There's nothing better than a good ol' preseason road trip against an in-state foe to get yourself ready for opening day. And indeed, that was the case last night when Orlando City traveled up to Duval to take on the Jacksonville Armada.
The setting (a not-too-shabby baseball stadium in downtown Jacksonville) was nice, the weather was perfect, and the fans were great (several hundred Orlando City fans made the trip up, creating a regular season-like atmosphere from 5:30 pm all the way through the final whistle).
The Lions, however, lost the match, 2-1, on a couple of second-half goals from former Lion Mechack Jérôme and Alhassane Keita. The bright side for Orlando City fans: Kaká and Brek Shea each played in their first preseason game of the year, getting in roughly 60 minutes, and the former netted the Lions' only goal, scoring off of a free kick in the 32nd minute.
It's only preseason, but yes, I did have some takeaways from the match. And before you say anything, let me reiterate again: it's only preseason.
Tony Rocha Continues to Impress
One of the more interesting stories this preseason has been the play of Orlando City B midfielder Tony Rocha, who has been spending quite a bit of time with the first team thus far. Rocha started on the left wing Saturday night against Jacksonville and, after a sloppy giveaway early in the game, managed to put together a very impressive outing. He showed good movement with the ball, and in the first half sent a great through-ball into the box towards Cyle Larin, who was beat to the ball by half a step by Armada goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo.
While Adrian Heath has been a big fan of Rocha's, the former USL Austin Aztex midfielder won't be sticking with the first team permanently, but could see a handful of spells with the Lions in MLS throughout the season as injuries, call-ups, and suspensions take their toll.
Tyler Turner Is Not A Midfielder
Well, at least not yet. The fullback spot is a tough position to break into right now, with tons of talent in that area, leaving Turner with a tough challenge of trying to break into the starting lineup. To make Turner fit into their plans, it seems he's been running at a couple of new positions, specifically in the midfield as a winger. He played on the left side against Eastern Florida State College, scoring a goal, and against Jacksonville Heath ran him on the right wing. I can't speak for EFSC, but as for last night...the results weren't great.
Obviously, changing positions is tough, especially on young players. But Turner is young and has plenty of upside. This could end up being a good thing for him down the road.
Too Close to Call
While it still looks like the starting job is Joe Bendik's to lose, Saturday night's game didn't give us much to call a front-runner between him and Earl Edwards Jr. Bendik hardly had to make a save in his 45 minutes starting, and Edwards gave up a pair of goals that he really couldn't do much to stop -- a great free kick and a deflected shot off his defender.
Like I said, it's Bendik job to lose at this point, it seems, and Earl didn't have much of an opportunity to gain ground.
Shaking Off the Rust
As I stated above, Shea and Kaká both saw their first game action of the spring, playing just over 60 minutes. I should get it out of the way now: both players held up well and stayed healthy. Kaká looked good, showed good movement with the ball, as he does, and even showed off his set piece skills with the free-kick goal, in addition to taking the Lions' corners. Brek, well, was Brek.
Miguel Gallardo Still Loves Orlando
I got to witness a very cool scene after the match: Gallardo, who spent all four seasons with Orlando City in the USL, came up to the Lions' supporters section to give an emotional wave and hello to the fans, who returned the love to their Lion Legend:
Miguel never forgets Orlando, his spiritual home.