Orlando City SC is an expansion club in MLS this season and, around the league, not much is expected out of the Lions this year. After last night's 1-1 draw against New York City FC, both head coaches talked after the game about how neither club is where it needs to be after six weeks of preseason.
"Whether we'd have won, lost or drawn today, I think both coaches would have said that we're still a long way from where we want to be," said Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath. "I think that's pretty evident. I think that we've got a lot more to give. I think this team's going to get better. It's early days...23 players to bring in and it's tough to get everybody on the same page. It's a work in progress."
NYCFC Head Coach Jason Kreis agreed.
"I think both teams showed they are not finished products," Kreis said. "It was not the most beautiful game in the world, but both teams showed their strength."
But if there's a positive Heath can take away from the game is the resiliency and mental toughness his team showed in the face of adversity. After dominating much of the game but having nothing to show for it except a handful of near misses, the Lions yielded the lead to the New Yorkers in the 75th minute, when Mix Diskerud was allowed too much space to operate above the penalty area.
Central defender Seb Hines tried to close down Diskerud but arrived too late, allowing the U.S. international to curl a perfectly placed shot just inside Donovan Ricketts' far post. Just eight minutes later, Aurelien Collin was sent off after a hard challenge on David Villa earned him a red card.
Orlando City didn't panic. The Lions pushed forward and pressed for an equalizer in the closing minutes. With time winding down, Kevin Molino regained the outstanding form he displayed in the first half and earned a free kick just outside the New York City FC penalty area. Kaká got a fortuitous deflection off the wall and into the net.
It was a nice change of pace after a series of near misses that could easily have had the Lions up by two or three goals.
"It shows the togetherness we have on the club," Hines said. "I don't think we feel like we deserved to be one-nil down. I think we dominated the game. We showed a lot of courage to come back and get the point."
"I just think we showed the team spirit we have," said left back Brek Shea. "I think this team is not just associates coming in to work. I think everyone's petty close to everyone on and off the field even though we've only been together six weeks or so."
That kind of mental fortitude will serve the club well as it starts to play more as a team in the future.
Best Postgame Exchange
Kaká: "I really wanted to score the (club's) first goal."
Adrian Heath: "Why'd you have to leave it so late?"
Kaká: "To try your heart."
Heath: "And you did that."
What? I didn't score?
Hines thought he'd scored the team's first goal early on, when he slotted home a rebound at his feet off a free kick. But the reason he'd had the ball is because he'd fouled goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who hit the back of his head on the goalpost in a scary moment.
The English defender said he knew Saunders was coming toward him but put the ball in the net because he never heard the whistle.
"I just ducked down to protect myself and the next minute the ball's at my feet," he said. "The instinct is just to put it in the back of the net. Obviously he said I fouled the keeper. You couldn't really hear the players. The fans were terrific tonight."
Hines also said he'd never played in front of so many fans before. The most he's played in front of is about half that number, he noted, in a derby match while with Middlesbrough.
Heath gushed after the game about the support shown by the 62,510 who attended the game. It was the largest Citrus Bowl crowd ever for a soccer match, surpassing the 1994 World Cup games.
"Extremely proud of everybody connected with our football club today -- the staff, the players and not least of all our supporters, who I thought were absolutely incredible," said Heath." It was something to see before the game when we came out and something I'll remember for an awful long time."
"We are building something very special," added Kaká. "The result is OK. We have a lot to improve. But I want to thank everybody who participated in this very special day for us."
The Lions may have only taken one of the three available points, but after trailing by a goal and down to 10 men late, the tie almost felt like a win.
"I think it would have been a travesty if we hadn't taken something out of the game," Heath said. "I was pleased with our performance in the first half. I thought some of our combination play on the edge of the box was very good, all in all. We played with a man down late on. I was very pleased to take something from the game because I thought that was the least the efforts of the players deserved."