As he finished his warm-ups on an overcast night in Houston, Donovan Ricketts must have figured he was in for a long game.
The big Jamaican was tending goal behind an Orlando City SC back line without a single player who appeared in an MLS game last season. Starting center back Aurélien Collin was out with a red card and the Lions were facing a Houston Dynamo team with two USMNT veterans who love to cause havoc on the wings.
But Ricketts would largely be reduced to a spectator, as the Lions' defense refused to allow a single shot on goal in an impressive 1-0 victory on the road.
It's been a remarkable start to the season for Orlando City's defensive unit, which was considered by many to be the team's biggest question mark coming into the season. Yet, after two games and only one shot on goal allowed (Mix Diskerud's curling strike in the opener), the back line has shown a remarkable amount of composure that could be huge for the Lions this season.
And it all starts on the outside, where Rafael Ramos has been a revelation.
On Friday night, the Portuguese right back went up against DaMarcus Beasley and Dynamo captain Brad Davis, shutting both players down throughout the game. Ramos was able to keep up with Beasley when the speedy defender looked to push forward, but it was how he handled Davis that really stood out.
One of Houston's best scoring opportunities of the game (which isn't saying much) came in the 19th minute. Leonel Miranda was able to draw Ramos into the box, before passing it out to Davis for what should have been a wide-open chance for the forward. But Ramos was able to use some impressive recovery speed to get a foot on Davis' shot, deflecting it over the crossbar.
While he was able to get a couple of his signature left-footed crosses into the box, Davis was occupied with the pesky Ramos for most of the night.
On the other side of the pitch, Brek Shea continued his transition to left back with another nice performance in which he largely stayed home defensively. Center backs Seb Hines and Sean St. Ledger also had solid nights, despite a couple gaffes that nearly proved costly.
Both players struggled with clearances throughout the night, as one of Hines' attempts rolled tantalizing in front of goal, but the center backs' aggressive play prevented Houston from establishing much on the attack. With Collin back next week, there's no reason this group can't continue to improve.
For now though, Orlando City has to be thrilled with the unexpected production they've received from their back line. As the club's offense continues to find its rhythm, having a reliable back line has been huge for the early success of this team.
Next Saturday will bring plenty of new challenges, as Vancouver's dangerous Octavio Rivero comes to the Citrus Bowl, but there's no reason to believe the Lions' defense can't continue their success.
Someone get Ricketts a deck of cards.