We are one month into the 2015 Major League Soccer campaign, and Orlando City has already seen its share of ebbs and flows. Between the elation of OCSC's first ever MLS goal against New York City FC, its first ever MLS win at Houston, a late-game gut punch against Vancouver and a come-from-behind draw at Montreal, March was an eventful month for the Lions.
March saw Orlando play four of its five MLS matches to date, and the Lions probably feel that they left some points on the table. However, losing only one of its first four outings was not bad at all for an expansion side dealing with injuries while transitioning to life in MLS.
As the calendar has now turned to April, we at The Mane Land take a look back at the superlatives from Orlando City's first month of competition at America's highest level of professional soccer. Be sure to vote and voice your opinions in the comments.
The Lions didn't exactly set the world ablaze last month offensively, failing to capitalize on a number of chances in the final third and being robbed of a few more thanks to excellent efforts from opposing goalkeepers. There were some highlights, though, and they are all represented below in the goal of the month nominations.
1. Kaká vs. NYCFC
It may have taken a sharp deflection off NYC defender Jeb Brovsky to get past keeper Josh Saunders, who made a pair of big saves earlier in the match, but Kaká's free kick strike still sent the Citrus Bowl into frenzy as Orlando City's first ever goal in MLS.
Playing a man down, following Aurélien Collin's dismissal, and running out of time, City looked to its Brazilian captain for a magical moment and he delivered, salvaging a point in a 1-1 draw, and making it feel almost like a win in the process. You'll always remember your first, right?
2. Pedro Ribeiro's Would-be Score in Houston
So this one went down as an own goal against Houston keeper Tyler Deric, but it would have been credited to Pedro Ribeiro had it not been for the goalie's last-ditch effort to punch the ball out for a corner that wound up in the back of the net.
Orlando's young Brazilian striker put in the effort to hound Deric on his attempt to clear a long ball, but a bad first touch, combined with Ribeiro's hustle, resulted in a goal and a 1-0 win for City. While it wasn't actually scored by a Lion, it was heavily influenced by one, and it was the only goal of the month to clinch three points for OCSC.
Ipso facto, it's a nominee.
3. Ribeiro Opens His Account in Montreal
Perhaps through Karmic force, Ribeiro saw his efforts rewarded in Montreal with a true goal after a nice bit of build-up play culminated in a left-footed strike between the sticks from the forward.
Kaká did well to set up his countryman, laying a ball off in traffic for Ribeiro to slice into the lower left corner. The goal was Orlando's first of the season from open play, and sparked a two-goal comeback on the road to steal a point from Montreal.
4. Kaká's Smooth Equalizer
Mere moments after Kaká assisted Ribeiro's opener, the striker returned the favor for OCSC's No. 10 to set up the equalizer.
Ribeiro intercepted for City and made a direct run at the box, drawing in a pair of defenders before playing Kaká into the center of the area. There was still some work to be done, however, as the former Ballon d'Or winner executed a silky first touch and coolly slotted home into the upper right corner to knot the game at 2-2 and secure a point for City.
A beautiful sequence for The City Beautiful.
The Mane Lane Staff Pick: Kaká's goal in Montreal.
Donovan Ricketts was not under heavy fire for most of March, which is a promising sign for the OCSC defense. Ricketts was called upon to make five stops through City's first four matches, and three of them are worthy of a nomination for save of the month.
Donadel produced a stellar effort from about 30 yards out, firing a right-footed strike at goal while moving to his left. His blast would have found the top left netting had it not been for an athletic display from Ricketts to deny a wonder goal for Montreal.
Ricketts reacted quickly, leaping to his right and using his 6-foot-3 frame to get a paw on the ball and deflect it out for a corner. Quite an agile effort for a 37-year-old keeper.
Vancouver took advantage of an OCSC giveaway when Pedro Morales played an incisive through ball to set up a one-on-one situation for Octavio Rivero with Ricketts. The Jamaican keeper sprinted off his line and made a sliding save on Rivero's effort, sending the ball wide left.
Unfortunately, Rivero had the last laugh in the 96th minute.
Ricketts turned in his second big stop against Montreal by denying Ignacio Piatti's shot from just outside the 18-yard box. The Italian – who bested Ricketts on a penalty earlier, despite the keeper guessing correctly – turned in a nice bit of work to free himself up, cutting inside past OCSC defenders and firing a strong, low effort.
Ricketts made the stop look routine, however, fading to his right and securing a two-handed catch to keep the match tied at 2-2 in the 77th minute.
Staff Vote: Long-range stop on Donadel in Montreal. While Ricketts' performance in Montreal was his worst overall outing of the month, he turned in a pair of solid stops, the first of which was spectacular.
Player of the Month
The obvious candidate for the honor – he was nominated for MLS Player of the Month, after all – is the face of the franchise, Ricardo Kaká. Orlando City knew the quality of the player it was getting when it signed Kaká in July of 2014, as his accomplishments in Europe are well publicized.
The return on the field in March was exactly what we expected, with the Brazilian providing a pair of goals along with an assist. He was lethal against Montreal and has barely missed out on scoring on a number of other occasions. Although the OCSC attack has not yet fully hit its stride, Kaká has been instrumental in the central midfield, creating by himself and by linking up with his teammates, most notably Kevin Molino and Ribeiro.
2. Pedro Ribeiro
The other Brazilian in the running for player of the month is the 24-year-old Ribeiro. After forcing Deric's own goal at Houston, Ribeiro has been a mainstay in the OCSC lineup (until his unfortunate injury last night, just as he was about to have a scoring chance, no less), and he is improving as he acquires game experience.
Like Kaká, he notched a goal and an assist in Montreal, and he has displayed appreciable technical ability for a 6-foot-4, 208-pound player. Orlando Head Coach Adrian Heath stated before the international break that unproven players would have the opportunity to prove themselves, and Ribeiro has taken that opportunity by the horns.
3. Rafael Ramos
Brek Shea was the big-name signing at fullback, but Ramos was arguably the best player in OCSC's defensive four in the first month of the season. His defending has been steadfast and he has also shown an ability to get forward up the right flank and contribute in attack.
Ramos was a breakout performer of sorts in March, and it will be interesting to see him continue to settle in opposite Shea at the back now that both have returned from international duty.
4. Aurélien Collin
Collin was sent off against NYCFC in the opener, but was largely solid before that moment in the second half, and has been very good since returning against Vancouver. His veteran presence in the center of defense helped the OCSC back line keep Ricketts largely unbothered in March.
Collin was already a proven commodity in MLS when Orlando City brought him aboard, and when he was on the pitch in March he looked every bit as good as expected.
5. Amobi Okugo
A quiet contender for the POM honor, Okugo has been reliable in the middle of the pitch for Orlando City throughout the early season. The defensive midfielder has provided stability in shielding the Lions' back line, providing cover when the fullbacks have gotten forward and passing with composure.
Okugo's sound presence in the midfield does not always get recognition, but he's a key piece in the Orlando starting XI and his consistency thus far has been fantastic.
Staff Selection: Kaká. Predictable? Perhaps. But justified nonetheless.
Let us know who you believe was Orlando City's standout performer in March in the poll below, and weigh in with thoughts and opinions regarding any of the categories in the comments section.