I know enough about the game that I always understand why one choice might be better than another, but I always come away from conversations with Coach feeling like I understand the game a little better. And I will always love seeing him on the sidelines coaching our lads. But dadgummit--last night I think the cold must have got to him as much as it did the players. By the 70 minute mark Philadelphia had already made two substitutions, and it wasn't much longer before they made their third. Meanwhile, our lads continued staying out on the pitch just visibly getting colder and more tired and less responsive when Philadelphia would launch attacks or counter-attacks. By the time 80 minutes had elapsed, it didn't feel like there was any doubt "if" Philly would score again, it seemed more like a question of "when" it would happen. There really doesn't seem to be any justification (as an entitled fan, drinking my beer, watching the match on TV--just to give you full perspective) why we didn't start subbing out some players between the 65th and 75th minutes, and why Coach waited until stoppage time to bring anyone off the bench for the dying moments of the match.
  • "Super"? Joe Bendik - In the last two weeks I have sung the praises of Joe Bendik. And for 89 minutes of last night's match, Joe did look like the same "Super Joe" we've come to appreciate in the early part of the season. But then at the end of the match he suffered a massive brain freeze. In the final minute of regulation time, Philadelphia's Tranquillo Barnetta was awarded a free kick just outside Orlando City's 18-yard box. It was the second such free kick of the match. The first one curled harmlessly over the net and to the left of the goal. But the second one not so. Barnetta kicked a near-perfect strike that started up and to the right, but then began bending down toward the upper corner of the net. Because of the range and the wall of Orlando City players, he had to be careful not to kick the ball too hard and force it deep into the middle rows of the supporters section. So the ball had pace, but not so much pace that a competent keeper could not react to it. The strike started up, and Bendik just casually watched it, convinced that it was going to continue its arc up, over, and wide of the net. But it came back down and in, striking the bottom half of the crossbar before bouncing on the ground and into the back of the net for a goal, while a stunned and flat-footed Bendik just watched it go in. Now I've seen Joe make some great saves--and he made a few good ones last night. And he has the hops to jump up and catch anything that is coming at the crossbar or even a bit above it. So the ball was in easy reach and there is no reason why he couldn't have at least got a hand on it to flip it up over the goal if he couldn't catch it cleanly and preserve the draw. But as I've pointed out with the rest of this match review, there's no one member of the team (coach or player) whose actions caused the loss--there was plenty of ineptitude on display last night to go around.

Now some may be critical of me for being so critical of the team in today's post, and I can accept that. But I was bitterly disappointed with the fact that Orlando City didn't seem to try to do anything (aside from putting Adrian Winter on the pitch) to give the club a chance to win the match last night. Philadelphia was clearly the better team on the night, and that's about all you can say about the match.

I suppose the best thing is that it's early in the season and this should be a good stinging reminder for the club about the kind of thing they cannot continue to do if they want to remain in the hunt for the playoffs.

What about you? What did you think were the good, bad, and ugly points from last night? Do you agree or disagree with any of my points? Are there factors you think I overlooked that contributed to the loss, or do you think the team played better than I have given them credit for in today's post? Let me know in the comments below!

Big Road Test in Philly for Orlando City

Tonight the MLS lads go on the road to take on the Philadelphia Union (2 - 2 - 0, 6 points). They will very likely be without Tommy Redding and Cyle Larin who both suffered injuries that caused them to be pulled from the home game with Portland last Sunday, and Brek Shea's in-match yellow card was upgraded to a red card suspension by the league on further review, so he will be out for the game.

This will mean a significant change in the lineup for the match at Philadelphia, who currently find themselves just two points behind Orlando City (2 - 0 - 2, 8 points) and tied for second place in the Eastern Conference. 

Players to Watch

As I said in the wrap-up for the Portland match, Kaka was magical in his return to the pitch, doing everything you would want from your captain. He will need to have another match like that to help Orlando City deal with the loss of Shea and Larin, who have both been very active in scoring and building up to Orlando City goals so far this season.

Two other Orlando City players who will bear watching in this one, I believe are Adrian Winter and Kevin Molino. Winter always has a nose for being around the ball and pushing it toward the goal. He has been very important for Orlando City in terms of possession in the attacking end, and he has proven a great passer in build ups toward goals for the club. Kevin Molino is always exciting to watch, and after opening his goal scoring account last week with a PK against Portland, it will be very interesting to see if that translates to him starting to score more from the run of play as he did so many times for Orlando City in USL days.

Finally, there are three other Orlando City players who may get a chance to start or sub today that could bring an impact to the game: the newly-signed Julio Baptista, Antonio Nocerino, and rookie Hadji Barry.

On the Philadelphia side of the pitch, forward CJ Sapong is off to a good start for the 2016 campaign with 2 goals scored. Midfielder Chris Pontius also has two goals and an assist on the season, while defender Fabinho (Fabio Alves) has an assist and has been very active for the Union, appearing in almost every minute of the young season so far. Goalkeeper Andre Blake has one clean sheet on the season to match Orlando City's Joe Bendik, although he has not yet had to face a PK this season.

Predictions

I was not too far off in my prediction of a 3 - 1 victory against Portland, so I'm going to try my luck again. This time, with all the lineup changes it feels like this is a game that could cause Orlando City to struggle. I am going to predict that our lads go to Philly and return with a 1 - 1 draw, a result that will guarantee that we remain at least tied atop the Eastern Conference table. Getting a result on the road is a good outcome, and with an uncertain lineup impacted by the injuries to Redding and Larin and the red card to Shea, it will be a good early-season test of the 2016 roster's depth and chemistry.

What do you think? Am I being overly pessimistic with the loss of three starters from the club, or do you think missing Shea, Larin, and Redding will be too insurmountable for Orlando City to achieve any kind of result? Let me know in the comments below!