Orlando City B fell to the Harrisburg City Islanders 1-0 at Titan Soccer Complex in Melbourne. It's the Lions second straight loss and third in four games as they continue to look for their first win.
OCB had some decent play during the first half resulting in good opportunities but were unable to convert in the final third. The highlight of the game for OCB was a 19th minute diving save by goalkeeper Mark Ridgers. Harrisburg City captain Bobby Warshaw took the ball to his right across the box and unloaded a long strike toward Ridgers' left post. But the Scottish goalkeeper extended himself out to make the save of the game.
The first half showed solid performances by midfielder Tony Rocha and left back Tyler Turner. After being out of position for the last two matches, Turner looked reenergized tonight. The two worked together to create multiple opportunities for forward Bryan Rochez who saw his first start of the season but was unable to convert.
OCB's fortunes changed in the 39th minute when Rocha collided with Harrisburg City defender Shawn McLaws. Going after what appeared to be a 50-50 ball, Rocha raised his leg in front of McLaws resulting in the two going down hard and requiring treatment. Initially it looked as though a yellow would be shown to Rocha but the referee pulled--at best a very questionable--red sending Rocha to the showers early for the second straight game in which he's played.
With a man advantage, Harrisburg City pushed hard for the opening goal as the first half wound down but couldn't find the net and the two teams went into the half with no score.
The second half was all Harrisburg City. Despite an early chance with a free kick just outside of the box, the 10-man Lions troubled to keep possession against the pressing Islanders. The deadlock was finally broken in the 61st minute when Jamaican midfielder Cordel Benbow struck. Taking the ball to his left across the box, a quick step over beat Turner and Benbow slipped the ball past Ridgers off the inside of the left post.
Harrisburg City continued to pressure OCB creating attempt after attempt but the Lions makeshift back four stood strong. While Kyle Callan-McFadden and Craig Nitti have been weekly starters in the middle of the Lions defense, Honduran Devron Garcia made his first appearance at right back and normal right back Turner moved across the field to left back.
"It's something we always work on in training so these guys know what they're doing," Ridgers said about his defenders after the game. "I thought we were, for the majority of the night, very solid."
As Harrisburg City maintained their 1-0 lead but OCB began to build some attack in the dying minutes, tempers flared. Lewis Neal, looking to play the ball forward out of the back, was pushed down hard by Islanders forward Aaron Wheeler. Neal took exception to the push which resulted in the 34-year-old ripping the shirt of the Islander as the two teams came together. Both players that instigated the gathering were issued yellow cards. Neal, having received a yellow in the 83rd minute, was subsequently handed a red card leaving the Lions with nine men for the remaining minutes.
Despite being dominated for much of the game, Head Coach Anthony Pulis looked to take positives from the experience. "I thought we played some decent stuff," he said following the loss. "At times I felt like we could've been a little bit more positive with our play. We possessed it well but we always talk about possession with a purpose. With a purpose, obviously, playing forward and scoring and at times I feel like we've been a bit safe, playing square and back when we probably could've broken the line and gone forward. But on the times when we did break the lines and went forward I thought we looked dangerous."
Pulis again stressed the youth of the team and that there are brighter days ahead. "Every week is a new learning experience for these young players and they'll only get better with it."
The Lions have only taken one point from their first four games and will hit the road as they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Riverhounds next Friday night followed by a trip to Harrisburg to take on the Islanders the following Monday.