That’s the word that sticks out most a day removed from the incredible event that was Orlando City SC making its MLS debut.
The city was painted purple, from Church Street down to the Citrus Bowl itself. Standing shoulder to shoulder in the fan zone downtown, one couldn’t help but notice how empty the Orlando Magic fan fest was two blocks down.
Chants of "Ole!" and "We are the boys of O City!" echoed around the bowl we filled before the game, as 62,510 eager fans waited for their team to take the pitch.
Once inside, the crowd completely lost their minds. From the "Let him die!" chants after NYCFC keeper Josh Saunders slammed his head into the post, to the "Can you hear New York sing? We can’t hear a ******* thing!" song that rang throughout the stadium, one thing was clear: the fans were invested. And certifiably nuts.
I loved every second of it.
Brek Shea seemed comfortable operating from the fullback slot, pressing forward and sneaking his way into the attacking presence at will. His work rate was high tracking back, as he rarely appeared out of position and was a nuisance in the defending third.
Orlando was the superior team in the first half, dominating possession and attack as NYCFC struggled to collect themselves to press forward early. Kevin Molino and USMNT representative Mix Diskerud were clearly head and shoulders above the rest in the opening salvo.
You could feel the anticipation rise as the midfield pressed the action, steadily taking shots on net with stellar builds, especially on the right side.
You could feel the angst of the crowd in the 76th minute when Mix put NYCFC ahead 1-0 with a flawless shot on net.
And you could certainly feel the elation in the 91st, when our very own Kaká scored his first ever MLS goal on a free kick to equalize.
There were tons of positives to take away from this game, from the crowd to the product on the pitch. There were also, however, negatives.
The attacking play left much to be desired. Carlos Rivas looked at times like he was playing a different sport. While flashing signs of skill and natural athleticism, it’s easy to wonder if he knows that MLS does, in fact, employ the offside rule. Work needs to be done moving forward to get these guys on the same page. Bryan Rochez came on late and provided a spark, but it was too late to get the win on this day.
Rivas’ former Deportivo Cali teammate Cristian Higuita looked similarly lost at times. Giving the ball away like it’s candy on Halloween is generally frowned upon in any sport.
Aurelien Collin got the red card most of us were expecting, with a hard high tackle on David Villa, leaving the good guys a man short down the stretch. Supposedly the anchor of the back line, it helps to stay on the pitch if your goal is to make an impact.
The #VamosRamos movement never really got off the ground, as Rafael Ramos seemed as though he was allergic to pressing forward on the attack for much of the match. Maybe that’s the strategy – I’m not on the sideline – but he was effective when he did move forward.
If we’re going to dive the way we dove today, perhaps some members of the team should swing by the Mad Cow Theatre at 54 West Church Street and maybe pick up a trick or two from some real actors.
Despite these negatives, though, the good guys pulled through and came away with a point to open up a season that will be, at the least, wildly entertaining. A lot of the drawbacks we saw on the pitch can be credited to opening day nerves and a lack of chemistry, which will come in time. The flashes of brilliance were encouraging enough to be cautiously optimistic as the season progresses.
All in all, this was a perfect ending to a wild weekend in the City Beautiful that featured everything from Elton John to NBA basketball to the wild encounter we all saw on Sunday. I'll see you there on March 21, when City takes on the Whitecaps of Vancouver.