Last night Orlando City squared up in the ring versus historic Brazilian Ponte Preta for the first international friendly of the season. This 3-2 win was just what the doctor ordered for a team looking for confidence and goal scoring in league play.
You might remember a few weeks back when the friendly was announced, I wrote a column critical of the match-up as, well, underwhelming. For a team used to high profile friendlies during its USL days, I saw this game as a letdown.
That was before two nightmare MLS games against Columbus Crew and Toronto FC of course. Thankfully I'm not a politician, since I'm going on the record right now and saying just how wrong the "Ponte Preta Who?" article really was. The timing of the game and the competition could not have been better. A cool snap and a full moon only added to the evening, making it a perfect night for soccer at the Citrus Bowl.
It wasn't a perfect game, with all the familiar miscues in the final third, still looking for some creativity, and the team is still investing in "Hello My Name Is..." tags. That isn't really the point. This was another awkward night of football in which a lot of things went really right for the boys in purple. It was a night not on the MLS record books in which the kinks could continue to be worked out and the entire depth of the bench could get some significant minutes on the field in front of the Orlando City loyal.
Ponte Preta, to their credit, were good on the night. Still in their preseason, they had their fair share of mistakes on and off the ball. For Orlando City, they seemed to provide the right level of competition and the Lions can gain a huge boost by getting three goals and a win at home.
The lack of both has become a cumbersome fact hanging over the club. It will be interesting to see how this translates into next week's match-up with reigning Eastern Conference champs New England Revolution coming to town.
It was also good to see the club play without Kaká and Kevin Molino, the two engines of the offense. Playing as they did and getting the result should help to show the whole roster the club's ability without the stars on the field. Of course, one star that did make a significant appearance was Brek Shea, playing outside of his new normal left back position.
Shea was active in the offense, while Luke Boden continued to show he can compete for the left back spot. These are the kinds of questions Head Coach Adrian Heath should like to have, as it gives him options on what has appeared a one dimensional team so far this year.
This experience puts the recently announced match-up with English Premier League strugglers West Bromwich Albion in a whole new light. Along my former thinking, this match would qualify as pedestrian at best, with West Brom being around the same quality as Bolton Wanders or Stoke City in years past. Seeing the how useful this game seemed to be for Orlando, a game against a decent but not great EPL club seems to be a perfect challenge for a team still looking for cohesion.
Two games changed my mind prior to the Ponte Preta match. With 11 league games between last night's friendly and a match-up with West Brom, let's hope the club finds the attacking creativity and team cohesion long before that game, so I can flip flop again and remind you of just how pointless international friendlies can be. #GoCity