Orlando City's Friday night match-up with New England provided Lions fans with equal doses of frustration and euphoria.
On one hand, the careless giveaways that led directly to both of New England's goals and the inability to finish on several good chances inside the 18-yard box were continuations of a frustrating two-game losing streak that Orlando carried into its game against the Revs.
On the other hand, the resilience to keep battling after going down two goals, plus some excellent crossing from the fullbacks and a pair of headed finishes into the net reminded us why we were so encouraged by this team in the early season.
One particular bright spot for OCSC was midfielder Cristian Higuita, who came on at the half in relief of Amobi Okugo in the central midfield for just his fourth appearance of the season in Major League Soccer. Okugo was out of sorts in the first 45 minutes, having an off night by all standards that was epitomized by an inexcusable giveaway that led directly to Charlie Davies' opening goal in the 19th minute.
Okugo simply failed to field what should have been a routine pass, managing only a clumsy touch near the center of the field that allowed Scott Caldwell to hit Davies, who would take advantage of the space allowed to him by Orlando defender Seb Hines and slot home past Donovan Ricketts moments later. That giveaway was one of three for Okugo on 26 touches in the first half, in addition to a yellow card he acquired thanks to a handball that pegged Juan Agudelo directly in the face.
It was a night to forget for Orlando City's No. 6 in the middle of the pitch, but his backup on the evening provided a steady, if unspectacular, presence in the midfield as the Lions rallied to salvage a point in the second half.
Higuita registered 35 touches in the second frame and he successfully distributed the ball through the midfield with a 94% passing success rate, misfiring on only two of his passes on the evening. Higuita cycled 25 of his 33 passes throughout the middle third or into the attacking third of the pitch, helping OCSC effectively retain possession and, most importantly, avoid mistakes by not losing possession once.
Higuita's passing map from Friday night, moving from right to left.
Higuita may have benefited from facing a more passive Revs side in the second half, which had taken its foot off the pedal a bit following the opening goal, but he deserves credit for stepping in and contributing a better performance than the usually steady Okugo could on this night.
The play of Higuita also helped elevate his partner in the defensive midfield, Darwin Cerén, who had an outstanding night for the Lions and was rated as Orlando's top player on the evening by Who Scored.
Higuita's head coach was clearly pleased with the performance afterwards.
"I thought Cristian Higuita came on and absolutely did fantastic," Adrian Heath said in his post-match presser.
Due to Okugo's impending one-match disciplinary suspension for yellow card accumulation – tonight's yellow was number five for Okugo, who failed to capitalize on MLS's good behavior clause by remaining clean for three matches – Higuita will likely get another opportunity to contribute on Wednesday against D.C. United. He's unlikely to displace Okugo as Orlando's go-to defensive midfield shield, but another solid showing next to Cerén could earn him more consistent opportunities moving forward for the Lions.