Yesterday's friendly against BK Häcken was the first game with Orlando City SC for a handful of players, including Bryan Rochez, Brek Shea, Eric Avila and Seb Hines. As you might expect, it was a mixed bag.
Shea probably had the best game of the "new guys." His crosses weren't always clean and he's clearly still learning the defense-first part of playing left back, but he was dangerous getting forward and Häcken had no answer for his speed or physicality. He crossed once when he could have gone for goal himself, but unselfishness can be a good thing.
Orlando City Assistant Coach Mark Watson said he liked what he saw from Shea.
"He's got good qualities moving forward but also good instincts defensively too," Watson said. "I thought it was a good outing for him."
"I thought it was good for only my third day in training with everyone," Shea said. "I really enjoyed the way we played, and how we moved the ball. Obviously it broke down here and there but it's preseason and we've still got a month to get all that right."
Hines played with the second unit, which didn't have a great outing, but his impact was felt on the pitch both on the plus and minus sides. His rash challenge in the box led to Häcken taking the lead on Martin Ericsson's penalty goal, although Hines, goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. and a few other Lions vehemently disagreed with the referee.
But Hines also soared above everyone to thump a header down and into the net off a corner kick, allowing the Lions to pull level in the 30-minute final session of the friendly. He was paired at center back with Tommy Redding, whose own outing was a mixed affair. But the two got better the longer they were out on the pitch, particularly when Häcken's subs came on.
Avila has incredibly quick feet and seems to have good instincts. He sometimes had trouble linking with teammates, but that may not have been on him. He can play multiple positions, and that bodes well for him becoming a nice option off the bench for City.
Although Avila's ultimate role is still unknown, he can play either wing or right back and he says he and Head Coach Adrian Heath have discussed him having an attacking role.
"Little by little, I'm starting to get the whole rhythm of the team and how they play and I'm starting to feel more comfortable," he said. "The style of play is fun to be around with these guys."
Rochez didn't see a lot of the ball, honestly. He cuts a very physically imposing figure for his age. His best chance was a left-footed effort with a clear look at goal from about 17 yards out, but he didn't get all of it and shot it straight at the keeper for an easy save. But, working with Kaká and Kevin Molino, he'll get scoring chances.
The young Designated Player speaks little English, but through an interpreter he said he was happy Heath gave him a run out with the team.
"I felt really good with the team," said Rochez. "As a player I feel like I definitely put all my effort in it, but also going back I think I could have done a couple of things differently. Obviously this was my first game and I just keep hoping that I keep learning from it."
Watson was pleased overall with the new guys in their first outing with their Orlando City teammates.
"I thought it was really positive from everyone," he said. "It's still early in terms of the team cohesion side of it and it's still early-ish in terms of fitness. So, I think taking everything into consideration we're really happy with what we saw."
Other thoughts from the scrimmage:
Kaká and Molino look like they've been playing together for years, and seem to have the best chemistry on the team. They are a threat at all times with their link-up play.
Along with Lewis Neal, Kaká and Molino were very fluid in their positioning on the pitch. The Brazilian floats where his instincts take him, and his teammates seem to be adjusting and flowing to other midfield spots to maintain spacing. Kaká also played a bit higher on Friday than previously this preseason.
Trialist goalkeeper Matt Cardone continues to look like a useful player. He might sneak his way onto the roster or at least become a good option for Louisville City FC.
Sean St. Ledger did a nice job of taking charge of the back line. He's loud, communicates well and seems to have a good understanding of where his teammates should be.
Cristian Higuita covers a lot of ground. He had an excellent opportunity to put Orlando City up 2-1 early in the second half but shot wide. Angry with himself, Higuita let out quite a prolonged scream.
Rafael Ramos sees much more of the ball than Tyler Turner. Part of that might be the guys he's out there with, but Ramos looks more dangerous than Turner at this point of the preseason. He's winning the right back battle.