Let's face it, sometimes soccer is dumb. You can do everything right and then something weird happens and turns the game on its head. Orlando City suffered a 2-1 road loss at D.C. United last night and probably deserved a better fate, controlling the game until central defender Aurelien Collin sustained a non-contact injury, which appeared to be a hamstring issue.
Tyler Turner, all of 19 years of age, came on to play in an unnatural position at center back, with Seb Hines deemed unfit to come on and Amobi Okugo unavailable due to yellow card suspension. It was the perfect storm, turning a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit.
Let's get to the five takeaways before I throw up in my mouth (again).
Collin's Value Undeniable
If there was anyone out there who still thought Collin was terrible just because he took a red card in a preseason game and again late in the opener, tonight should have dispelled their misconceptions. Aurelien Collin is the heart of the club's defense and without him they are in trouble.
Once Collin left, the air seemed to go out of the Lions, who were yielding possession but not dangerous chances with a second-half lead on the road. Not only did it affect morale, but Turner, his replacement, was unable to hold off Rolfe on the second goal and Orlando was unable to take even a single point from a game it largely had handled.
Not only did Collin make several vital challenges on defense and win headers in the air (as per usual), but he also had a nice backheel flick to Cyle Larin for Orlando City's lone goal in the first half.
If Collin can't go against the LA Galaxy on Sunday, either Hines needs to get fit or Okugo will reprise a role he filled in Philadelphia.
Speaking of Okugo
Amobi had been anywhere from brilliant to simply good for most of the season up until the last two outings and his worst game came in the 45 minutes he saw against New England. He picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in that game and therefore had to sit out last night.
His replacement was 19-year-old Harrison Heath, making his MLS debut. Heath started off looking like a first-timer, getting abused a few times early. However, he recovered and played a solid game the rest of the way. This should give the youngster confidence and his father will also know that he has options at what might be Orlando's deepest position - defensive midfield.
Look for Joshua McKinney's more in-depth breakdown of Heath's debut this afternoon, here on The Mane Land.
Larin Strikes Again
The Canadian rookie has started five MLS games and in those games he has scored three goals. Larin clearly has a nose for goal. His first tally was chested in against Portland and his second came on a header on Friday against New England. Between the two he also scored on a penalty kick in a friendly against Ponte Preta.
Now we know he can score with his foot in open play. Larin picked out Collin's backheel pass in traffic in a post-corner kick scramble and slammed it into the upper 90 with great velocity. He also had several nice possession plays in the first half, helping his teammates get forward.
Although Larin still has a long way to go before he's a finished product, he seems to be learning on the job. He faded in the second half. Part of that was a lack of ability by his teammates to find him, as Orlando City turned the ball over repeatedly trying to work it up the field in the second half, with careless passes or bad reads. And part of it was a lack of coming back and putting himself in spots to get the ball. He'll get better and learn from this game but the fact that he's still finding the net is important.
Even Kaká Has Off Nights
This was easily the worst performance of the season by the captain, whose passes seemed just a touch off all night. He had a couple of nice individual moments but overall he was not up to his usual sharpness. He even turned the ball over in the midfield that started the counter for D.C.'s second goal. Even when Kaká got himself into good spots a few times, his teammates delayed their passes just long enough to throw off the rhythm of the play. It was odd to see Kaká and his teammates so out of sync, and he and Brek Shea are clearly not yet on the same page in the attacking midfield.
Late in the game, Kaká had an opportunity to take a shot when he got half a yard at the top right of Bill Hamid's box. Instead, Kaká looked to get deep and play it across for his teammates. There was very little time left in the game and the Brazilian needed to take that shot. It was just one play but it was indicative of a night where even one of the league's best players just didn't have his best stuff.
Orlando City Matches Up Well with United
Although the Lions didn't outplay D.C. last night to the extent they did in the first meeting, they did manage to control the game after yet another slow start. Orlando weathered the early storm as is their usual way, and started to gain their rhythm. Once City got it going, they worked for an early corner and scored off of it, taking their earliest lead of the season (in fact, it was Orlando's earliest goal in an MLS game to date). From then on, they more or less controlled the entire first half.
After the break, Orlando started with a spell of good possession and then stopped pushing guys forward. Although this gave D.C. United the ball, there didn't seem to be much final product in their attack until Collin's injury. That's two games against the Eastern Conference's best team and two losses that could have -- and probably should have -- been wins. If you can play against the best, you can hang with anyone and now all City needs to sort out is how to get a result.
It's encouraging to see a young team, riddled by injuries and an untimely suspension, that is able to play against the elite teams in the league. As frustrating as the loss is, the positive is that the team isn't overmatched and can play with the best. Getting results is dependent upon the team learning how to do it (always a problem with a new collection of players) and putting away more chances -- Rivas missed a golden opportunity late in the game when a free kick fell to his feet, for example.
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Welp. It was another loss in a game that could at the very least have been a draw. There's another one on Sunday.