After being one of the final holdouts in the Ineptitude Standings, Orlando City finally took part in a goalless draw on Saturday evening against second-to-last place Philadelphia at the Citrus Bowl. The attack was lackluster for much of the evening, but the Lions did get a clean sheet for the firs time since late June against Colorado, and a point is still a point in a tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
On to the takeaways...
New-Look Midfield Yields Little in Terms of Creativity
With left wingers Carlos Rivas and Brek Shea dealing with injuries and the continued absence of Kevin Molino on the right, Orlando City manager Adrian Heath mixed things up in his attacking midfield on Saturday night by playing Lewis Neal and Darwin Cerén on either side of Kaká in the middle of the pitch. Cerén has featured exclusively in the central midfield for OCSC previously this year, and Neal has played in both areas at times, but the two were unable to produce much creatively in attack against Philadelphia.
There were moments where it appeared the Lions were putting something together, but after two or three passes they were unable to put together a final pass or get a quality shot off without any sort of real build-up play. Orlando's best chances of the night came for Cyle Larin on a 20-yard first half shot off a feed from Kaká and in the second half on a Larin header off a set piece. Rivas, who started the night on the bench, entered in the 65th minute to relieve Neal on the left, but the City attack was toothless with Neal and Cerén on the flanks, producing just one shot on goal before Neal's exit.
The pair's passing chart (at the time of Neal's departure and just before Cerén's shift back upon Adrian Winter's debut on 73 minutes) shows a lot of side-to-side passing, with little incisive movement going forward.
Winter Makes Debut, Rivas Returns
The midfield got more dynamic upon the return of Carlos Rivas, who had missed City's last two outings after tweaking his groin. The Colombian provided an instant burst off the bench, playing in a low cross that narrowly missed the toe of Larin in front of goal in minute 70, and then playing a beautiful through ball to Kaká to set the attack in motion minutes later.
Winter was active from the start of his debut appearance in purple, making hard runs throughout his 20-minute shift and adding energy of his own to the attacking midfield trio while also ripping his first shot for OCSC in the 83rd minute, although it strayed wide left. Ultimately, nothing came from the added energy provided by Winter and Rivas, however, as the Lions couldn't find a breakthrough goal and dropped a pair of points against an Eastern Conference cellar dweller.
Heath said that it was good to see both wingers get into the action in the second half, and he noted that Winter should fit into the team very well as he continues to gel with his new teammates.
Lions Record First Clean Sheet Since June
Orlando City, as you may remember, suffered through a terrible month in July, and had not recorded a clean sheet defensively since a 2-0 win against Colorado on June 24. That streak came to an end finally, with Tally Hall -- City's best player on the night by far -- making several massive saves down the stretch of the second half to preserve the shutout for the Lions.
Hall praised the composure of OCSC's MLS debutante Tommy Redding, as well as Orlando's other defenders, but there is no doubt that City would have left all three points on the pitch had it not been for the keeper's late-match heroics. After a terrible streak in which they let in 18 goals in six games across all competitions, it was good to see the Lions finally keep an opponent out of the back of the net.
Lions Left Backs Continue to Show Versatility
In the last week we saw left back Luke Boden move forward and play on the left wing for Orlando City and now we saw natural left back Corey Ashe shift over to the right opposite Boden. With Ashe playing out of position, much of Orlando's attack, especially in the first half, was predicated up the left side where Boden was working with Lewis Neal.
Ashe performed well on the evening, though, contributing to a clean sheet and registering a pair of interceptions while adding four clearances. His contribution in attack was not what we had come to expect after a two-assist outing last week against Columbus, but he was working with another player playing out of position on the right in Cerén, so it was probably not realistic to expect many fireworks on that flank going forward.
A Pair of Lions Make MLS Debuts
Two young Lions got their first taste of MLS action on Saturday, as center backs Conor Donovan and Tommy Redding were utilized in the absence of the injured Seb Hines (knee).
Donovan got the start, but the 19-year-old saw his night end very early after a challenge on C.J. Sapong resulted in a left knee injury. The club said that he will have an MRI in the coming days, but Donovan looked to be in a tremendous amount of pain upon being taken off, so hopefully he it was not as serious as it appeared initially and he makes a full recovery.
Redding stepped into the lineup in his stead and played well, battling off some early nerves to turn in a solid performance next to Aurélien Collin in the center of defense. Hall was very pleased with the composure of the 18-year-old, noting after the match that he showed great maturity and crediting him with making one of the game's biggest plays on a headed clearance during a moment of pressure from Philly. It was an admirable outing from a youngster in a tough spot, filling in for Hines before new signing David Mateos becomes available.