Orlando City's 4-0 win over LA Galaxy on Sunday was special for everyone involved (from Orlando's side, anyway), but it meant even more to a couple of Lions who made their debuts. Goalkeeper Tally Hall was a surprise starter, recording his first clean sheet for City, while striker Martin Paterson got a late run-out when the game was well in hand.
After being stretched thin in the depth department with injuries and international call-ups, it was a nice change to suddenly get some reinforcements in the 18. Without them, it is doubtful Heath would have had a full 18 at his disposal on Sunday.
It was a long road back from injury for both, but especially for Hall, a 30-year-old MLS veteran from SeaTac, Washington, who hadn't played since tearing his ACL while with Houston Dynamo last August.
"It's phenomenal (to be back)," Hall said. "I've been watching this team, I've been seeing the fans and I've been dying to be back in it. It is something truly special to be on the field. To get a win in the fashion that we did, the way we played, it just felt great to be a part of that. It's cool."
The Lions made things easy for their keeper, allowing only one shot on goal, a weak dribbler that gave Hall no trouble. The Galaxy had 10 attempts in all, but nine of them missed the mark completely, which is partially a testament to the team's defending on Sunday. The most dangerous chance for LA was blocked by Seb Hines.
"It was a fairly comfortable night for me," said Hall. "The team played great. It was a 90-minute performance. When we do that it's not going to be a surprise that we win games."
Paterson, meanwhile, has been trying to come back from a lingering preseason hamstring issue. The 28-year-old Turnstall, England native was glad to get his first minutes with the club, brief though they may have been. After the match, ‘Pato' sang the praises of the team's training staff for helping him come back.
"I'd like to thank them for the opportunity to get on the field because I owe them a lot," he said. "I'm delighted to get onto the field but I'm more happy to be a part of the team in the squad. It's a real family atmosphere here. The lads deserved that 4-0 win. I'm delighted for the lads that put in weeks and weeks of hard work. My journey here has just begun."
Obviously thrilled with getting his first opportunity, Paterson came on with only seven minutes remaining and his team holding a 4-0 lead. Yet his movement and hustle was that of a man playing in a scoreless game. But in those seven minutes, he showed glimpses of why Orlando City brought him across the Atlantic to play.
Paterson provided veteran play, despite the obvious excitement of being on the field after a two-month absence and despite the lopsided score. When presented with opportunities moving forward, he recognized his angles were poor and looked to play to his teammates.
"At four-nil I really could have took that shot but the lads have worked for 85 minutes and I just wanted to give the ball back," he said. "It was the right thing to do. It's not about you. It's not about trying to get yourself on with a ridiculous angle shot. It's about doing the right thing, and the right thing in them two situations was to try and play the ball to your teammates."
He admitted with a laugh that he was tempted, though.
Getting Hall and Paterson back after not having them all season is almost like getting two new signings in mid-season. It can only help, because competition breeds excellence. Once the presumptive starter, Paterson will have to earn his playing time because Cyle Larin's form has been so good. Hall will have to play well to stay ahead of Donovan Ricketts.
"It's good to be nervous again," Hall said. "It's fun to feel that and it's been a long time."
And it's fun to have mid-season reinforcements after the rash of injuries the Lions have suffered. Hopefully this is the start of having everyone available for selection—except Kevin Molino, who is lost for the season—and giving Adrian Heath more to consider when choosing his lineup.