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Substitution Scrutiny Just Another Part of the Job for Orlando City Manager Adrian Heath

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Adrian Heath elected to hold off on using any subs until second-half stoppage time in a 2-1 loss in Philadelphia. But one unfortunately timed moment of brilliance from the opposition is the main reason there's been any scrutiny.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

A popular subject of conversation following Orlando City's 2-1 loss last week at the Philadelphia Union was the lack of substitutions used by Lions' manager Adrian Heath prior to Philly's game-winning goal in minute 90. After all, the Union made two midfield subs in the 63rd minute – which included eventual match-winner Tranquillo Barnetta – and Orlando failed to counter with any changes until the dying moments.

We've touched on the topic at The Mane Land in our player grades column and it was one of our five main takeaways from the contest. Hindsight being 20/20, we're able to analyze in retrospect rather than in real time like Heath, who didn't have a full array of options prior to Barnetta's (since condemned) golazo put his team behind the 8-ball.

As our Luis G. Hernandez cited in the takeaways column, City was working with a depleted roster in Philadelphia having lost starters Cristian Higuita, Cyle Larin and Tommy Redding to injury along with reserve Pedro Ribeiro, in addition to a red card suspension to regular starting left back Brek Shea.

Heath explained his logic for not turning to either of his two primary offensive bench options – Júlio Baptista and Carlos Rivas– following the match, demonstrating his faith that his attacking trio of Kaká, Adrian Winter and Kevin Molino would manufacture another goal or, worst case, leave Talen Energy Stadium with a 1-1 result.

"I didn't want to disrupt the shape of the team, the personnel that we had," Heath said in his post-match presser. "Obviously when we were chasing the game and it was so late, we just decided to put them on. [...] After the game when you lose you always think, ‘Well could we have done something different?' But unfortunately I'm not the master of hindsight."

The trio did their best to prove the Gaffer's logic correct when Molino and Winter created the Lions' first-half equalizer, and Winter probably should have scored a second off a would-be Kaká assist when he failed to take advantage of a clear look, sending the ball at Andre Blake just after halftime. The trio of attackers created some danger and a goal despite playing without a true No. 9, but overall some near misses and an insane stop from Blake on a 93rd-minute volley from Winter kept the goal tally from climbing past one. After Philly struck late, the lack of any change-of-pace attacking subs understandably shifted attention toward Heath.

As we now play Monday Morning quarterback (or maybe Football Manager is more apt here?), bringing in Baptista and Rivas earlier in the second half to relieve the tired legs of Antonio Nocerino and Molino certainly seems like an obvious move prior to stoppage time. "The Beast" Baptista isn't in peak condition yet (he'd have presumably started up top otherwise), but a 20-minute stint complemented by the burst of a fresh Rivas in the attacking trio behind him could've been effective in more of a 4-2-3-1 look for a Lions team chasing a victory.

But, what if the team wasn't chasing a victory at that point, but rather a point away from home?

Heath lamented his team's "naive" defending after Philly put seven shots on frame following the half compared to just two for Orlando, but the Lions were likely playing for the draw for the final portion of the match prior to Philly's second score. Rivas' speed can be lethal, especially against a tired defense, and he played a dime of a cross to Winter immediately after entering, but when the goal you surrender is the kind of inch-perfect strike Barnetta produced, it makes the hindsight exercise a bit tougher. Perhaps Rivas would've entered earlier and the Union still produce a moment of brilliance after being caught out pushing for a game-winner? 

It ultimately ended up being Nocerino who conceded the late free kick that Barnetta put home for the winner, but Barnetta stole all three points from Orlando with the type of ridiculous ball placement we may not see again this season in MLS. This is not to absolve Heath after the loss, but to demonstrate the kind of goal it took to beat an OCSC side down four starters.

Center back Seb Hines this week echoed Heath's sentiment of disappointment with the late goal concession, but he also touched on the squad's inability to see the match.

"It was tough conditions," Hines said in a post-practice interview. "We dealt with it for most of the time, [so] to concede so late on is very disappointing. At the time, we probably would've taken a point, but also we had chances to win the game early on in the second half."

Heath knows being the subject of some criticism comes with the job description, and the slim margins between a draw and a loss can go a long way in turning up the volume on said criticism. But while Inchy can't predict the future and Orlando City's unbeaten record is no more, he did prove prescient looking into his post-match crystal ball.

"No doubt, people will now say, ‘You should've gotten more forwards on the field.' But everybody can be aware of that after."

While you can never have too many forwards, even another one of those (other than a healthy Larin) from City's roster may not have changed the outcome in Philly with how shaky Orlando looked in defense at times. Heath did what he thought was best for his club, and it didn't quite work out – soccer is cruel like that sometimes.