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Harrison Heath Makes Orlando City MLS Debut Against D.C. United

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Harrison Heath made his first start in Major League Soccer after an injury to Cristian Higuita and Amobi Okugo's suspension left Orlando City with few options against D.C. United.

Harrison Heath made his first MLS start Wednesday night in Orlando City's 2-1 road loss
Harrison Heath made his first MLS start Wednesday night in Orlando City's 2-1 road loss
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

It's the duality of injuries: They often rob the lineup of a player vital to the squad's success, but open a window for someone else to step and thrive in that same role.

Cristian Higuita missed Wednesday night's match against D.C. United because of a concussion, leaving another hole in the midfield with Amobi Okugo suspended because of yellow card accumulation.

Because of the two absences, Harrison Heath stepped into a central midfield role in his first career Major League Soccer start. Heath played a full 90 minutes plus stoppage time in the match and had an okay, if unspectacular night. He played a mostly defensive role, sitting in front of the back line and doing his best to collect balls. Heath also won a free kick just inches outside the 18-yard box on his best run of the night, which was promising.

The main things he needs to work on for more playing time are becoming a more physical presence on the field and his decision making on when to go forward for a tackle or anticipate the ball. But there weren't any glaring mistakes, which is all you can ask from a 19-year-old making his MLS debut on the road.

Here are some numbers from Heath's first match:

  • 53: The number of passes Heath made in the match (stats courtesy of whoscored.com). If you want more of a breakdown of that, 34 went forward, 47 were short, and 48 occurred in either the defensive or middle third, accenting his defensive-minded midfield role.
  • 61: How many touches he had in the match. Whoscored.com's heat map shows the majority of his touches coming on the left middle his defensive half, and that sounds right. He played a rather defensive role, and four of Heath's six recoveries (I used MLS Match Center's Opta stats for recoveries) came roughly around his brightest spots on the heat map.
  • 6.0: Who Scored's match rating for Heath. The rating is about on par with the notion that he didn't have a large effect on the match, either positively or negatively, but here's one thing to note: His drop in form in the match coincides with the match's momentum shift. He went from a 6.22 in 69' to a 6.08 at 70' and dropped as low as 5.91 at 84', which happens to be the same time as D.C.'s second goal. Aurelien Collin's injury exit also occured right before Heath's dip, so consider that as well.
Again, it's only Heath's first start at U.S. Soccer's highest level, so expect better if or when he gets on the field again. That could be Sunday against the Los Angeles Galaxy. If Collin and Seb Hines can't go at center back, Okugo might have to play defensively (at least Taylor Twellman thinks this will be the case). Cristian Higuita's status also bears monitoring, and if he's not ready to play, Heath should start his second match on Sunday.